Reality Bites: Last Comic Standing
by Rachel Jaffe
Published: August 6, 2003
Last week the final five competed in Las Vegas. Each comic performed for five minutes, hoping to garner the most votes from the public via phone calls or the internet. The final five consisted of the following:
1. Cory Kahaney: A comedian from Manhattan, New Yawk.
2. Dat Phan: A Vietnamese comedian from Santee, CA.
3. Ralphie May: A very large comedian from Houston, TX.
4. Rich Vos: A somewhat caustic comedian from Plainfield, NJ.
5. Tess Drake: A plus-sized diva from Sandusky, OH.
Hey, Did You Know Jay Mohr's On This Show?
I understand that it must have been frustrating for host Jay Mohr to have spent all this time as ... well, as host Jay Mohr. But when I'm sitting in a fever of anticipation, waiting to find out who is the Last Comic Standing, not to mention eager to see the old housemates again, the last thing I need is Jay Mohr doing stand-up, particularly on such hoary topics as the braille instructions on the ATM machine in the bank drive-in.
But Wait, There Were All These Other Folks On The Show Too!
Fortunately, Jay finished his set fairly quickly, and he introduced the five finalists. Once the finalists were seated, the introductions went all the way back to the beginning, as we were shown footage of original auditions in front of Bob Read and Ross Mark, the talent executives who decided which comics should proceed to the regional semi-finals. While "the best of the worst," showcasing some of the worst auditions, had a few amusing moments, it was more interesting to see the early auditions of the final five.
Bob and Ross enjoyed Dat's energy, and Bob told him they thought he was a real find. Bob was surprised that Dat knew who he was, and Dat explained that he answered phones at the Hollywood Improv and spoke to Bob every day. I laughed at Bob's shocked reaction.
Ralphie auditioned with his "Da Hood" material. Those were the days. Tess did her "I'm a hottie" routine. Her body posture was tense and she spoke too quickly, but Bob and Ross loved her.
Bob was surprised by Cory's material about battles with her daughter, and thought, "That's a sit-com star." Rich Vos insulted bunches of groups, and Bob remarked in interview, "That's one person -- Rich, I'm sorry, but Ross chose you to move on. I didn't choose you." But I was impressed with how Rich acknowledged and worked the situation of performing for only two people.
The energy of the show picked up when the five comics already evicted from the house -- Sean Kent, Tere Joyce, Rob Cantrell, Dave Mordal, and Geoff Brown -- joined the five finalists on stage. Everyone looked relaxed and happy and tanned (although Sean, unfortunately, had a relapse of the cancer mentioned early in the series). Tere still had strange hair, but in a more low-key style, which was more flattering. Rob was more boyish than ever, having shaved off the scruffy beard he'd had.
The first trip down memory lane involved the initial battle between Sean and Rich. Both of them downplayed the animosity, saying that they were actually quite friendly towards each other. "In real life, I have no problems -- I'd hang out with him all day long," Rich said.
There was a montage of voting announcements ("I know I'm funnier than ___"), which had a lot less suspense than they did when we saw the nominations originally, but it was fun to see Sean's jaw clenching on the tape as his name was recited, or Dat fuming as the comics nominated him. Coming back from the montage, we saw Ralphie hugging Sean, and Jay remarked about what a love-fest it was now. Ralphie said that it was just a stressful time in the house, what with the cameras and all ("And there is no good angle for me to look less fat.").
Jay asked Rob about the landslide of votes against him, including his roommate Dat's vote. Dat jumped in to explain that it was strategic -- he'd suggested that he'd vote for Rob, Rob would vote for him, the votes would cancel each other out and they'd see what was going on. (I can't explain it. I just report it.) "And then Rob voted for Tere and then everything fell apart." Jay solemnly told Rob that he'd dropped the ball, and Rob apologized to Dat, saying he just didn't think it through. For me, it's like hide-and-seek all over again, because Dat doesn't seem to get that they're poking fun at this "strategy" of his. (Or maybe it's hide-and-seek on me, and they weren't poking fun at him.)
