Since losing Dave Chappelle earlier this year, Comedy Central seems to be throwing a lot of stuff up against the wall and seeing what sticks, and Last Laugh '05 (premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, with reruns throughout December) is no exception. Think of this end-of-the-year stand-up special as a kind of a tasting menu of the cable network's up-and-coming stars. In a reasonably brisk and occasionally funny 90-minute running time, you can get a sense of whose overpromoted series or special on the network you might actually want to tune in for. To make your task even easier, I'll do a comic-by-comic rundown (skipping the pretaped appearances from CC eminences like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert), toss out the best joke or two from each routine, and let you decide.
Lewis Black's raucous venting of spleen (does anyone else habitually fast-forward through his "Back in Black" segments on The Daily Show, just because his voice is so damned annoying?) centers on the Terri Schiavo coverage, culminating in a whiny, semi-amusing rant about his desire to be Terri Schiavo: "Her family loves her more than my family loves me."
David Spade: I've now rewound through his routine four times in search of a tidbit, and I've got nothing. This guy is simply not funny. Why The Showbiz Show, his once-a-week roundup of Hollywood gossip, was just renewed for a second season is beyond me. Spade himself seems bored with the niche he's been consigned to: The weaselly little guy knows more about celebrity trivia than even he is comfortable with and recites his creaky putdowns with something akin to shame.
Lisa Lampanelli, the chunky blond comic whose racially tinged bit was one of the highlights of The Aristocrats, continues to mine that vein with some admirably compact one-liners: "I have blown more black guys than Hurricane Katrina," she begins, before going on to lament the downside of dating a half-Native American: "Every time we go out dancing, it starts to rain."
David Cross' best line was the wrap-up to his disquisition on the Michael Jackson trial: "I think we should let our celebrities f**k children." But Cross doesn't traffic in punchlines per se. Rather, he lines up the self-evident absurdities of the year's news and lets them satirize themselves (regretting, for example, that former FEMA director Michael Brown wasn't named Michael White, if only for the "delicious irony" of hearing George Bush say, "Whitey, you're doing a heck of a job.")
Greg Giraldo is the host of MotherLoad, Comedy Central's broadband feed, who also has a new show of his own on Friday nights. Like Adam Carolla (who, inexplicably, does not appear on Last Laugh; is the yearlong multinetwork initiative to shove him down our throats finally over?), Giraldo is a genial, lumbering type who specializes in elbow-in-the-ribs frat-boy humor. Reflecting on the sentencing of Debra Lafave, the blonde Florida schoolteacher who recently pleaded guilty to seducing a 14-year-old student, he praises her as a "dream-maker": "When it comes to teenage boys, any sex that doesn't involve limping out of a rectory is OK in my book."
Carlos Mencia: Strangely, this was the only Last Laugh routine to receive a standing ovation, even though, like his CC show, Mind of Mencia, it seemed to consist mainly of a lot of preening about how daringly edgy Carlos Mencia is. Apparently, if you don't laugh at Mencia, you're only pretending not to find him hilarious, you uptight PC hypocrite: "You white people love ethnic jokes. You just don't like laughing in public while the ethnic people are watching you. That's why you watch my show." We do?
Sarah Silverman reprises her multi-orifice, three-part harmony rendition of "Amazing Grace" from Jesus Is Magic. Funny, yes, but a little lazy, given that much of Comedy Central's audience will already have seen her movie in theaters. Still, she looks adorable in pink tights and hotpants, and her almost completely apolitical set brings an air of much-needed goofiness to the proceedings. Because, honestly? 2005 was one of the unfunniest years on record.
The Last Laugh's most melancholy moment is a 2½ minute trailer for the upcoming "third season" of Chappelle's Show. The network has just finished cutting all ties with Chappelle by arranging to salvage his unfinished material into four half-hour shows that will air sometime in 2006 (though, given that Chappelle's lead-ins and other interstitial material were never taped, the format is still unclear). The trailer begins with an image that could function as an allegory for Chappelle's dissatisfaction with Comedy Central: Dave is confronted by a Wizard-of-Oz like floating head that identifies itself as "the great and powerful show business." The giant (white) head then proceeds to lecture Chappelle on how to turn his first two successful seasons into some real money in the upcoming season: "You wanna know the secret to life? You ready? … 'I'm Rick James, bitch!' "