Last Comic Blogging, Part 5

Alonzo Bodden
Kathleen Madigan

34 Fucking Hours In Line for This? — Tuesday, April 3, 9 a.m.

Finally, finally, finally the Last Comic Standing producers show up and they avoid a potential violent insurrection by adopting the unofficial list that the people in line have written and photocopied as the order in which comics will be seen by the judges, a trio of "talent" from previous seasons of the show which includes Alonzo Bodden, Kathleen Madigan and The Queer Everybody Likes to Hate, Ant. Can you say, we're trying to rip-off American Idol everybody? Sure you can.

The camera zooms past the mammoth line which at this point probably numbers around 300 people and everybody cheers and screams, but the three heroes from Denver are too tired to give a shit, and none of us particularly feel like hamming it up for the people who have just made us sleep like hobos on the sidewalk for the better part of two days. We've all changed into out best show attire and soon enough, they're allowing us into the Tempe Improv in groups of five, after making us fill out waivers and snapping our Polaroids. Harrison, who's been drinking rum for the past half-hour to get that extra little kick and jolt his system out of complete and total sleep deprivation into cogency, takes a goofy photo, then draws a caption bubble which reads, "I'm Stupid," above his head and hands it to the producer. The producer is too LA to care.

Though I've performed quite a bit at this point in my career and generally don't get nervous, all of a sudden the nerves take over. There is this incredible tension in the air and you can't help but be affected by it. Andy and Harrison and I all nervously check ourselves over and over, and give each other pep talks, and then we are told our instructions: Run up to the stage, don't walk, there are plenty of comics to be seen, say your name, where you're from and then tell a joke. Don't look at the cameras filming you from the side, or respond to the handful of people in the room, look directly at the three judges at the table in the center of the space, and tell your joke directly to them.

Harrison goes in. Then Andy. And all of a sudden it is my turn.

I bound on to the stage.

"Hi, my name is Adam Cayton-Holland, from Denver, Colorado." I then launch into my homeless opener. The judges hear me out, stone-faced, while the peanut gallery laughs at the joke.

I start my next bit.

"I joined a new gym recently," I say. "In case you couldn't tell, these are called results," I continue, pointing to my chest. "But I'm thinking about quitting because everyone who works there is a total Nazi." I then relate how I was soaping up in the group communal shower when an employee called me out for going to the bathroom and told me he was going to tell the management on me.

"And I was like, 'Buddy easy,'" the joke concludes. "I brought this stick, I'm going to poke it through the drain when I'm done."

The peanut gallery and camera-men laugh. Then Alonzo Bodden, one of the judges, chimes in.

"We were hoping that was going to be a Nazi joke when you first started out," he says. "Do you have any Nazi jokes? Kathleen loves Nazi jokes."

This is how the auditions work. They can stop and start you, do whatever they want to mess up your flow, ask you questions. It's not a straight set by any means; it's whatever the judges want it to be.

"I could shave my face and leave just a little mustache," I say, pointing out the stubble on my tired cheeks. "Then I could tell some Nazi jokes, but I don't think you would like them."

"No thanks," Bodden says. "Next!"

And like that, the audition is over, all because they wanted to talk about Nazi jokes right then and I didn't have any.

Of course, as is always the case, I think of the best comeback not ten seconds later, while walking out of the room.

"Yeah, I have another Nazi joke," I should have said. "Quit interrupting my set, you fucking Nazi."

That would have brought the house down. Of course they would have had to bleep me out, but it's the type of acidic comeback that the panel of judges, who are comics, would have loved. Fuck! Why couldn't I have thought of that sooner? Maybe it was the complete and total sleep deprivation, coupled with an intense environment and fraying nerves. Regardless, no excuses, my audition is over.

Harrison's audition, apparently, was even worse.

"I recently noticed something strange on my penis," his set began. "Nothing to worry about, everything's okay. Turns out it was just a sober woman."

Just those few words after the long drive, the long wait and Harrison heard the dreaded, "Next!" Harrison's been at it for seven years, a hilarious comic who can rock a crowd as a headliner, but today, for Last Comic Standing, that's all the time he's going to get.

