'Funniest Wins': TV Review

Funniest Wins Episodic - H 2014
Patrick Wymore/TBS

Funniest Wins Episodic - H 2014

TBS' latest reality competition again provides a new take on an old formula. Wayans is genuine in his desire to mentor the comedians, and the results are fun, even a little edgy. 

Marlon Wayans hosts and mentors a group of up-and-coming comedians, who are from both stand-up and viral video backgrounds.

At the start of his new comedy competition series on TBS, Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie), declares his objective: to find "the funniest motherfucker in the world." "I say 'motherfucker' so you know I'm serious," he continues. TBS is clearly serious about moving more into the unscripted game, after the success of their well-received competition series King of the Nerds. Like that show, Funniest Wins has a collaborative aspect, and an emphasis on mentorship. No host or judge is looking to be the next Simon Cowell; instead, they're keep things real, but with an encouraging tone.

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Funniest Wins has the setup of a traditional competition series, but presents its material in a different way: Wayans opens the show, for instance, by breaking down the particulars in the series up front in a hyperactive dialogue (more like a monologue) to his friend Omar Epps. The early appearance of Epps, and Wayans' complete ownership of the show (it also serves to promote his new What the Funny online project) lays the groundwork for what to expect from the series: Wayans has the final say on who stays and who goes, but he's aided by a coterie of his comedian friends, like David Alan Grier and Orlando Jones -- plus other Wayans -- who appear in episodes as judges, or as mentors ("do something else with your life!" Grier coaches in a pre-taped segment). 

The most interesting thing about Funniest Wins though is who has been chosen to compete. The competitors are drawn from three pools: traditional stand-up comedians, viral video stars of YouTube, and Vine. Each group has their particular strengths (the stand-up crowd aced an early competition that required them to joke in front of an audience, while the video stars did better with a digital short challenge later on). The other noteworthy thing is that, as of the first episode at least, there's no drama. Most of the participants are between the ages of 30 and 40, and either know each other, or have a knowledge of the other performers' work (particularly among the online stars). This leads to a camaraderie among the contestants right off the bat that may not last, but goes far in establishing a surprising amount of good will for a competition series.

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Wayans describes the show as "comedy bootcamp," and his approach seems to back up that claim. He's transparent with his methodology when it comes to choosing winners, and though he will call out a bad joke for what it is, he also exudes positivity and a desire to genuinely encourage. That atypical atmosphere extends to the show's production as well, which takes on a quirky and fun style as it lampoons reality competition tropes visually (like those drawn-out decision-making moments by judges), even occasionally incorporating roughly-drawn animation. 

Like Wayans' cross-promotion of his What the Funny site, Funniest Wins also puts the spotlight on social media and other digital crossovers within the show, like showing contestants' Twitter handles, and creating on-screen hashtags for potentially memorable moments. Whether or not this plays out as successfully for Funniest Wins like it does for Comedy Central's @midnight series remains to be seen, but it does show Wayans' hyper-awareness regarding the power of social media to make or break an act. After all, roughly half of his contestants are already "famous" in certain online circles. "If you have 2 million followers on Vine, you must be doing something right," opines one comedian.

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Ultimately, Funniest Wins is full of the requisite second-hand embarrassment and awkwardness that's expected from any comedic competition series, but it also delivers some genuine chuckles (like when Wayans and Jones riff on FCC censorship). It also takes the time to fully show off what its contestants have created in the challenges. Wayans' hyperactive and genuine demeanor sets the stage for the show, as well as why it's a worthwhile watch for comedy fans. And for TBS, it's another step in the right direction.