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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Last Comic Standing: Week 8

Let’s get at this a day early, since I’ve got to go review a show tomorrow night. The TV guide tells me, “The Top 5 quipsters perform.” So by process of elimination and a masterful ability with basic arithmetic, that means two will get the boot from the seven who remained at the end of last week. According to my calculations, they should be Felipe Esparza and Jonathan Thymius. Will they be? Of course not. I am out of step with the masses. One anonymous commenter here wrote to say his/her favourites were Esparza and Myq Kaplan just because they were both unique and nobody else could do their material. Let me just state the obvious: comedy, like all art, is subjective. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its member states.

I think all the comics left are unique in their own way. That doesn’t make them all funny to me. Esparza has a unique look (for a comedian, anyway). It’s what’s coming out of his mouth I don’t find particularly entertaining. I wouldn’t say his jokes are particularly unique or original. But I recognize that many other people find him hilarious. No one I know or would care to have as a friend, but that’s besides the point.

Okay, it’s time to fire up the PVR and see what misguided choices the American public made (again).

They went with a new opening this week, trying to keep us all on our toes. Either that or Craig Robinson really is MIA. (I heard a recent WTF podcast with Marc Maron that Robinson was scheduled to be on and he was a no-show.)

The comics in turn walk to a mic stand (complete with mic) and introduce themselves: Myq Kaplan from Boston (sort of, he says, trying to be mysterious), Felipe Esparza from the East Los Angeles part of Los Angeles (over there, he says, trying to relate to the crowd), Tommy Johnagin from somewhere in Illinois (the birthplace of funk, he says, trying to be ironic I’m guessing), Roy Wood, Jr. from Birmingham, Alabama (whose biggest export is Rueben Studdard, he says, trying to get the American Idol vote), Rachel Feinstein from the urban jungle of Bethesda, Maryland (rubbing fake dandruff off her shoulders trying to to show she’s not just another pretty face, she actually has a scalp condition), Mike DeStefano from the Bronx and still lives in the Bronx (help him get out of the Bronx, he says, trying to distance himself from his people), and Jonathan Thymius who might look like the mayor of Ohio but he’s also from the Bronx (trying to keep up the weirdness).

Oh, there he is. Craig Robinson in da house, y’all! Will he make skin on skin contact with anyone this week? That’s all I’m tuning in for.

The results are in! The first comic who earned enough votes to perform this week is Jonathan Thymius! What did I tell you, people?! I know how to reverse pick ’em!

In keeping with the show’s secrecy and sketchy at best ethics, we are not informed of the vote totals.

Thymius looks as surprised as I do. I think he’s just panicking internally because he’s used up all his material and has already dipped into his old stuff.

They show a prepared segment with Thymius. He says he has a company called Comedy-o-gram where he hires himself out to perform stand-up comedy at special events. He straps a cardboard brick wall to his back, carries a mic and portable amp and heads out the door wearing a shirt and tie, shorts and runners with no socks. Is this a gag or for realsies? Hang on, let me pause and Google...

I’m back. I have no idea. The problem with doing a blog a day or two late is by the time you search for something like “comedy-o-gram” as seen on LCS, all the references are other blogs about the show.

Here’s Thymius on stage now. He enters with that dazed and confused look all around him, up and down, that he does every week like he’s never been there before and is blown away by the glitz. I think it loses its punch a bit considering he was just standing on that very stage ten seconds ago. Not to mention the fact he’s done that every single week he’s performed.

Ah, he gets around it with his opening line: “Is this Groundhog Day?” Not a big enough pay-off. More like a line he frantically wrote just so he could do the stunned walk out. His next line is a pet peeve of mine (note to anonymous commenters – this means it’s subjective): “You can tell by looking at me...” I don’t care what line comes next, I’m not buying it. It’s way, way too common a set-up that is always followed with a comedic flip-flop of what we see. In this case that he’s been exercising. The crowd barely murmurred, which is encouraging. But wait! He tags it with a Wendy Liebmanesque pause that refreshes, finishing his sentence with “ right not to work out.” I think the pause was a bit too long, but still it was a nice turn. He rubs his hands over his round belly just in case we didn’t notice it under his untucked shirt. No, we got it, Jonathan. The shirt’s not fooling anyone.

