Unamused by the Moose
I have heard lots of comedians say: ‘I hate comedy competitions.’ Some have tried once and never again, some have just steered clear. However, at the age of 73 I have acquired a taste for the excitement and competitiveness. I’ve been doing stand up for six years since retiring, got through to the finals of quite a few, and beaten the Gong at the Comedy Store. So I thought it might be fun to go in for the annual Amused Moose competition to see if it had changed from 2011 when the entrants were allowed 30 seconds stage time each.
Those in the know told me that the promoter, Hils Jago, usually preferring young, skinny-jeaned male comedians and I had not a hope in hell. This was apparently confirmed at her extensive briefing to us at my qualifying heats when she said she only wanted people who would ‘still be around in 30 years’ time’.
I was staggered then, when before cock-crow the following day a breathless email arrived saying congratulations, I’d got through to the next round. However a few hours later I found out via Facebook that several extraordinarily talented young comedians, all women, had received the same email, only shortly to get another saying that the first one was a mistake. They then received a third one saying: ‘Just to clarify, you didn’t get through.’
So I assumed the same would happen to me. It didn’t, and in light of subsequent events I can only assume that there was an administrative error in failing to rectify the first administrative error.
On Sunday, I arrived for the next round, as asked, on the dot of 7pm. Most of the comedians were already seated in the theatre of Water Rats, and Hils Jago harried me: ‘Hurry up, Janet, come and sit down.’ There followed half an hour during which she berated us three times for not having brought paying customers (£10) to ‘support us’, and suggested we brought drinks and food.
The food would be brought in to us there – this was confusing as she went on to say we all had to be backstage standing in a tiny corridor throughout – even the acts in the second half. ‘But maybe you could sit right at the back,’ she conceded.
The insistence on buying food and drink the pub I guess must be to do with deal for getting the room. A year or so ago I did a fairly expensive improvisation course put on by her in a Clerkenwell pub which she was getting for nothing. She barged into the room just as the improv teacher was taking his first breath, waving a spreadsheet with our names down the side and ‘jacket potato with tuna’, etc, across the top. Filling this in as it was passed round took up the first half-hour.
Returning to last night’s gig, we were told to go quickly and buy drinks (all having been informed by email that bringing any food or drink into the premises would result in eviction). As I got up she called out in front of everyone “Don’t go rambling off, Janet!” I found this a fairly offensive and ageist remark.
In the tiny corridor backstage, which was already crammed with stored furniture and huge drum kits, were packed 14 people including a double act and the MC. It was rush hour on the Tube except more uncomfortable and for longer (two and a half hours) than most journeys. Hot too, as we were next to the kitchen. She had said that we could use the loo in the interval ‘if you really have to’.
I am disabled and walk with a stick, so decided to remember her suggestion ‘or perhaps at the back of the room’. Her assistants looked terrified when I suggested this. ‘We’ll have to ask Hils,’ – eventually I was given a folding chair right at the back.
There was plenty of room there, so, thinking of the others I approached Hils and said: ‘It’s like the Black Hole of Calcutta back there.’ She bluntly replied: ‘I don’t need this! You shouldn’t even be here! Go and sit down!”
The instant the second half was over, she shouted at me across the room: ‘Get up! Get up now! Go backstage and stay there!” even though there was a 15-minute interval to go.
The next hour and more was not fun – airless, stuffy, people crammed cheek-by-jowl, a bit like being a slave in a ship’s galley. At the end of the show we were all ordered out of there, to go and mingle with the audience with their after-show drinks – like caged puppies now let out on display.
If I’d been one of the three acts chosen to go through, would I have posted this? I like to think so. I don’t believe it’s right or necessary for people who are already feeling tense and nervous at varying levels to be put through such a gruelling experience.
Hils Jago’s response for Amused Moose:
It is perhaps very pertinent that Laughing Horse have stopped their competition, and other new comedian competitions have come and gone too. Plus many comedy spaces have been vanishing, and now rising business rates means this is going to get worse.
This situation is not made easier for comedy, by negative attitudes and criticisms of promoters and venues who are working hard to give time/space/opportunities to newish comedians to be seen by industry and make a career in comedy.
One initial comment is that its unlikely that any of the three acts who won through on Sunday would consider themselves ‘young skinny-jeaned male comedians’ – in fact two are women.
For the record, contestants are asked to stay backstage while the audience and industry aren't actually watching the show: from 15 minutes before the show until the voting cards are handed in (including 15 minutes during the interval), so that there is no question of any contestants influencing the voting (for good or bad) when offstage, but also so they can stay focussed by not being bothered by the audience.
On Sunday we apologised that the backstage area had a lot of band equipment in there from the previous night's music gig, with everything left in disarray.
That acts should stay separate from the audience had all been explained by email and laboured in the pre-show briefing, but Janet instead opted to seat herself at the back of the room before the door opened so then she was soon surrounded by audience.
With respect to both Amused Moose Comedy Awards, everyone in the audience votes, including an industry panel (on Sunday this included two respected comedy agents and someone from BBC comedy); Amused Moose Comedy does not veto or change voting outcomes. Industry votes are averaged, audience votes are averaged, and those averages are averaged. We believe this is as fair as its possible to make it, reflecting what could be the future interest of both the public and importantly industry too.
Janet was not in the top three who won a place in the semi-finals, despite me giving her a higher score than any industry voter, possibly because, being older too, I was more able to relate to her material.
Incidentally, some aspiring comedians have always griped about ‘pretty boy’ comedians doing well – they did that when Jimmy Carr and Alex Zane were in our first final, and probably also would have when Jack Whitehall broke through if he hadn't been hugely well-liked by everyone.
The competition has also showcased finalists and winners such as Nina Conti, Sarah Millican, Andrew Lawrence, Romesh Ranganathan, Alex Horne, Seann Walsh, Josh Widdicombe, Rob Beckett, Mark Watson, Gary Delaney, Lee Nelson, Greg Davies, Rhod Gilbert, Kevin Bridges and lots more ..... not many would consider themselves ‘pretty boys’.
Hils Jago, producer of Amused Moose Comedy Awards
Published: 8 Mar 2017