In this week’s post, let’s discuss something that I went through recently, A comedy competition. Comedy competitions are a popular thing. From small ones where only people in the immediate area will participate in all the way to huge ones like the San Francisco Comedy Competition. I have a love/hate relationship with comedy competitions. I like the fact that there are prizes to be had, and exposure if it is a big one, but I also hate how nervous they make me. I like that you can meet new comics from all over, but I hate having to be judge on something that I feel is subjective.
The only really big comedy competition I have participated in was the Seattle Comedy Competition and I didn’t get into the first round. I have however participated in and won several smaller competitions and the more I adhere to my personal philosophy about such things the better I have become in them.
A lot of people hate comedy competitions because they can be easily rigged or it can funnel out a lot of competitors with it’s rules. Like for instance, on the newest season of Last Comic Standing on NBC, a lot of people complained (or voice their opinion) that it isn’t much of a competition if only people with agents get to be on the show. I think this is an instance where the creators looked at previous seasons and decided that instead of having a ton of random people who think they are funny, and do it American Idol style where you come into a room and do their thing, to just have an already filtered product. Comics with agents must be funny because if they weren’t no one would represent them (that is the thinking). So now you have what is on TV this summer.
This is one of my big thoughts on competitions. I don’t worry about that stuff. I don’t worry about who is running it or the cogs that make it work, or if the person running the competition is only letting people in that like to wear funny hats. If I think the competition is fishy in anyway I just don’t do it. That is why I don’t do competitions where I have to pay to get in. My feeling on having to pay a submission fee is the same as paying someone to work for them. I am already performing for at the very least free, so I should not have to pay to maybe get the chance to perform for free. Especially if you have sponsors and are charging at the door.
When I do enter a competition I figure out how it is gonna be judged. I have seen it where everyone in the audience judge, a few random audience members judge, and a panel of comics/random people do the judging. There is always a time limit and if there is a panel it is usually graded with stuff like stage presence and the like. I often find that the audience judging is the easiest because you just go up and make the people laugh. You don’t have to worry about what someone thinks is a clever joke or if standing in one spot is considered stage presence. You just do your thing. If you have comics judging then that can be harder because they have an idea of what a joke is or what stage presence is and I often find that those are the ones that people get heated about. Think about it like this. Someone that does the same thing as you is judging you. If they grade you poorly, a lot of people would take that as them not being a good comedian. If it is a really fishy competition, you could even have collusion where some or all of the judges have already decided who they are going to give high marks to. I don’t worry about that. I just worry about the things they say they are grading on and I go.
A lot of competitions have rules for the type of jokes that can be done. Like the Valleyfest competition that is held in Spokane Valley Washington is a PG competition where curse words and more R rated material are not welcome. So then what I do is all the stuff that I do that is anywhere near the edge I don’t do and I do a set that I could do on TV. There was a competition last year where it was R rated. Where all the dirty stuff went. I just turned up the content of the jokes, not necessarily the curse words and I was successful in that. If you have a question about the joke you are doing you should probably not do it. I have seen people that have not won money because they did a dirty joke at a clean joke competition thinking that because they took out the bad words that makes the joke clean.
I want to make something clear. I am not a competition type comic. I don’t go out and seek them. They make me nervous and make my stomach hurt and I hate having to put my butt on toilets that are not mine. I am a comic that likes to do comedy and those little things above work for me. I adopted them right after I tried my hand in the Seattle Comedy Competition. I drove to Seattle and sat in my car for two hours and went up on stage and did my jokes and I wasn’t comfortable and I didn’t get into the competition. I learned a very valuable lesson from that experience. I put way to much into the Seattle Comedy Competition. I sold my iPad to finance the trip over! I was super nervous because I wanted to get in so bad and it was my belief that If I got in that would validate me and mean something to my career as a comic. The thing is I found out about not getting in while driving over to the midwest to do a week of shows. That means that I am already doing what most comics want to do. I get paid to tell jokes. A competition is not going to make you a comic only you and hard work are going to do that.