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Jim holds up famous comedy long playing records featuring household name comics.
Comedy Roots
I hold up LPs of some household name comics
From back in the day.

Photo of Mort Sahl holding newspaper, his topical comedy trademark
Social Commentator
Mort Sahl
. . . still kickin'

How to WIN the Next
San Francisco Comedy Competition

How did a small event grow so quickly?
The Rules and Realities of the Contest
Taking an informed look back
At the year 1979,
Mid-way in stand-up comedy's early evolution

Via my two-page newspaper article
Reproduced here on my web site 2/20/00 as it first appeared in 1979,
Now with period photos added 10/1/13

My article was referenced in David Itzkoff's book Robin,
this New York Times culture reporter's "definitive" biography of Robin Williams, 5/15/2018.

Please see "Update" at end of this article for my brief year 2013 reflections,
Followed by 17 titles of "Comedy Reviews and Interviews 1977-1981
Mike Davis juggline 3 bowling balls.Marsha Warfield FF with mic.
Mike Davis and Marsha Warfield.

Irate juggler and ex-clown Mike Davis sounded off after finishing second in the Fourth Annual San Francisco International Open Stand-Up Comedy Competition at the Old Waldorf September 2, 1979:
"Marsha Warfield won because a black woman comic would help the Competition this year. They didn't want another singer, or a vaudeville act like mine, to win.
"They don't announce the judges until the last minute. How come they let Hut Landon, who voted against me in the Semi-Finals, judge again in the Finals? If I don't have a chance of winning, they shouldn't let me enter in the first place!"

Jon Fox holding icon for SF Comedy Contest.Frank Kidder left profile head shot wearing dark glasses, beard.
Jon Fox and the late Frank Kidder (? - December 20, 2012?)

"They" are Competition producers Anne and Jon Fox and Frank Kidder, the originator of the event. Since Landon only gave Warfield a four point spread, and Davis lost by an average of two points per judge, Davis' accusation could be marked off as mere post-performance hysteria.

The rules for the Competition seem to indicate that any kind of act can win as long as it gets laughs and goes over well with the crowd. However, on interviewing the three producers, a profile emerges of an ideal stand-up comic which they would like to see win the contest. It is a profile I happen to agree with, which is probably the reason I was chosen to be a "last minute" judge at Finals this year.

Mark Miller. Robin Williams wearring stripped sweater.
Mark Miller and Robin Williams (July 21, 1951-August 11, 2014)

To understand the distance between the rules and the realities of Competition politics, a history lesson is necessary. The precursor of the Competition was the 1976 April Round Robin Contest. It was a one-evening exercise which challenged a dozen amateur stand-up comics to meet a professional standard: getting four to five laughs per minute. A "laugh" was defined as three seconds of sustained laughter and/or applause. Lorenzo won the $50 First Prize. There was a three-way tie for Second Place between Robin Williams, Mark Miller and Mitch Krug.

Kidder remembers, "It was a silly contest because the comics stacked the audience with their friends. So I decided to have the first Comedy Competition in September 1976. I spread it over nine nights at four different clubs. There were 18 judges who were given seven categories with which to judge the quality, rather than the quantity of laughs."
Showtime cable TV logo.
This year the Competition involved 40 contestants, after 100 more aspirants were rejected at auditions. It took place over 15 nights at eight clubs and involved 50 judges. The purse was $6,750 with $3,000 going to the winner. Finals were taped by censor-free Showtime cable television for broadcast to its two million subscribers throughout the country.

Similar Competitions were held for the first time this year in Chicago, New York, Houston and Fort Lauderdale. The winners of these five contests will face off in the Fox-Kidder sponsored American International Stand-Up Comedy Competition at the Old Waldorf November 24 and 25. The results will be on Showtime cable TV in late spring.

