How to Survive a Comedy Competition

Comedy competitions are weird beasts.  You are asking people to evaluate you as a comedian on criteria that is totally subjective.  What one person thinks is a funny joke, another person may see as a stinker.  Competitions can be stressful and pit you against people you thought you liked.  It can also bring out the best…or worst in people.  I will help you survive this upcoming competition season.

I think it is important to know, going into a competition, that losing doesn’t mean you are not funny, or a comedian, it just means through the process of elimination, you were not good enough to defeat people who were also being judged subjectively. Another thing that you MUST NOT do, is walk into a competition already counting the money.  This is putting the cart before the horse!  You still have the actually competition to go through, and you have already put yourself in such a corner.  Don’t think about the money or the prizes just yet.  Think about your performance.

A lot of people think there are prime spots in the line up that can increase your chances of winning.  I am here to tell you that is false.  Going first is not a death sentence and going up last doesn’t mean you are perceived to be the headliner.  It all depends on the comedian.  In competitions I have participated in, I have gone first many times and I have won, and lost.  It has nothing to do with your order and how the audience or judges perceive your order in the show.  It has more to do with how the audience and judges are feeling.  Did the show start on time?  Did the host do a decent set? Is it hot or cold in the building?  These have more to do with how a judge will perceive you then the order in which you are.  If anything, going first would be a great advantage.  You are the first comedian so you set the tone.  If you come out and light a fire under the audiences’ ass, then that can play with the rest of the comedians’ heads.   Going up last can have the opposite!  What if all the other comedians have done really well and now you go last?  There is no way to tell, so don’t worry yourself about the order.

Competitions are graded in different areas.  Some just leave it up to who’s friends can yell the loudest.  Some just pick random audience members and then others like to use a panel to do the judging.  I have personally competed in all of these types and I will tell you that the one that is the least scientific (for lack of a better word) is the audience response.  It is hard to judge who got more noise slung after their name was read.  I have seen people so butt hurt over this and I can see being competitive, but it isn’t worth it.  Just bring more friends next time.  Random audience members come next and they are better than just yelling, but not by much.  You don’t know if the person that was given the task of judging has ever been to a comedy show before.  This type of judging can be most influenced by biases.  The best type of judging in my opinion is the panel.  These people have usually been briefed on how to judge and because they are there to do that, they have a tendency to take it seriously.  When you just leave it to any old audience member, they may have gone out to smoke, or they have a tiny bladder meaning they miss parts of the show.  There are variants of all of these. Like some competitions have all the audience members judge.  This is better because the odds are better that a comedian hasn’t filled the ENTIRE room with just their friends or family.

Comedy competitions should be fun!  There is money or work at stake, but you should be walking into it thinking of what it can teach you about yourself as a comedian.  Do you go over time a lot? Well, competitions will cure that right up! Do you have jokes with way too many words in them?  That will disappear soon!  Do you spend the first 30 seconds asking the audience how they are doing? You will see how redundant that is at a competition.  Some comedians are not built for competitions.  Do you tell big epic stories?  It is tougher for you because you’re stuck on one thing for the entire allotted time. Do you have a dryer sense of humor?  That is tough because it may take awhile to get them accustomed to your way of joke slinging. If you are a nervous Nancy (sorry Nancy) and it takes awhile to shed that when you are up there, then competitions will only magnify this.  These are just my opinions from what I have witness.  There are exceptions to everything.

I can not end an article (or blog post if you must) about comedy competitions and not talk about some things.  If you are thinking that the best way to advance your career is to do competitions, then you will soon see that it is not.  They can be expensive and time consuming, and there is only a payout to a select few.  I performed in both the Seattle and San Francisco comedy competitions, placing 6th and 7th respectively.  All told, I spent about three grand and received about two grand in prize money.  I was able to afford it, not everyone can. Don’t go broke thinking that winning a comedy competition will put you in a spot to make more money.  That is all up to you as a person.  Some of the best comedians in the world apply to these competitions, and you have to be aware that you may end up on the losing end more times than not.  That’s even if you get accepted.  Competitions are looking for the best, but they are also looking to create a great show for people to see.  If you have been doing it four years, understand that it is harder to get in than someone that has been doing it ten and has done other competitions, and has a lot of credits to their name.

Have fun and be nice to all the competitors.  These guys are you competition today, but may be a booker tomorrow.

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