SAN FRANCISCO – In the end, the audience at Cobb’s Comedy Club gleefully selected the understated, absurdist humor of Brent Weinbach as the winner of Iron Comic last night. So, what does that mean, exactly? Well, for one, it means Weinbach has skills well beyond slinging well-written and thoroughly worked-through jokes. It might also mean comedy goers in San Francisco enjoy a little nuance in their laughs.
If you’re unfamiliar with Iron Comic, here’s the deal. Comedians Nato Green and Moshe Kasher host a three-round night of Iron Chef-style comedy. Instead of the likes of Cat Cora and Bobby Flay, the contestants are stellar comics; in this edition of the show it was Weinbach, Caitlin Gill (who snagged second place), T.J. Miller, James Adomian and Sean Keane, whom before last night, I had never heard of. By night’s end I was massively impressed with both his and Gill’s performances, the latter of which I’ve heard of but have never seen live.
Instead of secret ingredients like sea urchin or pheasant or elk, the secret ingredients are joke topics from the audience, written on scraps of paper and pulled from a hat—literally. It’s a Cat in the Hat hat. Among the rejected topics, on which Kasher and Green riffed at the top of the show: cervical cancer, 70-year-old Asian women drivers, 12 Years A Slave, elderly professional wrestlers, young Bea Arthur, remembering the names of all the Teen Mutant Ninja Turtles, syphilis.
The first crowd-approved topic – but mostly approved by Green – was “astronauts.” The Iron Comics had about eight minutes to write jokes on the topic backstage while Green did stand-up. The process was repeated two more times with the topics “carnival workers” and “Barack Fucking Obama” with Kasher and musical comedy duo The Imaginary Radio Program – Drennon Davis and DJ Real – providing between-round laughs.
Three judges – Pete Lee (who directed this video), comedian Jane Harrison and Green’s wife Naomi – deemed Weinbach and Gill the two performers most equipped to fight it out in the final speed round, which included topics like agoraphobic bounty hunters and contact improve dancers for Gill and white privilege, gay vampires, middle school sex education, Justin Bieber’s troubles, classic ‘80s television show Alf and wispy wannabe mustaches for Weinbach. The Cobb’s crowd cheered a bit more loudly for Weinbach and hence the least braggy comedian in the universe now has bragging rights.
Iron Comic is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it showcases how inhumanly quick, smart and funny a great comedian can be. And let’s be clear, that group last night made writing jokes in eight minutes look really fucking easy. And that’s the curse– those casual comedy observers who still actually think stand-ups just get onstage and say stuff with little-to-no prep work, may see Iron Comic as confirmation of their oh-so-wrong assumptions of a comedian’s creative process. Obviously that’s not the case during a traditional stand-up show. Lesser comics would crumbled under that pressure.