Reality Bites: Last Comic Standing
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: July 9, 2003
Last week on Last Comic Standing Tere, the comedian best known for her spiky hair and least known for helping around the house (because she didn't) left the house. Still remaining in the house were the following eight finalists:
1. Cory Kahaney: A comedian from Manhattan, New Yawk.
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: A 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. Tess Drake: A plus-sized diva from Sandusky, OH.
Hide And Seek ... Or Not
Last week, Dat Phan worried about his place in the house -- and apparently deservedly so, because we saw comments from the other comics that indicated that they felt he was a weak performer and should leave the house soon. This week, that theme continued. The show opened with Dat reviewing his notebooks, practicing martial arts moves (part of his act?), and the other comedians talking about how nervous he is and how they think he's next to be voted off. Dat confidently told the camera that he's been sharpening his weapon (comedy) and training, and is ready to go on the battlefield and destroy.
Each week, the comedians participate in a competition. The prize of the competition is another guaranteed week in the house (by not being eligible to participate in the comedy challenge that leads to ouster), plus some other reward. This week, the additional reward was a bit part on one episode of the sit-com Good Morning, Miami. The ones who don't win have to be on two episodes. (Ba-DUM-bum! Thank you, thank you, try the veal!)
As host Jay Mohr explained, the competition entailed each comic preparing a videotaped pitch of a sit-com that they would star in. A focus group would choose their favorite, and that would determine the winner.
Dat was very eager to win this competition, feeling on the block as he was. He ran over his pitch with some of the other comics, and Cory in particular was very helpful. His idea was to set the sit-com in his sister's beauty shop. He was thinking of using the name "Full Set or Fill," but Cory pushed for the name "Pick a Color," because it worked both as beauty-salon lingo and as a nod to race relations. She also outlined plot elements, like Dat being the hero of the family, the one everyone loves ("Everybody Loves Dat," Dave suggested, displaying a darned good set of Jazz hands).
Dat's eagerness to win was apparent to all, which meant, as Dave explained in interview, "we're going to have to even gaslight him some more on something and do something bad to him."
The plan was to play hide-and-seek. Ralphie, reading his book, said that he'd read three pages more and then seek. At the "go" signal, everyone left the room -- and everyone but Dat came back right away. Dat took off like a bullet down the corridor. "I don't know how fast he thinks Ralphie is," Dave told the camera, "but he was just a streak." Ultimately, Dat landed in a hiding place in their theater, under the curtain.
What followed was mean. Juvenile. Cruel, almost. But absolutely drop-down hysterically funny. I laughed even harder than I did at last week's rat-hunt. The mainstay of the comics stayed in the living room, playing cards or just hanging out, while Dat hid and a graphic displayed how long he was there. Four minutes. Ten minutes. At 17 minutes he whispered to the camera, "Here's the thing. When he comes up, he's going to see you point that at me, and I'm dead. So point it somewhere else."
At 19 minutes, Dave narrated in a deadpan manner that it's been about 19 minutes that Dat has successfully hidden from Ralphie, and that Ralphie was intent on finding him. Cut to Ralphie intently and solemnly reading his book and everyone else collapsing in laughter.
At 23 minutes, Dat muttered that this was taking forever. Tess said in interview that at first she'd thought that they should get him out, but later changed her mind to leaving him for an hour, saying an hour would be enough time for him to think about how much he'd been stressing her out. (What is it about Dat?)
At 42 minutes, Dat said that he was trying to pretend there was an axe murder in the house who'd chop him to pieces if he knew his whereabouts, so he was trying to stay silent.
At 53 minutes Dat left his hiding place. "What the hell is wrong with you guys?" he asked. Cory explained that Ralphie looked everywhere. "You had the best hiding place."
At last they told him the joke, and roared with laughter. Dat looked a little uncomfortable, and I felt sort of bad. To the camera, Dat explained there wasn't a lot he could do, since getting upset would just "give them exactly what they want." Instead, he vowed success, and once again referenced his weapon -- stand-up comedy.
After hearing that, I went from feeling sorta bad to really feeling bad. But it might have just been because I was ready to throw up from laughing so hard.
Focus! Focus! FOCUS!
