Another great opening from Craig Robinson. He sits wearing an ascot stroking a cat like some kind of Bond villain. See, this is what a comedy-based reality show should be like, after all these years: funny. I bet executives are smacking their foreheads going, “Why didn’t we think of that before?”
This week it’s the semi-finals. How long does this season go? If it’s the semis already, will the finals be next week? And that’s that? Here’s hoping. Or will next week be the other semi-finals? Now I’m confused.
They’re in Hollywood. Introducing the judges. Good to see NBC is magnanimous enough to give Letterman as a credit for Andy Kindler. And is Greg Giraldo the new Don Johnson? How is it possible he always has five o’clock shadow? It’s national TV. Can’t he shave in his dressing room?
1. They get right to it. No dilly-dallying. Excellent. More stand-up comedy. First up is the wordy and nerdy Myq Kaplan. He has a decent opening line: “Thank you very much. Let’s have another round of applause when I’m done.” Okay, that’s chuckle worthy. But they edit in a shot of a woman laughing hysterically like it's the funniest thing she's ever heard in her life. Surely that reaction can’t be from that line, unless she’s hopped up on Ritalin. I like his message, though. He’s a smart guy and he doesn’t try to dumb it down for the masses. He’s pro-reading and makes fun of those who only will pick up a book if an actor’s face is on it. I can just see him doing PSA’s for NBC’s The More You Know segments. He also gets in some decent knocks at religion, considering this is prime time American television.
They’re going with comments from the judges after each act, I guess. Kindler raved, saying he can’t think of a better line in comedy than Kaplan’s “Brad Pitt is in this book.” Natasha Leggero was impressed that his subdued, intellectual comedy still killed in that theatre setting. (I think comics are often too afraid to be smart. Or rather they’re too afraid the audience will always be dumb. I say assume they’re smart until proven otherwise.) Giraldo wasn’t as constructive. He just called it a “great, great, great set.” And they say getting the bullet slot is tough. He did great. (Although it’s quite possible the editors are mixing up the order.)
2. Jamie Lee is next. She talks about her model roommate, who forces nutrition tips on her. Turns out her roomie is a hypocrite because she does cocaine. Way to get middle American right off the bat, Jamie! Next she talks about dating another comic. The jokes were mildly entertaining but none of them made any sense. Or at least they didn’t follow from the set-up. I’m going out on a limb and predicting she won’t make it through.
Kindler loved her style but said not all her jokes hit with him, but when they did “it was really, really great.” Leggero thought she had huge potential but worried that the crowd wasn’t responding. (Another pet peeve: how the crowd responds. Yeah, I know, a comic has to win over a crowd, but sometimes crowds are just bad. Sometimes they don't appreciate really good stand-ups and sometimes they like really simple, stupid stuff.) Giraldo thought it wasn’t the best set she could have done but he thought she was very funny and it was still a good set overall.
Now picture Ant in one of the judge’s chairs. He would have eviscerated her. These guys essentially told her the same thing, but framed it way more positively.
3. Mike DeStefano is showing off his numerous tatts, so that’s one strike against him in my books. He says he’s not here to make friends with anybody. That’s two strikes. Now he takes the stage. He goes into his Italian shtick, playing up the stereotypes. His grandmother would stab him with a knitting needle for not shoplifting. Bleh. But his tag was good: “You’re gonna end up in college.” Then a ridiculous joke about picking up a girl who tells him she’s bulimic. First of all, that’d never happen. The point of the joke is that he doesn’t know what it means, first figuring it’s a nationality, then a STD. Didn’t do anything for me. Let’s see what the judges say.
Kindler says he’s hilarious and he couldn’t criticise him on any level. He made him laugh from the beginning to the end, in the middle and afterwards. (Kindler is known to lambaste really popular comics. I hope one of these comics gets so huge they’re playing arenas and Kindler goes on one of his rants against them. Then we can roll the clip and see him fawning over them at this stage of their career.) Leggero is too concerned with the crowd. She remarks on the screamers in the audience for him. Who cares? Giraldo liked his material, point of view and character, calling his set "awesome".
4. Kyle Grooms is playing to the biggest crowd of his life. But he’s very relaxed and confident. Talks about being from Jersey and segues into other places. Like Detroit, where “you could buy a house for five dollars. Detroit doing so bad, Haiti’s throwing them a benefit concert.” He finished with a decent line about water theme parks, drawing the connection between them and countries that don’t even have enough water to drink.
Kindler zinged him, saying Kyle stole his opening line, “’Sup, LA?” He enjoyed the whole set but thought some of it was more cutting edge than the rest, and singled out the water theme park line. Natasha and Greg both thought he was "hilarious".
