Reality Bites: Last Comic Standing
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: July 2, 2003
One houseguest out, one (four-legged) houseguest in, and a healthy dose of drama mixed in with our comedy this week as house issues take center stage.
Last week on Last Comic Standing we saw the departure of Texan Sean from the house. Still remaining in the house are the following nine finalists:
1. Cory Kahaney: A comedian from Manhattan, New Yawk
who has displayed a few control issues already in the house.
2. Dave Mordal: A sort of demented version of Garrison Keillor from Elk River, MN.
3. Dat Phan: A Vietnamese comedian from Santee, CA.
4. Ralphie May: A very large comedian from Houston, TX.
5. Geoff Brown: An African-American former marine from Chicago, IL.
6. Rich Vos: A somewhat caustic comedian from Plainfield, NJ.
7. Rob Cantrell: A goofily sweet former assistant teacher from Washington, DC.
8. Tere Joyce: A woman with Statue-of-Liberty hair from Fresno, CA.
9. Tess Drake: A plus-sized diva from Sandusky, OH.
Last week, Tess was the winner of a segment on Extra. At the start of this show, we saw her showing Extra around the house. She was very personable and talkative, showing off Ralphie and Cory in the kitchen ("This is a good woman! You don't find good Jewish help too much."), Dat in his bedroom, Dave and Rich in their room. Ralphie remarked to the camera that Tess had previously been very quiet, but this interview seemed to have brought her out of her shell. After Tess left the kitchen, Cory observed to Ralphie that Tess was "the sleeping dragon." Dave said in interview that he thought Tess was probably the scariest one, because he had a feeling she was unstoppable on stage. Rich was just glad that he hadn't won, because Extra would have hated him and the whole house and ruined it for everyone. "G-d works in mysterious ways," he said philosophically, as he (as ever!) ironed.
"Rats" Is Just "Star" Backwards
A tiny little head pokes its way out of an old-fashioned heating grate. A scream rings out! The little head disappears, but it's too late -- the great rat-hunt is on!
Tough-guy Rich explained that his biggest fear is rats -- from atop his perch in a doorway, straddling two cabinets. But Dave, rural Minnesotan that he is, was game to take on the rat, and while the others contribute occasional comments and assistance, Dave and Rich were the master Rat-hunters. (This impression was enhanced by interview commentary filmed with the two of them together -- in a bathtub! Once men have bonded over a rat, there are no further concerns about acting macho to prove their manhood.)
Dave attempted smoking the rat out, by putting a cigarette under the stove. Dave left some food as bait for the rat, who crawled out to get the food, but just as Dave went to make his move the rat darted back under the stove. Dave tried again, this time crouching on a chair above the food, but the wily rat again managed to grab the food and escape before Dave could clamp a plastic bowl on top of him. Getting down on his hands and knees, Dave peered under the stove and said, "Oh, he's just sitting there eating and mocking me!"
Finally Dave said, "This is a quest now. I don't care if this takes all night -- I'm getting this rat." With that statement, I suddenly have a flashback to driving around with an ex, trying to find a particular restaurant. It was a hot day, I was hungry, and I suggested perhaps we could eat somewhere else. No, no, we couldn't -- it was a quest! Ah, men ... gotta love 'em.
And gotta love 'em most of all when they succeed on their quest, as Dave (and my ex) did. Dave finally trapped the rat by clamping a plastic bowl on him. Rich, from the other side of the room, yelled, "You got it!" (and then hastily amended it to "I got it!"). "Okay, now we got another problem," Dave remarked. Next thing we see is Dat crouching with Dave near the plastic bowl, and Dave telling him, "Well, Dat. Happy birthday. I know you wanted a dog, but ...."
The ultimate resolution? The rat was taken outside (still trapped in the plastic bowl) and dumped over the fence to the neighbor's yard. I am hoping with all my heart that the Comic House is next-door to the Big Brother house, because the entertainment value of this rat exceeded that of about 90% of the houseguests that have ever passed in front of Julie Chen.
Every week, the comics are to compete in challenges. This competition was introduced by a cryptic message from their fortune-telling machine: "BYOA." Most of the comics figured that stands for "Bring Your Own Act," but Rob interpreted it as "Bring Your Own Audience." As he explained in interview, in the comedy industry there's a concept of bringing your show, where the act passes out flyers and does whatever else necessary to get people to come to the show.
Host Jay Mohr later confirmed to the comics that this was indeed the case. They were each to be given color-coded tickets for a free show, and they needed to hand out as many as they could to people on Venice Beach. Whoever had the most people come to the show would receive immunity. The comics didn't seem too thrilled about this competition. Ralphie, in particular, remarked glumly that "most fat guys don't like to go to the beach. Sand can get into those places that we'll never get it out again. We're putting on our pants two years from now and a pearl drops out of our ass."
