I’ve seen a lot of fantastic acts that would have been gonged or booed off by an average audience almost immediately, and almost as many mediocre or offensive ones who’d have been thoroughly welcomed.
Yeah. I think it’s particularly strange for alternative comedy to say “let’s allow the audience to decide”, because that is not what alternative comedy’s all about.
Lots of audiences don’t care if you’ve stolen jokes, they don’t care if your stuff is a bit racist, they don’t care about your politics. But in the 80s, a bunch of comics decided that they knew better than audiences. That the best way to revolutionise standup comedy, and make it an art and a movement, was to self-impose rules.
You’ll hear some people say things like “funny’s funny”, and “if the audience laughs, who cares what anyone else thinks?” Don’t trust those people. They are probably bigoted Tory joke thieves.
Some competition runners are well-meaning, I should say. But even the nice promoters, when it’s an audience thing, I’m immediately suspicious. There’s a nice one in [REDACTED] which I did a couple of years ago, and the promoter really does seem to want to give new acts a boost. But … why doesn’t he just pick his favourite acts? Why go through this system at all?
It seems like the audience element is what’s important to him. The audience can confirm which act best combines competence with likeability. The system’s better than most competitions as well, with each audience member choosing their favourite, second, and third favourite acts. Points are added up like in Eurovision.
A friend of mine won a heat a couple of weeks ago. He got the most points. However, he wasn’t the act who got the most “first place” votes - he merely managed more points. He won by being everyone’s second choice. Like what they say about Coldplay; nobody’s favourite, but successful nonetheless.
And that sums up competitions. The act who got the most “first place” votes was too contentious to be awarded the victory. And I’m suspicious of the reasoning there, because that act was a woman.
Women-only competitions, or Asian-only competitions, etc etc.
Although everything I’ve said still applies, these do have one major advantage on the scene, which is that they bring together acts who are likely to experience similar difficulties on the scene.
It’s harder to do comedy if you’re not a straight white able-bodied man in his 30s with a sensible haircut and a sharp suit. The more you deviate from the pattern, the harder it becomes.
But the beauty of standup is that anyone can do it (in princple, anyway - the hardest thing is being able to afford to gig enough to get good). I know acts with speech impediments, with mild and even severe cerebral palsy, one who’s literally unable to speak (and performs with a speaking computer).
People going through similar difficulties benefit massively from meeting similar acts, I think. I know some of my female friends have made lifelong friendships at these kinds of gigs. So, yeah, those are great.
Just a shame they’re competitions.