I've just seen 140 new comedians... it was largely excruciating | Roland Muldoon despairs at the predictability of most hopefuls © Tony G / Creative Commons

I've just seen 140 new comedians... it was largely excruciating

Roland Muldoon despairs at the predictability of most hopefuls

Now we have chosen the 15 acts for the Bloomsbury Theatre NATY (New Act Of The Year) showcase, I have to own up that the auditions were a gruelling, often dispiriting, six-week task. While there is enough new talent to ensure a quality event on January, I must say that many of the acts that auditioned were, to put it politely, way off the mark: inexperienced, often corny and excruciatingly predictable.

Week after week the judges shook their collective heads, pondering the questions: 'What's going wrong? Why are so many entrants lacking in stage presence?'

One theory is that, as the live comedy circuit is shrinking, the quality circuit acts fill up the available slots. Consequently, there's little or no room for newcomers to gain valuable experience at the remaining established venues. Non-paying, free entry, open mike venues attract hopeful participants who seem to encourage each other to believe that their low, under-exposed routines are good enough, and that all they need is a leg up so they, far too soon, join the queues at the talent shows; ill prepared but ready 'to be discovered'

Could it be that the low levels set by TV panel shows, where the idea of live performance is eschewed, that this all-too lacklustre phenomena encourages those who find themselves 'witty' to have a shot at fame, without enough (or any) exposure to the experience of 'real' audiences?

Our annual NATYs once depended solely on recommendation from existing clubs who, it now seems, are drying up as a reliable source. So, this year we increasingly scrutinised You Tube clips, but these often fail to give the full picture, as a 'good' night at a small venue can mislead and show a distorted response.

And so we auditioned, over six weeks, more than 140 acts. As I said, many were sadly sub-standard. However, the good news is that we still had a number of quality acts to choose a Bloomsbury Theatre 'bill' from, and this year's bill is top form.

I have been asked 'If things are getting so bad, why bother at all?' To which the answer must be that, otherwise, what has for over thirty years, become the most dynamic, modern, popular and cultural art form will wither on the vine if it doesn't encourage new talent.

In the years that I have been involved I have witnessed so many ups and downs; from the underground alternative cabaret beginnings, to the rise of the super agents, who secured long running, exclusive TV contracts for their stables (often from a dynamic small club circuit) to filmed stadium shows, where we see pertinent commentary to cuddly family friendly TV regulars. Where the BBC lets the contradiction pass them by, when they proclaim themselves as 'The Home of Radio Comedy' when they are the ONLY radio comedy.

Is it now top heavy? Safe? A vehicle for stars that drags the genre away from its roots? The problem seems to me is, what has become cheap for TV and radio to churn out, endangers the really live comedy experience. They are happy to scoop up a few acts without consideration to how they got there. So, by not supporting a live, independent comedy circuit and its encouragement of new talent in the art of comedy, we will kill the goose.

We can point also to the ever-improving quality of a large number of acts who, over the years, show that their comic professionalism keeps the live circuit happening. I regularly host outer London shows that are packed and at which we also introduce new talent. The answer must be to re-promote the live comedy club experience and secure the economic viability of the established acts, whilst encouraging new talent by drawing attention to the creative value of live performance.

The NATYS is resolved to continue to encourage new talent through the good, and the not so good, times.

• See those acts that did pass Roland's critical eye at the NATYs final at the Bloomsbury Theatre on January 25, hosted by Arthur Smith. Tickets.

Published: 6 Jan 2015

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