How did such a small event grow so quickly? Kidder explains, "I originally opened up the contest to vaudeville acts so we would have the necessary 15-20 entrants, then later decided to keep it open for excitement value. Since the Foxes joined me in '77, we've promoted the Competition commercially. But what we want to do next year is get more artistry into it and really get a more valid method of determining who the winner should be. It's a lot easier for a clown to get laughs than a pure stand-up. All he's got to do is fall all over the stage!"

Mort Sahl on cover of Time magazine.
Mort Sahl on the cover of Time Magazine
Check out who was on the Time's cover
The week before & after: August 15, 1960

Anne Fox draws a more specific profile of what the producers are looking for:
"We had Mort Sahl emcee the last night of Finals this year to give a dignity to the event. I prefer the pure stand-up without props. . . . the inner giggle, incisive material, the heavier comics. Topical material about daily events in the news and improvisation are risky, but necessary to prevent boredom in hour-long sets. This is what the comic does that we have hired consistently to headline here at The Punch Line. But if we changed the rules for judging the 15-20 minute sets in the Competition to favor the kind of comic we preferred, we couldn't fill the opening 40 slots!"

Franklyn Ajaye with jacket slung over shoulder.
Franklyn Ajaye

Jon Fox is critical of local comics who enter the Competition every year with substantially the same act. "If they do that, it's going to work against them, it's not good thinking. Franklyn Ajaye was our emcee the first night of Finals this year. I've hired him six times over the past year to headline at The Punch Line. He can give completely different performances three shows a night. He has the material. That's the guy who's closest to what we're talking about.

Lenny Bruce pointing at audience.
Lenny Bruce (October 13, 1925 August 3, 1966)
Richard Pryor. George Carlin leaning toward the audience.
Richard Pryor (December 1, 1940 December 10, 2005) and George Carlin (May 12, 1937 June 22, 2008)
Steve Martin with arrow through head, playiing banjo. Robin Williams wearing brightly stripped sweater.
Steve Martin and Robin Williams

"But really what we're talking about isn't there . . . somebody like a great novelist but in the form of a stand-up comedian. Somebody who has tremendous observation. In the '50's, it was Lenny Bruce. In the '60's, it was Richard Pryor and George Carlin. Now we've got Steve Martin and Robin Williams . . . I guess they give the illusion of being geniuses.

Mark McCollum with guitar.
Mark McCollum

"If you compare the audience who comes to see Mark McCollum (who won the Competition last year with his guitar playing) to the people who come to see Ajaye, . . . it's pseudo idealists vs. free-thinkers!

"Gimmicks make for more easily obtained laughter. My tastes tend toward the guy who's just standing there talking to you. He uses nothing but the microphone, his body movements, his delivery and his material to get you laughing!

Mike Davis juggling an egg, tomato and bowling ball.
Mike Davis juggling a bowling ball, tomato and . . . that egg!

"I mean, Christ! Davis ended his set by smashing an egg into his face!?! You cannot deny that Marsha Warfield is on a higher level. She uses material about women you've never heard before!"

All three producers believe that creating a dialogue between judges and comics would be a better way of improving the Competition than making the rules more restrictive. They hope to create a pool of judges who will be the same people year after year. Next August, Jon Fox plans "a barbecue with comics, producers and judges who have been lined up in advance. This will be an orientation, just before the Competition begins, during which viewpoints can be freely exchanged. Media people tend to remain aloof when they are just reviewers. When they are judges, they take sides and get emotionally involved in the event!"

He sees the Competition expanding each year. "The money's only going to get bigger and more talented people will enter. The sense of it being an amateur event will be eliminated."

Because of this increased commercialization, do performers take less risks?
"Yes, but I think that's a tactical error. They should wade into the audience and play off them, using true improvisation. A lot of them use pseudo improvisation where they have set lines for typical heckles, etc. The judges are going to get hip to those tricks as time goes on. Then the kind of comic we want will naturally come to the fore.

Marsha Warfield
Marsha Warfield,
Intelligent, classical standup comic

"There is a very strong school of comedy that is anti-intellectual. The kind of nice, simple sophomoric message that McCollum gives along with his excellent musical impressions. As long as people relate to it, key into it and feel good about it, I'll have to respect it.

