I got a great question the other day from Connected Comedy readers and Florida-based comedy producers Have Nots Comedy who sent me a tweet asking for my take on comedy contests and their effects on participating comedians.
It’s a broad question because every contest is obviously different, but I do think there are a few things that it’s important for any comedian to consider before they enter a contest. Here’s five things I think you should understand before you take the stage in an attempt to win cash and prizes…
1. You Need To Know Why You’re Entering The Contest
As with most things you do in your comedy career, you should take a moment to think about the reason you are doing it. In the case of entering a comedy contest, what’s your goal going into it? Are you entering because you’re hoping to get exposure in a certain comedy club or venue? Are you doing it because you want to be seen by industry people who will either be judges or be in the audience? Are you doing it to win the prize of cash or paid work? Are you doing it for fun? Are you doing it to see where you rank among other local comedians? Are you doing it just to get extra stage time?
There’s lots of different reasons why you may enter a contest and none of them are inherently right or wrong reasons. But, it’s important to at least understand why you’re entering a contest because that will help you figure out what you’re hoping to get out of it and help you ultimately judge whether or not it’s worth doing – i.e., how likely are you to get what you want out of it?
2. You Need To Understand What You’re Paying For
Since many comedy contests come with an entry fee of some sort, it’s important to understand what you’re actually getting for that fee and why it’s necessary. Look into who is running the contest, what they’re awarding in terms of prizes, how long they’ve been running the contest, what their reputation is within the industry, and what their goals are for the contest.
Too often, contests are just being run as money makers for the contest producers and they’re not really about providing any value for the comedians. There’s nothing wrong with a contest producer making a profit on the event (they should if they’re a good producer), but they also should be providing legitimate value to the participating comedians. Paying to participate in a comedy contest is just like any other investment you’ll make in your comedy career – don’t spend money without understanding what you’re paying for and the value it will provide to you.
3. You Need To Recognize What The Judges Are Looking For
Every contest is different and so are the judges of every contest. If you’re going to enter a contest, make sure you know who the judges are and what you’re being judged on so that you give yourself the best opportunity to succeed.
For example, you need to know if the judges are looking for family-friendly, clean material or if they’re looking for edgier, more alternative acts. You need to know if they’re looking for comedians who can do 5 minutes or comedians who can do 30. Are they looking to choose winners that will ultimately appeal to an industry audience or a general comedy club audience?
I’m not suggesting that you necessarily change your act to meet their needs, but if your act doesn’t fit what a particular contest is looking for then you probably shouldn’t enter that contest.
4. You Need To Know If You Lose, It Doesn’t Mean Anything
If you enter a comedy contest, it’s likely that at least part of the reason why is because you’re seeking some validation and encouragement for your work. So if you don’t succeed, it can be a pretty crushing blow emotionally and psychologically.
But don’t worry, it doesn’t mean anything.
There’s a million factors that go into who wins a comedy contest and more often than not, it has nothing to do with your particular talent or potential. It’s really a crapshoot that depends on one particular set, a group of judges who may or may not even be qualified to judge your performance, and an audience that may have its own agenda. Not to mention the role that industry politics can often play in contest results.
While losing a contest will still be a blow to your ego, try not to beat yourself up about it because it ultimately doesn’t really mean anything about the state or future of your comedy career.
5. You Need To Know If You Win, It Might Mean Something
The flipside is that if you actually win a contest you’re probably going to get a huge ego boost and maybe some newfound confidence. I hate to burst your bubble, but most likely your win is just as meaningless as your loss.
Aside from winning some cash or specific performing opportunities, most contests provide little more than a good feeling to their winners. It’s not going to make your career and it’s not really going to have a huge impact on your ability to get bookings in the future or to attract new fans.
That said, there is always a chance that winning a contest will open some doors and if you’re smart you can parlay it into some free publicity, etc. It’s great to win a comedy contest, but don’t expect it to change your life.
It takes time to build a successful comedy career and there’s really no shortcut – even if you win a contest.