The time to produce comedy never stops for standup comics. Marcus, who is gaining huge public momentum for his ongoing winning streak on NBC’s Last Comic Standing, is no exception to that idea.
As we sit together in a Hellboy II press screening, I can’t help but notice Marcus’ contagious excitement as he emits geeky fanboy energy. The only other place you come close to witnessing this visual example of extreme anticipation is in the look on children’s faces on Christmas morning.
Halfway through the film, there’s a very comedic point where Red and Abe Sapien toss back a few beers, get a little drunk, throw on some Barry Mannilow and talk about the women they love. Just before the scene closes, you know that all hell is about to break loose.
I lean over to Marcus and say, “This is the calm before the storm.” And before I can sit upright again, he quips, “More like the Mannilow before the Mayhem.” And at that moment, I realize that my clichéd analytical drabble will never stand up to the genius flow of his mind’s natural runoff.
Last Comic Standing can be compared to American Idol in the way that it is a hybrid competition/reality show. Instead of performing live weekly, the majority of its standup performances are shot months before it airs. Only the last two episodes are filmed live and judged by any American with text messaging or outbound calling. And — just like the most recent Idol — this season’s Last Comic Standing also features a more-than-deserving Utahan: Marcus.
Marcus, 31, grew up just south of Salt Lake City in West Jordan. Though his sights have not always been set on standup, two years ago he realized that it might be something worth giving a shot.
“One day,” says Marcus, “one of the guys who was playing Wiseguys said, ‘You should come by the club, meet the owner, and see if you can get some time.’
“I went down there that night, met the owner, and he says, ‘I’ve heard of ya. Go.’
“I did a couple little things for him, and he goes, ‘That’s really good. Come back Sunday.’
“He put me up for five minutes in front of the headliner … and I’ve never, ever left the stage since.”
Two years of struggling and trying to get by have passed, and now Marcus is one of the most promising final ten contestants on a popular network show. Not only can he make you laugh at the most average, everyday idea that anyone can relate to, but he’s also got a special talent that you don’t find too much in standup nowadays: Marcus can do the most spot-on impressions of people you don’t usually hear impressions of.
But by the time LAST COMIC STANDING got around to the semifinals, Marcus had been coined as an impressionist. During his three-minute semifinal audition in front of thousands in a Las Vegas arena, he only spouted out one tiny impression of Gene Wilder during a WILLY WONKA routine. Marcus said that after the show, a very prominent individual in the comedy business asked, “Do you have any idea how much balls it took to do what you just did? Voices are a safety net. You can go out there at any show and do voices and people will absolutely love them. It’s like heroin to an audience — they love them. You can do a string of horrible jokes and then go, ‘Who would like some impressions,’ do some great impressions, and you’ll have the audience in the palm of your hand.”
Marcus replies, “I knew going in that I could do impressions — I’ve always known that — but I wanted to challenge myself to be more than that, to be bigger than that. I don’t mind that I do impressions because that’s something that I do … but I wanted to show people that I can do whatever I want.”
Even though he changed his routine by striking the impressions from that night’s set, Marcus advanced through the semifinals to where the show is currently running: The final ten comics are all living together in one Los Angeles house. The reality TV aspect of the show is kicking in. And although they have already filmed up to the final two episodes (which will be done live), Marcus’ lips are legally sealed by NBC from revealing how far he’s already made it in the competition.
The further Marcus gets into the competition, the more he’s becoming an American household name. In the four hours we spent together (including an interview, a stroll around Gateway and a nearly two-hour movie), I counted almost two-dozen people that either knew him in the past or now know him from the show. Marcus conversed with each one of them — friend or stranger — all the same, as if they’d been childhood friends who hadn’t seen one another in years.
The first time I met Marcus was just a few days after Last Comic Standing premiered. It was at the press screening of Wanted. I looked back to the row behind me, recognized him from the show and said, “Hey, I know you.” To which he replied, “Oh, really? From where?”
“From the show,” I said. And then he sat with a puzzled look, as if he didn’t know what I was talking about. After a moment, his facial expressions showed that it dawned on him as to what show I was referring to, and he said, “From Last Comic Standing? You watch the show? Very cool. I’m Marcus,” and he extended his hand in a genuine, sincere greeting.
Now, weeks since the show’s premiere, as we stroll through Gateway, trying to let the Z-Tejas burritos settle down enough to let us get through Hellboy without interruptions, strangers come up to him and say, “Hey, Marcus.” He nicely shakes their hands and still replies, “Hey. I’m sorry, man. You’ll have to remind me where I know you from.” But most of them all reply the same. “No, no, no. I know you from TV.” It still hasn’t settled in.
Marcus is one of the most grateful and honored big-time entertainers I’ve had the privilege of getting to know. Though he knew all along that I was going to use any word that came out of his mouth or an experience that we had that afternoon in this article, he still carried himself like a normal person. In some ways, he almost acted like he had to move up a notch to play on my level — as if I was higher than he. Marcus never once stopped vocalizing his appreciation for fans and never once dabbled in boasting. Like the Transformers logos tattooed on the tops of his wrists, there is “more than meets the eye” with Marcus. He’s not just another arrogant guy on the fast track to stardom — he’s a normal guy like any one of us. It shows. And for that reason — not only because I truly think he’s the funniest comic on there, but because I find him humble and deserving — if he ends up making it to the finals, I will pull out my cell phone and cast my first reality TV vote for him.
After a Last Comic Standing viewing party at the Bar Deluxe on July 3, Marcus finished a short standup routine by explaining to his fans how the rest of the TV series will be — just in case he actually does make it to the finals. He explained that on July 31, the five finalists will perform live from Las Vegas. Then the voting will begin. The winner will be revealed during the finale, exactly one week later on August 7. “If I make it to the end, I will need you all to vote for me. If you do your part, I will do mine. And I promise that I won’t Archuletta-you-down.”
Last Comic Standing can be seen Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC. To see clips of Marcus’ standup, go to myspace.com/marcuscomedy
For a complete transcript and audio of the interview, go to lukehickman.blogspot.com