'Last Comic Standing' Thinks Globally
International comics, more viewer voting among changes
The NBC comedy competition, which begins a new season Wednesday night (June 13), has taken its quest for stand-up comedy talent global, holding auditions in London, Montreal and Sydney. It has a new host in veteran comic Bill Bellamy and new judges in "LCS" veterans Alonzo Bodden, Ant and Kathleen Madigan. And, maybe most important, it's letting viewers have a say earlier in the contest than ever before.
Once the show gets down to its 10 finalists, "We'll have three weeks of challenges and head-to-heads," executive producer Peter Engel says. "The difference this year is that instead of [just] the studio audience voting on who leaves in a head-to-head, America will start voting then. So it's essentially done live."
In the past, audience voting played a part only after the field was pared to five comedians. Engel hopes the earlier audience voting will encourage viewers to pay closer attention to their favorites and "get invested in someone and want to ride them right through."
To that end, the show will place more emphasis on the comics' actual performance than the "Real World"-ish element of past seasons, when the finalists all shared a house. This time around, the top 10 will still travel together, take part in challenges and pick who faces who in the head-to-head elimination rounds, but they won't be bunking together, and cameras won't be tracking their every move.
"As we've progressed, the comics have become much stronger and the dynamic of the house has been diminished," Engel explains. "... It sounds great to put 10 comedians in a house, but as the comics got better and better, the house became less interesting. We kind of had done it already. We're not an MTV show, we're a comedy show."
The dumping of the house also means that contact with the outside world will be permitted -- though that comes a year late for Gabriel Iglesias, who was arguably among the funniest competitors last season but was kicked off the show after cameras caught him violating show rules by using his cell phone. "Every year I've had to kick someone out," Engel notes. "Anytime I show up with a camera crew, it's not good."
In addition to tweaking the format, Engel and the show's producers also recruited comedians from outside the United States and hired Bellamy, to replace Anthony Clark as host. Bellamy, who's been working the stand-up circuit for 15-plus years, says he understands the pressure the performers are under to make a quick impression on the audience.
"You don't have a lot of time to feel out the audience and get warm," he says of the brief sets comics have to perform in the early rounds. "You've got to have your home-run jokes, bat in hand, ready to hit the ball as soon as they say [your name].
"It makes you a more precise performer -- you've got to get right in there and get out, because then they go, 'Thank you' or they shut the mic off. So you better hurry up and get that joke done."
For all the changes, though, Engel notes that "Last Comic Standing" is a pretty easy show to grasp. "We're looking for that fresh voice, a fresh take. ... We're looking for the guy or girl who's going to make us laugh.
"That's really it. Comedy is very simple, if you get right down to it. If you laugh, it's good, and if you don't it's not."