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A New Last Comic Standing is Crowned — But What Does That Really Mean?

August 15, 2010

On Monday, rotund Latino comic Felipe Esparza beat out motormouthed zinger Tommy Johnagin for the title of current Last Comic Standing in a season that never seemed to truly take off, despite some really great efforts on NBC’s behalf to reinvigorate the seven year-old summer franchise. Whether you liked Esparza or thought he was truly the best doesn’t matter, you can’t argue as the results were based on audience voting.

The season itself probably could have been stronger with the inclusion of some promising comics who fell by the wayside seemingly needlessly (Kurt Metzger, in particular, was someone who could have delivered some additional life to the showdown); and though the addition of a “judging panel” of noted comics Greg Giraldo, Natasha Legerro and Andy Kindler was a fantastic idea, it always seemed like their hands were tied (they rarely, if ever, actually critiqued a set — something that would be a very intriguing thing for the technical stand-up comedy fan to see). Still, the question is begged: what does winning that contest really get you? Let’s take a look at the past winners.

Season One (2003): Dat Phan. The Vietnamese comic wore audiences down by incessantly delivering two-thirds of any set in a ridiculously overwrought, stereotypical Asian accent. The first season winner supposedly was to receive a “development deal” with NBC but that didn’t seem to ever happen for Phan. He went on to play “Vietnamese Artist” in Kim Basinger’s failed thriller Cellular and “Karaoke D.J.” in a 2006 film Love is the Drug. He is currently touring.

Season Two (2004): John Heffron. Heffron is one of the most versatile of the Last Comic winners, as his comedy wasn’t as schticky as many LCS winners and more malleable (i.e., he had no gimmick, which made him a stronger comic). Heffron was as well to receive an NBC contract, which may or may not have happened, and since then has toured with both Charlie Murphy and appeared on The Tony Rock Project, asserting that he has a lot of friends who are brothers of famous people.

Season Three (2004): Alonzo Bodden. By season three, which NBC had already deemed a Battle of the Best, asserting that the network either a.) just needed a quick summer replacement grab, or b.) may have actually believed the first two seasons were it as far as the “best” people to be found in the entire country. Alonzo Bodden, who the runner up from  Season Two, was the winner — though NBC cancelled the entire season before the final episode. Good lookin’ out, Peacock. Bodden pops up from time to time in bit parts in films like The Girl Next Door, Scary Movie 4, and something called National Lampoon’s Totally Baked: A Potumentary, which sounds stellar. Since NBC didn’t even care who won this season, I’m guessing poor Bodden didn’t get a fake development contract like Phan and Heffron.

Seasons Four and Five (2006, 2007): Josh Blue and Jon Reep, respectively. I’m lumping these two together because it was clearly the “dark period” for Last Comic Standing (that’s right — a season where NBC didn’t even air the finale wasn’t the “dark period”). Josh Blue, a comic suffering from cerebral palsy, and Jon Reep, a comic suffering from the need to emulate Larry the Cable Guy, won these two seasons after the chosen final groups (barring an odd inclusion by actual famous comic Doug Benson) seemed to be more about picking a diverse group of ethnic and comedy stereotypes than actual comedy merit. Still, good for them. Reep is best known for being the “That thing got a hemi?” guy from the Dodge commercials, and Blue just wrapped Feast 3, a sequel to a direct-to-video horror film which I didn’t even know had a Feast 2.

Season Six (2008): Iliza Schlesinger. The series lay dormant for two years before returning with another strong, valid winner in acidic Iliza Schlesinger, who was underestimated as a female comic before laying absolute waste to her cockier competition weekly. Schlesinger had an improv training background and, if her return to the stage during Monday night’s finale is any indication, should be working a lot more than she seems to be. A worthy winner — it’s too bad NBC had given up on the “development contracts” by then, because Schlesinger was funnier than LCS deserved.

Season Seven (2010): Felipe Esparza. Esparza suffered from what we (and by “we” I mean “me”) call “character syndrome,” which means that half of Esparza’s stage presence was wrapped up in his “persona,” that of a pothead with a thick overplayed “Cheech and Chong”-style accent. Still, some solid lines got through that gimmick, propelling him to the finale and the current championship. I’m sure right now he’s flying high, and not thinking at all about how he’ll be playing “Sandwich Vendor” in Jamie Kennedy’s next direct-to-video romp. But good luck, Felipe!

  1. PMcD permalink
    August 16, 2010 10:37 am

    The most recent finale finally ended my attempt to enjoy this contest/show/series. To me, Felipe was by far the LEAST funny of the final 5 (or even 10). Tired ethnic jokes don’t make you the “best” comic. Also, NBC must be quite desperate to fill airtime, if they take twenty minutes of material and stretch it out into a two hour finale. One hour would have still been uncomfortable, but more bearable. Comparable to a prostate exam vs. a lower GI scope.

    While I may not be able to argue with the winner, because it was based on text voting, I can confidently state this fact: America is dumb.

    • August 16, 2010 3:15 pm

      I’m with you. I’ve wanted to like this show for a long time, and kept hoping it would turn around to an actual competition — after all, the craft of stand-up is begging for an interesting, judged competition, and it would likely be really interesting if it were ever done right. Unfortunately, NBC obviously doesn’t have the inclination nor desire to put any thought into this. That’s evident by the fact that the “greatest” found comics in its competition are only given roughly 45 seconds to deliver an entire set each week, so we can see as much as possible of Craig Robinson.

      You can’t judge a comic on a minute of material once a week. Impossible. Stand-up’s all about a groove and a style, both of which are lost in the LCS translation. Shame, really. Something like this could be incredibly interesting. Instead, it’s just summer filler with no care at all behind it.

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