"But new and original material always has more impact, and it's up to the judges to recognize it. The highest form is the intelligent classical stand-up. That's why Warfield won this year!"

Kidder feels that "Improvisation is what comedy's all about: thinking on your feet. More gutsy. There are new presentation techniques still to be discovered. A comic must find the style which fits his individual mind.

"The Competition has somewhat inhibited local comics from trying out new material. They want to go with what they know works, hone it down, polish it. Sometimes they fall into that trap where they're doing the same material, and they get sloppy with it. They stop listening to themselves.

"I respect Ajaye because he's always trying new material. When Ajaye goes on TV, he's always got something original. But TV is both the hero and the culprit because it gobbles up talent, and spits it out.

"I would love to see comedians come into the Competition with stuff that they've tested out maybe only a few times. Comedians should also take pot shots at each other, roast-like lines that get laughs."

It would seem, now that the producers are confident of the Competition's future, that they are taking a serious look back at the roots of the stand-up comedy scene in San Francisco during the '50's. The Foxes and Kidder are still leaving room in the Competition for the vaudeville acts which have provided a support base since its inception. But they are nonetheless consciously looking forward to a day when the Competition will become a serious literary and cultural event.

The well-read, aspiring social commentator who wants to launch a career by winning the S.F. Comedy Competition next year will need a technical proficiency equal to the more entertainment-oriented acts around. But when that comic appears, he or she will be welcomed with open arms.

In the meantime, getting laughs is still what it's all about!

Update 10/1/2013:
I haven't read this review in years.
With the exception of Lewis Black, Richard Jeni, and a few others, sadly the national comedy scene has failed in living up to it's late 1970's potential.

Who was light-years ahead of their contemporaries in the 1970's San Francisco comedy scene?
I'm talking just before SF became mecca for young stand-up comics
coming out to the city from all over the USA in the 1980's.
Back in the day, it was clearly these three:
Robin Williams, Bill Rafferty and Jim Giovanni.
Back then, the 20 or so best of the "first wave" new breed were emulating the great premise routine comedians from the 1950's and 1960's.
Robin, Bill and Jim . . . just did it better.

However, the so-called "second wave" of comics who came later were largely lowly one-liner comics,
more in the 1940's and earlier comedian traditions
before the radical breakthroughs
that announced modern stand-up comedy.

You've head the names of these radical comics, the ones who introduced the biggest changes in comedy character creating and comedy writing:
Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters and Mort Sahl began what would immediately be taken up by Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Jackie Mason, etc.
This second wave retrograde action in the early 1980's remains a totally weird, still entrenched backwards movement,
. . . an artistic history in the unmaking.


Guess what?
That is great news for up-and-coming stand-up comics and for seasoned professionals
who want to add a more literate twist to their own acts.

The dream lives on!

Back to top
If you would like to read more of my "Comedy Reviews and Interviews 1977-1979,"
you can order the collection for $25, plus tax and shipping & handling:
Coaching Order Form

Bill Rafferty (June 17, 1944 - August 11, 2102)
Bill Rafferty
(June 17, 1944 - August 11, 2102)
2/11/77: Bill Rafferty: Bright New Comic Personality

3/25/77: Mitch Krug, Electronic Comic—now deceased electrical engineer

Robin Williams as Mork, pointing up at his fearless leader.
Robin Williams as Mork, pointing up at his fearless leader from another planet . . . far away.

