Reality Bites: Last Comic Standing
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: July 16, 2003
Last week on Last Comic Standing Rob Cantrell, adorable manchild of the house, fell under the mighty and heavy hand of Ralphie May. Still remaining in the house were the following seven 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. Tess Drake: A plus-sized diva from Sandusky, OH.
Dat Phan, Man Of Mystery
Dat Phan, for some reason, has been a marked man by the other comics in the house. Personally, I don't get it. In the dictionary of idioms, there's a picture of Dat next to the phrase "cute as a button."
Maybe it's that he wants to be a sit-com star more than he wants to be a stand-up comic. Last week Dat won a walk-on part on the show Good Morning, Miami, and Dat thought going there to do the show was one of the best day of his life. He loved seeing the studio, loved being on stage to pour coffee as part of the "background", loved the general ambience. "It was like my shining moment," Dat exulted.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Rich expressed his ire that Dat was using comedy as a stepping stone to an acting career. The comics were also befuddled because they just didn't view him as a funny guy. "Wouldn't you think 'funny' would be not only on stage, but everywhere?" Rich asked Dave. Dave replied, "I've always thought that." Cory suggested maybe he was funny, but "on the lower spectrum of funny."
Dat ended up explaining to the others that he felt that he didn't need to prove that he was funny, but Dave insisted that he did need to prove it -- for crying out loud, it's a contest. Dat tried again, stating that he operated on positive thinking -- no wisecracks or anything like that -- and he "save[d] it for the stage." This incensed Rich, who didn't believe in the concept of "saving it for the stage."
Dat expressed a house goal of getting to know the other comics -- how's the Chinese food in New York? How's the spaghetti? No one got that. Dave loudly said that the show is not about getting to know the cuisine of New York, and finally told him straight out, "You haven't said anything funny since I've walked into this place."
To Dave, Dat just said, "Yeah," with a half-smile on his face. In interview, Dat said that he had been toughened up by the other comics. "I thank Dave and I thank Cory and I thank Rich Vos for doing that." For his part, Dave said in interview, "Dat Phan came into this household with the attention span of, like, an 11-year-old boy. and we have built him up to where -- like he's 15!" While Dave and Rich expressed such fraternal feelings towards Dat, Tess just said, "If Dat gets exempt this time, I don't know what I'm going to do. Because that means he's going to be one of the Final Six, and I can't have that."
As before, the comics received notification from their fortune-telling machine about an upcoming exemption competition. The clue this time was, "A picture says a thousand words. One of them might be 'exemption.'" Rich speculated that they might have to write something funny about a picture, or maybe it had something to do with films.
Host Jay Mohr explained what the competition involved. It would be a scavenger hunt. The comics would be left on Hollywood Boulevard with a Polaroid camera and a list of things to take pictures of or with. The one who came back with the most pictures would win a spot on Last Call with Carson Daly. In addition, they would win exemption from having to participate in the head-to-head competition and would be guaranteed a spot in the Final Six in Las Vegas where the winner is to be determined by the viewing public. (I keep capitalizing "Final Six" because people are making a big deal out of the Final Six.)
The comics combed the street for things like a man with a combover, someone wearing a nameplate, someone with blue eye shadow, someone wearing white socks and sandals.
Dat was the most proactive in his approach, often prompting individuals to get them in the right configuration for the pictures (asking a bald man if he could comb his hair over, or asking a couple to trade shoes so that one of them was wearing white socks and sandals).
Tess and Cory each did their best to engage passer-bys in their search.
Rich and Dave started off together, but, as Rich explained, "Dave and I started together, but we realized two zeros make a big zero, so we kind of split off on our own losing venture."
Geoff tried such maneuvers as yelling, "Who wants $10,000 and has blue eye shadow."
Ralphie didn't even bother. There was a lovely time-lapse photography segment of his standing in one place while the crowds went by him. As he later explained to the camera, "I feel like I have exemption through this whole thing. As long as I can win on a mike, I'm going to win."
Ralphie brought in one photo. Dat surprised me by only bringing in five. Dave Mordal brought in one photo. Geoff brought in eleven. Rich Vos had zero photos (as Jay Mohr pointed out, "Ralphie May never moved, and he beat you."). Cory brought in fourteen. Tess, who had won two of the previous exemption competitions, only brought in seven, so Cory won. As she remarked in interview, "There's just this incredible sense of relief, because, as a foot soldier for the Don, I have done a good job, and I'm still in the house." I'm not sure that being a good foot soldier is a reason for her to get exemption, but I was so relieved that Geoff didn't get the exemption I didn't care. (Talk about someone who has not said one funny thing in the house!)
