All new comics want and need validation of their talent and ability to work and get paid. Entering a competition seems like the most efficient way to make that happen. The truth is it can be, but it usually isn't. If a person enters a competition, they need to do four things: prepare the best material possible, pack it into the allotted time frame, spend a lot of time and/or money and be prepared to lose to a better act.
Most comics that enter competitions are prepared to do all of these things. The one thing competitors are not ready to do is lose to inferior or crap acts. Surprisingly, this happens a lot and by "a lot" I mean it happened to me.
In an effort to help other comics avoid the mistakes I've made, I've compiled a checklist for comics to go through before entering a competition so that time, money and opportunities are not wasted.
1. Remember that losing to an inferior act is not 100% avoidable unless you refuse to enter a competition. This is important to remember when you are tempted to think you are entering an "easy" competition. Abstinence is the only safe option. Keep in mind that there are other more productive things you can do to further your career instead.
2. Do your research on whoever is holding the competition.
Ask yourself these questions: What kind of experience does the organizer have in the comedy industry in the country you want to work in? Who does he work with? Have you ever heard of them? Do professionals work with him? What are people saying about him? What does he do for a living? Why is he holding a competition in the first place?What are his prejudices, if any? Ask around long enough and the answers will pop up, trust me. Oh, and don't let the prize money dazzle you.
By the way, if an organizer has a habit of typing in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS TO PEOPLE HE HAS NEVER MET REMINDING THEM TO BE PROFESSIONAL AND TO BE ON TIME, this is a sign the organizer is unprofessional, if not mentally ill.
3. Find out what the politics are.
Does the organizer consider himself a comic? If he does and especially if he runs a "comedy class" beware. A student can never surpass his master. If you're funnier than the "comic" organizer, he'll never admit it, particularly if you are not one of his students. -The organizer at my "competition" offered all the contestants comedy classes "at a discount" five minutes before the show started. That's when I threw up in my mouth. That said, if you are one of his students and you like each other, go for it. You've got a better shot than an outsider. What other rooms in other cities/countries/clubs does he do business with? If you're not connected to those places, that's another strike against you.
4.Get as much information about the venue as you can. Does the venue serve alcohol, drinks, and/or food? This may seem like a stupid question, but you need to find out. No one wants or should perform to a room full of punters that paid 20 dollars for a comedy show and suddenly find out they will be sober, thirsty and hungry for the next two hours. ( I had to do this and frankly believe all of the contestants deserved a Purple Heart for performing under these circumstances.) Is there a proper stage, lighting and seats? If it looks like you are performing in some rich kid's family basement, you probably are.
5. Find out who the judges are. The judges should always be professionals in the industry. This is very important, even if you don't win or place. You need to be seen by people that can like you, remember you and help you in the long run. My judges were "friends of sponsors who have seen stand-up comedy once or twice and are guided by the organizer" There were three rounds, nine judges and each judge judged a grand total of one show. If you feel a little sick at this point, you should. The judges should never ever be punters, civilians or sponsors. If you want your creative ability to be judged by unqualified people, I suggest you pitch a TV show to an American TV network instead.
6. Don't travel internationally for a competition. The more money you spend the higher the stakes. If someone else is paying your way or you can travel and get accommodation cheap, go for it. Do not be tempted to spend your savings or money you don't have. If you are rich, hold your own competition and declare yourself the winner. -Side note- If the organizer doesn't or can't help you secure the necessary visa, it is not a professional competition.
7. If you know that a competition is dodgy don't encourage other comics to enter. Be honest with other comics. Puffing up the credibility of a competition you've entered does not raise your credibility as a comic, your honesty does. The competition I was in came highly recommended by two acquaintances that had been in the competition before. It was only after I arrived at the competition that I discovered it was common knowledge that " the organizer picks who he wants anyway." These two acquaintances that recommended me work full-time in the banking business so shame on me for being surprised.
Conclusion Now you've gone through the checklist and decide you want to enter a competition anyway. Remember, things rarely work out as planned. It's the people you meet and the relationships that develop that matter most in the long run.
I was fortunate enough to meet an equally duped and like-minded comic at the "competition" and have made a dear friend and brother for life. Because of this, I now have opportunities in Australia and in the U.S. that I didn't have before.
If you've decided not to enter a competition, good for you. There are other options. Go to a major city with a good circuit, sleep on a friends couch and gig as much as you can for as long as you can and meet as many people as you can. Put a show together and do the Edinburgh, Adelaide or Brighton Fringe. It is more expensive than the first option but the value in terms of developing your craft and meeting people that can help you is priceless.
No matter what happens, keep writing, keep working, keep going. If after reading this, you find yourself a victim of a comedy competition scam...haha! Welcome to the Screwed Over Club and start writing that half hour of material you know the experience has given you.