After four years off the air, “Last Comic Standing” is returning with a star co-executive producer (Wanda Sykes), new judges, an intriguing prize and a new selection process. But when new judge Keenen Ivory Wayans answered the question, he went for the joke. “Instead of ten drunks in the audience, you get the three of us,” he said with a smile.
That's funny, but downplays how different this “Last Comic Standing” is going to be. “This season, the prize isn't just $250,000 but a development deal at NBC,” executive producer Page Hurwitz said. “We'd like to find the next big thing in comedy who could have their own show on NBC. I don't think that's existed before on NBC.”
The cattle calls of previous seasons have also been scrapped. “We did things differently this season,” Hurwitz added. “Previously, there was always an open call search. Wanda and I looked at thousands of comedians from all around the country and hand-picked the 100 comics who get on the show. It's at a [different] level than it ever was before.”
“We really are proud of the talent we're putting in front of these judges,” Sykes said.
“It doesn't feel amateuristic at all,” Wayans said. “It's kind of like how 'The Voice' went out and got great singers, we went out and got great comedians. It's a delight to sit back and watch these young guys come out and really do their thing. We might have advice for them, but there's never a point where we say, oh man, we need to go up there…”
Also, fans will not be deciding who wins. “We don't care how many people you made phone in, [the question is], are you funny?” asked judfe Russell Peters.
“It's about taking comedy seriously, which is a weird thing to say,” added judge Roseanne Barr. “It's exciting and thrilling to see how they're gonna come out and work.”
The revamped show wasn't all that brought in Wayans. “It was the other judges. Once I knew that I would be with these two guys, I was in. Because if I was going to do something like this, I wanted to be in the company of people I respected and knew the art form and who would have fun.”
Random questions about comedy weren't as amusing to the panel, however. When asked about whether women are still perceived as less funny than men, Barr said, “It's just something stupid people say, it's totally irrelevant and I pay no attention to it. That's just something easy people are allowed to get away with. If you changed woman to another ethnic group they wouldn't be allowed to get away with that.”
Sykes added, “It's a ridiculous statement, and the more we get asked that question… the more we're giving credit to it. There are a lot of men who aren't funny.” She suggested that, given the lower numbers of women in comedy, “I think the percentage of people who aren't funny is the same.”
Barr joked, “Next time say Jews.”
The comedians on the panel were also dismissive of social media. “I think social media is important for anyone trying to build a career … but for comedy it's not,” Wayans said. “People can be funny on Instagram, but I want to see you on the stage with a mic. It's not real to me until I see you on a stage.
“We see them kill on Twitter then get on a late night show and bomb,” Peters added.
“Maybe try writing. That might be your thing,” Sykes suggested. “I'm on Twitter, and for me it's where i can throw away jokes.”
“I enjoy it because I like to provoke people and get them pissed off,” Barr said. “I like being fast with a retort. That's how I started my comedy… I like to block people, too. Someone made a T-shirt that said 'blocked by Roseanne,' and that was cool.
Will you watch the new “Last Comic Standing”?