Photo: NBC

It's The Invitationals, Not The Auditions: Please, No Wagering!

Reordering Last Comic Standing's Top 100 and second-guessing the celebrity judges.

Quick, name a Last Comic Standing winner!

Okay, it's been four years since NBC even broadcast its summer comedy competition, so you're forgiven if your TV trivia is a bit rusty. Then again, much like American Idol in respect to which contestants earn your everlasting respect, sometimes the winners in real life and in Show Business are not the same people declared the winners on your TV sets.

So take what judges Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and Russell Peters say and ultimately decide -- viewers don't vote this year -- and consider them for what they're worth: $250,000 worth of cash and prizes within the confines of a talent holding deal and half-hour development prospect with NBCUniversal! As Wayans was heard saying halfway through Thursday's two-hour premiere: "Is this somebody that you could build a show around? You can't give a contract to somebody who has no world to build around. Keep it diverse. And like [Roseanne] said, who do we think has four or five more sets in them?" That was actually the most insightful thing we heard Wayans say in the premiere.

And you thought this was a contest to find the funniest comedian? Bwhahahaha.

Let's reorder the "top 100" stand-up comedians competing -- or at least the 31 we've seen thus far -- into their actual pecking order of pride and glory.

Best/Worst Endorsement By Someone Who Loved The '80s

Lynne Koplitz may have not made a household name for herself through past development deals with NBC, Food Network, or Sony, but you may have seen her before hanging out in the household of Joan and Melissa Rivers on WEtv Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?. And here comes Joan Rivers to the rescue! "Of course you should do Last Comic Standing. Your career is in the toilet!" Rivers said she would get on her knees to please the judges; Koplitz is content as a zoo cougar to sit on her stool and wait for her prey to reach her. "Totally relatable," Roseanne decreed. "I like the aging woman thing a lot."

We still see Joan Rivers all the time. Pauly Shore? Pauly Shore?! The Weasel himself, son of The Comedy Store's Mitzi Shore, steps up to have Jimmy Shubert's back. Shubert is a Philly guy who started his career almost three decades ago as a doorman at The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip, and opened for Sam Kinison. "Jimmy has the talent, he just needs the opportunity," Pauly says. "Hopefully this show will give him a shot." The judges all loved Shubert's high-energy routine on the relative health and moral values of chicken omelettes and celery. Validation for a comedy veteran? "If not now, then when?" Shubert asks.
Now for Shubert, but Koplitz will have to settle for her supporting role in basic cable. For now.

Most Likely To Advance Based On Profile Preview Alone

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One of the best rules of thumb in a televised talent competition remains this: producers do not go to the trouble of following a contestant home or on the road before showing you his/her audition if they do not intend to advance them through to the next round. They want you to develop a rooting interest in these contestants!

And yet.

Guy Branum is a large-and-in-charge gay man who grew up on a Northern California almond farm and already was cross-dressing as a kid. His mother will show you the photos! All grown up, Branum uses his audition spot to make the case that reality TV has more value than sports. "What is sports? Illiterate adults with accidental children fighting with each other for three hours at a time. I want to watch people fight, too. I just want to understand why. Because you are wearing different colored helmets is not a reason to fight. Because Melissa Gorga did not go to Teresa's baby's christening -- that is a reason to fight!" Now them's fighting words!

Branum does not receive a ticket to the semifinals on the premiere. Two others do, however.

Dave Stone lives in a van, which may or may not be down by a river depending on where he parks it. That's not the joke he goes for; instead, we see him use the gym for the daily showers and hair products, and that he found a lady -- named Lady. Tracey Ashley might as well live in a hotel, she travels on the road that often from college gig to college gig. In her profile, she name-drops Louis C.K. to let you know where she takes her advice. Did he teach her to put an air mattress on top of a hotel bed, though?

Best Jokes

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Joe Machi seemingly came out of nowhere, as far as the host, judges, and viewing audience were concerned. "Is that how you really talk?" Roseanne asked after Machi's routine, then, following a long pause, added, "Your shit is next level. It's good!" Everyone had to get in on the act, with both Smoove and Peters referencing Machi's closing bit about using a racial epithet as his bank password.

Erin Jackson found winning material in her misadventures with a date too cheap to pay for dinner, and a mother who thinks BTW in text messages stands for Booker T. Washington.

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And Mark Normand had Peters on his side, with the judge remarking, "For a guy who's not been doing it very long, you've got a lot of promise, a lot of confidence and great material." Normand joked about his former day job as a janitor, which prompted this reply to his boss once: "You're embarrassed? I went to college!"

Most Flattering Imitations

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Lachlan Patterson is from Venice (California) by way of Vancouver (British Columbia), with more than a dose of Daniel Tosh's cadence, look, and attitude onstage. Tosh has millions of fans and dollars; Patterson still walks dogs to pay his rent. "Laugh all you want, I'm making 100 bucks today," Patterson said in his preview profile. Nick Guerra, on the other hand, had all the looks and physicality of a young Dane Cook, if Cook had long hair and earned his first TV credits on the Latino cable channels of Mun 2 and NUVOtv. Our judges must not have the same long-term memory I do, because this all seemed fresh to them, and perhaps to you, too. Both Patterson and Guerra are on to the semifinals!

