SICC-34: Semi-Finals Week-Night One Top 5

(L-R: Zoltan Kaszas-2nd, Graham Kay-1st, Leif Skyving-MC, Steve Hofstetter-3rd, Trenton Davis-4th, Dave Merheje-5th)

One of the most exciting nights of any Seattle International Comedy Competition is the first night of the Semi-Finals.  The top five performers from Preliminary Week One and the top five performers from Preliminary Week Two get to meet each other for the first time and then perform together.  On top of that, they are all doing longer sets than they were doing in the previous week.  Everybody’s checking everybody else out and every one of them is trying out what they think will work as their ten minute Semi-Finals set.

That’s what happened on Tuesday night at the Comedy Underground in Seattle.  Guided by host and MC Leif Skyving and joined at the end by special guest Craig Gass, our ten semi-finalists put forth their best efforts to impress the good-sized crowd, the four judges and each other.

Dave Merheje from Preliminary Week Two went up first on this night (and many competitors over the years have described going up first on any night as the toughest thing to do in this competition) and managed to pull off a great set–Dave himself described it as his favorite set of the competition so far.  He set the bar pretty high…and he challenged everyone to match him.

Next up was Trenton Davis from Preliminary Week One.  He took the hand-off from Dave and ran toward daylight–showing exactly what he and his week were capable of…and it continued all the way through the night as everyone, right up through Steve Hofstetter and Sam Demaris, who closed out the competition part of the night, had solid sets.

People in Seattle don’t even mind so much that Graham’s now living in New York.

However, it was clear that the set of the night–the set most beloved by both the audience and the judges–came from Graham Kay.  His material is expertly crafted–it is efficient but he also knows when to repeat a phrase or idea for impact.  His delivery is superb and his secondary voices are a strong counter to his personal comedic voice–comparisons to Brian Regan in how he uses his secondary voices to construct a narrative are both apt and complimentary.  While he commands the stage with ease, Graham also knows the power of stillness–his often stoic expression allows the audience to concentrate on the things he’s saying and, like Buster Keaton, it becomes funnier the more he doesn’t react.

On this night, Graham clearly got the most laughs and the strongest laughs…so he definitely deserved the best scores…which he got, as the top scorer on the night.

Chalk up one for Preliminary Week Two.  (Finishing right behind Graham in 2nd place was another Week Two comic:  Zoltan Kaszas who also had a strong set on this night.)

Here’s the Top 5, then, in order and in bold type:

SICC-34 Semi-Finals Week-Night One Top 5
1.  Graham Kay (Toronto, ON)

2.  Zoltan Kaszas (San Marcos, CA)
3.  Steve Hofstetter (Queens, NY)
4.  Trenton Davis (Chicago, IL)
5.  Dave Merheje (Toronto, ON)

Those performers delivered solid performances on this first night of the week.  Sam Demaris did as well…as he took 6th place for the night (and first place on one of the judges’ scoresheets), finishing the night only 0.2 behind Dave Merheje who took 5th place.

There will probably be some re-thinking going on for those who finished below Sam. Perhaps some adjustments will be made, sets will be reorganized, different material choices will be made.  Or perhaps some performers will stick to their guns–stay with the choices they’ve made and assume that the different venues, different audiences and different judges to come in future shows this week is enough to generate different results.

We’ll see soon enough as Wednesday night, we’ll be in Edmonds at the beautiful Edmonds Center for the Arts.  This 700-seat theater is one of our favorite places to visit every year and they should be well-impressed by this year’s crop of Semi-Finalists.


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