All over the country, stand-up comedians are preparing for auditions — comics try out for commercial roles, sitcoms and film parts all of the time — but this week, there's the added bonus of special showcases for Montreal's Just For Laughs Festival. I got to sit in on an industry showcase the other night for, among other things, Comedy Central's upcoming season of Live at Gotham. Most everyone scored laughs with the audience and the scouts. Of them all, though, I'd like to talk about TuRae's set, because I think he did something that even Simon Cowell over on American Idol would have approved. And no, TuRae did not sing.
Millions of you watching the live semifinal telecasts (and even any of the past seasons) of Idol undoubtedly have heard Simon and the other judges criticize bad performances and highlight others with the same main points: You need to bring it with your best stuff, show us your range, make us remember you, be yourself, but also tell us a little about who you are, exactly. All of these keys apply just as well to stand-up comedians.
I first saw TuRae as a "new face" last summer in Montreal. A Philly native, he now lives in New York City. When I saw TuRae again this week, his act struck a closer chord with me. We're both in our mid-30s, but he is tall, black, and skinny, and I am not exactly those things. No. But I did identify with him more this time. His confidence and stage demeanor was solid, and that obviously helps a lot in getting any audience to listen and laugh. And his set had a nice thematic flow to it, touching several topics that all came back to him knowing his limitations. When I was a young stand-up, headliners I asked for advice almost always followed up the number one tip (keep getting on stage as much as you can) with the need to figure out and develop my point of view. Plenty of people can be funny or write a good joke, but think about how many times an audience member went to a comedy club and later has no idea who they laughed at the night before. Make them remember you. In a good way. I remembered TuRae's set in NYC, which was focused all on him. It combined bits from his sets at Montreal and Def Comedy Jam (includes NSFW language):
And this is how TuRae approached HBO's Def Comedy Jam in 2008: