The Charleston Comedy Festival Stand-Up Competition was held over the course of several months this past fall, with 54 comedians competing in four preliminary rounds. Two semi-final rounds winnowed the herd down to the best six, who performed in the finals for judges and a sold-out house in December.
The competition was judged by previous winner Dusty Slay along with Timmy Finch (of the Have Nots!) and Stephanie Barna, editor of the Charleston City Paper. Audience members were also given two votes — one for their friend, and one for the person they thought was the funniest. In this year's nail-biter, Jason Groce and Tim Hoeckel tied for audience favorite, while Groce received the top nod from the judges. Lauren Krass received the next most votes from the crowd.
As part of the reward for winning, the three Charleston-based comedians get their own triple-bill showcase during this year's festival.
Groce, who is part of Theatre 99's improv family, got his start with stand-up by chance in 2009. "My very first show was hosting an open mic comedy show at Tin Roof," he says. "I suggested a show on a Sunday night might bring in some business to a favorite bar and be something different in West Ashley."
So one of the owners suggested he host it. He did and liked it enough to keep with it.
Groce does short jokes with lots of one-liners. Think Stephen Wright head-scratchers with a build of laughter as audiences slowly catch on. "With my style, I sound different," says Groce. "The great thing about stand-up is you bring who you are to it. On some nights, people like you better."
For the showcase Groce will break out some new stuff. "I have a weird thing about doing the same act," he admits. "I can't do it, so there will be some new jokes. I guess I wouldn't be a good comedian if I couldn't come up with some new stuff constantly, and I personally feel guilty doing all the same jokes. Hell, maybe something stupid will pop into my head that I just have to tell on stage that night."
It all started for Hoeckel at a T.G.I.Fridays.
"It was 2007 [when I first started]. I was at a bar and the trivia host — 'The Godfather of Charleston Trivia' Bill Davis — said he was hosting stand-up at T.G.I.Fridays in Mt. Pleasant. I asked him if I could do it, he said yes. I guess I thought I had something funny and interesting to say that people wanted to hear ... turns out I was wrong. Thanks Bill!"
Hoeckel (pronounced heckle) uses his life for material. "Every bit, joke, skit, routine, is based off some life experience," he says. "Might not be an exact account, but experiences have a way of melding together to give inspiration."
In his act, Hoeckel is a more manic version of himself. "I try to be satirical and sarcastic. Like, Stephen Colbert. He plays the character of Stephen Colbert on his show. It's himself playing a character but using the same name. I try to do something like that in my own way."
Krass has had a fast rise in the local comedy scene. She started performing stand-up two years ago and has gotten third place in the stand-up competition both times.
"I had just gotten into improv and really enjoyed that so I wanted to see how I would do with stand-up," she says. "It was something that intimidated me, and I kind of just wanted to be able to say I did it and be done with it, but I loved it. I couldn't stop. [Last year it] was a huge surprise to everyone including myself since I was only eight months into doing stand-up."
For her sophomore appearance, Krass was suitably intimated by her competition.
"The comics were crushing it this year," she days. "I remember being scared I wasn't going to even make it past the first round because all the comics were so good, and when they called my name for first place, I started jumping up and down and clapping."
For the showcase, she says, "There is no pressure of a contest so I am just going to relax and have fun with the jokes whether they're new or old." —Stephen Pappas