Everyone loves a good laugh. That's what you're guaranteed to experience when you hear JUSTIN N. FENNELL. (That's “fin” + “nail”) Don't say his name too quick or it sounds like just an infidel!
It’s yarn-spinning stories, props, audience participation, funny music and stand-up comedy. The best part of it is that all of his material is clean and appropriate. Fennell says, “you know, it just doesn't have to be filthy to be funny.” His performances are rated “E” for everyone!
Fennell’s professional experience includes working as the Director of Institutional Advancement of a private college in Florida and serving as an Associate Pastor. He has toured professionally for over 20 years as a humorist speaking primarily to non-profit Christ-centered organizations.
A note from Joby Saad:
Comedians from all over the U.S. traveled to Bryant Indiana. (Amish Country) to compete for the title of Clean Comedy Challenge Winner 2013. Bear Creek Farms, touting itself as a Country Resort hosted the event, which has been launched and developed, by comedy veteran Leslie Norris Townsend who knows too well the Triumph’s and heartache of National Televised Comedy Competitions with her rise to fame as the runner up in the most popular television talent show “Star Search” in the mid 90’s. This experience has been her driving force in understanding and creating what a National competition can become, and mean to her and others.
In the end, it came down to four finalists, each representing a particular style and strength. It was a difficult decision for me as a judge.
We were all in search of the perfect joke. Listening to a lot of comedians is not something I would prefer to do, as a stand up of 20 years working the circuit people are always telling me jokes and are disappointed that I don’t laugh. My standard response has become “sorry, I haven’t laughed since 97”. Which can get me a laugh, a smile, and out of the awkwardness of having to explain, what most can not understand unless you’re a comedian.
Our finalists for the contest came down to C.J. Harlow from Kentucky, John Floyd from North Carolina, Charlene Mae from Georgia and Andy Beningo from Michigan.
What I find most interesting is each comedian represented a different style and mastery. Any of the four could have won, it came down to who could continued to impress with each round.
There were many other stand out performances as well, I will post more about them in a later post.
C.J. Harlow had a set that was tough to beat, very confident onstage and smart, funny jokes with a mild southern drawl and consistent each night.
Andy Beningo was the newcomer to the contest with about as much likability as you can have onstage, very sincere, …you could trust this guy. He looks like a young Mel Blanc and infectious smile, easily made the audience laugh. You knew instantly he was funny.
John Floyd I would say had a very strong set with his southern drawl that to me was reminiscent of Jeff Foxworthy with equally funny material. Much of what he did onstage connected with the audience strongly. Not surprising he won the audience vote on our second night of preliminaries.
Charlene Mae originally from GA and now living in Los Angeles reveals a deep vulnerability to her comedy in an endearing fashion that brings the audience to her, making us feel close, like we know her. She got some big laughs which in the end proved that her style was the one the Judges liked the best. She acts somewhat embarrassed, somewhat awkward but in a relatable charming fashion. Big laughs coming from her character of the scorned wife, and jokes of how people miss -label her as a cute kid but she’s really not. H. She has a fresh-
ness to her material that makes it seem spontanious and funny.Charlene mae is destined to get her own sit-com and Her style rose to the top to make her, The Clean Comedy Challenge Champion 2013! We congratulate her and wish her success.
Waking up each day in Bryant Indiana I enjoyed the sounds of horses and wagons clattering by in my comfy hotel bed.
I answered my hotel room door to be greeted by two young Amish girls who smiled and asked if I wanted my room cleaned? I asked them some questions about making there own clothes and would they want to make me a funny costume? Quickly I sensed the conversation had gone too long for them. Not for me, being smiled at by amish girls is eqivilent to being flashed.
