Variety - - Focus -

On the penul­ti­mate day of the New York Com­edy Fes­ti­val, Caro­lines, the event’s home base, will host a late-af­ter­noon event with a dozen co­me­di­ans you’ve likely never heard of — yet you’ll prob­a­bly hear more from some of them very soon. This is the fi­nals of the New York’s Fun­ni­est Com­pe­ti­tion, which launched a decade ago as an an­nual sta­ple of the fes­ti­val and has crowned such win­ners as Michael Che, Myq Ka­plan and Nate Bar­gatze, while other par­tic­i­pants have in­cluded Liza Treyger and Michelle Wolf.

“It’s re­ally im­por­tant for young co­me­di­ans, not just for those who win it but even for those who don’t,” says Caro­line Hirsch, founder of the club and the fes­ti­val.

Louis Faranda, who pro­duces the fes­ti­val and

Champ of Chuck­les

the com­pe­ti­tion (and who books Caro­lines year­round) was not ini­tially crazy about the idea of a com­pe­ti­tion — “you can’t al­ways re­ally say one per­son is fun­nier than an­other” — but he says the co­me­di­ans took it se­ri­ously and that helped it take off. Now, Faranda says, the fi­nals draws agents and man­agers look­ing for new tal­ent.

“You can put the win on your re­sume,” he says. “It doesn’t mean that you’ll be a big star but it means you have a fu­ture in com­edy.”

Tim Dil­lon, who won two years ago, says other clubs around the coun­try do weak im­i­ta­tions, of­ten with­out le­git­i­mate judg­ing. “This is dif­fer­ent be­cause Caro­lines has cred­i­bil­ity and the fes­ti­val has an­other layer of cred­i­bil­ity,” he says.

These co­me­di­ans are more ex­pe­ri­enced, with more ma­te­rial, than those at group events like Comics to Watch (also at the Fes­ti­val). Bar­gatze, who won in 2010, says you need enough ma­te­rial to have dif­fer­ent jokes for each round of com­pe­ti­tion. “It’s a good chal­lenge,” he says. The win is “a check mark that you are on the right path.”

While they are fur­ther along in their ca­reer, just be­ing in the com­pe­ti­tion still pro­vides a boost. Ka­plan, the 2009 cham­pion, had just moved to New York the pre­vi­ous year so merely per­form­ing at Caro­lines of­fered good ex­po­sure.

“I fig­ured if I did a good job that would be help­ful,” he says. Win­ning didn’t trans­form his life overnight (“though it cer­tainly felt good”) but it did sud­denly earn him big­ger and bet­ter gigs, open­ing at Caro­lines for comics in­clud­ing Michael Ian Black and Pat­ton Oswalt.

Af­ter his win, Bar­gatze also got to play at Caro­lines more but, he adds, he also be­gan “get­ting passed” at other clubs (get­ting on the ros­ter as a show­case reg­u­lar). “I used to think peo­ple would say, ‘What is he do­ing here,’ but then I started mov­ing up in the New York com­edy scene be­cause all the other clubs can see you won,” he says. “It’s a big deal.” — Stu­art Miller

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