Comedy competitions, awards and reviews – it’s mostly a matter of luck

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I try not to review shows. That just leads to people unleashing verbal abuse on me in later months and years. So I really do not know why I agree to be a judge on award shows. I think I have been on two – it might have been three – this year.

That excludes the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards which I organise every year at the Edinburgh Fringe. All three of those awards – for Comic Originality, best Cunning Stunt and ‘the Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ are so quirky that people do not seem to take too much offence at being nominated but not winning.

Last night, I was a judge at the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year Competition – twelve acts, eight judges. The winner got £1,000 and a booking in (I think it was) Hong Kong. Next year, rather than be a judge, I might enter as a Lewis Schaffer tribute act to try and get the money and the free trip. How hard can it be?

I mean being a Lewis Schaffer tribute act.

(From left) Nick Coppin presented the Award to winner Jenny Collier; with runners-up Olaf Falafel and Ed Caruana

Last night (from left) presenter Nick Coppin with winner Jenny Collier and runners-up Olaf Falafel and Ed Caruana

For the record, comic Jenny Collier won last night.

She was a very worthy winner. Well-constructed gags; excellent delivery; attractive stage persona; would appeal to a mainstream audience but, as I wrote on my non-PC sheet of paper “can do dirty sweetly”, so she will also be able to appeal to less mainstream audiences. And she looked, sounded and performed as television friendly.

She was one of two Welsh acts with English accents. Perhaps this is a new genre of comedy. She deserved to win but, to be honest, she was one of four acts I would have been equally pretty much content with winning. And, of the other eleven acts, all were arguably good in different ways. As the fifteen acts had been whittled down from over 800 entrants, there were never going to be any bad acts on the bill.

What I am trying to say is:

  1. it is almost a matter of luck who wins competitions although
  2. there must be some reason why eight judges settled on one act although
  3. it is still almost a matter of luck who wins competitions because
  4. judges are just people and different people have differing tastes

It is a bit like the star system in reviews.

If you get 3 stars, there is nothing at all wrong with your act. It is a good, entertaining act.

If you get 4 stars, you were exceptional on the night.

If you get 2 stars, there is a structural or presentation problem with your act.

If you get 1 star, you have an interesting act or show. At the Edinburgh Fringe, I once talked to a performer who had had a show which got a 5-star and a 1-star review FOR THE SAME PERFORMANCE. The two critics went on the same night and saw the same performance.

Coins of the realm - you could almost just as well throw one

Coins of the realm – you might almost just as well toss one

If you get more than one 1-star review, your show is either irredeemable buffalo dung or you are so wildly original you split critics and audiences which is probably a good thing.

The bad news is that true comic geniuses seldom make money. To be popular, you have to tread some sort of acceptable middle ground which means you are never shit but you also never hit the peaks of unexpected, original uniqueness. Abject failures can take solace from this.

Which brings us to 5-star shows.

Frankly, in my experience, whether you get 4 or 5 stars is a matter of luck because – certainly at the Edinburgh Fringe – critics do not want to give out too many 5-star reviews because it demeans their credibility. If 174 movies all got Best Film Oscar one year, you would not think much of the credibility of the Oscars.

And, in a festival like the Edinburgh Fringe (which runs three-and-a-half weeks) I think it is extremely difficult to get a 5-star review in the first week. It certainly is with any critic who is doing his or her job properly. Because, at the start, the critic has no benchmark to measure this year’s standards by until he or she has seen quite a few shows.

If he or she gives a 5-star review to a show they see on the first or second day, what happens if most of the other shows they subsequently see in other days and weeks are equally good or better? They can’t give 5-star reviews to everyone.

So the moral for today is…

Awards, prizes and star ratings mean something.

They can be used in publicity, which is useful. But, if you don’t get ‘em, it ain’t the end of the world and, in that horrible but true American phrase, today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Today is your starting point.

As in comedy clubs, so in life.

I think I may start to submit pseudo-meaningful sayings to calendar and diary manufacturers.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

Next year’s increasingly prestigious  Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards await collection in Edinburgh

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

One response to “Comedy competitions, awards and reviews – it’s mostly a matter of luck

  1. keith martin

    Will you be at the BFI this Sunday, mmm

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