Comedy: It’s All Fun and Games

By David Callicott NY Press on August 20, 2008. Posted in Posts

Stepping in dog shit on the way to clubs. Putting your self-esteem in the hands of a drunken stranger. These are a couple of the funnier answers I got when I asked some comics from around town what the hardest thing about performing stand-up in the city is. Nate Bargatze, however, was uncharacteristically straight with me.

“The toughest thing about being a New York City comedian,” said Bargatze, “is the competition.” The local joker, who you may have seen on Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham wasn’t whining; he was just telling like it is. “The comedians here are the some of the best in the world.”

Well, if the city’s comics are indeed so hysterical, then why not pit them against each other and award the funniest with a gold medal or something. Josh Filipowski, another local comic, thought that was a good idea—so good that a few months ago he began organizing the 2008 Comedy Olympics.

The idea of a stand-up competition isn’t exactly new. There was the smaller scale Olympiad that Filipowski put on four years ago, an Improv Comedy Olympics in 1998 and many similar competitions before and since. But these Games are different. Instead of individuals going up against each other for a solo shot at the podium—as is usually the case—this is a team contest.

Twelve teams, each comprising four comedians, are vying for a win in four different events, each held at a separate venue. The teams assign one of their members to one of the events: One-Liner, Heckler/Crowd-Handling, Storytelling and the Tight Five. At the conclusion of the fourth event, judges will tally all points and one team will be deemed the world champions.

“My squad is definitely going to take the gold,” claimed Rob O’Reilly, captain of the unfortunately named Mighty Ducks. Indeed, the Ducks may be odds-on favorites, boasting ringers Reese Waters and O’Reilly, who took first and second place, respectively, at the Filipowski-produced March Comedy Madness tournament this year.

But since teams can change their line-ups at any time, an upset is always possible. Besides, the final outcome will depend on many unforeseen variables—judges’ preferences, mood of the audience and, of course, rampant doping. While most of the team captains wouldn’t go on record about the influence of banned substances in competition, Jackie Monahan of team Doris Yeltsin admitted to smoking pot in the past. Out of an apple. If this kind of fruit abuse is common, fans can’t help but wonder where the future of comedy is headed.

The Comedy Olympics opening ceremony at the Eastville Comedy Club coincided with another Olympics’ opening ceremony last Friday night. But the jokes didn’t start flying until Aug. 12, when the self-explanatory One-Liner competition took place at New York Comedy Club.

The fun and games will continue on Aug. 14 at the Lower East Side’s Laugh Lounge, with what will most likely be the most spontaneous of the Olympics’ events: Heckler/ Crowd Handling. Here performers can choose to merely work the crowd, a sort of reverse heckling; but hopefully the crowd will step up and antagonize the comedian, prompting them to really show off their improvisational skills. If the room gets too quiet, Filipowski said one table in the audience will be the official hecklers. “And if that doesn’t work,” he said, “teams can heckle each other.”

The third battle, Storytelling, will take place on Aug. 19. Comedians will be allotted five to 10 minutes to tell as many as three stories in the uptown environs of Broadway Comedy Club. Then comes the grand finale, on Aug. 21, at the venerable Caroline’s, where each team will put forth their funniest member to deliver their “Tight 5,” or best five minutes of material.

After the judges have made their final marks, there will be an award ceremony. But who are the judges? Filipowski has selected an American (Tasha A. Harris), a Russian (Nikolai Solonski), a Jewish (Craig Selinger) and a gay judge (Guillermo Castillo). In addition, audience applause will help determine winners.

When asked if the ethnicity or sexual orientation of the judges might influence their selections of jokes, competitors had differing views. Little Ethnic Girls team member Helen Hong asked, “They’re letting gays and Jews into this thing?”

Dave Lester, a member of Tickle Five Soul, was a cooler customer. “If comedians worried about that,” he said, “we’d be extinct.”

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