This year's San Francisco Comedy Competition is one to remember. It's been an honor and a thrill to follow these performers through the month of top-notch sets to a photo finish at last week's final show at the Cache Creek Casino.
L.A.'s Tony Baker and Wisconsin's Mike Merryfield were neck-and-neck throughout the five shows of the finals, and it was anybody's game going into Saturday night. In one of the closest battles in the competition's history, Tony Baker ultimately prevailed, leaving Merryfield with a close second, trailed by Prashanth Venkataramanujam, The Greg Wilson, and Dave Williamson.
Baker wooed crowds and judges all month with his smooth jazz delivery and winning grin, balanced by humbly self-deprecating material. At 35, the Chicago transplant has been performing stand-up for just four years! I was able to catch up with him via e-mail while he's on the road, taking in the reality of his recent victory.
Still riding the high of the recent win? Have you gotten to celebrate (and gloat a little) back in Hollywood?
The win has been slowly sinking in honestly. I'm definitely excited, but I still haven't had that pure excitement feeling yet. I haven't celebrated or gloated in Hollywood. Matter of fact, as we speak I'm in Salisbury, MD for a show at Salisbury University tonight, and I have another road show at Oakland University in Michigan on Friday.
Even though it was close, you seemed to dominate throughout all the rounds of the competition. Did you feel early on that you were headed for the win, or did you still question your chances throughout the competition?
I questioned my chances the whole time. Especially the finals week because it was extremely close. Even though I never fell below second place, the points everyone was getting are what made it a very close competition. You never know how that audience might be or how the judges will grade you.
What challenges do you face in a competition like this that you don't normally face as a comic?
The biggest challenge is that it was an actual competition. That messes with you brain big time. I don't compete when I hit the stage normally. Yes I compete against other sets that I may have had, but never against another comedian. That was the biggest challenge. Competing with my peers.
What advice can you offer for future participants in this competition?
My advice is to remember it's not all about audience reaction, it's about the judges. Always finish your set list.
It looks like your early passion was theater. How did you get into stand-up?
Yes, I was an actor first. I've always loved to make people laugh and when I moved to L.A. to pursue acting I thought to myself that stand-up comedy seemed a good way to get exposure for film and television. I had no idea that I would find out my true passion would be stand-up comedy. I'm not one of these actor-turned-comedians that plans to turn my back on stand-up once I book movies and TV roles. I love it. I fell in love with stand-up after my first open mic. Been going hard at it ever since. I'm just blessed to have found something that I love to do.
What do you want to do next in your career?
I want to continue to build my fan base. I would like to do a sitcom and movies as well but when I'm done filming I would love to do a comedy tour. I love to perform for a live audience. There is nothing like it.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I just want to thank [producer] Jon Fox for the opportunity and Sammy K. Obeid for recommending that I do the competition. Also thanks to [talent director] Peter Greyy and to all the comedians who performed in this as well. Met some really great people doing this and traveled to interesting places and had a lot of fun. This was an unforgettable experience for me.
Thanks, Tony! We look forward to seeing you in the Bay Area again.
Keep up with Baker, including his upcoming appearances, at tonybakercomedy.com.
Awkward Silence is a weekly column covering local stand-up comedy in San Francisco.