I didn’t even realize “Last Comic Standing” was on air again until my brother told me to check it out. The competition show aired from 2003 to 2010 before picking up again last year. Last year, Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and Russell Peters were the judges. This year they switched Norm MacDonald in for Peters and brought in as host the hilarious Anthony Jeselnik.
And the combination is great. Perhaps the weirdest thing is how non-critical Roseanne Barr is. I always thought of her as kind of mean but she is routinely downright effusive in her support of each of the contestants and finds kind things to say about each of them. Any criticism she offers is couched in tons of praise. Wayans is also tremendously supportive. And while that’s nice, sometimes what you want is a bit more feedback or pushback. Particularly during the weaker sets.
Mostly that’s provided by MacDonald. And there was one moment in particular worth highlighting. You can watch the relevant portion here:
OK, so Harrison Greenbaum’s set gets better when it moves on to making fat jokes, but it begins with a set of tropes attempting to make fun of Christians. It’s not the target that’s so bad (we can handle it) but the lame construction of the jokes.
He says he’s a New Yorker and he got into an argument on the subway with a guy and that the guy quoted the Bible at him. Greenbaum says “That is not fair. Like you get to quote from your favorite book, I should be able to quote from my favorite book. He was like ‘Men do not live on [sic] bread alone, Matthews [sic] 4:4’ and I was like ‘Everybody’s a little bit magic, Harry Potter Chapter 7.’ Not a fair fight. One of those books is a classic about a man who has sacrificed himself for the good of the world and the other … is the Bible, do you know what I’m saying people?”
Yeah, um, yeah. Like I said, not even the content so much as the tired construction. Bring your C-game at least, Greenbaum, you know?
Anywho, he ends his set and Roseanne Barr just loses it and is cheering and hooting. She says, “What the hell? Well I just love you Harrison. You’re fantastic. And you’re real brave. I mean the stuff you were talking about. Bible jokes. That’s some real brave shit.”
At which point Norm MacDonald just eviscerated the dude.
I disagree. I don’t think the Bible joke was brave at all. I think if you’re going to take on an entire religion, you should maybe know what you’re talking about. JK Rowling is a Christian and JK Rowling famously said that if you’re familiar with the Scriptures, you can easily guess the ending of her book. I don’t like it.
To which Barr responded, “Hunh?”
I haven’t read the Potter novels but of course I remember Rowling saying she was worried that Christians would be able to guess the ending on account of how obvious the book’s parallels to Scripture were. And later on after the episode aired, Barr tweeted out that she was reading a discussion of those parallels.
MacDonald also tweeted after the episode ran, pointing out that you’ll know when you’ve made a brave joke because you won’t be getting cheered on by the audience.
I actually get a kick out of people who think they’re revolutionary and brave and courageous by doing things that more or less all the elites and every single member of their peer group cheer them on about. But in a “laughing at” more than “laughing with” kind of way.
The next episode Greenbaum made a joke that I actually thought was funny. He said something about how the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People isn’t too advanced itself, given that it’s got the phrase “colored people” in the title. But if they changed it to National Association for the Advancement of African-Americans, it’d just be NAAAA (“naaaaaah”).
MacDonald pointed out that there are actual historical reasons for the name and that they’ve deliberately chosen to keep the name rather than change it, that doing some research would help him improve the joke and be funny. That set didn’t do as well with the other judges either and Greenbaum was eliminated.
Lest you get the idea that MacDonald is this sour with everyone, you should check out this little preview which shows a few other highlights:
One of the contestants is Ms. Pat, a woman who got into comedy when her welfare case worker told her she was funny. She told a series of jokes about how she loves famous white people’s racism — because she can buy the merchandise they sell for cheaper after their racism is publicly revealed — and it really worked and was great. MacDonald said he normally hated political comedy and found it boring, but that her jokes were so personal and well told that he loved it. He’s also supportive of various other comics on the show.
One other treat about the show has been Wanda Sykes, who gave advice to comedians before their last set. She was biting in her criticism and it was fascinating to see how the comedians took her advice. She told some not to rely too much on funny voices, physical gags or things that aren’t actually jokes. Some were clearly ruffled, others appreciated. And still others basically told her that they couldn’t heed her advice because it would mean they weren’t keeping true to themselves. The look of disdain she gave these ungrateful comics was just perfect. And she spent her time with those comics who were more receptive to her advice.
So I’ll definitely be watching tonight at 10 PM Eastern when the next episode airs. My only request is that MacDonald be given much more time; that Jeselnik be liberated a bit, however dangerous that might be; and that Wayans and Barr go ahead and bust out some more constructive criticism for the comics.