Only one will win in the end, and each comic hopes he takes home the grand prize, but for now they are trying to rally civic pride to help them advance to the next round.

"Our main goal would be to get one, if not all, of us into the finals of this competition so that we can represent San Diego at the finals in a live performance in Texas," said Encinitas resident Mark Gonzalez, one of the five comics.

Gonzalez said the team is "'Survivor'-esque," a reference to the TV show "Survivor," where competitors form alliances to compete against others. "Comedy is a really competitive business," Gonzalez said. "You really don't want another comic to be better than you, because they'll get more stage time."

The national competition began Jan. 8 with categories for pop, rock, rhythm and blues, country and hip-hop, but no San Diego County performers are competing in those fields. One winner in each category will take home a $10,000 prize.

In the comedy competition, 100 comics, who submitted video clips of their material to the online competition. Viewers voted for their favorites during the first elimination round. Twenty-five are left, including the five from San Diego County: Gonzalez, Aaron Hughes of La Jolla, Erik Knowles of Poway, and Stuart Swanson and Quartez Wynn, both of Oceanside.

The latest round of comedy voting began Saturday and will end Friday with 10 contestants remaining. Those winners will be flown to Austin, Texas, for a live Webcast competition that will narrow the field to five. Those five then will compete in a final Webcast competition in Austin, with one claiming a $10,000 prize.

Fans can vote at or at, a Web site the five created to gather votes for themselves. "It's kind of selfish, or it's genuis," Hughes said about the self-promotion. "We are an anomaly in that we're working together. Usually, it's every man for himself." Getting attention, whether for the contest or a career in general, is a crucial part of the business, the comics said. "There's lots of politics in comedy, man," Wynn said. "Being funny is just half of it."

Gonzalez also said there's more to success than just performing. "A lot of people don't make it because they don't know self-promotion is part of the business. They think people will just show up because you're funny. But you have to put your face out there and tell people where you're going to be performing."

The local comics might perform as many as five nights a week at the Comedy Store in La Jolla, the Comedy Palace in Clairemont, the Comedy Co-op in Sorrento Valley or other clubs. None are at the level of national tours just yet, but they have driven hours to perform six minutes of material in Orange County and Los Angeles.

The clips on show the comics each performing original material, which often is drawn from their personal lives or inspired by their observations of life.

"What's in the local news?" Swanson says in his routine. "Linda Vista woman mugged in her driveway. Man stabbed in neck in Linda Vista fight. Sailor dies in car crash on Linda Vista freeway. And here's some breaking news: Stuart Swanson not living in Linda Vista."

Hughes, a systems engineer for Qualcomm, joked about how he gathers comedy material throughout the day with a voice recorder.

"But what happens when it accidentally goes off at work?" Hughes said. "You know, at a big technical engineer meeting, all of a sudden I shift in my chair ---- 'What's up with airplane food?'"

Gonzalez often draws material from growing up in a Latino neighborhood. At one time, he said he asked his mother whether he was adopted.

"She says, 'Look around, fool. You're like everyone else in this house. You're an accident.'"

Wynn, who is black, joked about diversity in his material.

"There's some things white people know, black people know, and Mexicans don't know," he said. "A chicken is not a pet.

"There are some things white people know, Mexicans know, blacks do not know," he continued. "Teeth do not need to be accessorized."

All of the comics have day jobs for now. Knowles, a former Marine, is a helicopter mechanic on North Island and sometimes finds material from his days in the service.

"I was the kind of guy who they said was going to grow up to be a comedian, and I said, 'Oh, right.'" he said. "I gave it a try to get them off my back."

Like most comics, Knowles first stepped on stage at an open-mic night with three minutes of material.

"They laughed at my first joke, and I was hooked right there," he said.

Swanson said he has been funny his whole life, but wasn't inspired to do comedy until one night at a dinner party where everybody was laughing at his jokes.

"I thought, 'I should go up on stage and do that,'" he said.

Hughes had tried comedy some years ago and set it aside after a particularly bad night. After earning an engineering degree and finding a good job, he returned to comedy last year and is much more comfortable performing, knowing he has secure work offstage.

Wynn said he was inspired to try comedy because he believed he was funnier than most comics he saw on Comedy Central.

"After all these years, one day I decided to go down there and take a crack at it," he said. While some new comics perform at open-mic nights for two years, Wynn was invited to do regular shows at the Comedy Store after 11 weeks.

"Comedy is a passionate thing," he said. "If you're good at it, it really comes kind of easy once you get past the stage fright. It's the greatest job in the world, to be honest with you. You get to say whatever you want. The only rule is, it has to be funny."

Contact staff writer Gary Warth at (760) 740-5410 or