The comedians had their chance to watch the focus group view their pitches from behind a two-way mirror as the videos were shown. First up was Tess, who pitched the idea of a fine, voluptuous black woman marrying a red-neck country singer. The comedians were all nervous, but there was a positive reaction to this first proposal.
Ralphie's proposal was something about a struggling comic trying to make it. I can't explain it well, and it doesn't seem Ralphie did any better. The focus group dinged him on his presentation and felt that he was the least comfortable on tape of all of them.
Rob's proposal was just a general description ("It's kind of like Fawlty Towers meets Columbo."). Despite that, the group liked him, and felt that he was the most likely to have his own sit-com. I'm not surprised, because there is a definite charm about Rob.
Cory suggested a series where she played a divorced mom who became the most popular wedding planner in New York. The focus group liked her okay, but felt that weddings were sort of passe. Personally, I think that a show about wedding planning is a great idea -- you meet lots of different people, different set-ups, and the popularity of Bridezilla shows would indicate to me that there's a market. But I wasn't in the focus group.
Geoff went with "the moment," and suggested Geoff Brown's Damn Show, where a guy named Geoff Brown went on the Ricki Lake Show because his girlfriend caught him cheating, and he ended up with his own show and was straight-shooting and everyone loved him so thank you very much. I thought he was terrible, but some of the focus group mentioned him as a possibility for a show like Martin or a black Frazier.
Rich Vos proposed a sit-com where he was divorced with two daughters and lived in his ex-wife's basement while she was remarried to a stockbroker with no personality. Focus group also did not care for Vos. At all. They said he was a waste of time. Again, I could have imagined this working, but maybe that's because I live in a basement.
Dat did his pitch for Pick a Color, starring Dat Van. We didn't get to see much of the pitch, but apparently it was good, because the focus group liked it. One of them compared it favorably to My Big Fat Greek Wedding, prompting Cory to snark to the camera about how they'd said the wedding theme was tired, but then kept talking about My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Wed-ding.
Dave was last, and I never so much wanted to be a part of the focus group as I did in listening to his pitch. It was for a show about an incompetent terrorist group, like the guy who calls in bomb threats but he stutters, so the bombs go off before he finishes the call. Or the guy who puts the bombs together, and has only one finger left on his right hand. Am I bad? Am I a terrible person? First the cruel joke on Dat, and now this? I found this hysterical. The focus group hated it.
The winner? A tremendously excited Dat Phan. "Dat was like a puppy who was hearing his master come home," remarked Cory. "Dat was very excited," said Rich, "because this was the first time in three weeks that someone had given him a positive response."
Dat's exemption threw the rest of the household into a tizzy. The big power brokers had determined that Dat would be next to go -- but now the voting had to go down a different way.
Who are the power brokers? Cory explained that the Coalition was Ralphie, Dave, Cory, and "Don Vos" (Rich). Tess was not listed as part of this group, but she also seems to be very aware of the voting, and was in fact ragging on Cory for having helped Dat with his pitch. "I didn't think they were going to like a show about a nail salon! Honestly, Tess -- who would have thought?" Cory had not won any points from the power brokers, but she also didn't win any points from Dat, who saw a "holy crap" expression on her face when he won.
Happy Birthday, Ralphie
In the house, the comics are supposed to be kept, if not entirely isolated, at least separated from their usual life. But, in honor of Ralphie's birthday, the rules were bent and a team of sushi chefs came in to make dinner. Ralphie was pleased by the surprise dinner, noting, "We not only get to live like millionaires, we get to eat like them."
But the real present for him was the unexpected arrival of his girlfriend. I have rarely seen such a touching moment on Reality TV. His surprise and delight were evident on his face, without the histrionics that the severe deprivations of Survivor or Big Brother provide. It was very sweet.
The fact that very, very, very large Ralphie happened to be dating a lovely and petite woman did not escape Rich's notice. "I'm thinking to myself, this guy is with a ten. I do 1500 crunches a day, and I can't get a four to call me back."
We Thought We Were Funnier Than ______
The Mafia of Mirth was thrown into a tizzy about how the nominations should go once Dat had an exemption. Rich said to Cory and Dave that "there's no way to get her out of this." The only "her" left would be Tess, so while that first sounded like Rich wanted Tess out, her conversations about voting made me think that he meant something else, since she didn't seem at all opposed to the Mafia's agenda.
But finally, Rich proclaimed that he knew what they had to do.
