Nothing beats the thrill of discovering new talent, so when Mo Ozdemir asks me to be a guest judge in the 12-week Stand Up, Sit Down, Fight, Fight, Fight comedy competition, I figure: why not?
I've been to enough amateur nights and open mics to realize there's a lot of undiscovered talent out there. That's the great thing about stand-up. You don't need a degree, special training or connections to make it. Just be funny.
The open-air venue at the Sunnyside Café fills up quickly shortly before the 6 pm starting time on a Sunday, and after some corny repartee from amiable host James Jeffers and some sparring by my fellow judges, jovial creator and co-producer Ozdemir and reporter Lisa Rainford , the show begins.
"What have I got myself into?" I soon think as comics begin rolling out material we've all heard a zillion times.
I'm overweight. I was picked on in school. I'm breaking up with my boyfriend/girlfriend. I'm living with my parents.
OK, OK. And is it funny? Not exactly.
One woman shows her ass crack and delivers more than a minute's worth of fart jokes, and a guy mimics a lasso and a skipping rope with an imaginary hair from a woman's breast. Good luck to ya both.
The most common signs of an amateur at work are sloppy writing (remember, people, every word counts!), poor segues and a lack of honesty. Anyone can be crude, but not everyone can make crude funny. Somehow, you've got to convince me that you believe in your material. Even if you're telling me something that didn't really happen, it's got to have some emotional truth.
After each performer, the judges are asked, Canadian Idol-style, to respond. How to be constructive and not cruel? "You seem very comfortable onstage," I tell one comic. "Great tan," I say to the ass crack woman.
Then, suddenly, it happens. Two or three comics rise above the rest. Andrew Evans delivers a funny bit about phone sex commercials and is the only comic to attempt a political joke. Ted Marshall takes on granola types in the Annex and delivers a great, vivid joke about road rage.
Shelly Marshall , who seems to be channelling Karen Walker from Will & Grace, bitches about her teenage kids, puts a unique spin on a Slim Fast joke and goes out with a physical bit that requires major courage. I could totally see her on a professional stage.
Scott Lambert , the night's eventual winner, delivers a set that's completely believable and that builds from one joke - he's pretty out of shape - to the next with logic, great timing and gut-busting humour.
It's his third time doing stand-up. Impossible to believe, especially after his semifinals set, when he improvises a bit and includes crude material that actually earns our sympathy.
He works as a mechanical engineer and used to be a hairdresser.
To paraphrase that song from the movie Fame, remember his name. I definitely will.