Not all contest preliminary groups in the Boston Comedy Festival are created alike. That's the first thing that has to be said for prelims 3-4 last night. In the late show, you could make a case for at least eight of the 12 comedians to make it through to the semis, but there only were slots for four. As for the early show, well, that was a tougher show to grade, because quite a few comedians were off. Andrew Norelli, going up seventh in the order, used this as his opening remark to the audience at the Hard Rock Cafe: "I know we're making it look like it's not fun, but it's fun!" Also, each of the first four prelims has proved problematic for comedians attempting to deal with the wireless microphone — grabbing it from the stand, at least one comic per group manages to turn the mic off, and thereby momentarily derailing their sets. Tech proficiency can be just as important in delivering and connecting with the audience. Please make a note of it. Thanks. With that, let's get to who advanced and why…
Norelli acknowledged the early roughgoing and proceeded to get the audience on his side by talking about steroids in baseball, and how other drugs might make it better. A routine on massages went from happy endings (predictable) to massage talkers and the inanity of the phrase, "Push the stress out your arms." He also has a good retort to porn stars who claim they don't know who he is as a comic, as well as people who claim they're broke but still have plenty of money.
Dustin opened with a passing remark to the stage: "Nice ramp. I would've brought my wheelchair if I had known." Tonight's show had plenty of comics noting their surroundings, by the way. But no one else in the contest had to deal with waitresses dropping the checks during their contest set. Dustin still managed to get their attention by talking about vibrators — "OK, the lonely girl has spoken!" Dustin noted in reference to one shouty audience member — and jokes about sex and work and things you don't want to hear in bed. I'd heard it all before. It still worked.
Hunter could have had a terrible set by opening rather loud on the mic, but once he focused his routine on one lengthy bit about the many enticements and redeeming qualities he offers the ladies — namely, everything they tend to like and act like — got his vocal delivery in a more appealing rhythm that worked. "I'll be by that instrument after the show," he said, in case you wanted to take him up on that offer. Good luck.
O'Reilly also overcame a mistaken gametime decision. For reasons only he can explain, he decided to stop his routine in the middle to engage in crowd work with retired women in the front table. Crowd work that didn't go anywhere. And this was in the middle of O'Reilly joking about sex. His jokes about being a bastard do provide him with a solid line, however, that he can use for callbacks and laughs.
Others in this group deserving mentions of one sort or another: Jono Zalay wore an American flag sweater but didn't explain it, instead delivering a routine about feeding cocaine to rats and monkeys (it's for his studies). Dustin Chafin was rough around the edges, which works better in NYC where he lives now than in the Hard Rock in Boston (especially with the retired ladies up front), and went with midgets, redneck jokes, Bush is dumb, and a good line about how Obama can look more patriotic (hint: Apollo Creed). "Yay!" may not be the most effective catchphrase to utter every 15 seconds. "Big" Alvin David and Kendra Cunningham both had a fun presence, and plenty of crowd support, but couldn't translate that into winning sets. Shawn Donovan picked his doctor just for the name and comedy premise alone, but needed to sell it better. I can see why Myq Kaplan liked Donovan's style (Donovan even borrowed Kaplan's phrase and inflection to deliver one punchline?!).
OK. Moving on…
As I mentioned above, this group provided much stronger sets, so much that you really could make a case for many of them to advance to the semis. Alas, only four could make it.
Vaughn opened and closed with bits I know and already enjoy — the KKK has a WWW, and his gay roommate in Provincetown, respectively — but took a routine about loving the unique speak of TV news anchors into places I hadn't heard before. "Did he learn Norwegian for this joke?" Vaughn asked aloud at one point. He has great command of the stage, which in turn brings in the audience in on his side.
Speaking of broadcasting voices, Hooper has one of those "great for radio" voices. Not saying anything bad about that. Just saying. He has a look that says, recovering alcoholic, and after a couple of predictable drunk stories (what am I saying? just saying), he notes that as "a sober douchebag," he still has plenty of humorous observations. Such as, imagining a Palestinian gift shop across from the Jerusalem shop he saw in a Florida mall. "That joke will live on forever!" he said. He also had this to say about audience members not in on his jokes: "The rest of you are the reason Home Improvement was on the air for 10 years." Closed strong with his method for dealing with paparazzi as well as what he'd do to collection agents.
Connelly opened with well-turned jokes about Geico running TV ads in Massachusetts, despite the fact that you can't get Geico in this state, as well as people confusing 911 and 411. Other fodder for funny: Confusing his dad for Santa Claus, and liking America as a friend. Clever stuff. He's still young. Room to grow. Potential, potential, potential.
List went with a set that worked well enough to get him on Comedy Central's Live at Gotham, so why wouldn't it win over this crowd? He did localize it by adding a line hoping the Hard Rock crowd didn't laugh too much: "One of the guitars will fall down and re-break!"
Best of the rest: Mike Drucker went up last, and after some discussion about his nerdiness, he closed with a strong bit about how the Hulk probably has a hand in marketing the new Army slogan. Drucker gets to go back to work to his new job as an assistant producing graphics and other works for SNL, so not a real big loss for him, eh? Jim Tews, similarly, at least has a popular online video series ("The Opener") to keep him smiling. His jokes about community college and futons probably always work. Harrison Greenbaum set him self apart from the pack with magic tricks, but it was magic to help service the jokes. Nicole Chiles joked about quitting her job, but still showing up for work — also a good crowd connector, and when her husband wants her to scale back some jokes, she quips: "Do you want me to make $50-$100 a month doing comedy? Because you are limiting me!" The rest of this group wasn't horrible by any means, just not good enough. A tough, solid prelim from start to finish.
Man, when can we get a woman into the semifinals?! C'mon, ladies! Or should I say, c'mon judges? Wait a second here…let me check my scorecards…nope, not my fault…not this week, anyhow.