Anyone who watched this summer’s season of “Last Comic Standing” would expect a dissonant amount variety from its fall tour. The judges—Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Norm Macdonald—could not have selected a more diverse quintet of finalists, from emerging traditionalists to abrasive insult veterans to singular eccentrics. Rare is the audience member that loves all five equally.
So it’s no surprise that the tour, which visited the Kravis Center last night and plays the Coral Springs Center for the Arts tonight, was the stand-up equivalent of a container of mixed nuts. One person’s cashew is another’s filbert, only you can’t pick around the filberts when each nut is given an equal 20 minutes to satisfy your hunger.
The takeaway from the West Palm Beach performance, then, was not that some comedians played better to subjective tastes than others, but that with one exception, none of the comedians seemed to bring their A material. The sense of momentum that they supposedly honed on their national television experience seemed lost last night. Their sets wavered and wandered, hooking us with insightful premises and then losing focus. They were too often stuck in the weeds when they should have been soaring above them.
Dominique opened the show, delivering slow and steady observations pivoting around frequently revisited societal themes, like Chris Rock on Dramamine. She managed to find original humor in a subject as humorless as chronic illness, and she offered fresh takes on such well-worn topics as the self-absorption of social media and the byzantine trials of online password locks. She’s a withering social critic, and that’s where her material should stay; her jokes were less successful when she focused on issues as mundane as women’s footwear (which we already heard on the series, by the way) and the ratio of African-American audience members to Caucasians.
Michael Palascak’s youth and inexperience were evident in his set, which was delivered as leisurely as Dominique’s but without the underlying command. His jokes about relationships came from a place of bitterness that hampered his likeability, earning their tepid response from the audience; you’d think that with so much time on the road, he would have developed a more selective eye for which material works and which should be shelved. The highlight of his set—and the only unequivocal keeper—was a lengthy and cerebral riff on T-Mobile’s notoriously sketchy cell service, which, as a T-Mobile user, I certainly connected with.
Andy Erickson, Season Nine’s awkward sprite, obviously took Norm Macdonald’s advice to avoid any political and pop-cultural targets in her material, successfully homing on topics like smoking pot (a subject that nearly every comedian explored last night), menstruation, tadpoles and her trailer-park youth. She’s as adorable as a stuffed animal and was easily the most distinctive comic on the stage, delivering material like a pixie-fied Emo Phillips. But even she stumbled from a seeming lack of direction. A serious-minded detour into the Marfan Syndrome she has suffered since childhood might work in the context of an hour-long headlining set, but with only 20 minutes to prove your comedic mettle, there was simply no place for it last night; it bogged down the evening.
Clayton English handily won the title of Last Comic Standing this summer, but you couldn’t tell it from his lackluster headlining set last night. He seemed on equal footing with his former competitors, sharing similar missteps in set construction. His material on drugs, as relating to “The Walking Dead” and the infamous South Florida case of the face-eating bath-salt addict (“How high do you have to be to crave a face?!”) were spot-on, but a riff on extreme sports and the absurdity of deer hunting dragged on for far too long.
The one unalloyed success was Ian Bagg, the brilliant Canadian crowd-worker who should have won the season. Inherently hamstrung by the dictates of broadcast television, this time Bagg was a profane, tornadic force, a merciless dervish of faux-aggression who managed to cram 40 minutes of material into his 20-minute set. As with any good insult comic, all of it seemed improvised, playing off what he received—and, more accurately, didn’t receive—from the apparently conservative, elderly and flabbergasted ticket-buyers in the expensive seats. Assessing the catatonic response from the over-60 audience, he wondered, “Did a cruise ship crash today?” He later pondered, “Is this is a Christian fundraiser?” and “you’re just here for the air conditioning, aren’t you?” On being raised Catholic, he elicited gasps when he confessed, “I don’t need to go to church anymore since my grandmother died. She took one for the team, and we got our Sundays back.”
It was an offensive, jolting set, the shot in the arm this showcase needed—even if it felt like it belonged on a different stage entirely.
Catch “Last Comic Standing” live at 7:30 tonight at Coral Springs Center for the Arts, 2855 Coral Springs Drive. Tickets cost $41.87. Call 954/344-5990 or visit coralspringscenterforthearts.com.