“The idea that art has to have a “best of” category destroys the entire concept.”
Stand up comedy, though it may appear as a toy marketed towards 18-49 year old males, is an art form. Though referencing the most recent Academy Awards Ceremony, brilliant comedian Kyle Kinane points out above that art cannot and should not be compartmentalized into a contest.
Art relies on subjectivity and perspective and as such, there is no 100% universal answer as to what is funny or even more specifically who is the Funniest Person that Bothered to Come to Long Beach on a Random Wednesday Night. Thus, comedy contests, on principle, do not really decide who is legitimately the funniest comedian. On any given night, pros can get heckled into a verbal clash of barbs and insults and open mic’ers can kill because every room is different every night with an ever changing audience. Part of the art form of stand up comedy comes into play in this respect as the artist in the stand up comedian can and will not be funny to everyone. There are plenty of people that don’t get Richard Pryor, think Bill Hicks is just a sad angry lonely man, and think Larry the Cable Guy is just the funniest damn thing that they ever done saw. With the vast range of taste especially when it comes to what makes people laugh, most comedy contests deciding who is the funniest is inherently faulty.
This is only the first problem.
If there was a random audience that didn’t come for any specific comedian, a contest might start to be a somewhat fair gauge, but that is an unfortunate possibility in the way comedy shows are produced and promoted. All comedy contests are put together mostly as a money making venture and along those lines are set-up to award those that bring the most people to the show without too much regard of how funny they really are.
Now, before I continue, this isn’t an espousal of “sour grapes” at losing at every comedy competition that I’ve entered, but this is rather a breakdown of why a swarm of comedians try to do their punchiest 3-7 minutes amidst a two hour show is an utter waste of time.
In mid November of 2010, I was in a comedy contest where I was competing for $75 and a spot at the Main Room of the Comedy Store by performing the best 3 minutes I could put together. About a week before the show, I was notified that one of the stars of the reality show “Pit Boss” was partaking in the competition and subsequently was going to be filmed so her participation could be cut into an episode. Because she was being filmed for the reality show, she brought her friends, family, crew members, producers, and so on and so forth. Basically, SHE BROUGHT MORE HALF THAN THE ROOM. At this point, the competition is absolutely rigged as there is no way that anyone else could possibly “be funnier” than the person that more than half the audience came for. On top of that, this reality star is a “little person”. That’s right, the show “Pit Boss” is about “little people” standing well below 5 feet tall who rescue pit bulls. If there is a way to get more sympathy on your side as a performer, I’d like to know because it doesn’t exist.
Admittedly, I had a so-so set, especially being more of a long form comedian that is trying to jam punchy jokes into 3 minutes, but in sitting and listening to her set, it was very apparent that she had gone on stage perhaps only a few times before this occasion as she seemed over-rehearsed to the point of sounding like she was reciting jokes. Still, that didn’t matter that she just had material about being incredibly short and a stoner that I’ll politely call “very green” because all of her friends, family, crew, etc. gave her applause breaks on nearly every joke like it was a special drop-in appearance by Louis CK. At the end of it, it was no surprise that the $75 and the spot at the Comedy Store went to the “Pit Boss” star. She technically did have the “best set” of the night, but try bringing all of your friends, family, and crew out every time you perform and have them clap for all of the same jokes told the same way. I’ll save you the pondering as this will never happen and you will, as a true comedian, have to perform in front of strangers and how raw you are a performer will truly show through. (Note: 2nd and 3rd place also had brought several audience members, but had much more uneven sets).
Though I don’t believe I should have won the contest, there were other performers who, like myself, go night in and night out working on their act wherever they’re allowed to tell jokes and have become quite capable in performing stand up comedy in several different situations. As that is what a majority of their time is spent on, very little time can be dedicated to promoting a contest where you have to wrangle your friends to watch you only do 3 minutes. Given the circumstances, them being a group of people that has collectively decided, “I’m only going to laugh for my friend and no one else is even remotely as funny as them.”, a few of the true comics I knew had a decent set. Still, like myself, they could have used that $75 to get gas to get home as we’re constantly driving all of the time or perhaps eat as several comics in LA are close to broke and/or starving.
We, the comics (referring to people that actually go up several times a week) didn’t bring anybody and consequently we didn’t have a chance of winning or even placing. A cast member of a reality TV show does not need $75 or a spot at the Comedy Store. Absolutely, there are ways that they could get both with just the TV credit alone and not have to perform in a contest unconsciously rigging the whole thing much to the disappointment and frustration of everyone else on the line-up.
As this is the trend of most comedy competitions, especially here in LA, in addition to being conceptually faulty in deciding who is the funniest, I submit to comedians that your time is better spent going to an open mic to work on your act and becoming a better comedian rather than trying to perform for your friends and gain the distinction of “funniest person for a few months in some contest that most people have no idea exists” because that will only take you as far as being really funny for your friends.