GRAND RAPIDS — After performing three sets in two different rooms — Dr. Grins and an adjacent showroom — Missouri-based comedian AJ Finney snagged the $2,500 grand prize at Gilda’s LaughFest Best of the Midwest Competition last night.
Underwritten by Wolverine Worldwide and judged by a panel of local media and national industry (myself included) as well as the audience, Finney competed against nine other regional comics: Johnny Beehner, Kevin Bozeman, John Conroy, Maggie Faris, Drew Frees, Mike Lebovitz, Matt McClowry, Bryan Morris and Ms. Pat. Though the competition was strong, it was Finney’s high-energy, perfectly-polished material that helped him rise above.
Though Finney won, it was a delight to see others I had never seen perform until last night. Detroit-based Matt McClowry, for instance, has the skills to take something as simple as a Yankee Candle scent called “Wedding Day” and turn it into an hilarious commentary on the absurdity of a wedding. If you want to smell what a wedding is like, he says, “Just light 25 grand on fire and watch your cousin throw up on it.” Ms Pat, from Indiana, was also a pleasure not just because she delivered consistently strong sets, but because she’s walking proof that pain plus time equals comedy. She became a mom in junior high, used to deal crack, was shot twice and hit by a dump truck. In the hands of Ms. Pat, all of the above was nothing but funny.
Minneapolis comedian John Conroy won the unofficial award (that I made up) for the “I don’t give a fuck who I offend” last night. After delivering a punch line that drew a few groans, Conroy emphatically stated that “Every time an audience groans at a joke, Gilda Radner dies of cancer again.” Wow. And usually, I’m not a fan of quoting comedians out of context because, really, what journalistic purpose does that serve? But I can’t help but share a pair of joke tags from Conroy, which are equally as funny (to me) both in context to the jokes in which they belong as well as floating out in the ether like this: “Enjoy milk on its own, biggots!” And, “Sock abortions are a choice– one I make every day.” You’re welcome.
Also worthy of your attention and future comedy pleasure is Chicago’s Kevin Bozeman, who, 13 years into the game of comedy, is what I’d like to refer to as a utility comic. The dude is just plain funny– able to appeal to any type of audience without that vanilla schlock so many comedians need to peddle to get the attention of the masses. There’s a reason, after all, he teaches comedy at DePaul University.
Be sure to also check out Mike Lebovitz, (absurd yet accessible), Maggie Faris (smart and understated), Johnny Beehner (a hilarious everyman), Bryan Morris (promising newbie) and Drew Frees (solid material, if you can get past his high-pitched affected delivery).
The money raised throughout the 10-day Gilda’s LaughFest goes to support the services of Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids. Gilda’s Club provides support for cancer patients and their families and friends affected.