Let's Make A Development Deal

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Wayans said the judges wanted to keep in mind diversity and how well the comedian might translate to a half-hour sitcom world, so we saw several acts move through who showed the judges more than just jokes. They loved Rod Man and his ode to the overworked premise of self-checkout lanes at the grocery store, because he seemed relatable and energetic about the whole thing. The judges called Dave Landau "edgy and clever," because throwing cheeseburgers at prostitutes and asking them for a "reach-around" isn't something you hear on network TV in the 9 o'clock hour (8 Central). Mike Vecchione's cop look kept the judges in order. Jasper Redd used Star Wars and tequila to reframe our thoughts on racial politics throughout history. Dana Eagle is gay and on medications for bipolar disorder, and that makes all three judges want to hear much more about her story. Aida Rodriguez, meanwhile, has a previous working relationship with one of the judges -- which Peters disclosed -- and a new crush on one of the other judges. More on that in a bit.

Partial Credit Isn't A Passing Grade

With barely an exception, if the show edited a comedian's performance down to a single joke or two, then it was just a courtesy to make sure he/she could use LCS as a credit for future bookings. So, thanks for playing, Dave Waite, Phoebe Robinson, Rob Christensen, Erik Rivera, Andi Smith, Tim Northern, Gloria Bigelow, Patrick Susmilch, Shakir Standley, Pat Regan, Bob Kubota, Chase Bernstein, Michael Somerville and Tyree Elaine. Better luck next year!

Most Edited For Their Pleasure

The premiere teased and teased us on Ben Kronberg's performance. When it arrived, highly edited, we were presented with the show's first "villain"?

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After telling only three jokes, Kronberg faced the judges.

Roseanne: "I think you wasted a lot of time up there." Kronberg replied with an exaggerated head-shake and query: "What did you say?!"

Roseanne, looking flustered, doesn't get that he is playing around. Kronberg switches tack. "I would prefer if you started with a compliment…but, but I'll take your out-of-the-gate criticism."

Roseanne, still displeased: "Well, you know comedy better than me, I guess." Kronberg backpedals. "No, no, no, no, no. [switches to an accent] No! No! No!"

Roseanne continues: "And you're real arrogant too, and it pisses me off."

Kronberg reverses course and goes for showmanship and flair: "Bring it! BRING IT!"

Wayans tries stepping in: "Here's what I have to say: I think what annoyed Roseanne was the fact that what you did was a little gimmicky." Cut to Peters: "Here's the thing, Ben, about the first joke. You spent a lot of time setting it up, but the problem is, is that it's an old joke." Cut to Roseanne, who finally does find a complimentary thing to say: "You know, you had some funny things but it was kind of like I didn't feel like you were really respecting the people in front of you. You didn't respect your audience."

Kronberg turns to the audience for an appeal: "Did you guys feel that?" "Yeah!" "Do you feel okay with Roseanne speaking for you?" "YES!"

Roseanne: "You know, go fuck yourself!" Kronberg then says: "Yo! Yo!" before mouthing fake outrage on his way out.

A few minutes later, Smoove teases the next semifinal announcements by wondering: "Who's going to be riding home with Ben Kronberg?"

Most Likely To Be Seen But Not Heard

You saw a lot of other funny faces in the green room backstage between performances. But the show has edited around them so who knows when, or if, you'll even see them onstage telling jokes. Stay tuned! Here's the full list of performers in case you thought you saw someone you recognized or hope to recognize on a future Thursday this summer.

Most Likely To Judge You At Face Value

While Russell Peters looked for comedians who could "own the room" immediately, and Roseanne hoped for "excellent writing," Wayans opened the show by telling host J.B. Smoove and the audience, "I'm looking for stage presence and also their point of view."

By stage presence, Wayans seemed to mean he would give voice to the first superficial and/or stereotypical thought he had pre-judged about each comedian. Which may or may not have been respectful to the craft of actual comedy. Depending upon how much you respect comedy as an art form. About Rodriguez, "I didn't hear anything she said," Wayans remarked. "You're a stunning woman, and distraction is a comedian's enemy. Tone it down a little. You never want your beauty to work against you." Wayans thought Koplitz had "a good look" despite sounding like her mentor. Jackson he loved primarily because "there was no, 'Oh, I'm watching a black comedian' or 'I'm watching a female.'" His first thought upon seeing Eagle: "Aw, she's like a female Woody Allen." To Patterson: "Okay, this guy looks like a store mannequin. What's he gonna do?" To Machi: "I thought, oh boy, I'm not going to like this guy." And those were all people he liked! Tune in next week, when, we're promised, Wayans will tell another contestant: "I've always wanted to know what I look like as a woman."

NITTY GRITTY: Your announced semifinalists were Tracey Ashley, Mark Normand, Dave Landau, Aida Rodriguez, Joe Machi, Rod Man, Dana Eagle, Nick Guerra, Erin Jackson, Mike Vecchione, Jasper Redd, Lachlan Patterson, Tyree Elaine, Jimmy Shubert. So 14 are through to the semifinals; 17 are out? And 69 more remain! See you next week to see who makes the next cut.

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