'Funniest Mom' Has Few Laugh Lines

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At one point during Nick at Nite's The Funniest Mom in America!, judge Malcolm Jamal-Warner asks a question that weighed on the mind of at least this reviewer.

“I've seen the commercials for the show, The Search for the Funniest Mom in America, and I thought, alright, how funny is this going to be?” said the actor best known as Theo Huxtable in ubiquitous 1980s sitcom The Cosby Show.

The good news is that this special that's one part American Idol and one part Evening at the Improv does, indeed, live up to expectations. The bad news: They weren't very high.

Funniest Mom is a nationwide contest in which 1,100 entrants are competing not just for that title, but for $50,000, a gig as host of a special night of Mother's Day-themed programming on Nick at Nite and a chance to develop an original show for the channel.

Nick at Nite winnowed down the videotape entries (some of which were screened during the hourlong special, and none of which rose above the level of America's Home Videos) and selected five finalists; all but one had prior experience as a professional comic.

They were then sent to New York, got a bit of training from stand-up Jeffrey Ross, and performed before Warner, veteran stand-up comedienne Carole Leifer and New York-based casting agent Jodi Collins. Another veteran comic, Sandra Bernhard (coming a long way toward the mainstream from her Late Night With David Letterman heyday), handles the hosting duties, but often seems like she'd rather be somewhere else.

And though our three judges sit alongside one another, Idol-style, most of their input is idle chatter. There's nary any negative feedback — contestants are complimented on their “positive energy” and stage presence, but the fact that some of the comics' material was markedly weaker wasn't part of the discussion.

As a result, you couldn't get a sense of where the judges were heading (and since the announcement of the winner was left off the review tape, it's still a secret to critics). All of the comics — New Yorkers Lynne Hurdle-Price and Nancy Witter; Christine Hurley of Plymouth, Mass.; LeAnne Morgan of Knoxville, Tenn.; and Darlene Westgor of Burnsville, Minn. — had their moments, but Westgor was the one who, for my money, offered the best total package of material and stage presence.

Whether the judges agree can be seen when The Funniest Mom In America! bows May 3 at 10 p.m. on Nick at Nite.