Rocky Top Comedy Contest cruises into finale

Derek Dennis, left, Angela Garrone and Dugan Broadhurst are among the 12 comedians performing tonight in the finals of the Rocky Top Comedy Contest.

Derek Dennis, left, Angela Garrone and Dugan Broadhurst are among the 12 comedians performing tonight in the finals of the Rocky Top Comedy Contest.

To play off what has felt like an endless season of political campaigning, the Rocky Top Comedy Contest has come up with its own slogan: "Cast your vote where it actually counts."

Tonight is do or die for the 12 finalists, who will try to earn votes from three judges, their fellow comics and an audience on the Star of Knoxville Riverboat. Boarding starts at 8 p.m.; departure is at 8:30.

Rocky Top Comedy Contest and Knox Comedy Live founder Matt Ward channeled another slogan – "think global, act local" – when he began considering ways to improve the third edition of the contest.

"The competitors previously could come from anywhere in the country," says Ward. "We changed it this year so that they have to live within 200 miles of Knoxville.

"The main reason behind that is that we were having people travel from L.A. and New York, spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars to get here for a comedy event that may not pay off that much if they don't win.

"This also lets comics network with each other better. It's already started to have very positive results."

Preliminary rounds were held each Thursday in October. Three finalists were chosen weekly based on voting by the audience and the performing comedians.

The finalists are Jeff Blank, Dugan Broadhurst, Dallas Delaney, Derek Dennis, Angela Garrone, Tyler Gooch, Monty Mitchell, J.C. Ratliff, Grady Ray, Art Sturtevant, John Upton and Drew Whitney.

The majority of the comics are from Knoxville, but Ward decided not to advertise participants by hometown in promoting the contest.

"I don't want them to have a home advantage," he says. "In the three years I've lived here, I've learned that this is a very loyal community. It definitely embraces nationalism on a smaller scale – city-ism. That isn't a bad thing, but in the contest I've got to make it as fair as possible for the guys coming a bunch of miles without supporters."

When Ward refers to the comedians as "guys," he's being almost literal. Only one female comic made it to the finals.

"It's a very male-dominated hobby/profession," says Ward. "There's more of a self-righteous ego in men, so they don't mind being on stage trying to get people to listen. Women seem less interested in trying to do that."

He says he'd like to see that change.

"Comedy would be better on the whole if more women were involved," he says.

Judges for tonight's contest will be News Sentinel entertainment writer Wayne Bledsoe, musician/sometime-comedian Randall Brown and Jennell Klussman of WUTK The Rock.

Ward, a comedian as well as a promoter, has worked hard to help Knoxville's comedy scene grow.

"We have open mics on Sunday at Preservation Pub, Monday at the Well, Tuesday at Carleo's, every other Wednesday at Sidesplitters and Friday at the Ale House," he says.

"Five nights a week we have open mics. Nashville doesn't even have that."-------------------------------------

ROCKY TOP COMEDY CONTEST

What: 12 area comedians compete for $250 in cash, a trophy and bragging rights.

When: 8 p.m. boarding; 8:30 p.m. departure; 10:30 p.m. return.

Where: Star of Knoxville Riverboat, 300 Neyland Drive.

Ages: 18 and up.

Tickets: $12 at www.rockytopcomedy.com; $15 at the door.

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