There were some good questions asked. Jay asked Geoff about whether he'd been coasting in the house by not putting himself on the line. Geoff didn't provide such a good answer, basically saying that he wasn't in an alliance and just voted for whoever ticked him off or whoever was a top gun. Dat had to jump in again, complaining about how "you guys always seemed to go after the lowest one on the totem pole." Jay was grateful at the strategy of going after the weak instead of the strong, "because you ensured the headliner goes on last."
(And there were some good responses to questions asked, as well. Jay tried for one last round of "I know I'm funnier than ___", and before anyone could answer, Rich interjected that he knew he was funnier than Jay!)
There was some footage and discussion of the Coalition. "You guys are possibly the world's most miserable plotters ever," Jay remarked. (Watching the footage, I was reminded of Dave's great sit-com pitch of inept terrorists. Drawing from real life, perhaps?) When Jay asked Dave if the Coalition worked, Dave remarked drily, "For some people."
Dat's journals were reviewed. Dat explained it was a combination of his scientific approach (at which point Sean, behind him, began cracking up), and the spiritual aspect, "because you have to have a soul to be funny." Sean piped up and disagreed, saying, "Look at Rich!" (And hey, look at Sean! He made a funny! Good for him.) Dat was still way too serious on the topic, and too sensitive to teasing -- Jay had to reassure him that he'd made the final five, so it didn't matter how much he was being teased. Quizzing the other comics showed no one else used Dat's level of charts, and no one else being inclined to use them in the future. Rob Cantrell broke the rising tension by confessing that he didn't have notes, "I just cheat off of Dat's book."
The comics talked about the funniest things that happened in the house that didn't make it to film. Many focused on the rat-hunt -- Tere talked about a profile of the rat that Rich had done, and Rich brought up a fright dance that Ralphie had done. In fact, the comics called upon Ralphie to demonstrate, which he did, prefacing it by saying he didn't like rats, so he was surprised that he was friends with Rich ("Come on, the teeth? Come on, people."). Now, I'd heard the fright dance described, but actually seeing it -- well, I laughed too. It was actually a very classic sort of comedic routine, reminiscent of Jackie Gleason. And Sean got in another zinger: "Now we know how to get Ralphie to exercise."
But of course my favorite part was seeing footage from the hide-and-seek-that-never-was. I laughed all over again at the deadpan Ralphie, at Dat's pretending he was hiding from an axe murderer (although they didn't show my favorite part, where Dat explained to the cameraman that he needed to point the camera somewhere else, otherwise the others would know he was hiding there). And Jay called Dat on his having said, "I'm never playing this with you guys again." Dat was not happy about seeing the footage again, and this time it was Cory that defused the situation, by laughing at herself for having actually wanted to play hide-and-seek.
While the hide-and-seek, even abbreviated, was as good as the first time, the salute to Dave and Rich's friendship I didn't think worked as well. It's something that you need to experience, not reminisce over. (But it was fun to hear that, in the infamous bathtub scene, both guys were wearing bathing suits but Dave freaked out Rich by taking his off and handing it to the cameraman. Turns out, Dave had his underwear on underneath.)
Overall, while this half of the show was obviously filler, I enjoyed seeing the eliminated comics again and having the banter flow. Ah, for those early glory days in the house.
Getting Down To Business
After schmoozing up the first half of the show, it was time to start looking at final eliminations in the second half of the show.
There was a more targeted review of each of the final five's performances, including snippets from the semi-finals, any head-to-head competitions, and the finals, followed by reactions from each of the final five. Ralphie was still confident. Dat felt he'd tried the hardest he could, and that was the route to greatness in his opinion. When asked if she'd struck a jab or a K.O. for laughter (referring to her stated desire last week to strike a blow for laughter), Tess said in a surprisingly subdued manner, that it was a jab -- "I didn't get it down like I wanted." Rich reiterated that "on any given Sunday" anyone could win (but when pressed on who out of the other four finalists might beat him, Rich predicted Dave Mordal). Cory remarked that she owed her family about $40,000 worth of material by now, having used it so successfully so far.
