Root for the Stars

A comedian, a poet and a clown walk into a bar. Stop us if you've heard this one . . .

Tony Vicich, a comedy coach with the Tempe Improv, is banking on the chance that you haven't. And there is no punch line: The quirky combination of characters is the premise of "Star Seekers," the Improv's latest entertainment venture.

A throwback to old-time amateur hours like Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and The Gong Show, "Star Seekers" will weed through hordes of wanna-be celebrities over the next nine weeks in hopes of digging out a few candidates worthy of stardom.

Unlike the Improv's previous contests, "Star Seekers" doesn't merely focus on those with a knack for comedy. This equal-opportunity showcase includes various categories -- singing, slam poetry, standup, sketch and improv groups and, possibly, "novelty act."

"There are people in this town who are incredibly committed to their craft of comedy," says Vicich, who concocted the idea for "Star Seekers" with Improv owner Dan Mer. "We thought, if we have those people, maybe we should bring up other artists, like singers and spoken-word people."

As for what the "novelty act" category encompasses, Vicich says that, for now, "anything goes."

"It's sort of like the Supreme Court's definition of obscenity," he says. "You just know it when you see it."

Six weeks of preliminary rounds start this Wednesday, when local judges evaluate the talents of two to four contestants per category. Two weeks of semifinals follow, and then a finals week, when one budding star from each category wins a minimum prize of $500. The Improv hosted two auditions for "Star Seekers" earlier this year, but there's still time to earn a spot onstage. Prospective stars need simply call the Improv and request an audition.

"If they've ever had a dream of making it, they shouldn't be afraid to at least make a phone call," insists Vicich. "We're not guaranteeing anything, but we'll listen."