And the result? The nominations went as follows:
- Dat nominated Ralphie (proclaiming this as "comic house strategy #3" - my guess is that the strategy was to put a nomination towards a strong comic at a time when the strong comic could not choose him for the challenge).
- Cory nominated Dave Mordal (saying that she needed to squelch any rumors about her boyfriend, since she was married; Dave responded to her statement that she was funnier than him by saying "you are not ... married").
- Rob nominated Tess (based on eeny-meeny-minie-mo, done twice ("you can't do it twice!" Dave protested).
- Rich nominated Rob (regretfully).
- Dave nominated Rob (even though, he explained, he liked the guy, but he wanted to see him perform).
- Ralphie nominated Rob (at which point Rob said, "everybody's selling me out!").
- Geoff nominated Cory (saying that he didn't like what "he" said after Dat Phan won his walk-on -- apparently voting for Cory as a stand-in for Dat, who could not be nominated).
- Tess nominated Rob (with apologies).
Rob had his choice of Dave, Rich, Ralphie or Tess to go against in a head-to-head competition, with the loser to leave the house. Rob said to Dave that he'd already seen his work -- good stuff -- but between Rich Vos and Ralphie May, "Ralphie, today's your big day." Ralphie clapped his hands and clasped hands with Rob, saying, "Let's do it." Rob repeated, "Let's do it." It was the friendliest, most congenial challenge that we've seen.
To the camera, Rob said that he didn't think that he was being ganged up on, but it was a matter of his having the least experience. And, because he knew that Ralphie wanted to perform, he decided to give him the opportunity.
Rob appeared to be right on target with both comments. Rich explained in one of his interviews over the iron that the young 'uns needed to work their way up, apparently the explanation for why Rob was on the block. And, in interview after the nomination, Ralphie excitedly told the camera, "I really want to tell jokes. I'm kind of excited." Last week I'd noted that Tere's reaction to going up boded ill for her chances; Ralphie's attitude shows the opposite.
Everyone in the house was very impressed with Rob's choice. Ralphie is seen as one of the most powerful comics in the house, so to choose him was seen as a bold and honorable move. (And I suspect that Vos's comments about not being able to get "her" out of it was an indication that they felt that Rob would pick Tess as the weakest competitor.) On the other hand, Geoff's vote against Cory was seen as sneaky and cowardly. Ralphie told Tess that Geoff had said he'd against Rob, but then he hadn't. By not going against Rob when he knew the majority would, Geoff effectively gave himself immunity and did not take the chance that the others were when they nominated Rob.
David versus Goliath
It was a noble competition. Gladiators in the coliseum. Boxers in the ring. David against Goliath, but with Goliath a good guy too.
Ralphie went first. He did his "Livin' in Da Hood" shtick, although not as well as he did it in the auditions. It was a little choppy (okay, I'm borrowing Geoff's word, but it's the right word), and some of the jokes were old. On the other hand, he performed with verve, and the second half of the show built towards a coherent, one-line conclusion.
Rob's performance was wild, bizarre. He riffed about taking an edgy name of "Bobert", backed off from it, proclaimed himself "The Artist Formerly Known as Bobert." He had an excellent riff about strip clubs being like giving a hungry man plastic fruit. But his delivery was a little off, pushing the audience away instead of pulling them closer, and some of his best stuff was inserted in ways that lost the material.
I wanted this to be close. Such great spirit of competition. Each had laughed and applauded at the other's set. Each had strong elements and weaknesses. I wanted a 49-51 split. And then I wanted a new rule that a vote with a margin of less than 5 percent would result in both contestants staying.
Nope. Surprisingly, the vote was the most lopsided one yet. Eighty-five percent voted for Ralphie, and Rob went home. Rob was happy with his set, and Ralphie was visibly sad at having to take Rob out.
Final Comments: This was a great episode. It was the best final competition, the most interesting exemption challenge, the sweetest emotional moment and the funniest in-house segment. According to the previews, next week will be the final head-to-head challenge (which confuses me, because I thought that they were doing head-to-head challenges until there were five left in the house, and next week's will only take them down to six). I'm sad that they're leaving this phase, and wildly curious as to who will be on the block next time. Will the Dat hate continue, or will Geoff's freeloading ways cause the Mafia to target him?
Last Comic Standing is on Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.
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