Given that tonight’s episode only took us through a fraction of the audition cities, it’s tough to say whether the talent pool will be deeper this season. However, based on what I saw tonight, there are a couple of positive omens for the coming weeks:
- The talent scouts are involved in the decision-making process. The producers still have a say, but knowing that people who know what it takes to perform in front of a crowd also have input is comforting. Whether that actually leads to a better group of finalists, you never know. And comedy being as subjective as it is, some of us are likely to be sore disappointed once the public takes over the voting.
- The hacks are limited. Bit of a sweeping statement there, but at least this week, talent scouts Richard Belzer and Steve Schirripa (New York) and Fred Willard and Kathy Najimy (Tempe, Ariz.) did a pretty good job of weeding out the amusing-but-limited as well as the truly strange and awful. The people who made it to round two all seemed to have a voice and some stage presence, which goes a really, really long way in this competition.
Let’s get to the funny, shall we?
The Big Apple is our starting point this season, and straight away we meet new co-host/semi-scripted interstitial performer Fearne Cotton. She’s British and blonde and perky, but I don’t see her really adding a whole heckuva lot.
The audition montage starts with a guy in a chicken suit and includes a woman wearing cat ears talking to her parrot. Oof. Belzer and Schirripa also offer some sage advice: Jokes about killing babies just aren’t funny.
Things soon look up, though, with the likes of Louis Ramey, Dan Naturman and twin act Stone and Stone breezing through to the live-audience showcase. Stone and Stone do an oddball twin shtick where they talk over and around one another, but somehow it all works.
The showcase produces five tickets to the semifinals, and I have no big complaints with any of them. I was a little worried about Esther Ku at first, but she backed up her first performance with new (and decent) material at the showcase. She, Stone and Stone, Ramey (the tanning-salon joke), Naturman ("No one saw the Internet coming") and singing duo God’s Pottery go forward. I might’ve preferred to see someone like new dad Al Jackson or candle-snuffing Marc Theobald take their place. God’s Pottery sold their sunny-Christian bit well, but I have a feeling that it might wear thin.
Willard and Najimy aren’t quite as strong a scouting team as Belzer and Schirripa are, but Willard utters maybe the best line of the show after seeing a ridiculous faux American Gladiator tear around the room: "Will Ferrell just called. He said it was over the top."
The Tempe auditions feature some talented comics, but they also serve to point out differences in the relative depth of the field from city to city. On a show like American Idol, the sheer numbers of would-be singers and the rapid-fire way in which people are sorted out means that the cities all kind of run together. Here, though, you could really tell the difference between the two cities.
I’m thinking that someone like Theobald or Jackson could have easily earned a semifinal ticket here, but they had the misfortune of trying out in a deeper group. So we get only three from Tempe: Internet-phobic Phil Palisoul, creative immigration problem-solver Adam Hunter and single-named impressionist Marcus. I’m not sure how long I’ll enjoy Marcus, but the fact that he didn’t just do Shatner, Nicholson and Walken (except in a quick talking-to-the-camera bit) earned at least a little bit of goodwill from me.
Of course, the true test for these folks and everyone else we see the next few weeks will come in subsequent rounds, when limited material gets exposed. I do think, though, that a couple of these folks could make me laugh for a while. I won’t be recapping every week, but I will be watching and checking in from time to time.
What did you think of the premiere? Did any of the comics make you want more?