We’re at the Paris Hotel in Vegas. OK, I’ve missed this show up to now, and I’m not really sure how to summarize a performance show anyway (Where are the funny food challenges? The relationships? The bizarre acts?), but I’m ready to hear a bunch of comics fire off their best material and keep me laughing. The first contestant in the finale came out right away. Youthful, good-looking guy, kinda familiar too. Painfully unfunny. Did some routine about tourists in Vegas getting mugged after guzzling huge drinks and about taking your pants off in the casinos. Maybe he was nervous, but I can’t understand how he didn’t get bumped off this show weeks ago. With luck, he’ll go back to the ghettoes of comedy, touring such hot spots as Detroit and Chattanooga.
Wait a minute … didn’t I see this guy on Comedy Central, sitting next to Jimmy Kimmel? And wasn’t he on ESPN, too? My goodness, it’s the host, Jay Mohr. He really should be named Jay Lehss. If this is how lame the professional talent is, then the amateur talent must be really wretched. And, hey, to whoever keeps bringing this Lehss guy back on network TV – he’s almost as funny as Yasser Arafat at a bar mitzvah.
I need to digress to get this stinkbomb Lehss off my mind. I’d like to address a misconception that I’ve read a few times over the last few weeks. A few people have opined that most of the comics don’t care if they win this competition, or at least don’t care about the network development deal that goes to the winner. Sure they don’t care. And Bush and Blair don’t care whether the troops find Saddam’s hiding place, either. And Bill Gates wouldn’t care if his stock in Microsoft was frozen and he had to go on welfare. And it doesn’t bother Sammy Sosa that steroids were banned. Not one bit.
Let’s be serious here. “Comic cool” says that comics are supposed to behave like they don’t care about such things as development deals and making money. So what if people like Roseanne Barr, Tim Allen and Ray Romano went from touring comics, traveling 50 weeks out of the year to eke out a decent living, to moguls with estates in Beverly Hills and Malibu – they sold out! Yeah, that’s comic cool. But there’s also comic reality. Comic reality is that there isn’t a comic performing who wouldn’t sell his or her family (children and all) for a chance to follow in their footsteps. So let’s not pretend that only a few of these people care about the outcome. But none of them can look more nervous than Jay Lehss does, and he’s not competing.
First comic is Ralphie May, aka Goodyear Blimp IV, from Houston. I read an article that said Julie Andrews has lost the upper part of her vocal range after throat surgery – well, now we know where it went. If this guy’s voice gets much higher, only dogs will be able to hear him. After a few “fat guy” jokes to warm up the crowd, Ralphie clearly decides that his path to success is to be a rant comic (like, for example, Sam Kinison) – and his rant deals with the Iraqi War. His opening, mocking rich kids protesting over “no war for oil” while driving their BMWs and Expeditions, is actually a good start for it (if familiar) … but then his routine degenerates into a pep rally at John Ashcroft High School.
Ralphie’s mantra of rage is simple: “I WANT CHEAP GAS!” However, Ralphie has forgotten that there are TWO words in “political comedy.” He has the “political” part down pat, but the “comedy” part is lacking. Read these excerpts from the end of his routine:
”Line ‘em up, George, line ‘em up!” “The way I look at it, one country down, 15 more to go. Line ‘em up!” “They get paid one at a time to blow themselves up for Allah. Let’s just speed up the trip.”
Yikes! This is humor? Why doesn’t he just wave a towel over his head and chant “Kill! Kill! Kill!” Or even “I love the smell of napalm in the morning”?
Ralphie also says that, in his effort to get cheap gas, he’s had to resort to a gas station at “Crenshaw & Adams” in the L.A. ghetto, where gas is “2-2-2” a gallon and “wouldn’t even light up a barbeque grill.” Well, if Ralphie was ever at Crenshaw & Adams, we’d probably be able to see him on the nightly news – stuck on a spit, being slow roasted over an open fire with an apple in his mouth.
Next up is Dat Phan. I wanted to like Dat Phan. He’s Vietnamese; he’s from Santee, California, a beautiful spot not far over the border from Mexico (where you immediately call INS if you see footprints on your lawn in the morning); he took out Dave Mordai in a decision that created a lot of chatter on this board. However, Dat appears to be even more nervous than Lehss is. This is even worse than “double root canal” nervous. It’s more like “Hannibal Lecter just invited me for dinner” nervous.
