Trying Times in Indianapolis

This past week I spent in Indianapolis to compete in Trial By Laughter, a comedy contest (yay) between thirty-two comics from around the country.  Here are the important details:

  • The winner was to receive $1,000 cash, an Amazon Kindle, a Flip camera, a 45 minute DVD shoot at Morty’s Comedy Joint – the host club for the competition and a CD recording deal
  • Runner up was to receive $500 cash, a Flip camera, a 30 minute DVD shoot at the club and a recording deal
  • 3rd and 4th place receive automatic entry into the Laughing Skull Festival in Atlanta in Spring 2011
  • 5th-32nd place leave with varying ranges of disappointment and bitterness towards comedy and with sets to air on local Comcast (Indiana/Midwest) this December.

Guess which group I fell in?  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Here is a full recap of the week.

Night 1 – Optimism in Many Forms

So the first night of the competition I did good work.  I was the second overall comedian of the competition and I felt very good about my set.  I ended up placing first in my group and moving on to the semi finals.

After the show I was going to go to Steak N Shake with fellow comedian Nick Dopuch of Chicago via St. Louis, except for one thing – Nick’s car broke down – specifically his alternator and battery were shot.  This combined with Nick not moving on to the next round (he went after me and lost the crowd with a Chicago Cub bit) and I was feeling bad for him.  Had both of those things happened to me I probably would have lit the car on fire, but Nick was remarkably pleasant. 

And he was rewarded – two women who had watched the show drove by and asked us if we needed help (isn’t it usually the other way around? – what a great feminist moment).  They ended up driving us to the dealership so Nick could leave the car there for morning repairs and then were Nick’s guest to Steak N Shake as a thank you (sure this could be the opening for a porno film, but one was married and one had a boyfriend so Nick was going to have to be content with a hamburger and milkshake).  Here is the most important part of our conversation, which, once again, took place at Steak N Shake, where we were waited on by Andrew,

Imagine jemaine going through the awkward teenage years and you have our waiter at Steak N Shake.

who looked like a teenage Jemaine from Flight of the Conchords, for the first of 4 consecutive nights:

Woman 1 – So you guys just travel around doing comedy?

Nick and J-L – Yeah

Woman 2 – So it must be crazy – is it just money and partying on the road?

Nick and J-L – Yeah, that is why you had to give a jump to my broken down Honda.  And why we are sitting in Steak N shake eating ice cream with platonic groupies – because it is fu*king crazy!

Somehow our fans thought comedy was much like a Motley Crue tour, which it is if you replace orgies with trips to Best Buy and cocaine with ice cream sundaes.

So after night 1 I was feeling optimistic of my chances in the competition and was more impressed with the resiliency of Nick.

Days 2-4 – Movies, The Rock & Al Pacino

The next two days were basically me and Nick driving from strip mall to strip mall doing impressions of The Rock, Al Pacino.  We also went to see Paranormal Activity 2 (underrated) and Due Date (overhyped).  Basically it was just a higher IQ version of Dumb and Dumber for 48 hours.  We also watched the other competitors each night, and passed judgment on most of them.

I kept telling Nick that he had me laughing way more in real life than when he was on stage.  It was like looking at my opposite.  I have been told to be nicer on stage, whereas I think Nick may make too much of an effort to be nice on stage.  That’s comedy – trying to be yourself, while making it work for other people.

Nick Dopuch and J-L Cauvin taking Indianapolis by storm

Night 4 – The Death of Optimism

So every competition for me has a pattern – I have a kick ass first round,  and a very good set in the round preceding the finals that is derailed by some sort of bad timing.  A brief history:

2008 Boston Comedy Festival – Sandwiched between Bostonians Joe List and Myq Kaplan I get squashed – less crowd interactive than List and then dismissed by one of Kaplan’s patented callback quips to my set.

2009 Boston Comedy Festival – I went last in a field of 8 in the semi finals.  I had an excellent set.  Unfortunately, the audience had sort of tuned out because Dave McDonough had just obliterated them (he went on to win the whole thing).  It was like he felt like a closer and then “hey wait, don’t leave – we know you loved that last guy, but we have one more as*hole who wants to stop you from going home – J-L Cauvin!”

2010 New York Comedy Contest – only 2 rounds and I finished 2nd of 70+ comedians.  1st place won $2500.  2nd place won $0

2010 Trial By Laughter – I am seeded 2nd, but behind the #1 seed Tom Simmons, who beat me in San Francisco last year and went on to win the whole thing.  As a 17 or 57 year veteran of comedy Simmons is a very tough matchup and going last (the benefit of being the higher seed) would make it nearly impossible.  But after the set I had in the first round I am not sure why I drew the toughest matchup in the second round, but the karma-like tradition of “fu*king J-L in the semi finals/second round” is apparently set in stone at this point.

Tom and I had engaged in some spirited texting during the week.  Where he assured me that everyone was fighting for second place and made Mom-related comments and plagiarised Eminem to trash talk while I asked him if he would use any notes from his days workshopping with Elaine Boozler.  So Thursday night we were the lad off matchup with NYC’s Lance Weiss leading off followed by me, closed out by Tom Simmons.

The competition is being filmed for local Comcast airing so all sets needed to be TV clean.  Lance Weiss, 40 seconds into his joke said: “oops I fu*ked up that joke, and now I have cursed… I will be selling my DVDs after the show” – a very funny moment, but made it more obvious that it would be a showdown between the Tom and I.

I went up and had a perfect set (10 minutes this round and comedians were not allowed to repeat jokes from any preceding rounds).   I could not be angry with myself.  What I could be angry with is that the crowd was now sufficiently warmed up for Tom Simmons to finish the show.  Which he did.  I left his set 3 minutes in because every minute that went by I could hear my chances of winning diminishing with every Midwestern guffaw.  Towards the end of his set I heard a loud burst of applause and I came back into the showroom, assuming it was him getting off stage.  Nope.  Applause break.  At that moment, for the 58th time in 7 1/2 years I declared my comedy career over.  All the frustration of the highs and lows just came to an all new head.

Tom Simmons went on to finish second to Kansas City’s Mike Baldwin so thanks for doing my job for me Baldwin.  Of course I was not there because I had flown out the morning of the Finals.  Special thanks to comedian Tony Deyo, who was also a much better sport than me about losing in a very tough semi finals match (to Mike Baldwin), who gave me an early morning ride to the airport.  I guess one of the good things about the week was to see and meet comedians who were able to roll with punches a lot better than me and look to the bigger picture.

Here is the familiar end for me in comedy competitions.

Unfortunately now is not the time for lessons because I am headed to Boston for… you guessed it – the first round of the 2010 Boston Comedy Festival.  God help us all.