Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Comedians get 5 minutes to grab win

By Mike Hughes
Gannett News Service

LOS ANGELES - Five comedy careers will soon teeter on the brief blip of network time. Last Comic Standing has its final face-off at 9 p.m. today on NBC.

Each finalist gets a five-minute set, then viewers will decide who wins a Comedy Central concert and an NBC development deal. Here are people who know how to hold a comedy-club audience for an hour now they have to grab viewers in a few minutes.

"It has to be fat-free," says Cory Kahaney. "You get no time to pander to the audience."

The winner will be announced in early August. The contestants, alphabetically:

• Tess Drake grew up in Sandusky, Ohio, near the giant Cedar Point amusement park.

She was a class clown, she says, but the stand-up didn't start until much later, when she was a legal secretary in Oakland, Calif. One factor got her started then, she says. "Divorce. I had a whole lot to say. I was saying it to my friends and they said I should be at a comedy club."

She did. She became a part-time comic eight years ago and a full-timer two years ago.

• Cory Kahaney grew up in New York City surrounded by laughs. When she was a teenager her family moved to California.

"I hated it," she says. "I didn't surf; I don't have a surfer's physique. I never saw anyone of color."

So she retreated to New York after high school to be an actress. Mostly, she became a waitress and then a chef. "I didn't start standup until I was 29," she says.

Her cooking skills made her a hit at the Last Comic Standing house where she did much of the cooking.

• Ralphie May was drawn first to music. He did his first solos at age 9, first comedy at 13. Both were in his Methodist Church in Clarksville.

The two merge when he does humorous rapping. "That just comes naturally, out of the music," he says.

• Dat Phan has no specific memories of his Vietnam homeland. He was 2-weeks-old when his family moved to America. His parents promptly split and he was raised in San Diego by his mother. "I grew up with a dichotomy," he says. "I would go to school and everyone spoke English; at home, everyone spoke Vietnamese ... so I'd go watch the comedies on TV."

• Rich Vos is a comedy veteran, someone who's been at it for two decades.

He grew up in Plainfield, N.J., and has traveled the world. There have been great moments, he says, and miserable ones. "The worst time was when I was in Vegas. I knew when it was over I would be going home to an empty house."

Talk show guests

Regis and Kelly (9 a.m., Channel 9): Kristin Davis, BET host Big Tigger.

Wayne Brady (10 a.m., Channel 9): Yoko Ono, Tori Amos.

Caroline Rhea (3 p.m., Channel 19): Alan Cumming, Bridget Moynahan.

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