Blogging the 2008 Boston Comedy Festival (prelims 5-6)

Someone asked me if going first in a contest meant certain elimination. That entirely depends upon a few factors, such as: How proficient your host is in warming up the audience and getting them to laugh, what time your show starts (the later, the better, it’d seem), and how quickly you can get an audience to laugh. In the first two nights of prelims during the Boston Comedy Festival contest, the comic who drew the first slot advanced from each of the later shows, but not from the earlier shows. On night three? Foreshadowing. Or not.

Prelim 5 winners: Myq Kaplan, Key Lewis, Tyler Hawkins, Tyler Boeh.

Kaplan knocked his set out from the start, riffing callbacks on pretty much everyone who went before him, starting by announcing: "I’m also 1/2 white…and the other 1/2 white as well." Then landing a joke that combined "baloney pony" and "rapex" before going into his own, already-strong routine, closing by putting his wordplay to extended play on the word, "boobies." Hooray-bies! No doubt as to whether he’d advance.

Lewis, by the way, was one of several biracial comics of the black/white variety to perform this week (and the one Kaplan was calling back to), which, you might think, could be of benefit to Obama’s candidacy if somehow all of these comedians could help him. Anyhow. Got off-topic for a sec. He joked about how blacks run everything in Alabama, and how people mistake him for Mexican. I don’t think Mexican jokes work as well in Boston, just because the Latino influences here aren’t from there. But it didn’t hurt his score.

Hawkins wasn’t shy about announcing he was the only Canadian competing. The start of his set took a similar reversal of gender roles pattern that Eric Hunter used to score victory the previous night (an almost completely different set of judges, though, and no, I was not among them), joking about how women act in the dance clubs. Halfway through, he shifted to cat territory, and how he’s not good with felines, with a lengthy act-out that had you thinking, where’s the Meow Mix? Earlier this summer, Hawkins, from Edmonton, won the "Homegrown Comic Competition" at Montreal’s Just For Laughs.

Boeh avoided making a joke of his name (Ty Boeh) because, well, he had just come back to Boston from winning the first week of prelims in the San Francisco Comedy Competition, and he has other jokes in his arsenal. Such as a guy pimpwalking on a treadmill. Or a local slogan for Harpoon beer. But the real feature of his routine on this night would be beatboxing and noisemaking, with big sound effects on having sex with women of the black and tracheotomy variety. I discussed this with another comedian last night, and it’s one of those things that can divide comics in a contest when you see a competitor who closes with beatboxing or singing or playing an instrument. They almost always get a huge crowd response. Is that a bad thing? Depends upon whether you feel the point is telling jokes, or getting laughs. Whatever works, right? This is a debate we can have sometime down the road.

The rest of this group suffered some bad breaks. Liz Miele never had a chance going first, as the host had bombed. Maggie MacDonald, going second, had Miele warming them up, but her strong set based on her veterinary job apparently still not enough. Could it have been too sexual? Who knows. I wasn’t judging this night. Joe Vespaziani, going third, had a brilliant set, so what happened there? I’d thought he was a cinch to advance, with jokes about turning 40, watching porn with the closed-captioning, body pillows, untying a vasectomy and more. He got robbed. And I’m not just saying that because I competed with him 10 years ago in the 1998 Seattle Comedy Competition. Ira Proctor managed to pop the microphone, which got him off on the wrong foot, which in turn, only plays into his onstage humorous rage. And Ms. Pat came a long way from Indianapolis to tell us about where her daughter puts her Oreo cookie crumbs (!).

OK. Moving on…

Prelim 6 winners: Felicia Gillespie, Orlando Baxter, Mario DiGiorgio, Andy Peters.

Gillespie broke the curse! Gillespie broke the curse! Wait. There was a curse. It certainly seemed as though some of the women in this week’s competition weren’t getting high enough scores for their sets, but that didn’t stop Gillespie, who began her set with some rather insidery jabs at the comedy business, for disrespecting her first as a woman, and then for being only 24. She had a really funny joke about adoption. Poked fun at muscle men. Mocked the idea of showering with her boyfriend. He’s 6-foot-6. "Just imagine it. It’s funnier."

Baxter devoted the first half of his set to his work as a substitute teacher, and how he’s not afraid to sub for the special ed class. He closed with a solid bit about how emulating Popeye by eating spinach might not work out so well as a pre-fight strategy. Couldn’t help but notice that his stage presence and mannerisms seem directly influenced by Dave Chappelle. If you’re going to pick someone to act like onstage, why not pick Chappelle?

As DiGiorgio took the stage, another comedian gave me inside information that yet another comedian (which makes this third-hand) said to watch out for him. He wanted to expand the ban on smoking to other smells, particularly body odors. Shows why America desperately needs a dress code again. Ends by overdescribing a rather simplistic conversation. Huge audience response. OK. We watched out. Making a note of it.

Peters, meanwhile, took the energy in the room and brought it up to another level. Very in command of the moment and not afraid at all to comment on (or exploit) the mania of contests. When a joke about ADD wasn’t going where he wanted it to, he stopped it in its tracks and yelled: "Skip it!" His dad markets gasoline, which must be a great, easy gig. Closes with a bit about how Gatorade is advertising against water. Go rent Idiocracy (heck, buy it!) if you want to see how well that story turns out.

Honorably mentioned: Jared Logan went second, and his strong set might have made a stronger impression had he gone later in the lineup. Because the energy in the room really ramped up later, benefiting most everyone. David Powell had solid jokes, but just got lost in this shuffle. Think of it as if he’d entered a revolving door. As did Dax Jordan, who took his grandmother to Antiques Roadshow, converted radio-edited rapping to TV cooking shows, and works out to flee from danger. Jordan will just have to console himself with continuing on in the semis for the larger San Francisco Comedy Competition. Any of these three guys just as easily could have advanced.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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