He flubs his next line and repeats it twice, to no reaction except for a few sympathetic laughs because he’s dying up there. He said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, I weigh only ten pounds.” Too bad he stumbled because that’s a good joke. He also faultered with his joke about wearing an armband, saying it was “for all the memories of all the comedians that were memorialized (long pause) on the show.” Very little reaction because it’s been too long since we’ve seen one of those “in memorium” tributes when someone gets voted off. The punchline being that they were taken out and killed, which seems awful, he says, “but hey, a deal’s a deal.” Too bad he couldn’t have set it up better because the premise was a good one.

His next one is just weak. When he was young, he wanted to be a cowboy “but I couldn’t stand the thought of being milked every morning.” 1. That makes no sense except in the most convoluted unrealistic pun sense. 2. The set-up was faulty. If he couldn’t stand the thought of being milked every morning, why did he want to be a cowboy? Why not set it up as his best friend wanted to be a cowboy? That way he wouldn’t be contradicting himself. He’d be coming off like an ignorant know-it-all and it would work a lot better.

Next he acts like something flew in his hair, which we can only assume was a moth or fly. He looks around and goes, “Whoa!” Then after a long pause, a dismissive, “Birds.” That’s some great writing. He ends with a bit about being in the scouts – the mid-life crisis scouts – that also ends on a pun. They get merit badges for memorizing all 50 prostates.

My Grade: C-

Let’s go to the judges: Andy Kindler calls him on the “patented look-around thing”. He says, “I don’t know what you’re looking at but it’s fantastic.” He also says he loves the fact he’d sit at home and write down, “Birds”. And finished by saying “I love you.” I praised these judges early in the season for not being assholes, but now I’m thinking they’re too nice. I mean, I appreciate they’re not there to hurt feelings and they can still get in their little shots within a compliment, but they’ve got to stop throwing around words like great and fantastic and hilarious and I love you so willy-nilly. Natasha Leggero says she didn’t get “milk a cowboy” either. Glad to hear. She says she thought it was a dirty joke. I think it ended that way when he said now he wouldn’t mind getting milked every day. She says, “I don’t think anyone else could get away with the jokes you’re telling. It’s absurd and silly and kind of funny, I think.” Perfect. She framed her criticisms in a compliment but didn’t go overboard. Thumbs-up, Natasha. (And yes, that’s another obtuse dirty joke.) Greg Giraldo said he’s done a lot of sets leading up to today and gets the sense he may be running out of steam at this point just in terms of jokes. Wow, I should be a judge. They each mentioned something I wrote about during the set.


Hey, Robinson just said six comics perform and one will be eliminated tonight. So much for my stellar arithmetic. But I blame the people who write the PVR info. They said five are performing.

The next comic who earned enough votes (we’ll take their word for it) to perform next is Roy Wood, Jr. That’s a good call. He had a really strong set last week.

In the pre-recorded segment, he did a funny bit with his mom, trying to put her in a sling because, “I’ll get more votes if my mom is crippled.”

He opened with a bit about being pulled into some drama at a fast food outlet “this week”. No need to fake a timeline. We know you didn’t write the chunk this week. The joke didn’t elicit a smile from me but it was okay. He took a little slice of life and managed a comment on the bigger picture, in this case misguided racism, or the perception thereof. A black guy getting cheated out of a chicken nugget is not in the Klan’s master plan.

I like his style. He’s got a strong point of view and still remains accessible. The next bit was about multiple-birth parents getting money and “snacks” from people. If you take a fertility pill to have a kid, fine, but if you have more kids than you can afford, “Ha-ha, not my fault.” So far I’m just admiring him without laughing. But I laughed at his next bit when he says, “Why do you have to keep all the kids? Where is that a written rule? You just met them kids. Pick two or three. You don’t know these kids.” And he turns it into a competition hosted by Craig Robinson: “Welcome back to Last Baby Standing.” And he follows it with another really funny and astute observation: “Six kids at one time, you get free stuff from Oprah; six kids, five different men, you’re on Maury Povich for a paternity test.”

