“It’s time for a comic to win AGT. It really is,” stand-up comedian (and former Last Comic Standing champ) Josh Blue declared before performing on the America’s Got Talent Season 16 finals Tuesday night. And while it was a very competitive final showdown — with powerhouse performances by vocalists Jimmie Herrod, Victory Brinker, and Brooke Simpson, and a tour de force by teen aerialist Aidan Bryant that had the usually unimpressed Simon Cowell standing on his desk, Dead Poets Society-style — Josh may very well get his wish. After all, last week, judge Howie Mandel actually declared 2021 “the year of Josh Blue.”
But even though Josh’s final routine about Botox and cerebral palsy was hilarious and (as Simon put it) “naughtier” than ever, Josh still may not make history on Wednesday’s finale as first comic to ever win AGT’s grand prize of $1 million and a Vegas revue. That honor could instead go to another comedian, his fellow finalist Gina Brillon, whose wry observations about married life inspired Howie to spontaneously pay tribute to a legendary comic who’d died earlier in the day.
“I just want to say this, because I need to,” Howie told Gina. “One of the greats of comedy passed today. Norm Macdonald passed today, and it broke my heart. Seeing you and Josh on the show today brings us back and lets us know that laughter is still alive, and that laughter is the best medicine. So, thank you for being here. Thank you for being you.”
Former Last Comic Standing judge and Saturday Night Live alumnus Norm Macdonald — who died Tuesday at age 61 after a nine-year secret battle with cancer — and Howie were colleagues who’d long admired each other’s work. The two Canadian comics ran in the same circles and also shared concerns about stand-up comedy becoming too safe and politically correct in recent years. On Tuesday afternoon, as the news of Macdonald’s death broke during the taping of Howie’s Howie Mandel Does Stuff podcast with Anthony Jeselnik, a shocked Howie praised Norm’s “uncomfortable” brand of comedy and declared that he was “heartbroken.”
“It really is a gut punch. And I’ll be totally honest with you, it is a gut punch that kind of brought my mood down,” Howie said on the podcast. “To not know that he was sick, I feel like I would have wanted to be there for him, at least. But maybe that was his choice [to not go public with his illness]. … We love you, Norm. We love your comedy. He was a good human being. He was somebody that I think we’re all gonna miss.”
While it remains to be seen if either Gina or Josh can follow in Norm Macdonald’s footsteps and one day rank among the greatest comedians of all time, they both clearly want to win AGT and have that once-in-a-lifetime chance to springboard their careers in Las Vegas. “Winning means to me making history. That’s what wins means — it’s a win for comics, for Latinas, for moms, and for everybody that has a dream bigger than they can imagine,” proclaimed Gina.
And Josh, who has cerebral palsy, discussed how much he had sacrificed to compete this year. “I can’t really see me doing anything else besides this, but because of the way my body moves, it’s breaking down faster than a normal body would,” he confessed. “And I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure once you reach your forties, things don’t get better. Right now I am in the worst pain of my life. It brings tears to my eyes. My brain is going: ‘Warning, warning! You are hurting yourself!’ But I realize it’s not going to get better by letting it beat you. When I’m onstage, it really does feel like love is surrounding me. I feel like I can win over the physical pain. … All this pain has led to this moment.”
The winner of America’s Got Talent Season 16 will be crowned on Wednesday evening’s two-hour finale.
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