Sunday, November 14, 2010

Boston Comedy Festival finals wrap up

Darryl Lenox
The Boston Comedy Festival wrapped up Saturday at the Wilbur with an efficient night of comedy and a strong line-up, basically split into two moving parts – the competition finals, with eight contestants, and two awards, given to Boston Comedian of the Year Joe Wong and the Lifetime Achievement Award going to Robert Klein. There were only two other comedians on the bill, Darryl Lenox and host Jim McCue. And where this event has sometimes dragged in the past, it felt winnowed down to a trim formula this year.

Lenox opened the show before running to do his own headline spot at Cheers. It’s a shame there was so much going on Saturday night – Comics Come Home at the Agganis, Jim Gaffigan at the Wang, Juston McKinney at Nick’s, the Festival finals, Todd Barry at the Hard Rock, and a strong local line-up at Mottley’s. Lennox probably got lost in the shuffle, especially opening on a show against his own show, and he deserves better. If the chance comes around to see him headline again, take it.

Matt D.
It was a pretty strong crop of finalists this year, as well, probably the strongest in recent memory. It was equally split between out-of-towners (Saleem Muhammad, Nate Bargatze, Nick Cobb, and Will Sylvince) and Boston comics (Mehran, Matt D. Lamont Price, and Orlando Baxter). There was no one on the bill for the finals that felt tacked on or not polished enough to have made it onto the show.

Orlando Baxter

The Boston contingent was especially strong, including Baxter, who has improved by leaps and bounds since I last saw him (and it had been a while). I was wondering, before the show, how Matt D. would fit in. He’s a deadpan absurdist, rattling off joke after well-constructed joke. But a lot of the comics had big energy and big personalities. It would be easy for him to get lost in that, but that didn’t happen. Matt D. had a great set dense with one and two line jokes.

In a Boston Comedy Festival first, there was a tie for first place between Nate Bargatze and Saleem. Will Sylvince came second, and Nick Cobb came in third. Which means the Boston comics trailed the field. There was a certain amount of parity among this group, but that doesn’t make the results any less puzzling.

Nate Bargatze and Saleem Muhammad
Contests are always subjective, and it’s impossible to know the mind and tastes of the judges. And the fact there was a tie for first may mean the tally for each comic may have been roughly the same. I’d be surprised if there were more than two or three points difference from the top to the bottom of the bill. And when it comes right down to it, how does two or three points translate into a meaningful comment on someone’s comic talent or ability? That may also be why only Bargatze and Saleem were actually announced at the show – I asked afterwards about the rest of the order.

Joe Wong
The second half of the show was loose and entertaining. Wong had a great set, accepting his plaque for Boston Comedian of the Year. He talked about playing the Festival in 2003, and meeting Eddie Brill, who books the comics for David Letterman in 2005. Wong noted that Brill told him when they first met that Wong was on his way to the Letterman show. Wong addressed the comedians from the competition, saying, “So if Eddie Brill has not told you this yet…”

Robert Klein was fantastic. His resume is long, stretching over more than forty years, and Klein had a little fun with his introduction for his Lifetime Achievement Award. Standing next to McCue and listening to a list of his accomplishments, Klein began to hunch over and tremble, aging as McCue spoke.

Klein accepts his award
 In the past, the Lifetime Achievement winners have often bantered for a few minutes, done a little shtick, accepted the award and left. Klein, however, is still an active, working comic, and he wasn’t going to let an audience of roughly 600 people get away without some stand-up. Klein accepted his award, and then McCue seemed a bit surprised when Klein took the mic and started doing material. McCue stood in the background, waiting for Klein to wrap up, and when Klein noticed, he asked him if he had anything more to say. McCue slunk off while Klein launched into what would be a 25 minute set.

Klein started to wax nostalgic about coming to Boston with The Apple Tree in 1966, previewing the show before its Broadway run. Not all of the memories were good – Klein stayed at the Avery Hotel, which he called a piece of shit, while the big stars stayed at the Ritz. He was all over the map, material-wise, delivering a loose, casual set. He talked about having to “shtup” Joan Rivers in a movie, and how she tried to sell him bracelets during the scene. Industrious woman.

Klein backstage
Maybe the best part of a show like this is what happens backstage. Klein has always had an affinity for comics, and when the show was over, he was huddled up with the younger crowd, letting them pick his brain a bit. The comics seemed to soak up the advice, thrilled to have a brief audience with a legend, all the better for just having seen that legend crush in front of the same audience they had just played.
Price cracked up at the after party, talking about Klein backstage, busting chops over the price of a scotch at the Wilbur. And no matter how the contest ended, he said, being on that bill was the prize.

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