Last night, through a haze of Sunday night drinks and with the guide of show host and local comedy favorite Paul Varghese, 10 comedians took the stage at the Addison Improv with the hopes of winning the first round in the Comedy Central Up Next Talent Search. They were each given seven to eight minutes to wow the four judges (of which I was one), and those minutes had to be Comedy Central clean (no major cuss words). We scored them on originality, material, delivery and overall impression.
While all the acts were solid, a few stood out among the 10. Josh Johnson, a young African-American comic from Texas, is happy he has the whitest name ever. It looks great on job applications. With an infectious energy and mile-a-minute mouth, Johnson told the crowd of a dream he's had since he was 8 -- a dream death, that is. It features an old, forgetful Scottie Pippen, Star Trek and a glorious elevator ride. It sounds random, but Johnson manages to make sense of it all.
Southern boy Cris Lehman also put on a good show. Originally from Greenville, South Carolina, now living in Dallas, the small, incredibly Caucasian Lehman strutted on stage to Jaz-Z's "Big Pimpin.'" Lehman's long-term goal at his uninspiring office job is long-term disability. But we understand -- when all the incredibly large people in his office turn the temperature down to 43 degrees, what's a 15-pound guy to do? A fresh perspective and near perfect timing are Lehman's strongest suits, and he played them up last night.
Mark Agee, who lives out in Hollywood and is a writer for the The Jeselnik Offensive on Comedy Central, has resigned himself to being alone at the age of 35, which is much different than being single. Single is a temporary status. Alone is permanent. But he has been engaged three times, so that's something. With a acerbic wit and depressing demeanor, he lured in the crowd and kept them laughing for his entire set.
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Still riding the high from his Funniest Comic in Texas win from last year, Texas-born Aaron Aryanpur gave a strong performance last night, touching on everything from unwanted but eaten coconut shrimp (an audience favorite) to his coworkers' thoughts on the mystery of how Aryanpur ended up with such a hot wife ("Way to go, Shrek!"). With steady timing and an understated tension, Aryanpur killed with his bit about being married versus dating. There's a reason "married" is past tense and "dating" is present tense. Think of it this way: would you rather be screwed or screwing? Exactly.
The winner last night? Aryanpur, the leading local talent who's steadily climbed the comedy ladder for the past year. Aryanpur now advances on to the semifinals, taking place in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. After that, the eight finalists (two from each semi-final round) will compete for the grand prize at Caroline's on Broadway in New York City.