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BRIAN MCKIM has performed standup comedy in all 50 states. He earned a B.A. in Magazine Journalism from Temple University. Any resemblance to a living person is purely coincidental.


Brian McKim
Editor In Chief


I have successfully avoided standup comedy contests for some time now. I entered a couple early on, and, in one contest, I won dinner for two at an Italian restaurant and a week on the bill at the Comedy Stop At The Trop in Atlantic City. After a while, though, I left them to the folks who were just starting out or the comics who felt the need to compete. I even formulated some half-assed theory that standup shouldn't be a competition and that it was degrading for the individuals involved. is and it is. But that doesn't mean that folks shouldn't hold comedy contests and it doesn't mean that other folks shouldn't try and win 'em. They just weren't for me.

For the longest time, I resisted the lure of the grandaddy of all comedy competitions: Star Search. I avoided all the auditions for it and I would tell anyone who would listen that it was a bad thing for standup--especially when they started making a fuss over the Junior Star Search contestants! Of course, all that changed when I was at Dangerfield's one night in 1992 and Claudia McMahon (Ed's daughter, Star Search producer) happened to be there, too. I was in the bar area when she approached me and said, "Brian? I'm Claudia McMahon and I understand you want nothing to do with our show!" Did I say that? Who said such a thing? Urrrhhh... Unnnhh.

Anyway, she set up an audition for me at the Comic Strip a few weeks in the future and I got there late and bombed miserably and said "fuck" once or twice and eventually got booked on Star Search, where I quickly lost. It was a dismal, humiliating experience. I got two or three very durable minutes of material out of it. And it will undoubtedly be the subject of a future column.

All this came back to me as I found myself at the Atlanta Punchline a coupla Tuesdays ago. I had worked the previous week at the Punchline (still one of the top three clubs in the USA), and Traci and I had been very nicely invited to stay in town a coupla extra days to be present when Ed McMahon's latest travelling circus came to town in the guise of

Ed's back with a talent contest, only this time, the hook is it'll take place on the internet ("bringing a new level of interactivity to talent competitions by using the MSN network of Internet services and Microsoft Windows Media technologies to broadcast contestants' performances for voting over the internet.")

The original Star Search took place in Hollywood. Then it moved to Orlando. Now, following a trend of moving to places that are less and less based in reality, it has moved into the ether of cyberspace.

It's quite a circus, too! We arrived at the Punchline to find a dozen or more prime parking spaces taken up by a van topped with a whopping satellite dish, another van with Ed's giant likeness lovingly airbrushed on the side and a huge bus...excuse me, luxury motorcoach...that contained Ed himself. All were plastered with the names and logos of the family of sponsors and their presence created a bit of excitement.

The atmosphere inside the club was plasmatic. Sixteen of Georgia's finest comics (plus one Greg Lausch from Baltimore) were scattered throughout the back of the house, renewing old acquaintances, studying the release the producers had asked them to sign or trying to remember a hastily thrown-together five-minute set. A normally calm (Punchline manager) Terry was vibrating at a slightly higher than usual frequency as he made damn sure that the first ever live netcast from the Punchline went off without a hitch. Did I mention that the whole affair was to be "netcast?"

Ed's on a 40-city tour of the country, riding into town on his bus, "searching for talent" at the local mega-mall and then holding auditions at the local comedy club with real-live comics. The club part is videotaped with one of those funny-looking JVC digital cameras and the big dish out in the parking lot beams it up to a satellite so it can be neatly sprayed out onto the 'net via their website.

All were commanded to do a five-minute set of clean material. This was, after all, going out live over the internet. Ed himself briefly left his luxury motorcoach, (sneaking in through a door that I've never seen open in 15 years) to take the stage, tell a naughty joke and kickoff the show. The adrenaline was surprisingly high. I say "surprisingly" because, after all, it was only the internet. At least, that's how I viewed it. The rest of the folks, performers and audience alike, treated the whole affair like it was live television. Which is significant. It seems that the internet has arrived. Here were a dozen and a half comics, from open mikers to seasoned pros, being very careful to watch their language, abide by certain rules and memorize and execute a set in a very professional manner for a contest that was beamed out over the internet. Not that the internet doesn't deserve our utmost respect, but it was interesting that hardly anyone distinguished between this and say, a broadcast on the Fox Network, or a syndicated show along the lines of Evening At The Improv.

The show went exceptionally well. Everyone stuck to their time (almost everyone) and nobody violated the language rules. The crowd had a blast. And the producers were ecstatic. The emcees, Dan Menghini of Alpharetta (1st half) and SHECKY!'s own Traci Skene (2nd half), kept the proceedings moving at ISDN speed.

We're told that those who are chosen as contestants will be up on the site in a matter of a week or two. According to the press kit, winners will receive a million clams in cash and prizes and "opportunities for a screen test, record contracts and personal appearances." Also in the plans are a live television broadcast or two, a promo campaign on the internet and plenty of "traditional offline media coverage."

I must say it was the most pleasant competition-related experience I've ever had. It was interesting to be involved with what the press kit calls a "forward-thinking concept." It also made me appreciate our creation and continuing involvement in SHECKY! (another "forward-thinking concept," if I may be so bold). I think I speak for all involved when I say that we were proud to be (again quoting from the press kit) "opening up the wonderful world of the Web to find that person with talent, hopes and dreams like a Rosie O'Donnell, Britney Spears or Drew Carey to become the next big star!" I personally hope to become the next Britney Spears!