2010's Boston Comedy Festival had plenty of competition to attract audience members to its competition finale last night at the Wilbur Theatre, from Denis Leary's Comics Come Home XVI, which packed upward of 6,000 in Agganis Arena to see Jim Norton, Pete Correale, Thomas Dale, Lenny Clarke, Joe Yannetty, Adam Ferrara, Jimmy Dunn and Steven Wright — to the Wilbur's next-door neighbors at the Wang Theatre, where Jim Gaffigan (who also made a cameo at Comics Come Home), was holding court to 3,600 fans. Todd Barry, meanwhile, was headlining at the Hard Rock Cafe, Darryl Lenox was playing Cheers Comedy Club, and the Comedy Studio and Mottley's featured their own motley crews of stand-ups on the rise.
With all of that competition, the BCF persevered with a strong finals lineup that produced its first-ever tie, bookended by performances from Lenox, Joe Wong (who received a Boston Comedian of the Year Award) and Robert Klein (who received the fest's Lifetime Achievement Award).
Klein noted that his first Broadway production, "The Apple Tree," previewed in Boston's theater district before hitting Broadway in 1966, and he joked about how Mike Nichols got to stay in the Ritz, while Klein was stuck in a seedy hotel called the Avery in Boston's "combat zone." Wong, meanwhile, served as a living role model for all of the comedians in the contest who didn't win, because he has never won it, either. Instead, he said that Letterman's booker Eddie Brill saw something in him during the 2005 contest and helped groom him for his two Late Show appearances in 2009-2010.
Nate Bargatze and Saleem Muhammad, who goes by just Saleem onstage, did achieve dual firsts by tying for first-place in the 2010 competition. Bargatze wasn't fazed by having the "bullet" spot in the lineup, joking about his attempts at community college, defending Wal-Mart, and questioning his ability to take an actual bullet for his wife. For Bargatze, a Tennessee native based now in NYC, this is his third big competition of the year, having already achieved wins twice at Carolines (for its "Final Four" tournament in March, and then its "New York's Funniest" in November). Saleem, a native of Dayton, Ohio, now based in L.A., told the audience he was "your final negro of the evening," claimed he was more surprised to see a black First Lady in his lifetime, wondered why white kids are more black than he is, and acknowledged that being gay is tougher than being black.
Wil Sylvince took third place. The other finalists — Orlando Baxter, Nick Cobb, Matt D., Mehran and Lamont Price — all put in strong performances themselves.
I caught up with the top three finishers after the show backstage at the Wilbur Theatre for a quick chat to find out how they'd split their prize money and record deal. Roll it!