Last Comic Standing 9: The Semifinals (Part Two)

We’re in the homestretch of episodes that don’t have nearly enough time to showcase 21 stand-up comedians in 44 minutes, as this is the second and final semifinal of season nine of NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

A quick pan across the green room and there’s Andi Smith revealing to us she didn’t even pack enough clothing to anticipate a semifinal performance, juxtaposed with advice from judge Keenen Ivory Wayans that the comedians bring it, so it gets brought. “This is a comedy rumble,” says judge Roseanne Barr. “They’re either going to choke…or they’re going to kill.” Wait. That’s not a rumble. She’s describing the Hunger Games. Is Last Comic the Hunger Games of Comedy? Discuss.

But first! Another pep talk from host Anthony Jeselnik: “Have a great show. I’m rooting for five of you!” And Wanda Sykes is back as not only the executive producer behind the scenes, but also the mentor for our 21 remaining semifinalists. And a pattern emerges. You must have stronger jokes if you want the judges to pick you over 16 other professional comedians and continue in this competition.

“Most comics have a speech, but I like to have a conversation,” says Ian Bagg. And Sykes agrees with judges’ comments who advised he get even more into crowd work, despite the fact that at this point, the comedians still only have a few minutes of stage time. So. Essentially. WING IT, BAGG!

He does have actual jokes to tell, mostly about yoga pants and the women who wear them while doing everything but yoga. What’s that about punching up vs. punching down? Bagg takes it quite literally. Uppercut! Judge Norm Macdonald cannot figure out how Bagg has such control over the audience, despite joking about some of the things he does. Everyone loves him. Lock down one of them thar five finalist slots for him already.

Ryan Conner was a favorite of the judges in the first round. Conner jokes about all of his adopted brothers and their varied ethnic backgrounds. Especially when his old Southern grandmother tries to make sense of their cultural assimilation. What Would Jesus Do if he weren’t a carpenter? Same thing, probably, ultimately, Conner figured. Jeselnik just wants to know if Roseanne would marry him like she did two other comedians, although for Tony-Alt-Ctrl-J, it’s really about getting in digs at the expense of Tom Arnold. What does this have to do with Ryan Conner’s chances? With Roseanne or with the show? Now that’s a good question, for which we receive no answers tonight.

Tony Baker wants us to know he still holds a paper day-planner instead of putting it all in his phone. For safety! “Very clever,” Wayans says, while Roseanne thinks his “best bit” could be even bigger.

K-Von stands up for the tradition of men paying for dinner, if only women put out first? Polite applause shown but we do not hear if anyone approved of this message. Even shorter shrift is given to Melanie Comarcho, Amir Gollan and Ricarlo Flanagan — although in hindsight, isn’t a 20-second clip of you delivering a one-liner better than the alternatives?

Shakir Standley tells us “he’s on fire right now,” which he means as a metaphor for his career, but the judges give him a mixed review. If Norm telling Shakir his jokes aren’t good enough but he’s naturally funny. So he’ll be fine with this foreshadowed rejection, is what I’m telling you.

Andi Smith‘s boyfriend collects baseball cards, which, when compared to a heroin habit, is…comforting? She does joke about her pregnancy and motherhood, and how her baby’s daddy was not much help. It’s funny not in a ha-ha way but in an oh-my way to see how Norm’s comments are in such stark contrast to Roseanne and Keenen, in that Norm’s talking and thinking about the reality of the show competition, and he’s not going to be content to simply say “very funny” and move on.

The second half-hour brings us backstage for rehearsals and mentoring with Dominique and Wanda Sykes. Onstage for the audience, Dominique grew up in D.C. but has several white friends as an adult. Unlike them, she’s not about to be killed in a horror movie or real-life murder TV show. The judges love her and feel like she’s taking them to church. Preach!

Joe List opens with a meditative thought, which would help if it wasn’t so deep that it heightens his panic attacks. List lets us know that alcoholic drinking didn’t really help with relaxation; more like life unraveling, in his case. “Some people unwind, but you unravel,” Roseanne says as a callback. They all like how List writes about his own life. “This guy is platinum,” Norm whispers loudly to Roseanne. “He’s like a machine.”

After a commercial break, we’re back in the green room where Ambrose Jones is telling Michael Palascak that he has a microphone in his home where he tells his jokes to no one in particular except himself in the mirror. How’s that working out for ya? “Your biggest competition is yourself,” Wayans tells him after his set. Which in the context of me removing his jokes in between those two moments, makes it more ironic, don’t you think?

All of which is to segue to Wayans and the other judges getting critical while comedians are seen but barely heard (wave to Drew Thomas, KT Tatara, Moses Storm, Esther Povitsky and Mike Siegel).

Noah Gardenswartz gets to open his set, so that’s promising by comparison to what we just saw flicker before their lives. In his life, he used to have long hair and made them braided into cornrows for Halloween a few years ago. Roseanne liked him but wished he were more animated onstage to sell the jokes she liked so much.

Michael Palascak gets a full intro and set, so that’s even more promising than what we just saw. What he knows about capitalism will shock and amuse you. And his terrorist joke really wowed them.

Amy Miller “is definitely a contender,” says Roseanne in a moment of obviousness. If you follow Norm Macdonald on Twitter, then you saw that he and Miller got into it quite a bit that even the cameras didn’t show, but that he has worked with her since and appreciates her comedy. Is she gold now?

So can you figure out just from this recap who made it through for the other five spots in the finals? Of course you probably could.

Congrats to Ian Bagg, Ryan Conner, Joe List, Dominique and Michael Palascak!

They’ll join the other semifinalist “winners” to see which of these Top 10 becomes the Top 1!

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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