So according to reports, if the show does return, it will have a new host, some new rules and hopefully some new contestants as opposed to another best-of reunion. While the current climate is far from the comedy boon of the 80’s, the market does seem to be in revival mode. Perhaps if they do it right they can make this a practical – and credible – method of getting some deserving comics serious air time.
But back to our story…
One of the elements I did pick up on was how many good comics did not make the cut. Mary Beth Cowan, from Boston, for one – her clips were funny, she was poised and (for the shallow television execs) she is attractive. Nope – cutting room floor. Jim Wiggins – more on him later – was cut, invited back when Jim Norton had to drop out and then was cut again. And the funniest guy on the show got screwed bigtime.
Of course there were the odd conflicts of interest that were permitted to occur. Bonnie McFarlane is married to Rich Vos, yet he was allowed to be a celebrity judge for one of the selection rounds in which she was a participant. On the same episode, Jim Norton was onstage while Colin Quinn was a judge, despite the fact that Norton was a regular panelist on Tough Crowd With Colin Quinn. Granted, in the comedy community, and especially in major cities, people are going to know each other. Nothing against either comic, but this clearly was one area where disclosure could have neutered a problem before it bit them in the ass.
Then there was the producer’s admission/excuse that despite the show being promoted as a vehicle to finding the funniest comic in America, the selection process for the ten finalists had more to do with the personalities of the comics…what they thought would be an interesting mix of people. Huh? Since when does that translate? So I guess if Steven Wright walked onstage, he’d be hilarious enough to laugh at but too deadpan for the crap they film in the house between stage appearances?
Being a reality show, the overtly dramatic pauses before each announcement were painful, of course. Ditto the in-house voting where each comic’s vote was replayed for the guests; Jay Mohr would recap the count between every single vote. Come on, people – if viewers (and/or the comics) are too dim to keep track of ten votes, get a white board and a marker.
And then there was the posturing, setting some people up as sympathetic or as villains. Bonnie McFarlane was occasionally obnoxious, sure, but Tammy Pescatelli was as or more manipulative than anyone else on the show, including the designated weasel, Ant. (At least what was portrayed in the broadcast, carefully edited to push your buttons as well). By the time McFarlane really melted down, she had pretty much been backed into a corner, and after a humiliating defeat in a showdown with John Heffron, the event reduced more than one of the participants to some form of tears. Kathleen Madigan – one of those who chose to maintain her dignity throughout the process – wondered aloud what happened to the comedy.
So why am I talking about this again today?
Looking back, I realize that despite its flaws, this is a viable vehicle for comedians to gain exposure and make some money. Unlike American Idol, participants are not told how to create their art to conform to the judges’ ideas of funny. The judges are not mocking out the contestants on the broadcast episodes – although the audition process seems to have a constant stream of quick “I’ve seen enough” dismissals. And reportedly adding the words Last Comic Standing to their resume has enabled comics to jack their earning potential up dramatically. Hopefully they pass some of that goodwill along by bringing lesser known comics on the road with them, the divisiveness of the coalitions and strategic bullshit of LCS long behind them. Right?
But now we’re into the credo of the comedy community, and since I’m not a working comic, I’m not privy to that. I do know that most of those I’ve met acknowledge those who paved the path before them, speak fondly of those who lent a hand when they were starting out, and profess to paying it forward with the ones coming along behind them. In any competitive industry there are throat-cutters and back-stabbers, and comedy is no exception. But it’s a small world, and payback is a bitch. And if I can believe that comedians can create believable stage personas, I can also believe that they can create a different persona for this televised show that is – at the end of the day – just a game.
And besides the bonding with my daughter, which will cause many comedy CDs and DVDs to come off the shelf in the coming weeks, by watching all the episodes I also found a new comedy hero. His name is Jim Wiggins.
Here’s a self-professed saloon comic in his 60s, thirty-plus years as a comic, tossed into the mix with all the ringers and up and comers. Looking and sounding like Mickey Rourke’s doppelgänger, Wiggins was consistently hilarious, disarmingly charming and showed incredible humility and spirit. Why he didn’t make the cut is…well, we know now why that didn’t happen. I looked him up last night and sadly discovered that in the ensuing years he was diagnosed with cancer, but apparently is now close to being back on the road.
And as for Dan Naturman, who elicited a standing ovation from the crowd and the judges but still didn’t make the cut? Cream rises. Tune in tomorrow for a review of his CD, Get Off My Property.
So if they do get LCS back on the air, I guess I’ll make an exception to my reality show credo and give it a chance. Despite the disasters they had in the subsequent seasons (including not televising the conclusion to Season 3!) there were a gaggle of good comics I discovered as a result of the breaks they got from being contestants. Sure, they might fuck it up and Dat Phan me again, but if I get a Jim Wiggins out of it, it will be worthwhile.
Here’s a little history about LCS.