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In May 2003 Yamil took off for Hollywood with his girlfriend Darlene. During the next two-and-a-half years, his parents helped him a handful of times with his portion of the $1500-a-month rent for a two-bedroom. "Over there I'd go on a lot more auditions and a lot bigger stuff," he says of his tryouts for CSI, CSI: Miami, and sitcoms. At times he went on two auditions a week. Then there'd be a two-week gap of no work. "A lot of times, obviously, I would watch TV and play videos," he says. "Go to Target. Get groceries."
After Yamil and Darlene split in November 2006, he took the cat, Teela, and moved back in with his parents in Hialeah. Yamil wanted to break onto the Miami scene. He tried to score commercial work, with little success. But the videos he has posted on MySpace have attracted a following beyond his college and high school buddies. Yamil's most popular clip — in which he lip-syncs to an Eighties song while wearing a blond wig, a black wig, and dark stubble — has received more than 9000 views. "I get comments from Mexico and all over the world," he says.
He thought the July 11 gig might change his luck. In early May he sent a tape to Comedy Central, and scouts chose it from more than 700 submissions nationwide.
About 15 minutes before the 8:30 p.m. start, Yamil arrived in a black T-shirt with a gorilla printed on the front. He drew the number six slot. Then he introduced himself to Ángel Salazar, a 47-year-old comic who was sitting on a barstool and sucking a mojito. Salazar was the headliner for the weekend, but wasn't slated to perform with the amateurs that night. Yamil recognized him from his 1983 role as Chi Chi in Scarface. Piedra gave a quick rundown of his resumé.
"Cool, man, cool," the senior comic responded. "I always tell young comics ... 'It can't be a plan B. There's no plan C. It's got to be plan A.' Now give me some coke and I'll tell you more."
Then Yamil introduced himself to Shaw, who has had moderate success on the local comedy scene. Shaw looked spent after finishing his routine for the judges. "I kinda recognized you," the comedian said before ordering a drink.
Next Yamil, cool and detached, did his routine. He made fun of the voices in American movies translated into Spanish.
"Why do kids always sound like Mickey Mouse?" he said, sending his deep voice up an octave. "Oye, papá, vamos a comer una hamburguesa."
He took a sip of water.
Yamil ended the set with his potentially offensive bit "gay lips" — puckering up in a way he says can make anyone look gay, even if he is boxing, fishing, doing karate or pulling a truck with a chain.
Shortly after 11:00 p.m., the judges announced Na'im Lynn, the dude in a Captain America shirt from Philadelphia, as the winner.
Yamil's pals and parents surrounded him, waiting to hug him as if they were in a mourner's line at a funeral. "It was probably one of the best performances I've given," Yamil said. "I was shocked I didn't get at least runnerup, but you never know about these things."
Anne Harris, a Comedy Central judge, said he scored high in delivery but lower in material and originality. "Yamil was a strong contender," she said.
Fellow comics say he needs to grow.
Finally Miami Improv owner Harte was asked her opinion.
"Umm, off the record?"
"I'd like something for publication."
"He was really funny, [but] he lost me only onstage when he said, 'Okay, now, I know I won this thing,'" Harte said. "He could go to the B-rooms and just work on his material.
"He's no Al Jackson or Malik."
Jackson, age 30, is an ex-seventh-grade North Miami Beach teacher who moved to New York City eight months ago to hit the scene harder. He began doing stand-up at an Irish bar in Hollywood, Florida, four years ago and recently finished shooting Live at Gotham for Comedy Central. He has never heard of Yamil. "If you're in Miami and I've never heard of you, you're not doing comedy," Jackson says. "If I've never heard of you, you're not doing enough.... Tell Yamil just stay on the ground and get out more."
But Yamil's slow run could be changing. A week after the Comedy Central contest, the Miami Improv called him to appear in a 30-minute slot in Salazar's "Sheck It Out" Latin Comedy night. "It's going to be pretty big for me. Hopefully it will bring more work."