While comedy is often subjective, there are basic standards that professional comedians recognize and adhere to. While not everyone is brave enough to stand up in front of a crowd and deliver jokes, some people think they’re really funny when they’re not.
That’s why Drew Carey and Brett Butler, two of the judges from NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” have spoken out about how their expert opinion hardly counted when it came to keeping or losing contestants on the show.
Last Comic Standing
Last Comic Standing is a reality TV show on NBC, along the lines of American Idol in format. The show pits would-be stand up comedians against each other who are then judged by a panel with the hope of making it through to the next round. Drew Carey from the ABC sitcom The Drew Carey Show is one of those judges who took part, but he has taken issue with the show; Brett Butler is another.
According to the Daily Beast and other outlets, the show is not a contest at all and is basically rigged. Carey spoke about the issue saying, “They’re presenting this to the public as if it’s a contest, but it’s not.” Among other things, Carey has taken issue with the way contestants were chosen to compete, and felt he had to inform the public about it. This didn’t sit well with executive vice president of programming at NBC, Jeff Gaspin, but we will hear more from him later.
According to Carey, who spoke about Last Comic Standing: “It was not a comedy contest. I’ve got no beef against casting a reality show if you want to have a mix [of personalities], but this was so clearly cast.” At the same time, Gaspin claimed the casting wasn’t rigged at all but was down to poor communication between the show’s producers and the celebrity judges.
Followed the Rules
To Gaspin’s mind, there was nothing rigged about the show, and he took personal issue with that allegation which he claimed was incorrect. “The judges alone were not the sole decision-makers, and they probably misunderstood their role in the process,” he said. “I’m completely comfortable that we followed all the rules that we set out on this production.” The show’s initial ratings were robust enough, too.
The concept of the show is a clever one, and it has all the potential needed to entertain a niche audience of viewers. The show was good enough that NBC even decided to renew the series. In the show, ten unknowns are put in a house together where they need to interact in the most humorous way possible. Each week, two of the house members are voted out for not being quite funny enough after they perform brief stand up sessions in front of the judges.
Carey explained that while he was one of four celebrity judges flown to Las Vegas at considerable expense to judge the contestants, he felt that the show’s producers were more interested in a good reality cast and not in who was the most humorous person. He oversaw five-minute stand-up performances from the contestants to choose which ten competitors would enter the house party this summer.
According to Carey, one contestant was a gay comedian called Ant. Carey felt his stand-up skills were inferior to other contestants who just happened to be straight. As Carey stated, “It was like my first ‘Tonight Show,’ one of those kinds of sets,” he said. “I don’t know how in the world Ant got picked out of these 20. The only thing I could think was that he’s gay and would add to the personality mix in the house.” That’s a serious allegation of potential rigging, which could have devastating consequences for the contestants as well as the producers.
All About Ratings
As is so often the case these days, producers and the networks they represent are less concerned with bringing the best quality acts to their viewers and more interested in people who will get the best ratings. Carey continued: “They brought us in there,” but the producers were “going to pick whoever they wanted.” That type of thing is not only wrong, but it’s also annoying for professional comedians like Drew Carey.
Brett Butler, another judge on the panel also took issue with the show and the way it chose finalists. She posted on her website: “Regarding our participation allegedly ‘judging’ the comedians who were semi-finalists on the show ‘Last Comic Standing’: As panel judges, we can say that (a) we were both surprised and disappointed at the results and (b) we had NOTHING to do with them. Period.”
Another celebrity judge on the show, star of the CBS sitcom “Yes, Dear,” apparently ripped his microphone off in disgust after the finalist were announced. Anthony Clark could not be reached for comment directly, but his feelings on the show were made clear by his actions. Clark’s manager, Jason Solomon, said his client refused to comment on the matter directly due to a potential conflict of interests.
Another source from the show, who asked not to be named, even admitted partially that Carey and Butler were right, at least to some degree. “There are a lot of comedians who have great sets but are not funny outside their act. We’re looking more for someone who makes a great sitcom [personality] rather than a comic,” said the anonymous source.
While the public are the ones who pick the winners from the show, getting onto the show is a different story altogether. Potential contestants perform a number of times for the show’s producers, initially at comedy clubs around the country. Then, they do interviews with the producers until the field is narrowed down to 20. Those 20 then have five minutes to impress the producers, and then 10 are chosen for the show.
In this day and age, sadly many networks have done away with quality, favoring the big bucks instead. The show claims to be about finding the best comedy talent from across America, but nothing could be further from the truth. Due to what’s called “producer’s discretion” in the fine print of the rules, the show chooses the people who will make the best reality show and not because they are the best comedians.
Carey also spoke about the inside ties between contestants, producers, and agents. To that end, he claims, one of the finalists he judged was represented by Messina-Baker, and that’s the management team who Carey himself works for. At the end of the day, Carey explained, “I don’t want my name associated with a trick being played on the public,” he said.
The second season of the show was considered to be the one most fraught with problems and controversy. In that season, Dan Naturman, who was a club favorite on the New York circuit and a frequent guest on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, was given high marks by judges, but that wasn’t enough. He was beaten by Ant, who according to many, wasn’t a fraction as talented as him.
Jim David, who appeared in the second episode of the show, by many accounts, should have advanced further. However, due to getting ratings and raking in cash from advertising, the producers favored contestants like Kyle Grooms, Carmen Lynch, and Brian McKim. It’s clear from this that the producer’s goal is to have a diverse cast that will encourage ratings and more viewers.
Another show from the NBC team is The Voice, which is a show that has also been accused of being rigged right from the get-go. Take Adam Levine, one of the show’s presenters as an example. He would often tell every budding contestant the same six-word mantra: “You could win this whole thing.” He said this to Amy Vachal, and Delvin Choice, and Abby Celso, and just about all the show’s contestants. This got hopes up but seldom resulted in that actually happening.
The Voice was most notably taken down in 2017 after an enlightening article was written in The Atlantic. In that article, Julie Beck spilled the beans, explaining that “contestants don’t necessarily realize that [Levine’s] diluting that statement through endless repetition.” And that much is clear as most of the performers he gave hope to never wound up winning anything.
At least one musician has also claimed that the show is rigged and that people are fast-tracked in order to pre-cast them. Adam Weiner, frontman for the band Low Cut Connie, said he was appalled when producers asked him if he wanted to join The Voice back in 2015. The only reason he was asked, according to him, was because another contestant had dropped out at the last minute. He was fast-tracked to the show without so much as an audition, and he spoke out about that fact. He even alleged that a producer at the time told him “We’ve seen what you do. We’ve seen what we need to see.”
Sadly, it appears the money and revenue generated is just too sweet for producers of shows like Last Comic Standing and The Voice. With so much overwhelming evidence, it’s clear that these shows are not all that they appear to be, and for that reason, viewers are being duped. It’s unlikely that there will ever be any comeuppance for this as the money generated is already in the bank.