But Andrew Orvedahl, our little Andy, impresses the judges enough to be invited back to the evening show, a show before a live audience, with 24 of the best comics, six of whom will move on to the next show in Los Angeles. Andy is flying high after his audition, as he should be— he did well — but Harrison and I are just pissed. In an ideal world, we would find our ticket to comedy success anywhere but Last Comic Standing, a reality-fucking-television show, but the truth is it hurts to put your talent on the line, for no matter how many seconds they give you, and be rejected. We say goodbye to Andy, who has to stick around and fill out more paperwork and waivers, and we head back to the hotel to crash. I'm so dejected I wonder why the fuck I even bother performing comedy.

Later, we meet up with Andy again and he tells us that out of the 300-or-so people who waited in line to audition, he's pretty certain that he was the only one selected to make it onto evening showcase. That means that out of 24 comics selected for the more important, evening audition, only one of them did not have a private, pre-arranged audition: Andy. There is no doubt in my mind that Andy was one of the most deserving people in that line; he's an outstanding comic who everyone in this city will tell you is one of the best up-and-comers, but something doesn't sit right with that. Only one comic from the line was taken? What was the point of even having open auditions if twenty-three of the spots were going to be taken off of recommendations and connections alone? Was Andy some sort of consolation prize, a false glimmer of hope so that the people in line wouldn't revolt because at least one guy off the street got on the showcase? Or did they not expect any unknown comic to be good enough to compete with the big-boys and Andy just surprised them? Either way, it's kind of bullshit.

Andy informs us that while we slept and he stayed at the club, all of the other 23 comics who had private auditions and were on the evening's showcase were filmed for possible segments that will air later on the show — the standard, oh-I'm-so nervous, or I'm-so-excited-for-tonight's-show filler. But he wasn't. The producers never even approached Andy to film him for those segments. He was going to be on the evening's showcase as well, so in theory, he could be moving on and they would need that footage of him; but it was not until he pointed out that they were not filming him that they begrudgingly treated him like the rest of the comics who had private auditions and didn't wait in line. It becomes quite clear to us that regardless of how Andy performs tonight, he's not going to be going to LA. This outcome was scripted months ago.

After a nap, Harrison and I meet up with Matt Conty and hang out on Mill Street, the main drag in awful, bland, strip-mall Tempe. I drown my sorrows in a few beers, watch all the beyond-gorgeous ASU girls walk by — hands down the most incredible thing about this city, really, quite unbelievable — and write a few jokes with my friends. After a little while, the embarrassment of the day's audition wears off and it just feels like a road gig, two comics and myself shooting the shit in some strange town, doing our best to make one and other laugh. Day fades into night and as the evening's showcase is sold-out, Harrison and I continue to kick it around town, while Conty makes his way to the airport to head back to Nashville. Eventually, the show at the Improv ends and Harrison and I drive over there to pick up Andy. He had a good set, but he didn't make it on to Last Comic Standing. Surprise, surprise. He closed with two of his funnier jokes — in my opinion — and he said that some of the crowd found it too offensive. He even saw the judges scribbling disapproving notes when he told a birth control joke.

"If I can't tell four minutes of comedy that they deem appropriate," Andy says. "There is no way I was going to be able to go for a whole season on that show."

It's not that Andy doesn't have a lot of great material — I've seen the kid do an hour plus that was fantastic — it's that he lacks the clean, Everybody Loves Raymond stuff that one needs to make it on NBC primetime television. I do too. We all do. We conclude that it's not the type of show any of us would want to be on anyway. And sure, that may sound like the talk of any loser who didn't make it to the goal that he'd been reaching towards, but it's the absolute truth.

We start our long ride home early the next morning, back through New Mexico, past the casinos and into Colorado. Harrison picks up some more Dutch items to sell, Andy fucks and kills another homeless teen and I second-mortgage my house after an unfortunate spell at a blackjack table, but our hearts are not really in it. We all just want to get home. We break down the experience the entire way, and we talk excitedly about our bearded boy from Denver who made it onto the show — stay tuned for details on that one. He's been at it a lot longer than us anyway, and he deserves it. He's funny as hell. But as we tell filthy, inappropriate jokes to each other, making each other cry with laughter as we fly down the highway towards home, I think every one of us starts to feel relieved that we are not on Last Comic Standing. That we won't have to make our material comply with what producers, advertisers, and who knows what else wants. Each one of us is excited to get back to Denver, with new, invaluable experience under our belts; we're ready to get back to the comedy grindstone. — Adam Cayton-Holland

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner