by Rachel Swan
Host Nato Green runs his Iron Comic competition like a well-oiled machine. Last night's event at San Francisco Punchline featured one visitor and four local favorites, with Sean Keane defending the title. The idea is simple: five comics compete for three rounds, doing extemporaneous material on whatever topics they are given. They're judged by a panel of — ahem — experts on wit, creativity, carriage, cadence, delivery, posture, and humor. The final two go head-to-head in a death match, in which the audience votes by applause. Then they have to answer questions about what's important to them and how they would change the world. (Just kidding, Green handles that part.) Last night's judge panel included San Francisco supervisor David Chiu, comedian Ali Wong, and yours truly. It was a night for bloodsport.
Iron Comic spawned from Green's enthusiasm for the equally combative cooking show, Iron Chef. He held the first iteration at a sports bar on Haight Street, where he had to move tables out of the way and strongarm the owner into turning his television off during the show. Keane and Chris Garcia both competed in that one and many subsequent versions. "Something happened," Green said. "It touched a nerve." He went on to compare the spontaneity of Iron Comic to a classic Blue Note jam session. In that case, Keane must be the heir to Lee Morgan or Miles Davis, because he's won like, four of them.
But not last night, baby! While Keane performed extremely well on rounds about passive aggressive behavior and nuns (he cornered the market on sexy Catholic jokes), he was trumped by Brendan Lynch and Emily Heller on the "zombies versus unicorns" round. To be fair, some people questioned the topicality of zombies and unicorns. One is a mythical animal, the other is a projection of social phobias. At one point, a handwritten note made the rounds in back: "Zombies + unicorns = white people problems." Lynch echoed that sentiment onstage. "Hey — did anyone notice that all of these topics are geared for white people?"
Nonetheless, last night's Iron Comic was riveting. Especially at the end, when Heller and Lynch sparred over fag hags, whiskey, flesh-eating bacteria, and teen pregnancy. In the end, Heller prevailed. Video below.