My Grade: B+

The judges speak: Natasha says she feels like they could give him any topic and he’d make it funny. I don’t disagree. Greg says he’s like a grumpy old man in a young man’s body, but it doesn’t feel forced. It was a killer, killer set. I don’t disagree. Andy says, “First of all, thank you for standing up for the white man.” He loves how conversational he is. I don’t disagree.


Man, Robinson is funny. I just laughed at his over-the-top wrestling announcer voice saying the comics were all vying to win the title of Last Comic Standing: “Are you ready... to watch... them... VIE?!”

He then asks for a drum roll and gets a guy playing steel drum (which is a musical drum from Trinidad and Tobago).

The next comic who will move on and perform next is the tiniest person on the stage, Myq Kaplan, who also deserved to be there based on last week’s set. (If he ate meat or drank milk, he'd probably be taller.)

The pre-recorded bit shows him with guitar, telling us he used to do music. He sings a song telling us about himself. He doesn’t know his persona very well because in the song he says, “I lie about my STD’s.” The vibe he gives off is not one of a sexually promiscuous person but of a guy who’s never had sex before. He should play that up, even if it isn’t true, because that’s the perception. The next line’s about calling his grandmother and parents works, and it’s followed with, “I stalk and kill former lovers”. I’m okay with that because even though he doesn’t look like he’d have former lovers, I can see him as a serial killer. And it ends well because he gets back to his pedantic pseudo-intellectual persona where he says, “And sometimes I play music/but that’s self-evident.”

On stage, Kaplan does the old, but effective, trick of pretending to be the object of ridicule in the previous comic’s set. “Things have been going okay recently, but I ordered some nuggets and they only gave me four.” Again, I hate to over-analyze (ah, who am I kidding? I *love* to over-analyze!), the person cheated out of a nugget in Woods’ joke was a black man. Kaplan isn’t. Later he tells us he was married once, but got out alive. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, that’s one out of every two people. So that means it’s either going to be you or your wife. Not a fan of that form of joke, either, which is basically throw a stat out there and misinterpret it to include you or the people around you. You’ve all heard countless variations on it: One out of two people are such-and-such. Look around you; if it’s not you, it’s the person sitting next to you. I liked his bit about having his remains scattered over a beautiful park when he dies... only he doesn’t want to be cremated. Just have his body parts strewn about like a scavenger hunt. He ends with a smart and funny description of the movie Final Destination and its effects on him. I’ve never even seen or heard of the movie and it was good.

My Grade: B-

Judges, what did you think?: Giraldo comments on Kaplan’s numerous applause breaks, saying he’s a very funny writer and a great performer. Kindler says he loved that he made people laugh at a movie that “I don’t even think is a real movie. They never heard of it; I don’t know what you were talking about, and yet you brought me along.” (Google alert: I just checked and it’s a real movie twice over. The plot isn’t exactly as Kaplan described it but the broad strokes are there.) The lovely Leggero said he’s very clever and if the show were called Last Comedy Writer Standing, he would definitely win. (Interpretation: she doesn’t think he’s a good comedian.)


Who’s next? Why, it’s none other than... Tommy Johnagin, who I thought had the best set of anyone last week.

In the pre-recorded segment, Johnagin lets us know in no uncertain terms that he’s one of us. That is, if you’re from middle America.

