After six grueling months of weekly competition that whittled 140 comics down to one, the 2013 Comedy Works New Faces Competition has a winner in Jordan Doll. He'd delivered heavily talked-about performances at UMS and High Plains, and there had been a lot of hype in the comedy scene that Doll would come out on top even before last night's finals began. But strong performances were also delivered by Arguments and Grievances host Kevin O'Brien and local mic-rat Christie Buchele, who earned second and third place rankings, respectively, in this major comedy contest.
Like the auditorium for an elementary-school play, Comedy Works downtown was packed with parents and siblings of the featured comedians -- along with random groups of friends who were painfully familiar with their favored comic's set, but came out to provide excited support. Almost no one in the sold-out crowd was there without a motive beyond being entertained, but everyone was treated to an eclectic sampler with ten seasoned comics each delivering seven-minute sets (almost half of the contestants attempted to go over that time, and were silenced when the mic was cut).
It was an enthusiastic audience, which worked to each comic's advantage considering that one of the five judging categories was audience reaction.(Full disclosure: I was one of several judges at this Comedy Works competition.) Before the show started, a Denver comedian told me he thought Jodee Champion should've made it to the finals, but was dealt a short straw weeks earlier in performing a New Faces show at Comedy Works South, a venue that is more accustomed and receptive to A-list comics, and didn't have very much mirth for a local comedy contestant.
Another factor New Faces comedians stress over is landing in the coveted slot of final performer. Names are drawn for the lineup, and many consider it a death sentence to perform first. But the rotation hex didn't hold true this year: Christie Buchele opened the show, and placed third; Jordan Doll followed.
There's actually an advantage to performing early: "Originality" is another category the judges evaluate. And by the time final comic Kevin O'Brien approached the mike, the audience had already endured an earful of commentary on the subjects of gays, race, marijuana, masturbation, manscaping and recent breakups.
Patrick Hesse had the upper hand in performing before Zachary Maas, considering that acoustic guitars played a large role in both their sets. Maas delivered some strong jokes -- unfortunately, they were wrapped inside a xerox of Demitri Martin gimmicks and Adam Sandler juvenility. Hesse (no relation) had probably the strongest audience reaction of the night, while delivering some of the hackiest jokes. Fans of Jeff Dunham would love Hesse's set, mostly musical parodies of pop songs, with a lot of non-sequitur transitions. He's clean, he knows how to craft a crowd-pleaser, and he has a bright future in this business. But he will lack any reverence from comedians and seasoned comedy fans.
Aaron Urist delivered a strong monologue of his thoughts on Beauty and the Beast, a prosaic bit that anyone who's spent time at the open mics this summer is familiar with, but always happy to hear again: "If you haven't seen it in a while, Disney's Beauty and the Beast is a story about a fifteen-foot-tall bear/buffalo-monster, and his unrequited love for a fourteen-year-old girl, and their quest to save Wilford Brimley from being institutionalized by a town of illiterate flash-mob enthusiasts."
As with several other comics on New Faces, I'd already heard Jordan Doll's set a half dozen times over the summer -- but I witnessed its strongest incarnation last night. His performance at High Plains was charged, but he had rushed himself, stepping on laughs and speeding through imagery like Willy Wonka's boat-ride. During last night's contest he was sharp and relaxed, confident when delivering jokes that have been endlessly praised over the last year.
"I'm a comedian, and one of my favorite things that comedians often do is give terrible segues to jokes," Doll said. "And one of the best I ever heard was here at Comedy Works. There was this older gentleman who said, 'Ahm gettin' older. Anyone else gettin' older?'.... Yeah, literally everyone in here is growing older right now -- what the fuck are you talking about? Saying that doesn't make you sound like a comedian, it makes you sound like a vampire trying to fit in with human beings by doing stand up-comedy. [Puts on delicious Eastern European accent] 'Is anyone else growing old at a normal human rate? Is anyone living a life un-prolonged by dark forces, as I am?'"
While the judges' scores were tallied backstage, host and event coordinator Deacon Gray announced that Aurora Theater shooting victim and New Faces 2012 comedian Caleb Medley was in attendance. This was followed by a headlining performance from New Faces alumni Adam Cayton-Holland, before the announcement was made of the night's three winners, who took home prizes of $250, $500 and a cool grand for regional celebrity Jordan Doll.
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For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.