The Rat Pack
Okay, so now that they know who is exempt, it's time for the Mafia of Mirth (why do they refuse my nickname for them and keep calling themselves The Coalition?) to swing into action and decide who to vote out.
But first, let's learn more about the playahs. Cory explained to the camera that the Coalition is like the Rat Pack, and she's like Shirley MacLaine. "They're much more in love with each other than they are interested in me at all." I love that description, because I love the mystique of the Rat Pack. Epitome of cool, my friends, epitome of cool. And within the confines of the house, that would be Dave and Rich. (Ummmm, I did make it clear that that was within the confines of the house, right?)
And Cory is entirely correct on the mutual interest of Rich and Dave. Rich told the camera (over his ironing board, where else?) that Dave is the quickest and funniest guy in the house (which I also agree with). Dave said, "We just kind of realized that we could really bounce off each other well, and we became good friends. Now I fear that he's attracted to me."
Target: Dat Phan
Having no exemption, Dat had to realize he was a likely target. Was it getting to him? You be the judge:
Ya know, it actually is a little creepy. The detailed index cards don't bother me so much, but the incessant war talk and the tennis court act (come on, at least do it where you have a mirror) do seem a little frightening, particularly juxtaposed with the good-versus-evil Armaggedon outcome, and maybe I can start to understand the comics in the house not warming to him.
Dat intoned to the camera, "These guys are no longer going to get under my skin, because their way of acting like a nuisance has given me power to shield myself from their evil. I'm going to wear body armor. I'm going crazy now. I don't care -- you know what? I want them to challenge me now, because I want to do stand-up now." Dave drily remarked that "Dat fails to realize that it's a comedy competition. There's not going to be any fighting."
- Dat practiced his act to the tennis court, complete with "thank you" and a sign-off announcing "I'm Dat Phan. You guys have been great."
- Dat also said, "I'm deep in touch with my chi from martial arts, but you've got to have love, and love is part of the circle of life." Dat went around to the various comics telling them that he loved them -- Ralphie, Geoff, "I even love Tess." (Man, I can't remember him and Tess interacting much, but we've seen Tess really talk down Dat in interview, and now Dat doing a sideways slam of Tess.)
- For Cory, Dat asked to have a private conversation. He'd been under the impression that Cory had specifically targeted him and tried to deceive him. He asked Cory about several issues, such as whether she'd wanted to find him when he was hiding or if there had been an alliance against him. To her credit, Cory was very honest with him: No, she hadn't tried to find him, and yes, there had been a concerted action against him, as part of an alliance action based on how funny they thought people were, not on their quality of character.
- Dat told Cory that he played the game differently. He wanted a good person to win. "I do not want anybody that does not represent honor and integrity to win this, at all costs." Cory's translation: Dat wants to win. To the camera, Dat asked, "Do you want somebody that represents the path of evil and darkness and backstabbing, conniving and deception, just everything that's bad, or do you choose to vote for somebody who represents humbleness, integrity, and hope for the human race? I mean, you want somebody who's going to help change society for the better of the human race, for a better future, that provides hope for the youth of America and the rest of the generations."
So the Mafia decides to put him up. Cory says it's a matter of who's making them laugh, and Dat hasn't done it. Dave says it's because he has the least tenure, and needs to put in his time. Who knows how much either, both or neither of those reasons tip the balance?
For his part, Dat ticked off the house members for the camera:
"Do We Really Need To Say Who We're Funnier Than?"
- "Geoff is my brother" (cut to Geoff saying "he should have gone right after Sean);
- "Ralphie May? I'm in his right pocket" (immediately after a cut of Ralphie echoing that Dat should have gone after Sean);
- "Corey -- beautiful mother, my Caucasian mother";
- "Dave Mordal? He's like in the jungles, and he can pop out any time, so I don't know" (and the best sight gag of the night -- cut to a shot from last week's episode where Dave peered at Dat from over some plants in the backyard);
- "Rich Vos? The uncle from jail. He's a killer";
- "And Tess -- Tess has been out for my blood since the beginning, since I came to this country" (cut to Tess saying in interview that she doesn't want to hear any more of his weird stories or see him swinging the sticks he uses in martial arts).
Once again, time for nominations, and with so many wild cards gone the ultimate outcome was not much in question.
- Cory nominated Dat (saying it with "incredible respect" -- although as Rich whispered to her during the voting, "You could have done anybody if you wanted to. I was just thinking about it.").