Celebrity Judges included Justin Fennel, known from touring with the gospel legend Bill Gaithers tour and multi-album comedy song recording artist, Leslie Norris Townsend, Challenge Director, founder and Star search Grand Finalist and Star of the Christian comedy special ‘Comedy Angels”. The big non dairy cheese himself Eddie Brill from multiple Letterman appearances as well as the warm up comedian for the Letterman show, and all around comedy booker. Lastly myself, recognized by my many tv appearaces, stage shows and Jim Varney, if he was still with us.
The first night Clayburn Cox hosted the show, the 2011 Clean Comedy Challenge Winner and set the tone for creative one liners, almost a combination of Tommy Smothers and Steven Wright. Clayburn is a great comic and a genuine guy who teaches High School students by day, I think it molds his comedy into a youthful spirit. Many stand out performances, everyone was excited to get the first night behind them, it was Andy Beningo who walked away with the audience vote award.
The second night tensions were high with a older crowd and Letterman favorite, Talent booker, Eddie Brill in attendance. I did a set that night and quickly abandoned my brilliant Letterman set plan for a old routine where I make lots of cow puns to try to prevent the Bear Creek Farm audience from completely exiting the theater. It worked, however in my mind I forfeited my television deal.
It was John Floyd from North Carolina who took the audience award with his smooth confidence and solid style that has earned him a great living from many cruise ship lines including Carnival.
Eddie Brill closed out the show with clever material that easily connected with the audience as well as the comics. My favorite routine was his observations of T.V. Newscasters who offer an apology as to why the regular news anchor is not present and how it relates to other professions. Very funny routines and there are very few talent bookers in his position who have actually done and succeeded in stand up.
What I like about the Clean comedy audience is they have been told, and know it’s suppose to be a clean show so they do not respond with uproarious laughter if a comic skirts close to sexual innuendo or blue material. You may do it but you won’t gain points.
The Challenge puts clean Christian comics against edgier club comics and club comics out of their comfort zones to maintain the clean and funny.
Thursday during the day Eddie and myself offered critiques and lessons in developing material and approaching talent bookers that I found invaluable. One of my favorite moments of the challenge was during Eddie Brill’s workshop demonstration of creating material he pointed to Justin Fennell, to challenge him to make his material more authentic by making it more of a conversation. Justin began one of his routines about “backsliders”…. church term that confused Eddie…Justin had to explain it meant people who “sinned” which elicited a slightly awkward response.
I thought it was unintentionally hilarious knowing Eddie, who is against organized religion and Justin who performs most of his gigs in churches, a devoted and most accomplished Christian comedian, (Gaither tour, Top selling Christian recording artist) the discussion created an interesting dynamic to see these two go at it.
I personally learned a lot through hearing Eddie’s observations, such as coming from a place of knowing to set up your jokes.
The last night of the competition.
Everyone was feeling the pressure; I hosted the evening trying to squeeze in a few jabs while keeping the show moving. It was a much better, happier crowd on the night of the finals. I found them to be very easy and giving………I had one joke miss-fire so I made the excuse that I was attempting to venture outside the boundries of clean and that saved me.
Jimmy McHugh from the “Chicago comedy All- Stars Tour” Flew in and offered a comedy workshop on his life in stand up how to go about becoming a working comedian. Jimmy joined us Friday night and performed his set, winning over the crowd with his routine of taking up a collection and hitting people in the head with the church offering basket.
I inadvertently announced Charlene Mae to the stage instead of Dan Brown. Ironically the same thing had happened to Charlene the night before?
The finalist were announced and all did another 7 mins on stage.-
Charlene had been last years Audience vote favorite winner and has been doing the L.A. Contest circuit a lot and it shows. Her style is more Character driven exposing her vulnerabilities and leading me to assume many of her best laughs were absorbed
C.J Harlow had a very strong set, as well as the previous nights. Andy Beningo had almost as strong of a set I would say but Andy added a thank you to all the Judges which I thought was a nice touch.
John Floyd maintained his position in the finals with a great set who would have contended with another audience vote that night according to comments I overheard from others.
Personally I had four favorites that could have won, but now we had to decide.