5. Shane Mauss started with some questionable material. Not that it wasn’t darkly funny, but maybe it was a bit too dark. He talked about a girl whose legs were cut off on an amusement park ride and his sympathy lay with the people waiting in line. He may have pulled it off, though. To complete his unlikability quotient, he then talked about being a thieving alcoholic.
Andy says, “Well, the crowd obviously loves dismemberment humour. As we all do.” He thought Mauss was "very, very funny". Leggero likes someone who’s comfortable with a groaning audience. And Giraldo thought he was "hilarious, hilarious".
6. Adrienne Iapalucci lives in her mom’s basement apartment but they haven’t spoken in months and used that as a springboard into mother-daughter humour and from there about her job as a nanny. The kids were so annoying, she couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be a pedophile. Great joke and unique perspective.
Kindler said there were a lot of disturbing things in her life that she’s turned into hilarious comedy. She deadpanned, “I would agree.” Giraldo also thought she was "hilarious", too, singling out a Mother’s Day joke she did as one of the best. Natasha wished she would have ended a little stronger. I thought her last joke was her best.
7. Felipe Esparza enters to a Dispicable Me promo at the bottom of the screen. Despicable them, indeed. Enough already. Esparza talked about riding the bus but there was nothing fresh or original there. In fact, his big punchline was a Star Wars analogy. Then he talked about how ugly he is. Not a particularly funny set from where I sat. Let’s see what the judges thought.
Kindler was diplomatic, saying there was a variance in the material but his stage presence was “really fantastic”. Natasha thought he was “so funny and everyone loves you”. Again, too worried about the crowd. Giraldo said he’s one of those guys who is just funny it doesn’t even matter what the jokes are, and his rhythms are good and he’s able to talk about his own life. Then he said he was "hilarious" and had a great set. Makes you wonder what was left out in the editing from his set.
Gotta love Craig Robinson. Welcoming us back, he says, “Yes, I’m hosting this thing. You’re welcome, America... Let’s get back to the hair-pulling.”
8. Jonathan Thymius saunters out, telling us some good news/bad news. The doctors had to remove a third of his stomach because of his enormous weight gain, but they let him eat it. I’d like the joke more if he established it was true, or at least convinced us of the fact. Otherwise it’s just a weak joke. Didn’t like his next joke just because it’s such an old structure: “My wife called me a scatterbrain. So I told her, ‘Listen, whatever-your-name-is.’” Yeah, there was more to it, but those types of jokes are common. The first one I remember is Drake Sather’s classic: “My girlfriend thinks I’m too nosy. At least that’s what she scribbled in her diary.” Pick a descriptive, then respond to it with a trait that’s common to the adjective used. Comedy-by-the-numbers. Finally, Thymius peels off his sock for some ventriloquism. He puts the sock on his hand then asks a question. The joke is that it’s his bare foot that talks. Okay, we weren’t expecting that, but who cares because it made no sense that he’d put the sock on his hand if it wasn't going to be the puppet. So thumbs down from me.
Kindler thinks he’s hilarious and loves his delivery. I think he’s half right. I do like the guy’s delivery. Leggero doesn’t tell us what she thinks. She just asks him how he thought he did. He didn’t answer. Giraldo also throws out the "hilarious" word. He also calls him an “absolute original” and thought the jokes were great, too. I should count how many times the judges use the word “hilarious”. Maybe next time. I’m not rewinding.
9. Lil’ Rel wants to prove to people that stand-up isn’t dead and it’s back in Lil’ Rel, baby. Uh, who thought stand-up was dead? He comes out and asks, “What’s going on, L.A? Make some noise.” You see, he needed noise to get into his funeral bit... Huh? Turns out he can make enough noise himself. He screamed his act. Granted, he was doing characters, but still. And I’d say his characterizations were good, but his act wasn’t. If stand-up were, indeed, dead, that set didn’t do anything to revive it. But I could see him acting in movies or sitcoms because he’s probably a funny guy. It’s just that stand-up isn’t his thang.
Kindler said the bit didn’t connect with him, but “I think you’re funny.” Natasha thought he took to long to get to his first laugh and Lil’ Rel said he plays urban rooms and likes to develop characters instead of going for quick and easy laughs. Giraldo, not surprisingly, thought he was “hilarious” with the characters and thought he was a great actor. I agree.
10. Jason Weems loves shopping at “these huge mega-stores to save money and have my prices rolled back.” Guess who’s not allowed to say Walmart on national TV? It started well, contrasting the greeters on your entry with the receipt check upon your exit, but that was his peak. He moved on to a remark a kid in his kindergarten class told him about being a monkey and there was no surprise to his punchline whatsoever. It’s exactly what we thought when he told us what the kid said.
