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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Comedians Face Off in Month-Long Competition to Become the Next Robin Williams

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Prashanth Venkataramanujam
  • Prashanth Venkataramanujam

This week begins the 37th annual San Francisco Comedy Competition, one of the most prestigious North American competitions in the industry. Throughout its history, such greats as Robin Williams, Ellen DeGeneres, and Dana Carvey have taken the challenge and gone on to fame and fortune. This year, 32 hopefuls will take the stage for the rigorous four-week-long competition, hoping to make this a stepping stone to a career as memorable as those who have gone before.

Prashanth Venkataramanujam
  • Prashanth Venkataramanujam

"The S.F. Comedy Competition is the true Last Comic Standing," says Tampa comic Murv Seymour. "There's no other event in comedy like it."

This year will be Seymour's second go at the title. "I was a semi-finalist in the 33rd annual Competition in 2008. If you think the scoring system doesn't matter," he warns, "I missed getting into the finals by .02 points. So close!

The 32 chosen competitors were hand-picked over the past year out of hundreds of submissions by Executive Producer Jon Fox and Director of Talent Peter Greyy. This week and next, they'll perform in one of two preliminary groups, five-minute sets at four shows over four nights in four venues each week throughout the Bay Area.

After the preliminary week comes a week of semi-finals and then the finals, which begin October 2. The competition offers comics even more than a chance at fame and a momentary fortune, explains Chicago-turned-L.A. comic Prashanth Venkataramanujam. "Participating in this competition also embodies what it's like being a comic in the purest sense," he says, offering an astute observation of just what that means: "You get in a car and drive to a bunch of venues ... You perform for a crowd that doesn't know you but you're just hoping they'll warm to you so you can have a solid set. Then you make a lonely drive in the suffocating silence back to where you are staying, which could range from a crappy hotel room to a friend's couch, all the while hoping you did well enough to keep making a go at this."

The month-long commitment to the competition is a tough one to make, for comedians who rely on a varied schedule to make a living. The greatest payout is that $5,000 grand prize, and that only goes to one person. The rest give up three or four weeks' work to perform in the competition, banking on the prestige that comes with winning.

Dallas's The Greg Wilson admits, "It's a lot of bouncing around, hours apart, weeks at a time, all in hopes of winning recognition more than the dough. But in this business, recognition equals dough."

Many who have competed in past competitions around the country also note the tremendous value of networking with the participating comedians. Boston's Toby Muresianu says he's excited about "getting to meet and work with a lot of great performers from all over," as well as "the thrill of being judged alongside really talented people and seeing how well you can do," opportunities that comics who either remain in one city or travel alone on the road often miss out on.

For Bay Area comedy fans, the competition is an opportunity to see some of the nation's funniest comics perform in our favorite venues all month long! Stay tuned to Awkward Silence for SFCC 37 coverage through the finals, including schedules, ticket information, and a behind-the-scenes look at the shows and the performers.

This week's performers include two from San Francisco, Sean Keane and Justin Lucas. Plus:

Mo Alexander
Henry Coleman
Michael Harrison
Kellye Howard
Susan Jones
Xung Lam
Ashley Austin Morris
Toby Muresianu
David Powell
Matt Ruby
Murv Seymour
Prashanth Venkataramanujam
Dave Williamson
The Greg Wilson

Catch these shows and show the judges your support for your favorites!

Friday, September 14 at 8:30 p.m.
Marin Showcase Theatre, San Rafael, CA

Saturday, September 15
Montbleu Casino at Lake Tahoe, Stateline, NV

Sunday, September 16 at 9 p.m.
Crows Nest, Santa Cruz, CA

Monday, September 17 at 8 p.m.
Purple Onion, San Francisco, CA

Full schedule and ticket information can be found at

Awkward Silence is a weekly column covering local stand-up comedy in San Francisco.

Follow Dana Sitar on Twitter at @danasitarSF Weekly's Exhibitionist blog at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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