Last night, Last Comic Standing burned through its final set of starting competitors and, from what I could see, the individual performances were just as strong they have been. That is to say, everything that made it to the actual broadcast was equally funny and entertaining. Usually this would be a good thing for a comedy showcase, but on a reality competition that consistency is a foolproof suspense killer.
In these early rounds at least, Last Comic has been a show at odds with itself. Sure, you only want to air the good stuff, but when everyone has a solid set earning hard-hitting judges notes like “you were terrific, really original,” it makes the advancement process frustratingly opaque. Why did one comic go to the semi-finals while another was left behind? It’s a mystery, which isn’t just a bummer to watch, but a serious disservice to the comics themselves.
A similar paradox arises when deciding which comics to highlight in an episode. Obviously only showcasing winners would telegraph an episode’s results, so other reality competitions give contestants a backstory reel to set them up for spectacular success or equally spectacular failure. On Last Comic, however, comedians like Tim Harmston will get the full personal narrative treatment, perform pretty well and then disappear without comment.
Unfortunately, this proficient blandness makes what didn’t work the most notable part of any given episode. Russell Peters’ uncomfortable George Zimmerman joke was so bizarre I had to ask my girlfriend if that was actually the reference. Even worse was the line Keenen Ivory Wayans called “the joke of the night.” Ostensibly a parody of dude-bro confidence, “tell it to my balls” was a punchline is search of a joke. I can only hope it won’t later haunt an otherwise talented comic like DeAnne Smith.
This week, Karlous Miller, DeAnne Smith, Nikki Carr, Tommy Ryman, Yamaneika Saunders, Mike Gaffney and Monroe Martin advanced to the semi-finals. My suspicion is that next week the show will get a bit stronger, with actual critiques from guest judges and a clearer set of personalities at play. Until then, Last Comic Standing can #tellittomyballs.
Hudson is Assistant Comedy Editor at Paste and the creator of Literally Unbelievable. Follow him on Twitter or visit hudsonhongo.com.