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Duking it Out Over Laughs

Port City’s Top Comic
4/27, 9 p.m. doors; 9:30 show
Theatre NOW • 19 S. 10th St.
Tickets: $10-$12

Zack Burk is a finalist in the 2013 Port City Top Comic competition, taking place on the 27th at TheatreNOW.  Courtesy photo

Zack Burk is a finalist in the 2013 Port City Top Comic competition, taking place on the 27th at TheatreNOW. Courtesy photo

It all comes down to this, folks: after duking it out in the ring—err, stage—for almost a month now, a total of 30 comedians came to compete. On April 27th, only eight remain. The final competition in the annual Port City’s Top Comic will arrive on Saturday at downtown’s TheatreNOW. Another year’s winner will be crowned to become the 2013 Port City’s Top Comic.

A longstanding competition, going on six years now and founded by former local and comedian Matt Ward, Port City’s Top Comic offers a chance for up-and-coming comedians to gain recognition. The rest of us get to enjoy a lot of supremely funny people taking over local stages, like Nutt Street Comedy Room, which has hosted the competition over the past four weeks. Centered on a voting system that includes both the comedians and the audience, the folks moving onto the finals include: Cliff Cash (Wilmington), Steven Knows (Atlanta, GA), Zack Burk (Wilmington), Colton DeMonte (Wilmington), Louis Bishop (Wilmington), Steve Melia (Wilmington) and Eric Shouse (Greenville, NC), Lew Morgante (Wilmington). Though only eight remain, Ward says many of the contestants, some who’ve only been doing stand-up for a short period of time, have grown quickly into their comedic roles.

“Lew Morgante is more a self-deprecating comic, talking about messed-up things he does as a human combined with his love for overeating,” Ward explains. “Cliff Cash points out the placing in life where other humans make very ill-informed decisions and occasionally [he] goes into characters. Zack Burk is all about his swagger with a tiny bird-like stature; he is funny because the way he comes across onstage is in juxtaposition to how he appears.”

With such a booming scene having evolved in Wilmington, it’s getting easier and easier for these up and coming comedians to emerge and gain a following. According to Ward, they advanced to the finals becuase of their quick connection with the audience.“They made the crowd laugh the quickest and kept their attention through their whole set,” Ward says, “which allowed them to stand out among votes.”

Voting uses a “hodge-podge of different methods,” Ward says. In fact, comedians even vote for one another over self. “So they have to watch each other’s sets and have a big part in choosing the contests winner,” Ward says. Comedians who cast votes for their competitiors count three times as much as an audience member’s vote. The idea is to create balance. “No one want’s to be a part of a contest that is determined by who brings the most friends,” Ward says.

The winner will receive a cash prize of $250 and a trophy. Runners-up will even receive prize packages from local merchants and restaurants.

Ward himself stumbled into comedy almost accidentally. After performing and promoting bands and rock shows, he was pushed into the MC roll at a music festival he was attending.

“It was this hippie festival, where I often had to fill time between lagging bands, so I would start making jokes,” Ward remembers. “It caught on, so I started writing more and performed my first set at a party in February of 2006. I had always been a huge fan of stand-up, but never had the guts to try it.”

Ward now tours the East Coast doing stand-up. He admits Port City’s Top Comic offers as much of a networking opportunity for the comedians as it does bragging rights. After competing in a comedy contest in Myrtle Beach in 2007, Ward decided to bring the spirited fun to Wilmington. In April of 2008, the first show was held at The Mellow Mushroom. The original competition only held 12 comics.

Now as the competition has matured in age, the opportunities for comedians to show their schtick has never been higher. “We were national at one point,” Ward says, “but the comedy scene has grown so strong in the Southeast we don’t have to look far to fill our contest with amazing talent, especially in Wilmington.”

Port City’s Top Comic has kicked off many comedians’ careers including Matt White, who went on to win the Carolina’s Funniest Comic after winning Port City’s Top Comic last year. “Matt is a great improv comedian,” Ward adds. “He’s also become a strong stand-up comedian over the years and has performed at more Cape Fear Comedy Festivals than any other comic.”

Also included on the list is Jamie Ward, winner of the 2011 competition, who now does features for a chain of improv comedy clubs. “Of course, I can’t neglect to mention Timmy Sherrill,” Ward notes. “He won the original competition back in 2008 and he now owns [Wilmington’s] Nutt Street Comedy Room.”

Ward and Sherrill are working together to present the Cape Fear Comedy Festival next weekend, a non-competitive event, in which contestants from Port City’s Top Comic already are slated to perform. Inspired by the competition’s success the festival will continue expanding Wilmington’s rep on the comedy circuit (encore will have full coverage of the festival in the May 1st edition). However, as Port City Top Comic grows in popularity, who competes also will evolve. At least that’s what Ward would like to happen.

“I hope to see the contest involve more UNCW and CFCC students,” he says. “Also, we are running smaller rooms this year so the shows have been selling out really fast. Next year we hope to do the finals in a large theater.”

To attend the final competition, tickets can be bought at

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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