After several weeks of love from the judges, the night has finally come for them to get harsh about whose act needs more work and who is capable of being the “Last Comic Standing.” The head-to-head rounds began Wednesday night as the top ten became the top 5 finalists heading into the finale.
“Last Comic Standing” lived up to the “game” part of its game show moniker by literally pairing off its top ten comedians and making them compete head to head in a comedy duel. As host Anthony Jeselnik put it:
“It’s like the movie ‘Gladiator’ except better because no one has to work with Russell Crowe.”
For the first time since the show began, each of the judges was forced to make a harsh decision to send one comedian forward and send another packing. Norm Macdonald, Roseanne Barr and Keenen Ivory Wayans each got one vote in every comedic pairing and the majority winner would move on for a chance at the prize money, an NBC development deal and the grand title. In addition, it was revealed at the top of the show that the trio of judges was the ones that chose each pairing in the first place.
To help make sure you didn’t miss anything in the dense one-hour penultimate episode, below is a rundown of each pairing and its winner.
Michael Palascak vs. Taylor Tomlinson
The night opened strong with Palascak taking the stage to talk about being a high school football player and how much harder it is to be an unsuccessful one. His delivery was quick and his writing was solid, but nothing really broke out that sent the crowd into any kind of uproar. Meanwhile, Tomlinson went up next bringing a unique perspective to the worlds of dating, exercise and driving. She had better crowd control than her predecessor, but it wasn’t enough to push her through to the finals as every judge but Roseanne elected to send Palascak forward.
Ian Bagg vs. Francisco Ramos
Two of the most animated comedians left were paired up for the second round of the night with the highly energetic Ramos taking the stage first. He opened with jokes about his Spanish heritage and the key difference between living with a girl and living single (spoiler alert: the answer is the amount of bottles in his bathroom shower increases drastically). He was quickly followed by Bagg who tried out more of the crowd work that made him so popular last week during his semifinal round.
It quickly became apparent that Bagg was the better performer as, in the same amount of time as the rest of the contestants, it’s possible he delivered more material than anyone else. He received a unanimous vote to move forward by the judges.
Sheng Wang vs. Dominique
Each of these comedians made their way in the show by not being afraid to share their honesty with the crowd - meaning that trick wouldn’t work for either of them this time. Wang opened the set with a pretty strong joke about impressing his landlord each year so as to justify the increase in rent. It was a very smart line that ended up giving him the biggest reaction of the pair. However, Dominique came out and pulled a rabbit out of her hat by arranging her set with a throughline about the concept of unhappiness. She came through as a storyteller and brought a persona that the show has been lacking. With the exception of Wayans’ vote, Dominique moved forward to the top 5.
Andy Erikson vs. Ryan Conner
This felt like one of the stranger mashups of the evening as the two comics’ styles practically juxtaposed one another. Erikson took the stage first with her cartoonish, naive little girl persona to tackle a joke about left and right-wing politics. As Norm would later note, it was a bit outside her wheelhouse to see her get political, but her persona guided her through without it being too polarizing. Meanwhile, Conner took the stage with a really low-energy set that contained, quite frankly, some sloppy writing. It’s possible that he simply ran out of material at this late stage in the competition or that he just couldn’t outshine the always bright Erikson. In any case, the judges were in agreement once again as they unanimously sent the female comic through to the finals.
Clayton English vs. Joe List
English came into this set with a strategy. He wanted the energy of the room really high to give List a tough act to follow. He did so, for sure, hitting the stage hard with a bit about discovering he was poor growing up based on the brand of cereal that his mother would allow him to purchase. The room was certainly primed for an energetic performance, but List was able to deliver. He tried out some material about being afraid to have children and how impossibly frail babies can be. It was a tough call as the judges’ decision was split right down the middle. Macdonald liked List, but Wayans leaned toward English. In the end, it came down to Barr, who sent Clayton English through as the fifth and final person moving on to next week’s finale.