GVL Archive / Eric Coulter
Comedian Greg Monahan keeps the crowd laughing at last years Last Laker Standing

GVL Archive / Eric Coulter Comedian Greg Monahan keeps the crowd laughing at last years Last Laker Standing

Patrick Nothaft

Jerry Seinfeld once said there are four levels of comedy: making your friends laugh, making strangers laugh, getting paid to make strangers laugh and making people talk like you because it’s so much fun.

Ten Grand Valley State University students will try to reach the second level Friday night when they take the microphone in the semifinals of the fifth-annual Last Laker Standing comedy competition.

The Spotlight Productions event, which begins at 9 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center’s Grand River Room, draws its name from NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” but other than the similar titles, the two stand-up comedy competitions have little in common.

Instead of having several rounds of cuts like its television counterpart, Last Laker has only two elimination rounds. In the first elimination round, members of the Spotlight Productions Comedy Committee trimmed the field down from 25 entrants to the 10 contestants who will perform Friday.

“They are all very funny,” said Spotlight Productions Comedy and Speaker Chair Alyson Greenwell, who helped critique each of the 25 auditions. “We had a very hard time narrowing it down to 10. Those that are left are very talented, and anyone of them could win.”

Voting from the audience members and three judges will determine which five contestants continue to the final round, held on Feb. 25. Unlike “Last Comic Standing,” the three judges in Last Laker do not give the performers instant feedback. Instead, they cast their votes confidentially.

It is no secret that GVSU senior Greg Kort is the preliminary favorite this year after taking home the title in 2009 and 2010. The film and video major said that he wants to do well in the competition, but it’s never been about winning.

“As long as I make people laugh, I don’t care if I place at all,” Kort said. “I have no problem with anyone being funnier than me during the show because when I’m not up there I’m an audience member, and I want to enjoy the show, too.”

Kort, who opened for the 2008 “Last Comic Standing” winner, Iliza Schlesinger, during her 2010 performance at GVSU, said taking the audience into consideration when writing material often leads to a successful set.

“When I write my sets, I keep the Last Laker audience in mind,” he said. “My sets in the past have included Grand Valley-related jokes, and when it’s more of an inside joke, I think they find it funnier.”

Gender jokes are also a staple of most comedians’ routines, as the oddities among male and female behaviors usually resonate with at least some part of the audience.

GVSU freshman Jesse Routhier decided to begin his competitive stand-up career with a 3-minute commentary on “some things that girls do.” While he went over his routine and waited for his name to be called, he peeked into the audition room and saw that all of the judges were female.

“(My set) wasn’t anything horrible, but I thought that I maybe shouldn’t be bashing girls for the entire time, so I had to change what I was going for,” Routhier said. “Even though I practiced it for a long time, I had 15 minutes to come up with something else, and I was really nervous about it.”

Routhier’s improvised set launched him into the semifinals and provided the film and video student with experience in adjusting his material on the fly – a task that can give even the most seasoned comic some anxiety.

GVSU senior Ryan McKernan made it to the final round of the 2009 Last Laker competition and has been performing stand-up comedy for six years. He still says that it is the most difficult form of comedy.

“When you do stand up, it’s not like the other forms of comedy,” he said. “It’s like the high-wire act of comedy – you’re up there alone with your own material, and you’re really kind of marketing yourself.”

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