9/30/78: "Funniest Stand-Up Comedian" Stars in "Mork and Mindy"Robin Williams

Bill Rafferty close up. Dana Carvey on a night club stage in 1977 with long, curley hair. Comics standing behind him. Darryl Henriquez standing knee shot, wearing horned-rim glasses, B&W.
Bill Rafferty, Dana Carvey and Darryl Henriques

11/10/78: Stand-Up Comedy Night: Turn away Crowd at The LagunaBill Rafferty, Dana Carvey and Darryl Henriques

Jim Giovanni as Rocky Marciano B&W. Jim Giovanni as Columbo. Jim Giovanni as himself in a checkered shirt.
Jim Giovanni (__, 1949-May 6, 2016) as Rocky Marciano, as Columbo and as himself.
2/22/78: Laguna's Stand-Up Comedy Nights Still Selling OutJim Giovanni, Lorenzo

Mark Miller, now a Hollywood sitcom writer.
Mark Miler, now a Hollywood sitcom writer.

1/19/79: Slick Traditionalists Win the Audience at The LagunaMark Miller, Bill Farley

Mark McCollum with guitar slung behind him.
Mark McCollum with his guitar slung behind him.

1/26/79: Double Encore with Standing Ovations for McCollumMark McCollum, S.O.S. Improv Group

Jack Marion in a full shot, playing in a nigh club. Bob Sarlatte in a medium shot with mic in hand.
Jack Marion and Bob Sarlatte

2/24/79: Stand-Up Comedy at Laguna--Marion Murders 'em, Sarlatte Wins 'emJack Marion, Bob Sarlatte

Paul Krassner close up shot.
Paul Krassner

3/24/79: Paul Krassner: Keeping The Art of Satire Alive in America, The Revivification of Paul KrassnerPaul Krassner

Franklyn Ajaye with jacket slung over his shoulder. Charlie Hill gesturing with one hand.
Franklyn Ajaye and Charlie Hill

6/6/79: Ajaye wows 'emFranklyn Ajaye, Charlie Hill

9/5/79: Makin' 'em laugh at the Plaza, A Retrospective: S.F. Comedy Competition

Jim Richardson with white tie, playing his ganster comic character, Jimmy Two-Jokes. Marsha Warfield making a phone call. Dana Carvey looking out of car window. Michael Winslow with a mustache. A. Whitney Brown wearing white sweater, cupping had to ear, trying to hear what a heckler is saying. Art Buchwald typing up his column while chomping on a cigar, wearing black horn-rimmed glasses.
Jim Richardson as Jimmy Two-Jokes, Marsha Warfield, Dana Carvey, Michael Winslow, A. Whitney Brown
and Art Buchwald (October 20, 1925 January 17, 2007) typing up his next column.

9/19/79: Jim Richardson's "Life as a Comedy Judge"—Jim on Jim's insights: Mort Sahl attacks the state of contemporary comedy; plus, Marsha Warfield, Mike Davis, Dana Carvey, Michael Winslow, A. Whitney Brown, Art Buchwald

SSU poster 1980 with Johnny Carson in bed, surrounded by photos of comics who had appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson.
1980 Sonoma State University poster:
Johnny Carson (October 23, 1925 January 23, 2005) in bed,
surrounded by comics who had appeared on NBC-TV's
"The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson."
(1962 to 1992)

10/79: Setting the Standards for Comedy—Jim's suggestions for improving the Comedy Competition

Mort Sahl did a guest appearance at the 1980 SF Comedy Competition, here pictured in his trademark pose: wearing  red sweater, holding a newspaper he will soon open and begin making fun of the news.
Mort Sahl was the MC at the SF Comedy Competition on
Finals night, September 2, 1979.
Sahl is here pictured in his trademark pose:
wearing red sweater, holding a newspaper that
he will soon open and
begin making fun of the news

11/11/79: The Rules and Realities of the S.F. Comedy Competition, How did a small event grow so quickly, How to Win the Next S.F. Comedy Competition--reprinted on this web page

Marsha Warfield sits in cafe in font of a jukebox. Ollie Joe Prater in cowboy hat. Larry Miller holding microphone on stage before a red curtain. George Wallace pointing both hands at the audience in a post publicity photo.Jerry Dye.
Marsha Warfield, Ollie Joe Prater (? - November 25, 1991), Larry Miller, George Wallace, Jerry Dye

12/5/79: First International Stand-Up Comedy Competition; Marsha Warfield stood heads above the rest of the packMarsha Warfield, Ollie Joe Prater, Larry Miller, George Wallace, Jerry Dye

Bobby Slayton. James Wesley Jackson playing a Frank Sinatra greets Jim Giovanni with handshake.
Bobby Slayton, James Wesley Jackson playing a Jew's harp, Frank Sinatra shaking Jim Giovanni's hand.

