“It’s a lot of pressure on us to pick somebody,” says Allyson Jaffe. “There’s so many talented comedians here, how do you pick just one?” The deadline for the Lucky 21, an American Idol–style comedy contest in Las Vegas, was looming, and the manager of the DC Improv, along with general manager John Johnson, had to pick someone to represent the District against 20 other comics from across the country.

So they called a guy in L.A.

D.C. native Todd Rexx has been performing stand-up for 13 years, starting with Thursday open mics at the now-defunct Comedy Cafe on K Street NW. Now on the Left Coast, Rexx still has family in the area, and for Jaffe and Johnson, that was close enough.

“Todd’s been in it for a long time, and he’s a local boy, and people love him,” Jaffe says. “People know him when you say his name in this area, so we said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

The winner of the Lucky 21 would go on to the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo.—“the real big one” in the comedy world, says Rexx. It’s a few days before the Vegas event, and Rexx is in Silver Spring visiting family. “A lot of people who go to Aspen leave with holding deals or development deals…just by being there you’re going to get some looks from people who can do things for you. So, it’s a good place to be. I’m looking for the same thing out of Vegas, too.”

As he planned to leave, Rexx was still considering how to hone his character-based stories down to the seven minutes he’d be allotted in Vegas. “The stories are funny all the way through, but it builds,” he explains. “I gotta find out…a way to cut a lot of the fat from my stories. Because I’ll probably only be able to do one story.”

Rexx’s real focus will be on presenting himself as “a marketable thing.”

“You can be funny, as funny as you want to be, but if you’re not saying anything, nobody knows what to do with you as far as television or film,” he says. “But if you have a point of view or an angle, they can say, ‘OK, I can put him into this situation.’”

The Lucky 21 comes at a crucial time in the 37-year-old comedian’s career. “Once you’re 10-plus years in this business, you only have a certain amount of years to make it,” says Jaffe. “Once you hit 30, 35, you really don’t have that much more time. It’s like an athlete, once you hit your prime, you’re out.” Much of Rexx’s competition in Vegas wouldn’t be facing the same deadline. “A lot of these newer guys that have only been it for two years,” Jaffe says. “They’ll have more opportunity.”

Ten days after the show, Rexx is still waiting for the phone to ring. “Haven’t heard anything one way or another,” he says from L.A. “They didn’t even approach anyone afterward to say, ‘OK, this is how it’s gonna work.’ They didn’t explain any rules to us. The way we heard it was that the audience was gonna judge. But nobody got judged.”

The 21 comics were split into three groups of seven, each performing twice, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 17 and 18. But Friday became an “industry show,” explains Jaffe, “where supposed bigwigs—supposed in quotation marks, you know—some management from whatever company, and then supposedly someone from VH1 was there. I don’t know if they were or not, but the table had a sign with executive on it.”

The bigwigs left without comment, and there was no audience vote the next night. At press time, PR representatives weren’t able to confirm who actually won the Lucky 21. All Rexx got was free accommodations and a “nice little spread” in the comics’ lounge.

Rexx feels that had there been a vote, “I probably would have been selected to go. Not to blow my own horn. The second night I was really on point.”—Dave Nuttycombe