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Tuesday, September 12

It's Not A Competition

A colleague in stand-up has remarked on a few occasions that stand-up comedy is not, by nature, a competition sport. I'm not sure I completely agree with that, in that it's probably the role of most performers to best capture the hearts and minds of their audience. Every performer would secretly like to be told that their performance was the best of the night. However, that's not actually what performing is about; it's the vanity of performers which leads to the need to feel like a winner after a good, or even a bad gig. However, for newer comedians, competitions are a way to get discovered in the comedy business. Back when I was starting out, I put myself in for various competitions, often just to get gigs. In some cases, I put myself in for a competition when I wasn't ready to do it. Maybe I would have advanced in a few more competitions had I waited. In some cases, I advanced in competitions a little way and managed to get myself some well-needed self-respect.

As I've progressed further through my comedy "career", I've started to feel like I've more to lose in competitions than I have to gain. I should be able to go onto stage among a bunch of new acts, the likes of which normally do competitions, and have a ripper of a gig. This is because I've been doing this for 3 and a half years and if I can't shine among a bunch of inexperienced newbies, then I have really and truly been wasting my time. Okay, so some newbies are so naturally good that they'll instantly be better than I'll ever be, but on average, I should be able to go out there and storm it in an average competition environment.

This is not a skill to be proud of. When I won the Laughing Horse first round heat earlier this year, I had a moment of elation followed by regret at my brashness - how could I be proud of looking better than a bunch of people doing, on average, their 6th gig?

Where perhaps, the prize might be worth the risk of looking a fool by not getting anywhere, entering a competition is an even more negative experience... for the fact that if I don't get anywhere, I feel an overwhelming sense of bitterness and regret. I felt very very angered when I wasn't taken into the BBC competition last year. On the strength of the gig I did, where the audience were eating out of the palm of my hand, I felt like I deserved a place in the competition. Perhaps what I did didn't stand out enough? Perhaps I'm not demographically interesting? Perhaps I'm still slightly bitter that a number of acts, whom I feel are inferior to me comedically, managed to get places, and also managed to tick demographic diversity boxes... and that, I'm afraid is why I shouldn't do competitions. They bring out the worst in me.

Today is a day of walking away from competitions.

I had been down to do the Budweiser Legends of Laughter competition, but I've decided to cancel because it would be mightily inconvenient to do the heat this week, with a holiday imminent, and I've really nothing much to gain or prove with this competition. So, I pulled out.

I had also put myself forward for a competition run by a comedy agency in the North West. The prize was, amusingly, representation by the agency, along with a mountain bike. Nice touch. Today I found out that I didn't make the shortlist of 24 from applications numbering 75. How the hell did they decide that? I'd love to know. I think I'm better off not involved in competitions full stop, as they simply infuriate me with what can only be described as arbitrary judgement criteria. The word "arbitrary" can mean random, but it has the same root as the word for "judgement" and can also mean "by specific choice". In other words, I don't like being judged as inferior by people's own specific judgement methods... why can't people think my way!? Because.

So, stuff the agency who decided I'm not good enough for their stupid competition. Do they know who I am!?... maybe they do... maybe that's the problem.

It's weird. I feel like I've put in the effort and achieved enough to be treated with more respect than I sometimes feel I receive. I've had 3 very successful shows in Edinburgh, the first of which was down to a lot of hard work by Chris and I. The second two were pure stand-up and a group effort, where I was considered to be pulling my weight, on stage and off. People like what I do and they laugh. Is that not enough?

Maybe.

Do you know who I am!?
I used that quote earlier in order to let me tell the story of an excellent heckle. Kirk Douglas's son was a stand-up comedian and was dying on his arse on stage one night. In fury and arrogance he attacked the crowd. "Do you know who I am!? I'm Kirk Douglas's Son!" to which someone in the crowd replied: "No, I'm Kirk Douglas's son" and people then followed suit with "I'm Kirk Douglas's son" and so on. Brilliant!

Like the Murphy's
I'm not as bitter as I'm making myself out to be. I recognise the bitterness that comedy competitions awakens in me and I'm not happy to experience it. By reality checks like this, I can pretty much wave it away and get on with my life. I do hate to see a door randomly closed in my face, which is, essentially, the most probable outcome of any sort of competition or judging process. In fact, being told I'm not good enough goes completely against my entire outlook on life. I don't want to be "not good enough". So, I should either steer cleer of competitions or go out there and win them.

I think I'll steer clear.

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