On his deathbed, renowned Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw is said to have remarked, "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."
If it's not already, that should be the motto of the NBC reality series "Last Comic Standing," which has served up a lot of angst along with the laughs.
After the first season of the stand-up comedy competition was a big hit in the summer of 2003, NBC returned with a second go-round the next summer. Unfortunately for the peacock, comedy judges Drew Carey and Brett Butler questioned the integrity of the top-10 selection process during filming.
Soon after season two ended in August 2004, NBC hustled a quickly assembled, shortened season three onto the air that fall, pitting also-rans from the first two seasons against one another. It was not a success, causing NBC to ax the show before the finale, which aired on Comedy Central.
But showing faith in the concept, NBC has brought "Last Comic Standing" back, with former judge Anthony Clark ("Yes, Dear") replacing Jay Mohr as host, and returning the show to summer, with the premiere scheduled for Tuesday, May 30.
Along with its other ups and downs, "Last Comic Standing" has yet to make a superstar out of any of its top finishers, beginning with original winner Dat Phan.
"Dat Phan had a little heat there for a bit," Clark says. "[Season two winner] John Heffron, I think he's doing clubs now. But there is no Kelly Clarkson."
After doing movies, Broadway and six seasons of "Yes, Dear" (executive produced by "My Name Is Earl" creator Greg Garcia) for CBS, Clark was ready for something new.
"It's fun for me to do 'Last Comic Standing,'" he says, "because it actually makes me sit down at a desk again, read the newspaper, get some jokes.
"It's going back to my roots, how I got started with the stand-up comedy routine in New York and Boston."
As for this year's contestants, Clark says, "They're good. Out of the (original) 40, I'd say 38 of them were great. I only saw maybe two people tank it out of 40, so I'm happy. They're all new. America does not know about these people.
"None of them are open-mikers. They've all done it for four or five years, going through the comedy-club circuit all over America. But no one in the final five is a household name by any means. But they're really, really funny."
One could ask, if they're so funny, why aren't they already successful? Clark doesn't have an answer.
"For some reason," he says, "a lot of these comics get passed over. I think it's the luck of the draw sometimes.
"They say 10 percent of the actors make 90 percent of the money. There's no middle class to this career. You either make it or you don't.
"I've had friends out here for 10 or 15 years who still don't have an agency. It's hard. I would never push my children into this career, but at the same time, I'm from the mountains of Virginia, from a trailer park, and look what happened."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times