Hey, It’s Another Comedy Contest…I Lost

There are few things in comedy that are more soul-sucking than simply doing stand-comedy itself, but a comedy contest actually finds a way to top it. Come on out, it’s a comedy contest! To a comic that means it’s time to drag your friends down to the club, make them watch 15-comedians, force them to buy two drinks, and then ask them to vote without nepotism for their favorite comedian who has a chance at winning prize money!

If you have any belief that these people are going to vote for anybody but their buddy in the #1 spot and the worst comic on the show in the #2 spot then you still have optimism left in your life, my friend. This outcome will never change. First of all, it would violate the friend-to-friend silent agreement that the comedian had with their friend on the way into the show. And secondly, if the comedian wins the prize money then he can help pay the tab he forced his friends to rack up under these staunch, captive, conditions.

I understand the point of a comedy contest from the booking point of view. It’s a great way to get comics to promote the show (something we are usually horrible at) and fill the room full of energy, all the while, keeping the audience engaged. I accept that, respect that, and feel that if we as comedians are able to perform in front of people because of somebody else’s promotion then it’s our duty to shut our mouth and do the show.

The reason that I hate doing comedy contests is due to the self-fulfilling, egotistical bullshit that goes on in a comedian’s head once these contests start. You see, on any other show at any other time of the year, I am rooting for all of the comics to do well as the better show we put on for the audience the more likely it is that the audience will return and we as comedians will return. If somebody was to talk shit to one of my fellow comedians or about my fellow comedians, I would defend the comedian in a heartbeat and use the “us against them” mindset to drive me in this situation. This completely reverses once a contest starts. Now it’s the comedians against the comedians and it strips out every reason I got into this business to begin with. I started doing comedy because I loved making people laugh and allowing them to focus on anything but their problems for a little while. I also became a comedian because I didn’t overly fit in within too many social circles growing up and I finally found a home where I was allowed to be “myself” and be accepted. Now, at a contest, instead of putting the audience first, I am focusing on how the other comics are doing and trying to run the math in my head to see if I did better and/or secretly hoping they don’t do as well. It’s not even a conscious choice…deep down, I want the other comics to do well, but once the “competition” starts and I feel that I am being judged and compared to others versus living or dying on my own, then all of my insecurities come back and I don’t feel accepted again. Now all I want to do is just get the fuck out of there and forget that I ever even got myself into this situation.

Showbusiness is competitive, getting booked is competitive, climbing the ranks is competitive, but that is all done behind the scenes. The live shows are not competitive by nature, that is until we throw in a gimmick like a “contest” and then all of a sudden we all turn into exhibits at Sea World, just doing our tricks for the proverbial fish.

After a regular comedy show the comics come together and shake each other’s hand and say “great job” and we look to step away from the “show” and go back to being normal individuals for a little bit. However, the audience doesn’t always want to allow this and they will often come up to one comedian who is directly within earshot of the other comedian and they will say stuff like “you were better than the other guy” or “you should’ve been headlining, you were funnier“. There is no need to do this – we aren’t competing with each other, we just wanted it to be a good show. There seems to be this incessant need to rank everything, review everything, give a rotten tomato score, a thumbs up, or a “like“. Sometimes it’s ok to appreciate one thing without having to knock something else or somebody else in the wake of it. Comedy is not a contest, it’s a subjective variable at best. You show up because you want to laugh, we show up because we want to make you laugh. I understand there is a bit of a puppet-show going on here, that’s what I signed up for. But when I’m rooting for the other puppet’s strings to get cut during the show versus dancing for the audience together then all the purity of this amazing art has been lost.

I’ve come to the conclusion that comedy contests are not for me. I don’t enjoy them, I don’t embrace them, and I end up despising myself for despising others throughout the process. That’s not why I got into comedy and that’s not what I intend to be a part of going forward. And for those wondering where this all came from…I just did a comedy contest last week…and lost. I’m also fairly sure that if I “won” my attitude about it would be different, which is even more of a reason why I hate it and I shouldn’t do it.

In conclusion – this is all my thing and my issue. I don’t have any issue with comics who do the contest, clubs who run contests, and any of the big competitions that are out there. They just personally ruin me and turn me into someone I don’t want to be. No thanks, I’m not interested in becoming “that guy“.

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