Comics take a shot at stardom with San Francisco competition |

Comics take a shot at stardom with San Francisco competition

Tim Parsons
Don't let the guns fool you: comedian Sean Kent drives a Prius.

Somebody will take a bullet, everybody gets a shot and one person will earn a career achievement at the 36th annual San Francisco Comedy Competition.

The first of two quarterfinal rounds will include a night in Tahoe, at 9 p.m. Saturday in the MontBleu Theatre.

Competitors range from full-time comedians such as Sean Kent, the 2009 Seattle International Comedy Competition, to folks who have relatively new careers like Reno’s Kinsie Damon and Folsom’s Cheryl “the soccer mom” Anderson.

“I’m making a prediction right now,” Kent said. “I’m winning this thing. I’m pulling a (Joe) Namath. I am guaranteeing a win.”

The competition’s list of alumni are impressive. It includes Ellen DeGeneres, Robin Williams, Chelsea Handler, Will Durst, Margaret Cho, Sinbad, Dana Carvey and some guy named Howie Nave. A couple of competitors from 2006 recently landed roles on television programs, Mike E. Winfield on “The Office,” and Mo Mandel on the new show “Free Agents.”

“The beat goes on as people get to see the stars of tomorrow when they come to the comedy competition,” said Jonathan Fox, who has co-organized the event for 35 years.

Judges score the comics on seven aspects of their performance, including material, stage presence and audience rapport. But the basic factor is charisma and the comic’s ability to hold the crowd’s attention, Fox said.

Comics perform for five to seven minutes during the opening round. They perform longer in the semifinals and even longer in the finals.

Most competitors dread going on first, or taking a bullet for the rest of the crew, hopeful the judges understand the dynamic of how a crowd warms up.

“I don’t mind taking the bullet,” Anderson said. “Funny’s funny.”

Anderson had a blog and wrote a couple of books before she attended a workshop for humor writing, which included performance time upon a stage. That’s when she knew she wanted to be a comedian.

“I knew the exact second it happened,” she said. “A guy in the front row put his head down and slapped his desk he was laughing so hard. I’ve never had a feeling like that. I thought, ‘I’m going to do this again.’ “

Anderson would sneak out of the house, telling her family she was going shopping. Instead, she drove her minivan to an open comedy night in Sacramento, where she became known as “the soccer mom.”

Anderson is the host of Monday night’s Po’ Boyz in Folsom, and earlier this year she filled a guest spot for Tahoe Comedy North at Crystal Bay.

Damon grew up in the Carson Valley and is a graduate of Douglas High School. She has appeared at the Improv at Harveys Resort and Casino.

“I’ve had Kinsie fill in as host on occasion and she’s come a long way,” Nave said. “She’s a fighter and I think one of her strongest assets is that of her physical comedy. I could see her as part of an ensemble cast like that on “MAD TV” or “Saturday Night Live.”

Damon’s improvement came after she took a different take on writing.

“I stopped writing what I thought was funny for the audience and I just started doing stuff that made me laugh,” she said. “And then I had fun onstage, so it really kind of changed everything.”

She lost her job a couple of years ago and used comedy to uplift herself.

“That was my therapy, getting onstage and laughing about it,” she said. “I think that’s when things started changing for me. I am teaching comedy down in Reno. That’s what I teach my students. They tell me how it’s changed their lives Now when something thing happens to them they don’t go into this rage or terror, it’s OK how can I make this funny?”

Kent’s comedy career changed after winning in Seattle. He received a casting call the day after his victory.

“Next to the San ‘Fran’ one, Seattle’s is the most prestigious one there is,” he said. “It’s an honor to be in the competition. It has such a storied history, so to win it has always been a goal of mine. If I could win Seattle and San ‘Fran’ I could die a happy man.”

Kent spoke to Lake Tahoe Action on his iPhone through a Bluetooth plugged into a day-old Prius he will tow across the country in a recreational vehicle he shares with his wife and two children.

The host of Saturday’s show is two time finalist Dave Burleigh.

If you go:

What: 36th annual San Francisco Comedy Competition

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17

Where: MontBleu Theatre

Tickets: $25 plus fees

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