NBC makes ’em line up for stand-up

In the realm of reality television every person seems to be able to fit into some sort of network programming. Comedians have found their own niche on NBC’s Last Comic Standing.

In this Survivor meets the Real World meets stand-up show, comedians are picked to live in a house and attempt to outwit each other to remain on the show.

“I hate reality TV,” Tony Gaud, a Tampa Improv house MC, said. “The only saving grace for Last Comic Standing is the talent involved, as opposed to eating worms as Joe Rogan tries to be witty.”

Of the eight cities chosen for the Last Comic Standing auditions, Tampa was the final stop, and, according to Gaud, was handpicked by Last Comic’s executive producer Jay Mohr.

The Ybor stop attracted nearly 300 people, and just one hour after the doors opened on last Saturday’s auditions, the line wrapped around the building with 134 hopefuls.

As the contestants approached the fateful green-trimmed Improv door, some anxiously paced while others nervously looked down at notes.

A few unfortunates let nerves get the better of them, splattering vomit near the entrance doors before they entered the building.

“Fisher” of 97.1’s Morning X radio show believed he had a few advantages for the audition.

“No comic is up before noon. I’m a morning guy; at 10 o’clock my day is almost done,” Fisher said.

Starting his radio career as an intern at Orlando’s WXXL in 1992, Fisher started doing stand-up as a side project last September, opening for Carlos Mencia.

“(When) I tell a joke on the radio, I have no idea if anybody laughed, if anybody swerved off the road or if anybody changed the station. And that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to go on stage, because I will get instant feedback for what I do,” Fisher said.

Chris Johnson, another Improv house MC, planned on using the audition to widen his tour audience.

“It’s like making love with no music on,” Johnson said, describing the closed audition and the difficulty of creating rhythm without an audience response.

As the Improv filled up, only two faces greeted the comics last Saturday: judges, Bob Reed and Mark Ross, who both book talent for The Tonight Show. Comics had three minutes to impress the judges, who reserved the right to cut them off at any time.

“You have to figure there are limited spots on the show and they’re going to be picking like Clinton picking people to take a picture with,” Johnson said. “The strikes are against us because we are straight, white guys.”

“You’re a straight, white guy,” Gaud smirked back, “I’m half Puerto-Rican.”Gaud started his comedic career as a doorman at the Improv, later working his way up to house MC.

Like many comedians, both Gaud and Johnson saw the audition as an opportunity to get more exposure.

Whatever the outcome, Gaud and Johnson still have to work as comics. Gaud hosted the Margaret Cho performance later that night, and Johnson had a show in Gainesville at 9 p.m.

People with all levels of experience showed up for Saturday’s audition. Nick Wells, a USF senior majoring in communications and an inexperienced comedian, arrived at 4:30 a.m. and was still only 44th in line. Wells’ three-minute routine concentrated on his seven-year experience at USF.

“The guy in front of me only made it about 20 seconds,” Wells said. “They let me go my entire three minutes. They liked my material and they really wanted me to come back next year.”

The 13 finalists whose personas adequately amused the judges included one lewd talking grandma, a cowboy, a dairy farmer, a surfer dude and a few familiar faces seen on Comedy Central including Happy Cole and Jim Norton.

The comedian chosen at the Tampa stop was Norton, a regular on Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, who flew in for the audition.

“He more than deserves to be on the show,” Fisher said. “I’m sure other guys are upset that a guy like him can fly in from New York and take it.”