The storms over Austin this past Monday night might have given King Lear pause, but they didn't deter the crowds wanting to see the finals of the 2010 Funniest Person in Austin contest. Cap City Comedy Club was packed with eager if soggy stand-up enthusiasts and maybe the only spot in town that could be described as sunny. Certainly the 15 comics in the finals were beaming, and why not? They had survived the longest marathon run in the quarter-century of the contest's existence, with 127 competitors – the most ever – whittled down in nine preliminary rounds and three semifinals over six weeks.
And as they made their final push for the title, these comics showed why they made the cut, all confident and firing off their material – most of it smart and well-crafted – with a steady aim. Nothing rattled them, not even a recalcitrant cord that refused to stay hooked to the mic, leaving many a comic stranded in silence mid-joke. (It happened enough times to become a painful running gag of the night.) The evening was further testament to the depth of the bench on the local comedy scene, especially considering that only one 2010 finalist was in the equally impressive finals round of 2009.
With that many comics at that solid a level of professionalism, though, rising above the crowd is a bigger challenge. But this night, three contestants distinguished themselves with the kind of sets that comics dream about. Each was in full control of his material, and the energy each brought to the stage took the audience to a whole new level. Third-place winner Matt Willis was the most striking in that regard, as he took the stage last, when the crowd, having sat through sets by his 14 competitors and departing FPIA Bryson Turner, might well have been laughed out. But the lanky Willis' enthusiasm proved infectious, and his attempt at the sound of a woman having an orgasm – his high-pitched squeal was like a teakettle on boil – earned one of the night's loudest responses. Ramin Nazer had managed the same trick earlier, with a persona that put quotes around what he was doing as a "comedy act" and material with an absurdist edge. (Fave bit: Nazer wanting to take a copy of Where's Waldo into the Gap, and when the clerk asks if he can help Nazer find something, he slowly opens the book.)
But in the end, the night belonged to Lucas Molandes, who was on fire with his set of stories about failure and the little guy getting screwed. (Talking about his warehouse job, he says: "Workers' comp is like the poor man's version of the lottery, but then the lottery is for poor people, so I don't know how that works.") Winning the comedy crown was a vindication for Molandes, who had earned some national recognition years ago but had given up stand-up for more than a year. He returned to it last summer with a new focus and drive, and it's earned him the admiration of his colleagues. In announcing Molandes' win, Turner told the crowd that there wasn't a person in the contest's 25 years who was more deserving.
Molandes next takes the stage at the Velveeta Room, 521 E. Sixth, Friday and Saturday, June 4 & 5. For more information, visit www.thevelveetaroom.com.
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