Season eight begins Thursday on NBC with JB Smoove hosting, Wanda Sykes executive producing, and Keenen Ivory Wayans and Russell Peters joining Barr as the three judges for the 100 comedians invited to audition.
“I just thought it would be really fun,” Barr told reporters on a conference call last week. “And when I heard that Keenen Ivory Wayans was one of the judges, you know, I really love him. And, you know, I like Wanda a lot too. And, you know, so I thought it would be fun to work with some really, you know, great comics and get right in the middle of stuff that has to do with stand-up comedy.”
Page Hurwitz, who is executive-producing Last Comic‘s eighth-season with Sykes, said the biggest difference viewers will see is the lack of amateurs — no open-call auditions with lines down the block allowing anyone and everyone to mug for the cameras. Perhaps even more important from a viewing perspective? No voting.
“In the past, America would vote – – through a phone vote or a text vote. This season the judges have made all the decisions. And we think they’ve done a great job,” Hurwitz said.
The comedians who advance from the top 100 into the final 10 will (and already have, since much of the season taped this spring) undergo challenges that included a roast, sketch, improv and interviewing with the media.
Barr said she thinks she would have fared just as well as a competitor herself.
“I did in fact win the Denver Laff-Off, and that is what helped propel my career. And I, you know, did a number of other untelevised comedy contests. But I think I would’ve really worked really hard. And – or else I wouldn’t have – you know, that’s what I like about these comics because they’re prepared. And had I – you know, if I – I wouldn’t, you know become part of any contest unless I was really prepared and thought I could win. And that’s what I think we have here. We have, you know – well, we’re seeing who’s prepared and who isn’t prepared. And that’s like the most exciting part to me. But, of course, I have to say I would’ve won. Because, I mean, you have to have that kind of self-confidence being a stand-up comic. You have to really believe in what you do and that you’re the best at doing what you do. And so, we’ve seen people who come in like that, but really falter. You know. But the ones who want it the most are the ones who make it.”
Barr said she’s excited by what she already has seen this season.
“I was thinking that it was pretty static and kind of boring, actually, over these last few years,” she said. “But becoming a judge – – on this show – – and seeing people who are actually saying – you know, they’re actually writing jokes that I’ve never heard before. It’s kind of exciting. I’ve never heard these premises in so many of my favorite comics – who are competing. I’ve never heard this, particular, kind of writing. And it’s very brave. And it’s cool. So that brought me back into comedy,” she said.
“I went to The Comedy Store,” she continued. “And I saw these incredible comedians. I have never seen anything like it. I feel really old. It’s a whole different world. It’s like that feeling when I need my computer fixed; I call my 13 year-old grandson. It’s a whole other world. And, you know, it’s exciting just to watch it. I’ve been seeing. You know, and Keenen and I were talking about it. It’s like: This is like comedy coming back. It’s like a rebirth of comedy. Not just on this show – but certainly including this show – but all over the place. Yes, there’s a whole different everything. It’s exciting! It’s kind of like punk rock!”
Barr had publicly griped about the network sitcom development process over the past year, but choosing to do Last Comic allowed her to be part of comedy on TV while avoiding “having my brains racked over the coals.”
Instead, she could sit back and enjoy the comedy and the craft services alike!
Roseanne had kind words, as well, for her fellow judges.
“I have to say, I’m blown away, every week. I’m sitting next to a bodhisattva. I’m sitting next to Keenen Ivory Wayans,” she said. “His commentary and the way he sees – I mean, of course, he discovered a lot of great performers and comics on his shows and movies…And I discovered a lot of talent too. But, man, his feedback is like – I’m always like, let Keenen go first. And then I go, I agree with Keenen. He’s just a brilliant – his systematic – the way he – you know, it’s just amazing.”
And on Peters: “I mean Russell Peters – we need to mention him too because I never even heard of the guy, to be honest,” she joked. “And they’re like; this guy is like The Beatles. And so I went on YouTube to – I mean he’s playing on like 70,000-seat arenas. And, you know, is right now, like, kind of in a Russell Brand thing. He’s real new to the United States. And that guy is so funny. It’s like non-stop. He’s feedback is – he gives feedback like a standup comic – – joke, joke, joke. And I mean there’s nothing on earth that he doesn’t have a joke for. It’s amazing. And it made me like – go, ‘Oh this is so cool to be back in this arena.'”
Having them decide — and not the viewers at home calling in, texting and clicking — isn’t a bad thing, she suggested. Besides, the comedians are performing each week in front of a live audience, and their reactions count for something. “They win because they kill the audience. The laughs they’re getting, that’s part of it,” Barr said. But not all of it. Leave the crucial make-or-break decisions to the professionals. “No non-expert opinions are needed. You wouldn’t want people who’ve never acted to vote on the Academy Awards.”
How difficult was it, though, to judge a veteran headliner and a relative unknown professional stand-up side by side?
“We’re just comparing it like – you know, it’s who’s hungriest, who wants it most, who’s got the balls to get out there and deliver the mail,” Barr told The Comic’s Comic. “A lot of different things go into it. But some of the professionals – some of them – a few of them haven’t made it because they’re kind of arrogant. And they’re not really wanting it. So, you know, we’ll take somebody who infects the audience with enthusiasm over, you know, somebody who’s kind of bored.”
Back in 1986, Barr was that new, enthusiastic comedian. She got a big break courtesy of Rodney Dangerfield.
Judging Last Comic, did you feel compelled to pay it forward and give somebody their own big break. And say, ‘I helped make this person’?
“Yes, I like to support stand-up comedy as a craft and an art form and to find stars among, you know, the people who do it – so, yes. I don’t know if that answers your question,” she said.
How important was – well, just how important was Rodney putting you on his special?
“Meeting Rodney Dangerfield was just one of the biggest thrills in my life. And being his friend was another one. And, you know, the one special – I was on – had Sam Kinison. Oh, I can’t remember anybody’s name. I’m too old anymore. But, I mean, he gave everybody their starts – – everybody from me, to Dice, to Sam. I mean, he had a Young Comedian Special. And he gave us all our start – as did Mitzi Shore and Budd Friedman, I mean. You know, so I kind of feel like, maybe, I’m paying it forward, yes.”
Here is some more exclusive backstage interview footage with Roseanne Barr during the judging process for Last Comic Standing:
Last Comic Standing returns Thursday, May 22, 2014, on NBC.