stand up, sit down, fight, fight, fight presented by the Grenadier Group, Sunnyside Café and Mo Ozdemir at Sunnyside Pavilion (1755 Lakeshore West), Sunday (September 5) at 6 pm. Free. 905-339-8802, www.standupsitdownfff.com. Rating: NNNNN
Mo Ozdemir and James Jeffers want to make me famous. As I interview two of the minds behind Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight, the summer-long outdoor stand-up contest winding up Sunday at the Sunnyside Pavilion, two camera operators tape our Q&A.
"It's footage for the show," explains Ozdemir, who's packaging the highlights of the 12-week marathon of laughter for a potential network deal. The attention makes me feel like Mary Hart until Jeffers jokingly reminds me that, as one of the 88 comics on the roster, I'm still just a number, as in, "eliminated, round two."
Of course, for the 11 finalists competing September 5 for the title of Toronto's funniest person, the number that matters is $5,000. The prize, which also gives the winner the opportunity to do a set at the Canadian Comedy Awards, is more cash than most participants will make from their material in their lifetimes.
"I really think there's a lot of talent in this city, but people aren't getting paid properly," says Ozdemir, who threw $1,500 of his own money into the pot.
"We wanted to find a way to reward them."
Ozdemir, a stand-up himself, came up with the concept when former city counsellor Chris Korwin-Kuczynski called to pick his brain about bringing comedy to the beachside patio. Although the producers had no idea if it would work, over 300 hopefuls showed up to audition, and about 100 people came out to watch round one. Since then, the weekly audience has more than tripled.
Hosted by Jeffers and judged by Ozdemir, reporter Lisa Rainford and a weekly media type (see sidebar, this page), the contest has had its moments.
When a double booking bumped the show from the courtyard to the boardwalk, comic Ben Robinson closed his set by ripping off his shirt, smearing peanut butter on his chest and running into Lake Ontario (he returned two minutes later asking if anyone had a towel).
During another round, every time hopeful Curtis Diehl mentioned God in his set, thunder crashed overhead.
And although Ozdemir says they've had a few nights where there were so "many bombs we thought terrorists were attacking," Jeffers, who plays the straight man to Ozdemir's quick-witted barbs, tends to make even the lamest comics look good.
"I'm not a stand-up," confesses the actor and improviser. "I'm the host who's dying to be in the contest but is so bad the judges won't let him, so he tries to impress them with all these really lame jokes."
While Jeffers's pre-show banter may pump up the contestants' confidence, the American Idol-style feedback after their sets can range from helpful to deflating. Following my own less-than-stellar six minutes, Rainford (the show's Simon Cowell) remarked, "There was some funny stuff there," whereas Ozdemir admitted, "I was worried about the soundboard and wasn't really paying attention."
Of course, humour is relative. With three judges, the competitor who gets the most laughs hasn't always moved on, leading to some grumbling that the contest might be fixed. Ozdemir, who's given up paying gigs where there could be a conflict of interest, finds that notion ridiculous.
"When someone has been really strong but didn't win because it was two judges against one, we've tried to bring them back in subsequent rounds," he says, adding that in one case a guy many people thought should have won showed up for his second chance an hour late and too hammered to go onstage.
Still, for novice stand-ups (like me) who typically perform on an open-mic circuit where 90 per cent of the people watching are other comics, testing material in front of a real audience is refreshing.
"We've been really surprised," says Ozdemir. "You have comics who do really well in the clubs but not so well here, and you have newcomers blowing away people who have been doing stand-up for three to five years.
"The nice thing with this is you don't have to be a Seinfeld or a Cosby to do well. It can be more like, 'Hey, that guy washes my car and he's pretty funny. I'm going to have him wash my car more often. '"