Andy thought he was great and loved so much of what Jason did, saying he’s “really, really funny.” Natasha was having a hard time connecting and she’s met with boos from the crowd. She counters that comedy is a subjective art form. Yes! She noted that it was obvious the crowd liked him but she was just a little lost. Greg thought some of the jokes were better than the others but he said Weems’ best joke was the banana one. Huh? He thought that last whole chunk was “awesome and really, really funny and original.”
I’m just glad one of the judges finally was less than effusive. I mean, I’m glad there isn’t the one judge who’s the designated prick, but hearing “you’re hilarious” and “you’re really, really funny” over and over again isn’t exactly instructive. Because if everyone is hilariously funny, then nobody is. That is, they may all be funny, but how about some more specifics or constructive criticism. They don’t need to be jerks, just not so worried about giving their honest opinion in a respectful way.
11. Ryan Hamilton, he with the big mouth, opens with the standard, “I know you can tell by just looking at me...” line. Again, comedy-by-the-numbers. He finishes the line by saying he’s a big risk taker. Now why is that funny? Do risk takers have an identifiable look? Why not just go into the bit, saying he went skydiving? The whole set was telling the story of his tandem jump. He made it funnier than it was. Write out his act and there’s not much to it. But he’s a naturally funny-looking and funny-sounding guy and that goes a long way.
Kindler thought the set was great but up and down, making no reference to the skydiving. He said sometimes his attention wandered. Giraldo nailed it, saying he has a great advantage because people start laughing before he even says anything. Leggero liked his physicality but didn’t connect so much with the jokes, to groans from the crowd. But she thought he was very funny and very watchable. I’d agree completely.
12. Here comes the angry comic, Paula Bel. She goes political. Maybe she’s trying to forge a career as the female Lewis Black. The Obama stuff did nothing for me. Only when she got slightly personal did I think it worked. She said she’s not going to pray because the last time she went into a church she got married. Of course, if you analyze it, the joke doesn’t make sense because you don’t need to go into a church in order to pray. But I’ll cut her some slack. Her priest joke didn’t work, either. “What, are you going to pray to the priest?” Actually, I don’t think anyone prays to priests, but do go on. “These priests are running amok. Let’s start with the outfit, okay? It’s an old guy in a robe drinking wine all day. You gonna leave your kids with him?” Where to begin? I can forgive the robe (priests don’t wear robes) and drinking wine all day (they drink it as part of the service), but the last sentence makes no sense. Yes, she was going for the obvious priest-as-pedophile joke, but it was sloppy. “You gonna leave your kids with him?” Who leaves their kids with a priest? Makes it sound like he’s babysitting or running a daycare. She’s all attitude, not so much with the craft.
There were no real comments from the judges because she attacked them first. And that was her best work. I liked that. Giraldo did manage to say she was “very funny” at the end.
13. Jesse Joyce told us he was in a movie playing a comedian. He told a story about his 1990 Honda breaking down in a tunnel but he kind of lost me. How did he get back? Like Kindler a while back, I think I zoned out. That can’t be good. I think Joyce looks and sounds like a stand-up comic more than he is one.
Kindler said there were fewer jokes per minute due to the story nature of his set, but that was no criticism he wanted Joyce to know. Kindler thought he was “very funny”. Leggero thought he would have benefited from having a longer set because he was rushing, but she, too, thinks he’s funny. Giraldo thought he had a very solid set and was “very funny”.
14. Rachel Feinstein tells the camera she, too, tells stories and eschews the set-up/punchline style. Oh joy. But she comes out and immediately does a quality joke. She dated a guy with big hips. She doesn’t care if he’s a bit fat, but “don’t be voluptuous.” Then she imagines having sex with a soft, bearded theatre teacher. This is not storytelling so far. Maybe she’s not clear on the concept. I liked her grandmother impression, too. It was a good set.
Andy thought she was “fantastic” and “really funny” because she got funny material out of the subject matter without resorting to going blue. Natasha thought she was fun to watch, had great characters and great jokes, and it’s not often you get all of that in one package. She’s right. Greg thought she’s “hilarious.” (I think he’s winning the “hilarious” battle among the judges.)
15. Kirk Fox weaved an unbelievable tale of his upstairs neighbour, a 100-year-old woman with a .357 Magnun who says she has a hit out on her. I don’t mind absurd humour at all. But when it’s presented as truthful and it’s ridiculously untrue, it loses me. He had a good line about telling her nobody has a hit out on her (“God can’t even kill you”), but it was too late. But I do like his persona.
Mr. Kindler loved her energy and his approach. Then he said, “I love you!” Didn’t mention his material, though. Mr. Giraldo, get this, thought he was “hilarious, hilarious”, one-upping himself over everyone else he’s lauded. Ms. Leggero was too busy flirting with Fox to offer any comment.