The comics have to work hard to give away these tickets, offering everything from free tickets (aka, the truth), to corrected tickets (Dat attempting to make sure everyone has the "right" tickets, which would replace the other comics' tickets with his own), to spreading rumors of Eddie Vedder's upcoming appearance, to offering food to homeless guys. None of it much worked, apparently, because the turnout at the show was very low. Many comics (Rich, Rob, Dat, Tere, Dave) got no one to show up. Several comics (Ralphie, Cory, Geoff) got two people to show up. But one person got five people to show up -- and that would be Tess. Once again, Tess won exemption from elimination for herself -- as well as a Beverly Hills shopping trip with salon treatment. She also gave a performance for the assembled audience.
Someone's In The Kitchen - And Someone's Not
Of course, the point of getting all these comics to live together in one house is not just to save money on carpools, but to see what type of interpersonal conflicts develop. There was trouble brewing between Tere and Cory -- and it's the type of classic conflict that comes up in shared households all across the country. Cory was doing a lot of work in the house, and she viewed Tere as "having more of a vacation than some of the others. She seems to enjoy the hot tub, the other accoutrements of the hotel. There are those of us who do more cleaning up." We saw several shots of Cory telling Tere to clean up, or making comments around Tere about cleaning up. Something was the straw that broke the camel's back, and Tere was reduced to tears.
For comfort, Tere turned to Dat, who warned her to be careful, because "some of these comics are very dangerous on the mike. Just be careful, okay?" Tere instantly bristled at the suggestion that she wasn't as powerful as some of the other comics. And as the conversation went on, her irritation with Dat grew. Dat in interview was wide-eyed, perplexed at how he always gets in the middle of stuff like this.
Make Book On It
Dat seemed to be having a hard time overall, because we also saw a shot of him in conversation with Cory, Rich, Tere and Dave. Dat told them that he didn't really want to be on the road, but wanted to stay in L.A. until he got a show. Cory asked, "You don't really want to be a comic, do you? You want to be an actor, don't you?" Dat agreed, walking right into Cory's trap that he wasn't really a comic, but a "poser." Dat tried to dig himself out by talking about his journal, where he records everything, but that didn't help. He showed the rest of the comics the journal, with graphs, statistics (laughs per minute), etc., and while this impressed me, it didn't impress comics like Rich and Dave.
East Coast Mafia Of Mirth
Since exemption from elimination had been awarded (to Tess), it was time for the comics to figure out who they wanted to nominate for elimination (by uttering the magic phrase, "I know I'm funnier than ___"). The choice is serious, because whoever receives the most nominations must enter into a head-to-head comedy competition with another comic -- and that other comic will be their choice from among those who nominated him/her. While considerations of who can beat whom come into play, there are also serious and fascinating undercurrents of strategy.
There is an East Coast block that wields power. Last week, everyone received one nomination except for the guy that most people (particularly the East Coast) wanted gone, and the ones who voted for him were among the most talented of the comedians, indicating that there was some effort made to make sure that Sean would be eliminated. But who exactly is involved in the East Coast block and how they operate is shown only through the most tantalizing of hints.
Dat told the camera that he was afraid that the East Coast guys would gang up on him -- which surprised me, because I had thought last week he was at least peripherally with the East Coast guys (from the way he wished Dave good luck before the competition). But in interview Ralphie said that Dave and Rich were at the top ("really, really funny" -- blurring the distinction between talent and power), and he himself was in the top three. "Dat is definitely the lowest rung." Again, surprising, because I'd thought that Dat had strong material, based on the first rounds of auditions.
We were shown a short snippet of conversation among Cory, Ralphie and Rich, where Rich said, "So -- me, Cory and Geoff. I told him." This was followed with an interview over the iron with Rich, who said that his prediction was whoever he decided: "Who the underboss decides goes, go." And then that killer Rich smile.
My favorite bit of the night was Tere reflecting on who is likely to go (either Cory or Dat). Not because she says anything that great, but because she's shot from slightly below, in front of some area with a lot of bright lights. The positioning and angle make it look like the lights are interspersed with the spikes on her hair, a lovely effect.
In terms of where the power is ... the East Coast Mafia of Mirth is headed by Rich, Dave, and Ralphie. Cory is definitely in as well, although doesn't seem to be as powerful. Geoff? In, or peripheral? Tess? Originally seemed out, but in this episode we saw her talking with Ralphie several times in a way that makes me think she's in. Rob? Who knows -- no one seems to talk about him. The only people I can identify as entirely out are Tere and Dat.
We All Know We're Funnier Than ____
It was finally time to carry out whatever plans had been formulated. The results were as follows:
- Tess nominated Dat (a switch from last week, when she voted for Ralphie -- indicating a change in status vis a vis the Mirth Mafia, or a change in strategy?).
