GRAND RAPIDS — Minnesota comedian Tommy Ryman was crowned Best of the Midwest — and was handed a check for $2,500 — late last night here as he edged out nine other comedians in what has become an annual highlight of Gilda’s LaughFest, now in its fifth year. A semifinalist during the most recent season of Last Comic Standing, the bespectacled, buttoned-down Ryman presented a near perfect mix of unassuming relatability (think genuinely hilarious accounts of his dog ownership and poorly-executed beach side marriage proposal) as well as the absurd.
Ryman was up against fellow Midwestern comedians Jeff Arcuri, Tom Brady (yes, yes different Tom Brady), Katrina Brown, Danny Kallas, Bryan McCree, Mike Merryfield, Carmen Morales, Norm Stulz and Adrian Cosby in the event underwritten by Wolverine Worldwide and judged by local media, the audience, veteran comedy scribe Julie Seabaugh and, full disclosure, yours truly. Each comedian performed three 8-minute sets over the course of two shows rotating between Dr. Grins and an adjacent showroom. Beyond Ryman’s obviously strong performances, Kallas (pictured to the right), Arcuri and Brady had decidedly impressive showings. Kallas, part of the Chicago-based comedy collective Comedians You Should Know, reveled in an ill-fated Craigslist “Missed Connections” experience, explained why it’s so very crucial to use proper punctuation in text messages (e.g. there’s a different between ‘Fuckin A, Baby!’ and ‘Fuckin A Baby!’) and bemoaned his mother’s awful Facebook etiquette– all filtered through a thick city attitude. Simultaneously gritty and goofy, Kallas is delight to watch.
Brady, a Bloomington, IN native who calls Chicago home, smartly diffused any distractions about the name he shares with a very much loved/hated New England Patriots quarterback at the top of his set, relating a story about how an MC at a hip-hop + comedy show (always a bad idea) used Tom’s name to sabotage his set. With that out of the way, Brady took time to blast Chili’s for having the audacity to use the word ‘madness’ in their Margarita Madness promotion, which promises a paltry $1 off the sweet, boozy beverage. True madness, he explains, would go down if Chili’s restarted Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” over its speaker system every time someone ordered a margarita. How would that sound? Brady was happy to show the crowd. Then there was Chicago-by-way-of-Michigan comic Jeff Arcuri, who drew from a deep box of comedic tools — think skilled misdirection and smart wordplay — to urge laughs from the audience. Clean-cut and energetic onstage, Arcuri’s best asset is that he’s pleased to go dark, wishing a sleep apnea-afflicted girlfriend dead. It’s all in good fun, though, as Arcuri never pushes too far without a laugh nearby.