- Rich nominated Dat (although admitting that he couldn't keep graphs better than Dat).
- Tess nominated Dat (tersely).
- Ralphie nominated Dat (with no comment other than a muttered "man, this sucks" after the nomination).
- Geoff nominated Dat (saying that it was time that Dat got "a little blood on [his] sword" and prove that he was supposed to be in the house).
- Dave nominated Dat (saying they'd trained "young Grasshopper" very well, and it was time for him to show them what he's got).
- Dat nominated Rich (saying that it would be awesome to go up against a 20-year comedy veteran who had been starting his career while Dat was in elementary school watching cartoons).
Dat could choose from any of the other comics in the house (except Cory), since they'd all nominated him, and as Jay listed their names we cut to shots of all of them expressing confidence in their abilities.
When it came time to make the choice, Dat sounded a bit bitter. Surprisingly, he told the comics that he knew that they wanted him to get rid of Geoff, but he wasn't going to do that. "I'm going to leave it so that you guys enjoy him one more round." He then asked Dave how long he'd done comedy, to which Dave replied "nine years." Dat then said he'd seen Dave's work, respected it and felt it would be an honor to go against him. Dave replied with his characteristic "sweet!", and the two shook hands and hugged.
I was surprised at Dat's choice. The only thing that I can figure is that he wanted to earn the respect that Rob had gained last week by going against a heavy hitter instead of taking on a relatively weaker competitor. Even under that theory, there was a strange disconnect in his not following through with going against Rich, whom he'd nominated. Did he think he had a better chance going against Dave, or when push came to shove did he consider Dave stronger than Rich and thus a more honorable choice? Dave said to the camera that he thought it was because he had been on Dat since the beginning.
The story behind the story pertained to Dat's statement about them wanting Geoff gone. After the nominations, Geoff confronted the Mafia and said, all affronted, that he was shocked to find out that everyone wanted him out the house, since Dat was "nice enough" to tell him. I missed what Geoff said at the end of it, since he mumbled, but Rich cheerfully responded with, "Really? Wow, all the manipulation we try around here doesn't work." Dave confirmed that this was the plan to the camera, saying, "I think that we all wanted to see Geoff go up. If we've learned anything, it's really, really hard to manipulate the votes on something like this; otherwise, I wouldn't be packing." Well, I know that I certainly wanted to see Geoff, and not Dave, go up.
Can The Grasshopper Make The Leap?
If wishes were horses and all that ... but wishes aren't, so the showdown involved Geoff to no degree, but instead the cutie-pie Dat and the brilliantly wry Dave.
Dave was first up. He was ... good. Funny. A lot of car jokes, which don't work as well for me since I'm a non-driver. But even taking that into account, I really felt like he didn't have the same fire as he had in the first head-to-head competition when he went against Sean. My heart sank.
Dat's performance was energetic and engaging. He established a warm rapport with the audience. But he kept using the same shtick of faux-Asian accent to an irritating degree, and while one minute of it might have come out really well, the repetition made it less effective and I felt relieved. I like Dat, I do, but Dave, based on all the performances we've seen and on all of his interactions in the house, is ... amazing.
In my mind, Dave's amazing and clearly better than Dat, and in the minds of many I know, but I don't know any of the people in the studio audience and they had a different mind. In a vote of 70-30, Dat was declared the winner.
Final Comments: Shocking, shocking conclusion. Shocking, shocking showdown to begin with, because the editing and amount of airtime had really pegged this as Geoff's week to go, and then to lose Dave, the primary commentator, was beyond belief. I'm sad. But, on the other hand, I don't think Dave wanted to stay in L.A. and develop a project there, and he's had great exposure on the show, so hopefully he went home happy. I think he did.
Ordinarily I focus my final comments on the show that we've seen, but this time I have to talk about the show coming up. There were many, many references in this show to the Final Six, making it to the Final Six, the television audience choosing from the Final Six. It was driving me nuts, because I knew I'd read about the choice being from the Final Five. In the previews for next week, we found out that the comics will be surprised to learn that it is indeed Final Five, not Final Six, and that they have one more elimination round to go. (See, if they'd just listen to me, they'd have better nicknames and more complete information.) Will next week be Geoff's time to go? I hope so! And I'll be shocked (yet again) if he doesn't go, because the man has been a cipher in the house compared to Rich, Ralphie, Dat, Tess, and Cory.
Last Comic Standing is on Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.
On the Internet: NBC.com's Official Site | SirLinksalot.net