Saying Good-Bye ... Times Three
Okay, and time for our first elimination of the night! Having received 7% of the audience votes, the first one of the final five to leave was ... Tess Drake.
Ah, Tess. I wasn't impressed by your material to begin with, but your spirit grew on me during the time in the house. You looked fabulous tonight, your delivery of material has gotten better as compared to your earlier auditions, and you knew that your final set just didn't work terribly well. Best wishes, and here's hoping you get that sit-com you deserve.
The next one to leave, having received 12% of the audience vote, was Cory Kahaney. (Jay did a heck of an effective fake-out of Rich Vos by telling him to say good-bye ... to the person on his right, who was Cory. It took the comics almost a full minute to sort that one out.)
Cory, may you leave the house more confident in your abilities and go on to a great career. You had a good set at the end, and if you ditch the Sagitarry rape joke, you'll be fine. And I loved your hair color tonight!
Jay tried another fake-out with the next elimination, saying that he didn't expect this heavyweight to be eliminated next with 18% of the vote -- but instead of heavyweight Ralphie May, it was Rich Vos who had to leave.
The Don! You were abrasive in your first appearances, but over the course of the show you revealed a bad-boy charm and self-deprecating good cheer. Drop me a line when the Dave and Rich Show gets on the air.
One For The Money, Two For The Show ...
The traditional rhyme says it's "two for the show", and with two finalists left, we did have a show. Ralphie May and Dat Phan both performed a five-minute set -- purely for entertainment, since the votes have all been counted.
Was it pure entertainment, though?
Ralphie's set primarily concerned the pressure on women to conform to a certain body image. This subject is always a rich vein to mine for comedy, but this wasn't an outstanding set. Too many Calista Flockhart/Ally McBeal jokes, and many of the other jokes didn't seem well developed. But hey, decrying society's standards that make too many women feel fat, and mocking the "skinny white bitches" on magazine covers, is a good way to get applause from the crowd. I wish he'd kept it more on himself and his experience. Who needs a man to explain women's experience?
Dat's set ... well, what's there to say about Dat's set that hasn't been said before? Particularly since half of it was something he'd performed before -- "why did the guy in the john think I knew martial arts"? I like his Jackie Chan imitation, but it would have been a good time to have tried out more new material. But I did finally figure out who Dat reminded me of, with his spiked-to-the-max hair: Jonathan Lipnicki, the kid from Jerry Maguire.
But if it's two for the show, then we have to have one for the money, right? Jay prolonged the suspense, bantering with the contestants, letting the audience know that one comic had received 28% of the total audience vote, while the other had received 35% of the total audience vote.
And between Ralphie May and Dat Phan, the one for the money, the Last Comic Standing, is ... Dat Phan!
Final Comments on the Episode:
Last week I said, "The only one that I would be very disappointed to have win would be Dat, so the odds are good that I won't be disappointed." Goes to show why I don't play the ponies, because Dat did indeed win! And yes, I am disappointed, because I didn't think he was the best comic in the group. But as some of his fellow comics remarked, he might well have been the one who wanted to win the most, and I wish him luck in taking advantage of this opportunity. Having reached his goal, perhaps he'll be able to relax and laugh at himself a little.
As for Ralphie -- his recent sets disappointed me, but he's a comic powerhouse, and I'm sure the exposure from the show is going to increase his bookings as a comic. I hope that he's reading the reactions people are having to his act, and that he'll take to heart some of the criticisms of his performances and, instead of satisfying himself with the easy laughs, exert his large talent to create more insightful and impressive comedic sets.
Final Comments on the Series: What a ride it's been! Comedic highs, such as the rat hunt, the hide-but-no-seek, and the special camping bus, and comedic lows, such as making fun of a woman's fear of land mines. Touching human elements of vulnerability, friendships, and self-reflection. The editors did a great job of putting together a bunch of interesting, funny people and creating delicious footage of the house and the interactions therein. Ironically, it was in the comics' performances that I was the most disappointed. But I wouldn't have missed this series, and I hope that next season finds a new group of comics moving into the house ... along with one more rat.
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