In the last decade we’ve seen shows like Last Comic Standing, America’s Got Talent and Star Search butcher the idea of comedy competitions. A lot of their finalists are predetermined and they often only allowed for two-minute sets. In 2003 I drove five hours for a 90-second audition and got nothing. For this reason, I say don’t waste your time with television competitions. They’re meant for the more experienced professionals. However, a local comedy contest can benefit your early career. I’ll admit, they’re never 100% fair but then again, this is show business so that’s appropriate. Get used to it.
In Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage I describe all of the pros and cons of a contest and how to handle certain situations (like following the freak, the first-timer who eats it, or the high energy guy who kills it). I also describe how the order of comics influences judging and give special tips on what to do to increase your chances of winning.
My free advice this week has to do with why you should enter. Don’t enter to win the contest, but instead, enter because you’ll get a chance to perform your set in front of a hot crowd. Too many comics post youtube clips of themselves in front of less than ten people. That’s not something you want to share. If you must have a clip, film on competition nights when you’ll have a crowd of laughs instead of individual chuckles.
Obviously you want to bring as many people as possible to watch you. There’s no secret in that strategy. St. Louis Funnybone manager Matt Behrens stated that judges can see when only someone’s friends are laughing for them. However, when a group of people laugh it gets the whole crowd laughing and that momentum makes anyone seem funnier. Club managers take notice of these sets a lot more than open mic night.
My warning to the comedy community is this…just like yourself, don’t take a competition too seriously. Feelings are going to be hurt and someone who you think isn’t as funny as you is going to place higher. It’s really the luck of the draw and how many friends you can get to show up. In 2006, I went from winning the semi-finals (I had about 15 people in the crowd) to placing 5th out of 6 in the finals (I had one in the crowd). So if you’re going to be too proud to try and stack the crowd, don’t whine later on when you don’t win. It’s also important to remember that the results of the contests are not going to make or break your career. In another month no one will care who placed ahead of whom.
(I write this entry also to help promote the St. Louis Funnybone contest which starts in May.)
Bring people, record it, stay under your time limit, and read my book for many other tips!