Judging by its uninspired production, “Last Comic Standing” really needed some top shelf talent to come through for it this season. Luckily for them, that’s who showed up. Particularly impressive is Mike DiStefano from the Bronx, whose persona is so “Goodfellas” it’s unbelievable that the judges aren’t constantly tripping over each other to drop a “You think I’m funny?”quip. When quizzed about the garish Jesus tattoo on his left bicep, DiStefano replies “that’s Jim Caviezel.” He’s my pick to win it all.
But apart from the comics themselves, the show is an inelegant mess. It employs a variation of the time-tested “American Idol” approach where the first few shows are dedicated to a rapid-fire culling of the wannabes, while the survivors move up to bigger stages and louder audiences. But “Last Comic Standing” has none of the panache or slickness that makes the Fox juggernaut chug along so well.
“Host” Craig Robinson from “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “The Office” has virtually nothing to do for the whole two hours. You’d think producers would give him some business to elevate his role to a notch above an MC at an open-mic night, but here he does little more than dole out perfunctory introductions. A graphic would really suffice. The judges, all comics themselves, are mostly toothless and offer the audience no insight into their elimination process. When one judge sees someone she doesn’t like, she simply shrugs her shoulders and complains that the material just doesn’t “connect” for her. There’s a lot of truth to the old adage that “the best way to ruin a joke is to explain why it’s funny,” but that same truth turns a show about judging comedy into a very flimsy affair.
Speaking of stand-ups, FX’s “Louie” is pretty much the spiritual opposite of “Last Comic Standing.” Comedian Louis CK’s eponymous new show is a startlingly raw and honest character piece. In comedy circles, CK himself is often called the “comics’ comic,” famous for an ability to generate large amounts of brilliant material on a regular basis. On this project, CK serves as executive producer, writer, editor and star, and that’s a good thing. The action unfolds as a series of vignettes broken up by bits of stand up a la “Seinfeld.” Also stylistically indebted to Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Louie’s single-camera, day-in-the-life approach will make you squirm at virtually every turn. CK delivers a strong performance as an unlikely modern-day Pagliacci, his face simultaneously wild-eyed and full of sorrow. This isn’t a show for people who find their laughs in escapism. The language is rough, the imagery is sometimes brutal, but the show is so packed with insight that another comedy cliche comes to mind: “It’s funny because it’s true.”