Michelle Tomko didn't win nothing.
And that's not a grammar error. It's a correction, a statement that there's no truth in the title of a show that stars Tomko - a standup comic who lives in Galloway Township - Thursday and Friday nights at Pro Bar AC, in Resorts Casino Hotel.
"My show's name is, 'Michelle Tomko: I Won Nothing,'" she explain-ed, through a laugh. "I basically won a whole bunch of work putting this show together."
But the truth is that in an 11-week talent contest, called Pro Bar Finds A Star, Tomko did win first prize - a two-night stand as headliner at the popular club, the only GLBT bar in an Atlantic City casino.
So after 20 years of open-mike nights and "bringer shows" - shows in which the aspiring comics have to bring a posse of drink-buying friends along with them, or the comics don't go on - Tomko will at least and at last get to be the star of a show.
She has gotten lots of help with "I Won Nothing" from the cast of the long-running Resorts show, "Divas Do AC." That show is produced by Mark Dahl, who's also producing Tomko's show, and it features a bunch of female impersonators playing such stars as Dolly Parton, Joan Rivers and Jennifer Lopez.
"I have a whole professional band of drag queens helping me out, so it's pretty interesting," says Tomko, who describes her headlining gig as "a little gay 'Tonight Show,' with song parodies and standup" - among other attractions.
When she's not chasing her comedy dream, Tomko does what brought her to Atlantic City five years ago: She plays poker well enough that it pays her bills. And yes, she does play the comedy card as she plays her cards.
"I always try to make (her table neighbors) laugh, be friends with them - I think it saves you money in the end," she said. "I want them to be nice to me and not raise me."
Dahl, the producer, saw Tomko grow and improve through the talent contest, which eliminated one act per week, "American Idol" style
"The first week, Michelle was at the bottom - she bombed," Dahl says. "But the judges gave her a lot of critiques and she came back strong the next week and continued to dominate the competition."
He describes her as a cross between a "Saturday Night Live" comic and a classic TV star, Carol Burnett.
"Michelle can be sweet and tender one minute - and then she can just rip your guts out with some nasty remark," Dahl said. "That's why we love her."
Tomko, who had fun at a recent photo shoot with the divas - they dressed her up as a drag queen too - says she's also turning her contest win into some comedy connections.
"Slowly but surely," she says, hopefully, "I'm going to be an overnight success - after 20 years."
Contact Martin DeAngelis:
If You Go
"Michelle Tomko: I Won Nothing"
11 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Pro Bar AC in Resorts Casino Hotel, 1133 Boardwalk, Atlantic City. Admission is $5.