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Originally published Monday, November 30, 2009 at 7:01 PM

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Texas comic Sean Kent crowned king of Seattle International Comedy Competition

Texas native Sean Kent took first place at the 30th annual Seattle International Comedy Competition Nov. 29 at Seattle's Moore Theatre. Paul Hooper of Charlotte, N.C., placed second. Seattle's Travis Simmons took third; Miami's Jose Sarduy fourth; and Rodger Lizaola — also of Seattle — placed fifth.

Special to The Seattle Times

The first comic on stage was the last man standing in the final round of the 30th annual Seattle International Comedy Competition Nov. 29 at the Moore Theatre.

Texas native Sean Kent took home the top prize of $5,000, narrowly besting Paul Hooper of Charlotte, N.C. Seattle's Travis Simmons took third, Miami's Jose Sarduy fourth and Rodger Lizaola — also of Seattle — placed fifth.

The Nov. 29 show was the culmination of a marathon 23 shows in 26 days — in which 32 competitors were whittled down to five finalists.

A different panel of judges was at each of the shows, and cumulative scores determined who would walk away with the top honors.

But judges also announced winners for the Nov. 29 show alone, and in that tally, Hooper came in first, which was met with mixed crowd reaction. ("Is anyone surprised by that?" a girl in the back yelled.)

Hooper — self-described as a "5'6 surly turd" with OCD — rocketed through a series of rants, skewering religious hypocrisy, ignorance, stupidity, marriage and himself. With a deep, radio-talk-show voice and nonstop patter, Hooper was a mesmerizing, confident, hyper-intense showman.

But Kent had the most natural rapport with the crowd. He immediately won the audience over at the expense of Renton (the only place you can find a Wal-Mart around here, he said, launching into a series of jabs against the store). With his slurred Southern drawl and baseball cap, Kent played an easygoing everyman, riffing on cellphones, Twitter, Clinton, Bush and Obama. Nothing groundbreaking, but his clever social commentary wove into jokes that landed just about every time and made him a hard act to follow.

Simmons came in second, planting his jokes around pop-culture facts (Oprah's weight-loss theories, prostate-cancer prevention, men's birth-control pills) and threw in some laudable impressions: Darth Vader, Louis Armstrong, Bill Cosby. But his timing was just a tad off.

Cuban-born Sarduy may have coined a new catchphrase with his hilariously machismo-ed, "That's what I'm talking about." He came in strong with a series of jokes about being Cuban. But some of his family stories were just a bit cringe-worthy (I really didn't need to know about those suppositories).

Lizaola — distinctly short, bereted and mustachioed — followed Sarduy with more racial commentary (about his Mexican heritage), and played up some stereotypes (Asians, African Americans, women) that didn't always resonate with the audience.

The nearly full crowd did yell loud enough after all five comedians to earn each one an "encore point." (Host and former winner Kermet Apio judged enthusiasm.)

The night's official judges were Canadian comedian Will Davis, casting director Jodi Rothfield, Stranger associate editor David Schmader, actress Rebecca M. Davis and former KMTT DJ Marty Riemer. While they deliberated, comedians from local comedy collective People's Republic of Komedy performed an uncharacteristically lackluster set, bringing the night to a low-energy close.

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