From: Minneapolis Tribune

Date: October 1, 1982

Headline: Local Comedian Gets Last Laugh in Competition

Photo(s): Joel Hodgson [at microphone]

Author: Strickler, Jeff

When Joel Hodgson heard about some of the hotshot talent coming from as far away as Los Angeles to enter the Twin Cities comedy competition--people who had actually *been* on Johnny Carson's show, for heaven's sake, instead of just watching it--he pretty much gave up any idea he might have had of winning.

"I set my sights just on placing," he said. "Some of these guys have 10 times--literally--the experience I have."

An appearance on "The Tonight Show" might look impressive on a resume, but a comedian can't take a resume on stage with him. And when the comedians got on stage for the finals of the Twin Cities Comedy Invitational Sunday night, it was Hodgson, not the L.A. hotshots, who came away with the first-place prize.

"I was really surprised," Hodgson said this week. "In fact, when I first won the contest, I actually felt bad. Some of these guys have been doing this for 10 or 11 years. I've only been at it one. I felt kind of bad for them."

His surprise was heightened by the way things had gone in the semifinal round the week before. He had consistently lost to the hotshots in the six judged performances.

"Ed Fiala (from Los Angeles) got first every night but once," Hodgson said.

"In fact, I told him that he's the best comic I've ever seen. And I still think he is. I think his act didn't come off (in the finals) because he uses a lot of sound effects and we were in a big room where they were lost."

Fiala finished third behind Hodgson and local compatriot Jeff Cesario. A third Minnesotan, Alex Cole, was fourth in extremely close voting based on the comics' presentation, material and audience reaction.

"We're talking about six points spreading the top four comics," Hodgson said. "That's six points out of 300. That's pretty close."

The difference might have been determination. Before the hotshots arrived, Cesario jokingly referred to the local entrants as the "no-name division" of the competition.

"You do feel that you have something to prove," Cesario said after the competition. "You're out there gunning. You know these guys have had a lot of press. You want to say, 'Hey, it's time somebody noticed me, too.'"

There is a bit of irony to Hodgson's victory over the L.A. hotshots. Even as he was competing last week, he was packing his bags. He's moving next week--to Los Angeles.

"I had been planning to move for a long time," he said. "I had decided to move at the end of September. The contest didn't have anything to do with it. It just worked out that way."

Winning the contest certainly didn't hurt, of course. Besides the $500 prize, Hodgson probably will be able to parlay his championship into some club dates and/or cable TV appearances. But even if that falls through, the contest was good for one thing: It proved that he can hold his own against the West Coast's best. "Things have been happening really fast for me," said Hodgson, 22. "I've had some big breaks. Winning the contest certainly is one of them. But I don't believe there is such a thing as one big break that makes or breaks you. I think it's consistency--working hard for the little breaks and having them add up."

It's an old and hackneyed cliche, but one Hodgson believes in: He's serious about his comedy.

"A lot of times when I sit down with the other comics and try to talk theory, they say I'm being too serious," he said. "I spend a lot of time thinking about what I do and how it fits into the scheme of things. I won't do something just because it's funny. Everything I do in an act is to set up something else. There's a focus there, and I spend a lot of time thinking about that focus."

Hodgson had mused about the purpose of his comedy in an earlier conversation: "I don't want to make people laugh to forget; I want to make them laugh to remember. I want to do something that means something.

He will be performing at 8 and 10:30 tonight and Saturday night at the Comedy Gallery, upstairs at JR's 11th and LaSalle. While it is the last time he will play Minneapolis before he leaves, he is trying to keep it low-key.

"It's not a big farewell show," he said. "It's more like Joel Hodgson goes away."

Besides, the idea of a final good-by conflicts with his premise of comedy. "I don't think my comedy ends at the point of impact, when the audience laughs," he said. "That's just the start. I want people to remember (the message), to think about it."