Unfair competition

Simon Caine hates new act contests decided by audiences

As I stand in the wings my heartbeat quickens. I know there’s only one more act before my turn, so I start to run over my lines one more time. I remember every gesture and joke - even the two new ones I wrote in that afternoon. Adding new material isn’t something I normally do for competitions, but this one is different. This one I know I am not going to win.

This isn’t a self-deprecating post about my material, it’s just this competition is based on an audience voting system.

This must have seemed like a good idea from the perspective of the organisers, who can get the competitors to do some of their promoting work for them, by urging friends to come down and cast their vote. Indeed, in the week leading up to the competition I was invited to no less than three Facebook events for other acts in my heat begging, pleading and almost pushing their friends to come down and ‘show some support’. What an interesting way of putting it.

I’ve been at open mic nights where the vast majority of the comedy audience is there to see one act and if they don’t like you, it’s not always a pleasant evening. But other times these gigs sometimes allow me to try out new – possibly rubbish – thoughts and ideas in a safe and friendly atmosphere.

However in a competition it should be about the promoters bringing in an audience you don't know to truly test who is funny. Or maybe I am being naive? I am after all a very new act.

In my head the point of a competition is to go head-to-head with another contender on what should be a level playing field. At a competition where the main reason you get through is because you bought the most people, comics like me just have to put it down to another ‘experience’ and enjoy the gig as best they can. As a point of principle I don’t bring friends to competitions ever. Even the ones that are judged by a panel.

For me, at this early stage of my comedy career I see a competition as a way to get in front of a real audience. I don’t go into them thinking ‘I’ll storm it’, I go in with the devil-may- care attitude that you only get as a newbie. The knowledge that if I make it through against more seasoned acts, that would be nice, but experience will win through, so I just intend to enjoying the gig.

The knowledge that the audience for a competition is effectively staged annoys me. Why even bother entering if you’re going to stack the deck? Surely when you enter a competition you should have a little bit of confidence in your performing ability and/or material? At least enough not to need to bring voters.

In hindsight this is one of the reasons I wouldn’t have wanted to win the competition. This isn’t me being bitter; this is a realisation that not all competitions are worth doing. When someone tells me they won a competition and I know it was judged on an audience vote there’s a little voice in the back of my mind that wonders if they got friends to attend. It sounds harsh because I’d like to think the most talented person would win, but as we all know it’s not always the funniest person who gets the glory in this industry. This is a shame, but an unavoidable consequence of allowing the audience to vote.

I try to learn something from every gig I do as it’s the only way I’ll progress and understand what makes a good comedian. I don’t really learn anything from a competition audience who are there only to mindlessly vote for their friends. I guess the only thing I learned was whose after a false win on their comedy CV, and who is actually after creating a career for themselves.

Published: 6 Oct 2011

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