In a low, melodious voice, an aspiring standup comedian performing under the name "DT" expresses his hope that Hillary Clinton's primary struggle would come to an end soon. But then DT casts his eyes downward to the Carrboro stage in a way that suggests he is preparing a confession. The audience, after a couple hollers of agreement, freezes for just a second, taking his bait. DT's voice builds in excitement, foreshadowing the joke he's about to spike: "She's like Apollo Creed in Rocky IV when he gets his ass whupped," he says, launching into a Hillary-in-the-ring impersonation. The audience howls, and DT is on his way to the next round.
Derrick "DT" Thompson was competing last Friday in the semifinal round of the first-ever "Carolina's Funniest Comic" competition, sponsored by DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro. The tournament has been running for a month, and this Friday, four finalists—the final four, as it were—will go toe to toe to claim the right to be called the best comic of the Carolinas.
The June 13 final round features an eclectic quartet of up-and-comers who have survived groans and the dreaded, proverbial sound of crickets. Their stock-in-trade shows that Carolina comedy covers the classic territory: sex jokes, fat jokes, topical jokes, scatological jokes and more sex jokes. Although DSI owner and executive producer Zach Ward says the competition drew contestants from outside the region, all four finalists are local, with two from Raleigh and one apiece from Durham and Carrboro. At stake is the title and an $800 cash prize. Second place will garner $200. The other two will win $20, or as Ward says, a friendly invitation to buy a couple of beers.
Here's a reporter's tip sheet on this Friday's comedy smackdown.
The lone woman in the finals, Durham's Jennifer McGinnis is a recent law school graduate who started standup seven months ago with the encouragement of her roommate, who happens to be a comedian. Announcing the bulk of her subject matter straight off the bat, McGinnis says to the Carrboro crowd, "It's cool being a female comedian, because you can get on stage and talk about things that guys aren't even going to approach ... you know, like going to the gynecologist." McGinnis then relays a story about her friend who, upon completing an exam in Italy, was offered an espresso by her gynecologist. After describing a compliment she received about her cervix during an exam, McGinnis says, "What is so lovely about my cervix? Is it glittery? Did I somehow bedazzle it and not even realize?" McGinnis is strongest with her storytelling. Using well-rehearsed timing, she ends her set with a lengthy joke about men who get pool balls stuck in their mouths.
The man who killed with the Hillary-as-Apollo Creed routine, DT, has performed locally and in Washington, D.C., and his confident stage demeanor reveals it. Upon taking the stage in the semifinal round, the Raleigh resident amiably heckles the crowd. "You can turn [the music] off, DJ. I can't see you, but I know you not black, cause that wasn't hip-hop," he says before picking on a man in the front row for putting his feet up on the stage. With exaggerated eye movements and strong facial expressions, DT rips on the price of gas—at "395 cents a gallon," he says, adding that he'll have to start robbing people on lawnmowers if it keeps going up. He organizes his themes and moves through them, a few jokes at a time. After visiting the traditional stations of the comic cross—condoms and girls (he always uses protection, because "I'm trying to leave with the same dick I came with")—DT closes his set with an impressive fantasy re-enactment of R. Kelly's child pornography trial, painting vivid pictures for the audience and boasting a not-too-shabby singing voice.
Raleigh's "Big A" welcomes the audience with a rousing, eardrum-threatening "Howdy!" Born Andy Forrester, but called "Big A" since middle school, he's a graphic designer for AT&T Real Yellow Pages, a dad to two daughters and a three-year veteran of standup—performing mostly at Goodnights' open mic nights in Raleigh. Big A recalls the late Chris Farley with his frequent eruptions of manic energy and his jokes about being overweight. Although his act is heavily freighted with weight jokes, his persona suits him well. "I know what you're thinking," he says by way of introduction, "'he looks like a personal trainer.'" He pauses. "You're right. I can personally train you to look just like this." Big A runs down the line of self-deprecation throughout his set, before branching out to joke about a sign he saw for a lost tortoise—"How long do you have to not be watching your tortoise to lose it?" he says, trying to hide a laugh.
If there's a favorite to be reckoned with, it might be home-teamer John Loftin: With a year and a half's worth of standup experience, he performs throughout the Triangle and appears regularly with improv troupes at DSI. Loftin has a less canonical routine than Big A, but his personality on stage is just as effective. Boasting a well-tended mustache, Loftin began his most recent set with a relaxed, bold "Check this shit out." Loftin maintains a casual delivery and stays ahead of the audience as he riffs on power-mongering cops issuing verbal warnings for legal traffic maneuvers, what he'd do if he could live forever, and his jobs at Target and Circuit City (he recounts one Circuit City customer who asked him if he had "any female to female input adapters"). Maintaining a demeanor of utter sincerity, Loftin switches—seemingly erratically—between topics. After discussing a crystal ball juggler, he lurches into a non sequitur: "In this country, semiautomatic machine guns are legal to hunt with. But only 300 round clips are legal; 500 round clips are illegal. And I just want to ask the government: How can I protect myself from a deer with 300 bullets?" he pauses, "They're scary." The crowd likes it.
At one point, Loftin offers paradoxical humor about a lady who said, "I always wear [my hair] up sometimes." Following the same philosophy, the finalists of next Friday's finals will always be winners—sometimes. And if that time isn't Friday, then they can at least get a couple of beers.
Visit www.dsicomedytheater.com for tickets and info. The venue is small, so advance purchase is recommended.