A new host and a new set of judges aren't the only changes coming to Last Comic Standing. The NBC reality competition for stand-up comedians also underwent major retooling behind the scenes in anticipation of its return to after four years off the air.
Unlike seasons past, executive producers Wanda Sykes and Page Hurwitz did away with the open casting calls and instead handpicked each of the 100 comedians featured on the show themselves. "It's already at a different level than it was before. They're all professionals and they've been doing it for a longtime," Hurwitz told reporters Tuesday at NBC's Summer Press Day. "I think you'll see that reflected in the shows and in the talent."
Hurwitz and Sykes took on the selection process personally not only to ensure a higher level of talent, but also as a response to the famous faces the show lined up. Roseanne Barr, Keenen Ivory Wayans and Russell Peters will serve as judges this season. "We knew the caliber of judges that we were going for and we aren't going to waste their time and put people that aren't credible or funny in front of these judges," Sykes said. "We're really proud of the talent we're putting in front of these judges."
"It's kind of like The Voice where they went out and got great singers. These guys went out and got great comedians," Wayans added. "We might have some advice for them, but it's never like, 'Oh man, we need to get these five minutes back.'"
These new judges will also be more involved in the competition than years past because they will exclusively make the decision about which comedians will move forward to the next round. Although this might anger viewers, who in previous years were able to vote on who would advance, the team said this will make for a stronger competition. "The last few seasons of Last Comic Standing were more of a popularity contest than a talent contest," Peters said. "It's about are you funny? Can you consistently be funny? And can you hold your own show in the future?"
That last question matters now more than ever since Last Comic Standing has also changed the prize the winner will receive. In addition to a $250,000 cash prize, this season's champion will receive a development deal with NBC. "What we'd like to find is we'd like to find the next big name in comedy. The next person that can have their own show on NBC," Hurwitz said. "We feel like there's some really terrific talent out there and potentially, not just one but several people that could have their own show so that's exciting."
Citing the decrease in more traditional outlets of opportunity for on-the-rise stand-up comedians — such as the dwindling number of comedy clubs and the lack of comedians featured on late-night shows compared to the '70s and '80s when comics like Barr got their starts on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson — Barr hopes that Last Comic Standing fills that void. "When I got started, there was a lot more comedy clubs back in the day when I started back in the early '80s. ... "Television, cable kind of killed a lot of clubs so I think it's harder now television, cable kind of killed a lot of clubs so I think it's harder now," Barr said. "I think this is a whole new beginning and medium for comedians."
Last Comic Standing returns on Thursday, May 22 at 9/8c on NBC. Will you watch? What do you think about these changes?