Most comics hate doing comedy competitions. There are many reasons for this.
- You are usually doing a 5-10 minute set, which is tough to really get a groove working.
- Some comics will stack the crowd with their friends who are told not to laugh at your stuff.
- Being quirky is a big benefit, as it makes you stand out. Same quirky comic for more than 20 minutes can be excruciating, though.
- It is not fun competing against your peers in such a direct way.
- Most important. There is only one winner. During a great comedy show, all 3 comics do well and it’s a great feeling. No matter how well you do at a comedy competition, you are still going to feel like a loser if your name isn’t announced at the end.
Just because they aren’t fun doesn’t mean that comedy competitions are a necessary evil, especially when you starting out. My friend, comic Mike Gardner, asked if I would judge a contest last night. I actually like to judge. As you can tell from reading my post here, I think I know my business well. An added bonus was that the winner would get a chance to open for Donnie Baker of the Bob and Tom Show. The guy who created the Donnie Baker character, Ron Sexton, has been a friend of mine for a long time, so since it was involving 2 friends, I was completely on-board.
I met Ron Sexton through a fellow standup comic, the late Todd Toney. Ron is one of the nicest people I’ve met in my time in standup. Ron is a great impressionist, as his voices like Morgan Freeman, Charles Barkley, and James Galdolfini on the Bob and Tom Show demonstrate. When I met him, he was the producer of the nationally syndicated FOX sports radio morning show hosted by Mark Patrick, which for awhile I did a weekly segment on the show. He had just started doing standup and I brought him on a couple gigs. He also did a lot of great voices on my first comedy CD, which had sketches in addition to the standup portion. A decade later, he no longer needs my help:) and I’m now judging contests where the prize is to open for him. Fortunately there is no jealousy there because Ron is a great guy and since his talents are not at all like mine, it’s almost like we aren’t even in the same profession. I have met plenty of people who have become big successes that are dickheads. Ron Sexton is the antithesis of this.
A little background on my comedy contest career is it has been a long time since I entered one. (well over a decade ago since my last) The first contest I was in was when Jay Leno took over the Tonight Show he had decided to have a nationwide contest. It was called the NBC Tonight Show Comedy Club Challenge and each major city had the competition. I had been doing comedy for about a year at this point, so I was just excited to be involved. My friend, the late, great Hank McGill won the Indy competition and ended being chosen the overall winner and ended up on the Tonight Show with Jay. This was still at a point when the Tonight Show had major sway, which elevated Hank to headliner status at some good clubs. Once again, no jealousy here because I wasn’t as good as Hank at this point and Hank was another one on the Top 10 nice guys I’ve met in the business list.
I don’t know how many other competitions I was in over the next 5 years but I’m guessing it was around 5. I never won any of them. I think at least 3 of them I should have won and I felt like shit after all 5 when I drove home. I’m not a festival-type comic, so I’ve never went to any of them. This might have hurt me, but I’m not totally sure that is the case, as I’ve had plenty of opening acts over the years who have comedy competition title belts in their intro. Like for most things, let me use a sexual analogy. Some people are a great fuck for 5 minutes. I don’t know if I’m ever great in bed, but I’m really good for 30 minutes. (that’s what she said.)
With all that said, I do think young comics should get in as many contests as they can, if they are struggling to get work. It might leave you hateful, afterward, but the more time you are on-stage in a high-pressure situation, the better it will make you. I’m not going to say it is the case for everyone, but the whole Malcolm Gladwell Outliers theory will generally make you better. For those of you that have no idea what I’m talking about, the theory is that 10,000 hours of doing anything is a key to success in your field. That’s why I’m a world-class masturbator. (that’s what me said.)
In tomorrow’s edition of Adventures in Comedy Fly-Over Country, I will discuss how I judge a comedy contest.