SICC-32: WAC is not wack! They choo-choo-choose Mike Baldwin!

The 32nd Annual Seattle International Comedy Competition Finals kicked off in grand style at the Crystal Ballroom of the 82 year-old Washington Athletic Club.  The opportunity to start the finals with a sold-out private show is just one of the many wonderful experiences offered to those who make it this far in the competition.

Of course, as any “corporate” show, this event does present some unique challenges to our five intrepid finalists.  The room has a high ceiling and the chairs (set amongst large round dining tables) are set further apart than they would be in a comedy club or a theater–so, you don’t get that resounding mass “wall of laughter” that comics tend to judge their success or struggles by.  The set, purpose-built for us to look like a brick wall with street lamps…and very cool to look at (and take pictures of), is very thin…a little rickety and difficult for some to get up onto or off–making you think about your physicality.  And, just the nature of the audience–they must be somewhat wealthy and settled to be members of this exclusive health/social club–makes you consider what material might work best for them…AND for the judges whose scores you’re fighting for in this competition.

Add to that the fact that this is the first time that the comedians are doing sets of this length–15 to 20 minute long sets are quite different than the 8-12 minute long sets of the Semi-Finals (or the amazingly brief, in retrospect, sets of the Preliminary Weeks…which were only 3-7 minutes long.)

Our host on this night, Duane Goad, looking sharp as ever in his suit, braved the waters to get the crowd up and ready for the show–but almost every comedian on this night commented upon how some jokes were well-received but it was obvious from the audience’s lack of reaction when some jokes didn’t go so well.

And yet…after the show, the audience seemed to have loved everyone and the show–many mentioning to me that it was the best competition show at the WAC yet.  So, sometimes, things are going better than they seem.

It certain turned out to be so for Mike Baldwin.  Mike went up first, daring the “Go Up First Curse” to do its worst, and during his set, he obviously felt like he didn’t quite reach this audience on this night.  And yet, he got significant laughter throughout his consistently strong set…

Patrick Keane probably suffered the most from the rather thin stage–but he also found that his style of underplaying his jokes and making jokes about the mechanics of the jokes that he makes was not connecting with this crowd.  His signature moments–his story of his sports related knee injury and his closing chunk about how dangerous Eden was–landed very strong…but it was clear that he felt disappointed by how the rest of his set went.

Mrs Hughes probably had the most difficult time getting up onto and off the stage, due to the oversized last step-up to the stage–but she probably connected the most clearly with the largest number of audience members on this night.  Still, the audience seemed like they weren’t completely allowing themselves to just let go and enjoy themselves.

Rick Kunkler went up fourth and made it clear that he was going to dance with the girl he brought–that he wasn’t going to change his approach to comedy based merely on who the audience was or what their expectations might be.  So, he pushed some envelopes and was rewarded with some shock laughs–and his energy and variety performance elements were well-received.

Speaking of energy, whoa-boy did Rodney Sherwood bring a lot of it to his competition concluding set.  His opening “Fun With Washington Town Names” bit popped the crowd louder than anything else that had come before.  And MAN does this man work…he earns every laugh he gets by never dialing back–he’s always cranked up to “11″ regardless of his circumstances.

One interesting thing that the WAC does…is they offer their own separate award–the WAC Choice Award” that is given to the performer voted as the best by ALL of the club members in the audience that night.  In previous years, the WAC Choice and the choice of the official competition judges have always been different–as one is a choice of “who the audience liked” versus “what performer was determined to have scored the best in seven specific performance categories”.

This is the first year that the WAC Choice and the Nightly Winner (as chosen by the judges) were the same person.  And, to the surprise of Mike Baldwin perhaps most of all, that winner was:  Mike Baldwin.

“How can anyone on this night not have thought that Rodney Sherwood had done the best?” Mike was heard saying after learning of his win.

Well, it turned out that not only was Mike the most “liked” comedian by the audience…but the judges saw the consistent talent in his set that the judges in the Semi-Finals had seen.

And the Go Up First Curse couldn’t stop Mike from claiming another nightly win.

Here, then, is the order of finish for the first night of the Finals of the 32nd Annual Seattle International Comedy Competition, held at the Washington Athletic Club, in downtown Seattle.

  1. Mike Baldwin (Kansas City)
  2. Mrs Hughes (Pismo Beach)
  3. Rodney Sherwood (Seattle)
  4. Rick Kunkler (Seattle/Los Angeles)
  5. Patrick Keane (Los Angeles)

I normally don’t talk about scores here–but I’ll say this:  every performer ended up with a very good score on this night.  The top three basically finished in a dead heat–with only hundredths of a point separating them…and barely three-quarters of a point separates first from fifth.

Thanks to Mary Ellen and everyone at the WAC for a wonderful night!  (And no snow/ice/wind storm like last year!  Just torrential rains!  Whew!)

Night Two takes us across choppy seas to the friendly faces waiting for us over on Vashon Island as we bring the competition back for our traditional Thanksgiving Eve show at the Vashon Theatre.  Wish us all luck!

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