Funniest Person in Austin Semifinals

Sometimes you shoot the fish, ...

How many people have ever taken a gun – a .38 special, a purloined Glock, a death-spraying Kalishnikov, or whatever – and actually shot fish in a barrel? A regular barrel, about waist-high, as big around as Fred Cantu, dark wooden slats bound by iron bands, filled near spilling over with water in which swim a couple dozen perch and bass and trout? How many people have done that? Stood there and unloaded bullet after bullet into the barrel's mouth, tearing ragged holes through the bright scaly flesh, watching the water turn murky and dark, the fish become chunks of bloody, lifeless meat?

Last night, I was a judge for a semifinal round of the Funniest Person in Austin Contest at Cap City Comedy Club, where just about anybody can go onstage for five minutes and unleash their ammunition. Last night, I sometimes felt like I was the shooter, and I sometimes felt like I was the fish.

It's the 21st annual gig, this year, which means the contest is old enough to legally drink. If I were the contest, I would've had a drink myself. I would've ordered a shot of Scotch, I would've held it toward the shiny stage in Cap City's main showroom, and I would've toasted the comedian David Huntsberger. I would've toasted him so many times, in fact, that I'd be drinking like a fish.

Huntsberger, who the three other judges and I agreed took top honors, is vastly impressive: in his easy, professional delivery; the smoothness with which he shifts from topic to topic; his observations, sharp and cunning as a fishhook. And his subject matter? No dick jokes or cheap barrel-shooting from this guy. Huntsberger began with Hispanic vehicular stereotypes and demonstrated, hilariously, why Spanish is superior to English. He covered the escalating competition between car-bumper Jesusfish and Darwinfish, then segued into an extended skewering of evolution that cast the ancient, erect-walking hominid Lucy as an anomalous victim of scoliosis: "I can't help it, you guys, I have to walk this way!"

The rest of the show was an unevenly mixed barrel of laughs. Sometimes the laughs were because the performer was so good, sometimes because he was so bad. (There was only one woman battling last night. Another woman – former FPIA Nancy Reed – did a fine job of hosting, warming up the crowd and easing the putative funnymen on and off the stage.) And sometimes the laughs were because, out of the 15 contestants, there were a few who weren't so much exhibiting humor as they were spewing torrents of misogyny and weak scatology, and it made me laugh to imagine these guys choking to death on their own vomit. But it's a sort of turbo-powered open mic night during the semifinals, and the trash-fish won't be fully culled from the school until the finals.

During which swiftly approaching finals, I reckon, David Huntsberger – or the night's other comic brightness, transplanted New Orleanian Seth Cockfield – may wind up hooking themselves a trophy.

The 2006 Funniest Person in Austin Finals will be Monday, May 22, 8pm, at Cap City Comedy Club, 8120 Research. For more information, call 467-2333 or visit

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