Nerves make Dat’s comedy disjointed. Even though virtually all of his jokes are linked to his Vietnamese background, they don’t flow together at all. It looks like he has to think up each joke before he tells it. Too bad, because some funny ideas are buried in the wreckage, including himself as a fetus Viet Cong (“I kill you! Oops, umbilical cord – I just kill me.”) and the following two:
“All I know about Vietnam was, like, Robin Williams was a DJ over there.” “I dated this one girl and her dad was a Vietnam vet. Do you know how scary that was … for me? He asked, ‘What’s your name, son?’ I said, ‘Charlie…’”
However, a lot of his jokes deal with his mom being old-fashioned. That’s fine (if familiar), but the pidgin Vietnamese accent that goes with it doesn’t add anything. All told, Dat Phan may well have a successful comedy career because he’s a funny guy, but on this day, his routine is just too rough. Maybe a Valium might help.
Third loser. It’s Tess, from the comedy mecca of Sandusky, Ohio, which is also home to the Cedar Point amusement park. Looks like Tess has been sucking down a few dozen too many chili dogs at the park. Lehss starts off by saying that she had two exemptions but didn’t really need them. Riiiight. In a confessional, Tess says that she wants to “land another punch for laughter.” Well, after this routine, she’s been TKOed.
Her routine deals with herself as a plus-sized stripper (dancing for quarters) and model (“I never saw a thong before. How was I to know that the skinny part went in the back?”). If she’d been up against Jay Lehss head-to-head, she might have had a chance. Against anyone else, nope. So on to…
Rich Vos. Rich is the old pro of the group. Some even suggested that he was a ringer. I wanted to dislike Rich for his role in organizing the house clique. I wanted to dislike Rich because he’s from New Jersey. I wanted to dislike Rich because he was the house jerk. But I couldn’t. He’s simply too funny, even if he is conventional. Up against him, the other comics so far are Custer at the Little Big Horn.
Right from his confessional, where he is the only contestant to crack jokes (after discussing how likely he is to do a rotten performance: “The letter that my father sent me, he’ll want back. You know, the ‘I’m proud of you’ one.”), Rich is smooth and polished. He solicits a hand from the audience for his “opening acts.” He starts into slot machines:
”Nickel slots – that’s when you’ve hit rock bottom. How much can you win playing those anyway? ‘Jackpot! $2.00. Who’s the man?’”
Then to airline security, which Ralphie also bounced off. Rich told about being stopped for having a pair of toenail clippers:
<Security person:> “What are your intentions with those?” “To conquer the world.”
One of his jokes went straight to the veneer of “comic cool”:
“I went out with a woman the other night, asked her what she did for a living: ‘I’m a cashier at Target.’ And I thought, “Oh my God, she makes more money than I do.”
And near the end, this look at how his ten-year old daughter pushes his buttons:
<looking at fingernails while talking distractedly> “Mom’s new husband put together my bike. He’s not lazy like you are. Mom says he has big feet.” (What, did she marry Size 14 Brian?)
Yeah, this is predictable material. Nevertheless, it’s funny. Laughs have been in short supply this evening. And, if you want predictable, just wait for the last act.
One left. Cory Kahaney, the New Yorker referred to as the “mom of the house.” Remember Sally Field from Punchline? Well, that stereotype appears to be her role model. Her formula is “sex” and “ex,” and she doesn’t vary much.
She has a good opening line for this episode’s format of short routines:
”I love being a comedian. I love the hours. Look, I just started and I’m almost done.”
Her biggest punchline comes with sex; the joke is set in a college lunchroom, where she’s eavesdropping on two guys arguing about whether it’s easier for a woman to have an orgasm if she’s on top:
“Finally I said, 'Guys, guys … actually, it’s so much easier when we’re alone.'”
And she saves an ex for last:
“I never make fun of my ex-husband’s faults in front of my child. It would ruin that wonderful moment when she finds out for herself.”
All in all, though, this is routine comedy-club stuff. Nothing challenging. She even sounds like the old Borscht-belt women comics (such as Phyllis Diller) when she refers to liking "the Eminem." Yeah, she's with it. This kind of routine is meat and potatoes for a woman comic. Or rather, in these days of the Atkins diet, I guess that should be meat and eggs … or meat and cheese … or meat and anything carbo-free.
So, at the end, we’re left with a vote by America, and one of these contestants will be anointed the “Last Comic Standing” in the special 2-hour finale, which hopefully will contain more laughs than these performances did.
Everyone has some flaws. Does Ralphie have anything more than an attitude? Can Dat overcome his nerves? Why is Tess here? Is Rich too conventional to stand out? Is Cory too derivative? In my opinion (which is just an opinion, not etched on a stone tablet) the performances indicate a Reaganesque landslide in favor of Rich Vos. But it’s not just about the performances. Ask Clay Aiken.
We’ll soon know which of the defectives - if any - we’ll be watching in the future.