Clayburn Cox took the stage and made everyone forget about the contest with great one liners like “ I got struck by lightning bug”, while the Judges deliberated outside in the parking lot. I ran outside to meet with the judges Leslie, Eddie Brill, Justin Fennel anticipating a lengthy argument: as it had been the previous years. It was not. It was not difficult to my surprise; everyone was pretty much in agreement.
I was very proud to be a part of this year’s competition because the talent and competition gets better and better each year. The Winners were Andy Beningo from Michigan, who took the best newcomer trophy and the overall winner was Charlene Mae Prunier from Georgia, now living and working in Los Angeles. It was her more revealing and organic style that prevailed and gave her the win. She is able to maintain her femininity while being very funny. Proving Jerry Lewis wrong
The Saturday night most of the comics had left but myself, Justin Fennell and ex FBI agent,comic book writer, Earl Music, Michelle Krajecki, Leslie Norris Townsend , and I went to see what a packed auditorium looks like with Comedy Legend Rich Little onstage.
We met with Rich Little’s touring management team and asked if we could meet him which seemed doubtful but they did tell us that there were taking the show to NYC Broadway after this. The show began with a recap of Rich Little’s career highlights reel with Dean Martin, Jimmy Stuart, Bob Hope, basically anybody who is anybody Rich Little came out onstage impersonating Jimmy Stuart. I was impressed with the physicality he added to his impressions. He took us through the Golden era of movies with Jimmy Stuart, Carry Grant, Cagney, Bogart, Kirk Douglas, and many more. It was his Ronald Regan impression and physicality that caught me off guard and made me laugh. He did a couple of penis jokes that prompted us comics to look at each other as if to say’” Hey, what the…”. He told us that all of his celebrity impersonations have died except for three.
At the end he took questions from the audience and for some reason the comics looked at me to ask him a question so I shouted as loud as I could “What was it like to shoot the Love boat?” ……No response. He quickly took someone else’s question. I asked again….” What was being on the LOVEBOAT like? Nothing. Was the Love boat….He would not answer me? So Leslie Joined in “ Mr. Little! She shouted in her squeaky high voice that everyone could hear.
Nothing. He responded to anyone else he could.
Leslie shouts- Mr. Little! MR LITTLE!!! MR Little!!! Getting Louder…. -Excuse me……
At this point I lost it. I started laughing …uncontrollably…. like it was 1997.I have not laughed that hard since High School. Leslie is very funny and I don’t think Rich wanted to tango with Leslie, myself or any of our group. Justin Fennel say’s he couldn’t hear us? He heard everyone else? Maybe so.
I never laugh like that anymore? I guess it was the culmination of combined camaraderie among friends, laughing with the comics at what the audiences would and would not laugh at? Why am I laughing? Is a feeling I had almost forgotten. It seemed like the perfect ending to all that had gone on. Funny is Funny!
See you next year.
Chili has headlined clubs, casinos, colleges and corporate shows for 20+ years. Besides being a former staff writer for the 'Tonight Show with Jay Leno', he's also been a creative consultant on CMT's 'Mabe in America' show. Also finds time to be a favorite on the nationally syndicated 'Bob and Tom' radio show and NPR's "Conversations with Creative Minds" program. He currently builds his schedule around teaching stand up to private students and regular classes at the Comedy Showcase in Ann Arbor, MI. (see www.aacomedy.com) And holds regular comedy writing and performance workshops at Walter Payton's Roundhouse in Chicago.
Featured on CNN’s Business Unusual, and a writer for Jay Leno for the last two decades, Frank King has been entertaining (and on occasion, educating) convention attendees on the corporate comedy speaking circuit since 1985.
He was a quarter-finalist on Star Search.... he lost to a puppet. He's also appeared on An Evening at the Improv, Showtime's Comedy Club Network, and starred in an episode of Bananas on PAX TV.
He's opened up for a number of well known entertainers - among them, Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White, Bill Engval, Adam Sandler, and Jerry Seinfeld.