It’s easy to understand why NBC would want a reality show a bit more varied than 13 weeks of straight stand-up, but all the same I’ve been dreading the challenge episodes of Last Comic Standing. “Challenge 1: Sketch” pretty much confirmed my fears, managing to be both irrelevant to the art of stand-up and painfully unfunny to watch. Luckily, last night’s episode was basically the opposite of that, a change I can only hope is for good.
As an unusual as a sit-down appearance on Ellen might be for an unknown comic, this week’s challenge gave us an interesting (if not completely accurate) look at the nuts and bolts behind getting booked on a talk show. It also gave producer Wanda Sykes more screen time than any other episode, who’s been the show’s hidden strength from the start. Her guidance was equal parts entertaining and useful, even when it consisted of nothing more than an onscreen head shake.
As far as the actual performances went, Rod Man was the clear winner, followed Monroe Martin and a visibly nervous Nikki Carr. While I previously wondered if Man had run out of jokes, I now suspect that if anything he has the opposite problem: dude is so much of storyteller that he has pick bits from a repertoire a lifetime-long. Of course, it’s possible that Rod’s apparent spontaneity is itself a carefully-practiced facade, but if so it’s only all the more impressive.
When it came time for the elimination round, I wasn’t so much impressed by Lachlan Patterson’s set as much as I was disappointed by D.C. Benny’s. It’s hard to know how to play a room you’re not in, but on television Patterson’s low-energy performance undermined his consistently stellar material. Benny, on the other hand, seemed to forget to tell any jokes at all, stringing along an entertaining (if not particularly plausible) story by punctuating it with the same wack racial voice. Take note, comics: it’s probably a bad sign if your routine recalls a parody of hacky, tasteless comedy that’s over 15 years old.