16. Amanda Melson did a joke about juvenile diabetes that was different from Dave Shumka’s but same idea. I guess it was just a matter of time. We know she didn’t steal it, though, because Shumka’s got no stand-up presence online. And you know what they say about a bit: whoever does it on national TV first, wins.
Kindler’s thing is homelessness. He didn’t like her bit about homeless people but I didn’t think she was making fun of them at all. She was making fun of the ultra-hip company she worked for. Of course, maybe it was lost in the editing. Giraldo thought she had great jokes that were really well written, but he didn’t say she was hilarious so that must mean he hated her. Again, nothing from Leggero.
17. Chip Pope looks like a young Jm J. Bullock. And coincidentally he starts off saying office work is like game shows. Oh look, he’s gay, too. Maybe he’s Bullock’s son. Other than his literal take on coming out of the closet, he was enjoyable. Especially his summation of everything Paul Simon’s ever written.
Natasha thinks he’s “hilarious”. Greg thought he was just “great” and “very funny”. That’s gotta be a big blow to Chip when Giraldo can't even summon up one "hilarious". Kindler didn’t say how he felt.
18. Alycia Cooper cancelled her health insurance because they’re giving pap smears at the airport... Say what? What did I miss? Intrusive body searches? Is that it? Am I dense? I really like her delivery, but she didn’t get me until her joke telling cheating guys to at least cheat up, so much so that the girlfriend can’t even say anything, other than: “I let myself go. You warned me.” That was a good bit.
Giraldo mentioned the “cheating up” bit and another joke she did, but thought the others weren’t quite up to that standard. But he thought it was a good set. No comments from the others.
19. David Feldman and his hair plugs are next. He started slowly. I think his deliberate style had something to do with it. I liked his joke writing way more than his delivery. Tough call on this one.
Giraldo thinks Feldman’s jokes are brilliantly written, too. Kindler likes the fact the audience wasn’t with him, and he thought Feldman was “hilarious”. Natasha thinks he’s very dark, very funny, very original and his jokes are very quotable. I don’t disagree with any of those comments.
Decision time. Damn, I wish I knew how many advanced so I could make an informed prediction. Without knowing, I’ll list who I would vote for based on what we saw. These aren’t who I think they’ll vote for, just who I liked the best: Myq Kaplan, Kyle Grooms, Adrienne Iapalucci, Rachel Feinstein and Chip Pope would be my choices. Three on the fence are Ryan Hamilton, Alycia Cooper and David Feldman. Now let’s see what the real judges say:
On the stage at the end are 23 comics. I believe we only saw 19 of them. I wonder who didn’t make the cut and didn’t even get any airtime. Robinson says, “It’s time to find out who’s moving on to the next round and whose life is ruined forever.” This guy should host every reality show. I’d watch just for him.
What is this? They’re in groups? One from each group will move forward. Why can’t these rules be laid out ahead of time? Don’t they know us armchair judges want to play along at home?
Here’s another problem. They bring group one out but we don’t see them all. Probably because not all of them got camera time. But I’d like to know who the winner was up against. Out of this first group, the unremarkable Felipe Esparza advances. What’s the emoticon for shaking one’s head? Dare I suggest he was the only Hispanic in the group and the show aims to be inclusive? I know Alycia Cooper was in his group. She was on the fence for me, but Esparza wasn’t anywhere near the fence.
Group two consists of Paula Bel, David Feldman, Myq Kaplan and Kyle Grooms. I had two of those guys for sure but only one will make it. And it’s Myq Kaplan. Not a surprise. Of those, I thought he was the best. But this is just an odd way of doing things. Why are they up against only a few others instead of everybody else? I don’t like it.
Group three has Rachel Feinstein, Kirk Fox, Adrienne Iapalucci, Shane Mauss and Jason Weems, from what I can tell. One of the women should get it and, indeed, Rachel Feinstein advances.
Group four has Lil’ Rel, Ryan Hamilton, Mike DeStefano, Chip Pope and one of the women. Jamie Lee maybe? It’s been a long two hours. The one moving on is Mike DeStefano.
Group five has only two guys in it. What’s up with that? I hate this. If you’re going to have everyone in groups, why can’t we know as we go along who is competing against whom? The last two guys are Jonathan Thymius and Jesse Joyce, neither of whom I think are worthy of advancing. But Jonathan Thymius advances.
There are the first five finalists: Felipe Esparza, Myq Kaplan, Rachel Feinstein, Mike DeStefano and Jonathan Thymius. I like two of them.
So two more shows? I think I can handle that.