Comedy Contests

Christmas is now well and truly over, the formerly bedecked trees have been demolished by the city chippers, the embarrassing gifts secretly returned and “Roll up the Rim” is just on the horizon. So, it would seem that contest time is upon us. Because beyond the highly anticipated Tim Hortons-palooza, this is time of year when all the comedy contests start in earnest.

I’m really torn when it comes to these things. Do I try out/apply? Do I give it a pass? My gut, really, is to just keep walking when these things open up. They seem like a very scary thing. Not to mention potentially mortifying. It’s bad enough to have a poor set, but to do it in front of my peers and actual JUDGES who are taking notes and keeping score…I shudder. Yet, yet…to do well under the same circumstances is very tempting.

Comedy contests are strange beasts, to be sure. First, you have to consider the motivation of the person/organization putting it on. Usually, it’s for their own promotion, increase ratings, to put bums in seats etc. It’s rarely about the elevation of stand up or about “finding the next hi-larious comic”. They provide their own judge/judges (fair enough). And the judging is often based on some list of points which isn’t generally shared with the participants. Or in some cases, the audience votes, either by secret ballot or by clapping. Both methods are flawed, obviously. With one judge or more, depending on their credentials, they may look at an act in a different way to Joe Public. Audience voting can be heavily skewed by the presence of friends and family of a particular comic. And ultimately (and most importantly), as we all know, comedy is subjective, no matter how the voting is conducted.

Then you have to think about what you, the comic, could get out this. The obvious answer would be the “prize”, whatever that is in any particular contest. Sometimes money, a trip, a title, etc. But there’s only one of those. So, for most comics, I think the real temptation is the profile-raising. They’ll be seen. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll get more work out of it. Plus, if you do relatively well, it can be added to your credits.

I must confess that I have participated in a few contests. I tend to lose by one or two points every time. Probably the most gratifying for me was making it to the Q-107 “Funniest Person with a Day Job” semi-finals last fall and losing by one point (of course). I lost to a very funny, talented guy, but was frustrated to have done a solid set and come so close and not won. That, and I coulda walked away with a 37” flat screen and sound system. But the upside was that tons of people heard me perform live on the radio (the contest is part of a quite popular morning show). I got a lot of positive feedback, so felt the whole venture was worthwhile.

On the flipside, the worst one was a show in Dublin. We were over visiting and I was keen to do a set over there. Pre-booked the show via the magic of the internet, but didn’t realize it was a contest set-up. Arrived on the night, brought a few friends who had never seen me perform, and had a great set. Good times. But then, they had the audience decide who they liked best. It ended up being a tie between me and a young Irish guy. Yay! A tie! But no, they couldn’t leave it at that. They had to call us both up for a (mortifying) “clap-off”. I swear to God I thought as I stood there a bucket of pigs blood would drop from the ceiling all over my prom dress. In the end, they gave it to the kid. No biggie, but damn that was embarrassing.

So will I keep trying? I’ve already put my name in the hat for the “Stand Up/Throw Down” contest at one of the rooms here in Toronto. A friend of mine runs that show and it sounds like fun. The “Great Canadian Laugh Off” at Yuks is taking applications. I don’t think I’ll try out for that one. Primarily because I’m not a Yuks comic and really find it hard to believe they would have someone do well/win whose not on their roster (which I understand, it’s their contest, after all).

And of course, the Grand Poobah of comedy contests, “Last Comic Standing” will be auditioning here in February. Network television! L.A.! You potentially could have millions of people see you! Whether they see you do well or in a “holy crap who are these deluded people” montage, or (more likely) not at all, well, that’s unclear. So, I’m undecided about that one. Should I stand in line for hours on a cold February morning or just take the kids to school as usual? I just don’t know. But I suspect you’ll see me at 6am in a queue on Richmond Street clutching my Timmy’s and praying to win a donut at the very least.

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