Standup Citizens

Jimmy Danelli with reigning Funniest Person Reggie Walker.
Charles Gabrean

The Valley is teeming with unsung comedic talent, like the huckster satirists who staked "Vote Mormon" signs next to Matt Salmon's gubernatorial street corner ads and "Vote Gay" next to Janet Napolitano's. All these anonymous jolly-makers and piss-takers oughta be lining up to compete in the Funniest Person in the Valley competition, which kicks off this Wednesday at the Tempe Improv.

Veteran comedian Jimmy Danelli conceived the idea after relocating from Los Angeles and finding the Valley bare of venues for young comedians. "All the stage time in the world is what every comic needs," he says. Now in its sixth installment, the Funniest Person in the Valley promises both jowl-flapping humor and frighteningly droll bombs -- from your next-door neighbor, perhaps.

Audience members get to vote on the contestants' merits at each performance except the finals, when a celebrity panel of judges decides the title-holder. The contest has drawn attention from the humor illuminati, with agents and network honchos showing up as celebrity judges.

As a bonus incentive, you may be witnessing the next late-night talk show king in the making. Danelli, who grew up two blocks from the Burbank studio where Johnny Carson's Tonight Show was filmed and spent his formative years in the studio audience, is negotiating with Los Angeles management types for his own late-night entry. Appropriately, Danelli kicks off each installment of the Funniest Person contest with a Carson-style monologue. "There's times I'll write jokes that I throw out," Danelli says, "and I'll listen to Jay's show and he'll be doing the same joke. I know that that joke would bomb on the Improv stage, but when you're Jay Leno, people forgive your material much easier."


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