- Tere nominated Rob (playing on the joke that Rob made in his nomination of her last week).
- Rich nominated Tere (who was very solemn at this announcement).
- Ralphie nominated Geoff (stating that there could only be one black man in the house, joking on his own use of Ebonics in his act, prompting large laughs from Geoff).
- Geoff nominated Ralphie.
- Cory nominated Tere (saying this week it was about who does the dishes).
- Dave nominated Tere (citing her nomination of him last week).
- Dat nominated Tere (prefacing his nomination by saying, "I don't know why I'm doing this," making me wonder why he was doing it; Tere appeared the most upset by this nomination, shooting him a "f--- you").
- Rob nominated Tere (saying it was because he'd had a dream about a big, spiky monster coming towards him).
Tere was well on her way to meltdown after receiving these nominations. "Everything that I succeeded on is gone because these five people don't think I'm funny." Me, I'm seeing Sean-redux all over again. Anyone who approaches this from the perspective of "these people don't think I'm funny and I'm going to get kicked out" instead of "sweet, I get a chance to perform and show what I can do" has already lost half the battle.
Now that Tere was on the block, she had the opportunity to choose who she wanted to go against. She decided to challenge Cory, saying that she thought Cory was definitely underestimating her. Cory took the nomination in stride.
Back at the house, Tere tried to regroup. She phoned a friend, asking him to tell her to have faith in herself (vaguely oxymoronic, but I can't say I've never used that technique either). She also confronted Dat, telling him that she was upset with him. He indicated that he'd told her in advance that he was going to challenge her, but she was still mad. "After this, I probably won't like Dat. I mean, there's a reason why Tess voted for him. All Dat cares about is Dat."
Another odd bit from the Mirth Mafia emerged. Ralphie asked Tess, "Why couldn't she pick Dat? Then we would have had her and Cory." Tess responded that it was a little out of order now. Again, I'm perplexed and intrigued. Do they really think that she could have beat Dat? I wouldn't have said so in a million years. And what would they do with her and Cory both? They don't seem to have been controlling her votes as they did Cory's, so I can only think that Ralphie and Tess saw Cory as easy fodder. Unless it was a split of what value the two women had, and they wanted Tere for fodder and Cory for voting.
West Coast Versus East Coast
While there had been a lot of animosity displayed between the two women prior to the competition, when the time came to actually get going, they patched things up. Cory suggested they sit together on the bus to the studio, and she explained to the camera that she didn't want it to be like when Sean and Dave were on their way to competition last week, with the mood was so tense. For Cory, it was a matter of competition, and being good competitors to one another.
The competition itself was a showdown between West Coast and East Coast stylings. Tere went first, and with her unusual hair, Valley Girl intonation, "cha cha cha" catch phrase, and references to therapy, she seemed to me quintessentially West Coast. While I didn't find her routine terribly amusing, I must say that it was also quite a bit better than I expected. (I liked her suggestion to take the "Spanish" option at the ATM machine because your account looks bigger in pesos.)
Cory's routine, with its wry humor and references to gangsta speak, seemed to me very East Coast. I didn't find her routine terribly amusing either, and in fact she didn't do as well as I'd expected. While last week it had been clear to me that Dave was the winner, this time I could actually see the vote going either way.
Apparently I was the only one, though. The margin was even bigger this week than last week. Cory won 80% of the in-studio votes, and Tere was the one to leave the house.
During the credits for the show, we saw Tess going on her shopping spree and salon session. The hair stylist raved about her hair -- he loved the color, he loved the style, and just suggested a little trim. Tess agreed that she liked it too, and then whipped off her wig. She handed the wig to the stylist's assistant, for the assistant to work with, while she got her haircut. She absolutely floored the stylist and assistant.
Final Comments: A worthy follow-up to last week's episode, for entirely different reasons. While there was no stand-up material on a par with Dave's performance last week, the rat hunt was hysterical, and the emerging hierarchy provided a lot of food for thought. I wish desperately that we were able to see more of the Mirth Mafia, but I have to admit that hearing only these little snippets keeps me absorbed in trying to figure out how it's going to play out. I'm glad that Tere left, because I didn't see her as terribly talented, but I'm also glad that she surprised me. I think that maybe if she ditched the weird hairstyle, and kept working on comedy, she might be able to make a go of it.
Postscript: In a classy gesture, at the end of tonight's episode was a picture of veteran comedian Buddy Hackett, who passed away last weekend. Mr. Hackett was a guest judge for Last Comic Standing during the Los Angeles auditions. The picture was captioned with "You will be missed ...."
Last Comic Standing is on Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.
On the Internet: NBC.com's Official Site | SirLinksalot.net