Hosting (but not competing in) a Comedy Contest: Still a Little Bit Frustrating
This weekend I hosted a few shows as part of the Laughing Devil Festival in New York City. I gave up a few years ago on entering comedy contests/festivals because a) I never won and b) no matter how often I said to myself, “Hey, just meet other comedians, have good shows and don’t worry about the contest component,” I would inevitably advance a round or two, which would kick in the competitive juices, just setting up disappointment and “but how did he/she advance based on that set?” sort of attitudes. I have enough to be hostile, bitter or angry about with comedy without volunteering for more punishment. But that said, I will gladly get paid to host shows at comedy contests, which is what I did Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. And yet I still found myself angry, but for other comedians who did not advance.
Wednesday and Thursday shows were quarterfinal rounds of the contest at Broadway Comedy Club. The crowds were full and the sets were mostly excellent (everyone was doing five minutes sets so they should be excellent or close to). In Wednesday’s lineup there was a comic from San Francisco who had a terrific set (Kevin Whittinghill), probably my favorite of the show, but he was discussing being divorced and as I heard my laughter getting louder and louder I realized I had given this comic the kiss of death. If I am enjoying a comedian too much it can mean that the performer has a perspective and tone that may appeal to people with life experience and/or people over the age of 26 who did not arrive in NYC with fanny packs and I Love NY shirts (stop saying “I heart” assholes). But wishing partial handicaps on the future child of your ex wife who is marrying the man with whom she cheated on you is funny, dark and not something you hear every day from the stage. Another line I enjoyed (as the comedian mocked modern positivity) was “YOLO, right? You know what YOLO is? It is from a Drake song and it means you only live once so you might as well write a terrible song.” I knew the comedian would not advance though. I just had a feeling and I was right. Not taking anything away from the other comedians, but five advanced and I was really disappointed Whittinghill not deemed top five. I don’t know if he has any great material after the five minutes I saw and after conversations with him he has not been doing comedy for that long, but seeing a comedian get semi-screwed in a contest started to bring up feelings of my own comedy contest trauma.
Sidebar – I am so tired of the catering the industry is doing to “millennials.” When I was a teen and a young adult I did not need someone who looked like me to tell me jokes, or someone with the same empty thoughts to spout them back at me – I wanted Carlin, Rock, Girlado, etc to tell me their world view, to share their perspective because it was funnier and more interesting than what my friends and I were joking about. But now in the age of “You’re the best” marketing and people walking into you while texting and tweeting on crowded streets because of their inflated sense of Sun-Revolves-Around-Me syndrome, people want to just give people what they want and what makes them think about themselves. Hence why Comedy Central is always asking “How do bros feel about this comedian?”
The next night I was hosting again and the lineup was even stronger overall than the Wednesday show. Several people got huge laughs, but the comedian I thought had the best set of the night (Matt Ruby) did not advance. I have known Ruby for a long time and I was familiar with most of his material, but his set was the best overall – crisp, funny, consistent throughout – like a very strong late night television set. So for the second night in a row I ended up leaving the contest disappointed that my favorite set each night did not even advance. I felt like a Vegas cooler – as soon as I endorsed or rallied around a comedian their chances immediately tanked.
The Semi-Finals on Saturday, which I hosted, took place not at Broadway Comedy Club, but at LOL Comedy Club, which takes place in a 5th floor room of a building on 43rd Street and appears to be the place where they will film Saw 8. The competition was great, but for the 3rd straight show I left frustrated. The two best sets of the night were rewarded with 1st and 2nd so that was all good (and I believe the person who won the semi-final round I hosted, Drew Michael, went on to win the whole contest and that certainly seemed like a worthy outcome), but two sets I thought were more than deserving of appearances in the finals (Mike Trainor and Jacob Williams) did not move on (this is not to disparage those that advanced or didn’t, but without a horse in the race I was surprised to see a comedian I had ranked 11th out of 12 based on that night’s sets advance to the finals).
So I must say the level of frustration was slightly diminished by not competing and seeing that the winner had delivered strong sets, but this week also showed that I can still get frustrated at seeing other people get semi-screwed over. I don’t know if this means I am more empathetic than people give me credit for or if I am just angrier at comedy than even I realize. Or maybe it is both.
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