At Patrick Maliha’s People’s Champ of Comedy, comedians battle for the biggest laughs
If there’s one standup comedian in town who would be a lock for the title of People’s Champ of Comedy, it’s the crowd-pleasing Patrick Maliha. The 42-year-old veteran comic reels audiences in with his stream-of-consciousness asides and has so many impressions in his repertoire that he takes requests.
But unluckily for him, he’s unable to enter for a chance to win the $20,000 grand prize. It would look suspicious, since the full name of the annual competition is Patrick Maliha’s The People’s Champ of Comedy.
Maliha has been running a version of the contest since 2008, but this year’s is the most ambitious yet. In fact, its $30,000 total purse is the largest of its kind in the country. The competition has taken a jump from a $100 weekly prize in its first year; last year, the overall winner took home $1,500, with $500 going to second place.
Since early July, mostly local comedians, from rank amateurs to seasoned pros, have been performing four nights a week at venues throughout town. Audience members (who can vote up to five times if they buy as many drinks) select their top three. Total votes at the end of a given week determine who advances. The final eight comics, each of whom is guaranteed at least $500, have been duking it out this week, with the winner to be crowned on Saturday night (August 25) at the Rio Theatre.
“Everything’s been amped up,” says Maliha, prior to a recent semifinal heat at the Kingston Taphouse & Grille. “When we did it for $100, people would create Survivor–like alliances. Every year it’s like that.”
Maliha describes this year’s event as Survivor meets The Hunger Games, with a little bit of the NHL playoffs thrown in. Only funny.
While the winner can take pride in being named the People’s Champ for 2012, nobody involved in comedy believes competitions settle anything. Primarily, they create a bit of a buzz for the art form, allow comics to perform under a bit of pressure, and bring in crowds at otherwise slow times. A win-win-win.
“Every venue we’ve performed at cannot believe the numbers they’ve done,” says Maliha.
Of course, no competition is without its critics. When judges are used, some comedians feel they’re not representative of the crowd’s reaction. And in this case, when the audience determines the winner, some feel a comedian will stack a house with friends and essentially buy a victory.
“None of the pros like it [the format] at all,” says Maliha, while pointing out that, despite not bringing many guests, three pros—John Beuhler, Dan Quinn, and Jane Stanton—have advanced to the finals from the first week of semifinals. “They feel like it’s just a popularity contest; it’s all about who the audience likes the most. And my attitude is ‘Isn’t that our job description? Aren’t we supposed to entertain most of the people most of the time?’
“Some of the pros who did enter, knowing what they were getting into, said, ‘Ah, screw it, I don’t want to be here anyway,’ threw the show, didn’t do a great set, and then when they didn’t make it through said, ‘See, I told you. It’s fixed. It’s a popularity contest.’ But we had other pros who said, ‘I know what it is, I know what I’m coming into,’ and they gave the sets of their lives. And they ended up winning their nights without bringing people.”
Joining Beuhler, Quinn, and Stanton in the finals are Hollywood Harv, Shirley Gnome, and Chris Thompson, along with two wild cards chosen at random: Badasskatoon (a raunchy musical duo) and Colin Sharp.
“There is no fail-safe system,” says Maliha. “All you can do is treat everybody the same, try to make everything as fair as possible, and move it along. And that’s what I try to do with this competition.”
The People’s Champ of Comedy plays the Sin Bin Sports Grill on Thursday, (August 23) and the Edgewater Casino on Friday (August 24), with the finale at the Rio Theatre on Saturday (August 25).