12/21/79: Comedy Alive and Well at Garbo'sBobby Slayton, James Wesley Jackson, Jim Giovanni and the first Best Original Joke Contest
By September 1981, I had given up on the S.F. Comedy Competition ever reforming
•and started my own
Comedy Marathon Contest which ran until September 1983.
•I made the contest's rules along the lines of the above 17 newspaper articles:

Back then, the S.F. Comedy Competition had 8 categories where contestants scored points:
•6 general categories awarding points for performance skills
•and a 7th category for writing skills,
•plus a category for exit applause that was largely generated by performance techniques.
I objected to having only one (1) category for writing skills
as any description of stand-up comedy I'd ever read about
• always talked about writing and delivery as being equally important.

Instead of this yearly contest, to challenge both:
•my students
•and all comers (as long as they were not yet professional comedians),
I presented 5 Contests every 6 weeks for three years:

1) a 5-minute Monologue contest with 10 categories divided evenly between:
•5 categories for specific performance techniques
•and 5 for specific writing techniques.
Length: 5 minutes.
Possible points: 100

2) 4 Mini-Contests with 7 specific categories each.
•Each contest was focused on a specific aspect of stand-up comedy:
Improvisation and Topical Monologue were the most popular
•with Improvisation offered at all Comedy Marathon Contests
•and Topical Monologue Contest repeated most often by student request.

All topics were based on my Workshop lectures and included:
Media Parody Routine (Impressions, Vocal Sound Effects, etc.),
Choreographing the Joke,
Tirade Routine, Observation Routine,
Wit (see "Coach Says," Vol. 1, issue ii, pages 32-44), Humor,
Social Commentary (see also the same source: "Coach Says," Vol. 1, issue ii, pages 28-32 and 45-46),
Making the Audience Like You a Lot (see also the same source: "Coach Says," Vol. 1, issue ii, pages 15-27), etc.
•For a full list of topics, check out Lessons 1-35.
Mini-Contest length: 3 minutes except for Improvisation which went 5 minutes.
Possible points: winner of each Mini-Contest got 10 points, runner-up got 5 points

Total possible points for the overall evening for a contestant entering all 5 contests: 140 points.

As only one (1) Comedy Marathon Comedy Contest over three years was won with an overall point total under 100 points,
•contestants only entering the 5-Minute Monologue Contest and not entering at least 2 Mini-Contests
would already have lost before they ever stepped on stage.
•This contest was about learning skills
•and providing a role model for what was possible
when a contest was written to describe
the best models of excellence in stand-up comedy.

Following the artistic profile described in "How to WIN the Next San Francisco Comedy Contest,"
the S. F. Comedy Competition producers claimed that using that profile,
they would have trouble:
1) filling 40 slots once a year (contest now has only 30 slots)
2) and that it was ok to suffer contestants using the same 5 minutes year-after-year.

1) We filled 5-10 slots every 6 weeks for 3 years straight.

2) Were comics allowed to repeat jokes?
Sure, only I was the contest Marshal:
"Partner, you lose 1 point for every repeated or stolen joke."

Do the math:
At a minimum of 4 jokes/minute x 5 minutes = 20 jokes.
As I already pointed out, to win, you needed to enter at least 2 extra mini-contests that night for an average overall total:
•11 minutes x 4 jokes/minute = 44 new jokes that night in a contest with a possible 140 points.
If you entered all 5 contests:
•19 minutes (remember: Improvisation Mini-Contest is 5 minutes long) x 4 jokes/minute = 72 jokes that night with a possible 140 points.
•In short, every lost point was another step toward losing.
As James Wesley Jackson jokes,
" Mistakes are just stepping stones to . . . failure!"