He likes those tight dress shirts. Will he have wet armpits this week? He says he had a pregnancy scare with a girl a while back (see, you don’t need to be time specific and say “last week”). Actually, “she had a pregnancy scare; I just thought I had to move.” Here’s an example of how to breathe new life into a tired premise. He’s essentially talking about the differences between men and women but doesn’t set it up that way. And his examples are fresh and funny. At any sign of a tummy ache, a woman’s friends automatically go to pregnancy, whereas his guy friends could see his girlfriend eight months pregnant and assume it’s just gas or she ate a baby. Another great line: “The only thing I know about babies is don’t shake ’em or feed ’em chocolate and I think that second one’s for dogs.” He ended on a bit about a penis “popping”. I didn’t get what that was until the very end when he said it meant “explode”. But it didn’t explain how it exploded in the first place, beyond being in a car crash. (Also, no pit stains.)

My Grade: B+

Judgerinos: Andy says he’s cocky, confident and hilarious. Natasha didn’t get the popping of the penis, either. But she still thinks he’s real funny. Greg said it was a great set.


Three comics left. Two will stay. It’s down to Mike DeStefano, Felipe Esparza and Rachel Feinstein. You know who I’d send packing. Of these three, DeStefano is head and shoulders above the others and should be called next.

And he is! In the pre-recorded segment we see the bad-ass DeStefano, all inked up, getting on a motorbike. He says he’s pretty much the same guy on stage and off stage and wants people to know it’s not an act. I don’t know what to make of that. I had hopes for him. But if that’s who he is off-stage, stay clear. But wait! There’s a payoff to the gag. He rides his chopper to a shop and we see him inside getting a manicure and pedicure, with his overbearing mother leaning over giving direction.

On-stage he tells us he was on drugs for 15 years (I guess that explains the tatts) and has now been 12 years off drugs. (Making him... old.) But he won’t talk to kids about drugs for some labyrinthian reason, but he will tell them his story. He did heroin, went to rehab and now is on national television. “So don’t do that... It worked out for me, I’m sorry!” I see now why Johnagin made his appeal to middle America. It just might pay off. He tells young girls worried about their weight that he has memories that weigh more than they do. (And he probably has underwear older than them, too.)

My Grade: C+

Judges: Natasha says, “Mike, I love you. I just hope the people watching in prison can get to a hall phone.” Good line. And she gives him a little wink. What was that about? Is the fix in? Greg says he’s always funny and he’s one of the few likable violent people. Andy thought it was his best set yet. “I love what you did and now I want to do heroin, too. Thanks, Mike.”


Either Feinstein or Esparza is going home. I'm fine with that. And it’s Rachel Feinstein who’s now told her last joke on the show. See you on SNL, Rachel.

In the pre-recorded bit, Esparza shows us his East L.A. workout. If Cheech Marin were dead, he’d be rolling over in his grave.

He comes out on stage and says he doesn’t like the stereotypes about Latinos. (This coming immediately after the East L.A. workout.) “We’re not all hard-workers.” That’s a nice bit of misdirection. He likens the Arizona law to club bouncers. If he gets deported, he’ll say, “But sir, I was already in there, though. My friends are in there.” He says he’s a weekend dad. This is the first we’ve heard of that. But I like where he goes with it. His kid shows up on Saturday way too early. “Like around noon.” His mom lets him in his room. “No respect!” I like those jokes because they’re saying lots of different things at once: He’s got a kid, he’s lazy, he lives at home, he’s selfish, he’s a bad dad. So far this is the best set I’ve seen from him. But he ends poorly with a joke about a scared smiley emoticon.

My Grade: C

The judges speak: Giraldo thanks him for making him feel better for his own parenting skills. He thought it was a solid set. Kindler calls him an original, which could be taken either way. And Leggero says, “Half the time I don’t know what you’re saying but it’s always funny.” I agree with half of that.

Going by my grade scores, here are my finalists, in order from top to bottom:
  1. Roy Wood, Jr. B+
  2. Tommy Johnagin B+
  3. Myq Kaplan B-
  4. Mike DeStefano C+
  5. Felipe Esparza C
That means Thymius (C-) will be voted out. And I’m confident about this prediction this time. You mark my words!

So that’s that. Next week, Robinson says, is the final performance show. Does that mean it continues in some other format after next week? Do they pare down from 5 to 1 in one fell swoop? We will see.

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