No general categories like in the S. F. Comedy Competition:
Every category in the Comedy Marathon Contests was deliberately specific and taught a different writing or performing technique.
•Contestants were required to both learn the techniques,
and prove they had mastered each skill by writing a joke demonstrating their knowledge in every category.
•Skip some of the categories?
Your choice.
•Only the professional media judges gave you zero points in said skipped category.
You almost automatically lose that contest where you skipped that category.

Comedy contests can be done right,
•stick to artistic goals
•and be conducted with integrity.

So, we did it.
Why not?
It's legal!


Has anyone else's contest to date come . . . even close?


How can you compete in this contest during 2015? Not to worry.
The Comedy Marathon Contests will be revived for the first time in 32 years during May 2015.

Ronn Lucas and his puppets.
Ronn Lucas with three little friends on TV's"The Ronn Lucas Show"

Oh: and I still managed to coach the winner of the SF and National Competitions in 1981, sophisticated ventriloquist Ronn Lucas.

Bonus offer:
when you order the above 16 titles for "Comedy Reviews and Interviews 1977-1979,"
I will also include a 17th title, "Life as a Comedy Coach," which I wrote September 10, 1981 as a reflection right after helping Ronn Lucas win those comedy contests.
This includes the history of my "Editing Worksheet" which is now part of my stand-alone audio/workbook package "The Fundamentals of Stand-Up Comedy" that you can order by itself or as part of my entire "Home Study Program."
Find out how to order either option on my Coaching Order Form

Ronn Lucas was my first professional client.
Within a few months of working together:
•Ronn won the San Francisco Comedy Competition, and blamed me for his sudden success,
•going from lounge act to headlining comedy clubs as a ventriloquist
•and becoming the feature act in the touring "Sugar Babies" Broadway musical revue starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller.
•Within 6 months of winning the SF Contest, Ronn had his first of many shots on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," "Late Night with David Letterman," etc.

•You can read about our work sessions in this issue of my newsletter “Coach Says,” page 14-18.
On this screen shot of page 14, you can see Ronn’s hand-written endorsements of my article.
Ronn Lucas's hand-written notes on Jim's article writtern 9-10-1981.

Order today!

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013, 11:31 am, the Comedy Marathon Contest description was expanded
in answer to a Facebook request from a comedy producer in the MidWest.
Get in touch:

Snail mail:
Jim Richardson
Organized Comedy
PO Box 992
Mill Valley, California 94942-0992

Page last updated: Friday, October 18, 2013, 1 pm PST and Sunday, March 3, 2019, 9 pm.

Copyright © 1997-2020
Calendar | Video: tips | Endorsements: tips | Coaching & Co-Writing | Coaching order form | About Us
Lessons 1-35: Descriptions | Register: Lessons 1-4 | Register: Lessons 5-8 | FAQ | Contact Us

Sub Headings: even more tips!
Studying Comics | Comedy Roots | Comeback? | Defense | Character mask | Robin | Censorship
Writer's block | Camcorder Coaching | Memorizing | Remembering | Stage Movement: setting a bit
Business | Business Cards | Your Web Site | Open Mics | Evil "Bringer Shows" | Audition | MC tips
Promo Packet | Contact media | Interviews | How to get BIG-$ Gig$ | Agents vs. Managers
Newsletter | Goodies | Auditioning: TV & Movie parts | Site Map: more tips
Improvisation: Thinking on Your Feet | Jonathan Winters | Joan Rivers | Hecklers
Funny Money: $25/show or $100 Million/Year from Netflix? Comedy Coach predicts the near future!
How to Tell a Joke | How to Write a Joke
Titter: "Cute bit. Now, make it funny!"
Which is more important, what you say or how you say it?
Life as a Comedy Coach: our first big win!
Amateur Comedy Calendar | College Gigs | LPM
"Off the charts!" | Testing New Material
Telecommuting Classes