How to win a comedy competition

Last week on Thursday, after writing a blog entry about creative rejection, I went to put myself up for the ultimate creative rejection – a comedy competition. I’m not sure why I keep entering them, but for some reason I do. I’ve done okay in a few in the past, sometimes progressing to the next round, and I even came third runner up in What The Frock! Newcomer Award 2014. I put that down to the fact it was on the day I had found out my dad died. I’d already dealt with a massive life event that day, so getting on stage for a competition somewhat paled in comparison.

But generally I get more nervous than usual, put pressure on myself and then don’t put in my best performance. Alternatively if I have put in a good performance and I don’t place in the competition, or progress to the next round, I find it takes the edge off the fact I’ve had a good gig, which is annoying. I’ve been advised by other comedians to just treat them like just another gig, so I decided that’s what I would do.

I arrived at the gig, a small dimly lit back room (but with no door so you could still hear noise from the bar). A blue hue surrounded the space, which also matched the temperature of the room.

The comperes were a surreal pair – two men dressed in matching suits, one of them played the drums while the other told old fashioned jokes about killing his wife or having a sex doll. Cymbals were hit to indicate punchlines. The drums player also sometimes did political songs on a banjo. The opening act (not part of the competition) warmed up the crowd a bit more, but I was not optimistic about how the night would go. This was a self-contained competition, with no future rounds, so only one person could win. I remember thinking 1 in 10 is not great odds.

I was also thinking about the fact that I was the only woman on the whole evening, and the fact that it can make it look to the audience like female comedians are some sort of rare anomaly. Sometimes it’s better to have more women on with you, so it doesn’t feel so much like tokenism. In retrospect, this probably made me stand out, so it could have been a good thing.

I was on second, and thought I did pretty well. I decided to go for it and do a couple of my darker jokes, which I probably wouldn’t normally do in a competition, but the crowd seemed to like it. I didn’t know whether I had done enough to win, but I was pleased with my performance.

At the end of the night the comperes called out two names they had thought had done the best to come back onto the stage and my name was one of them! The other was an older man called Jimbo who was a bit of a character, and did a set involving bodily functions when you get older. I was surprised that Ben Clover had not been called, as I thought he had done really well.

One of the comperes said my name to get the audience to cheer and they cheered a reasonable amount, I thought the other guy is definitely going to get a louder cheer, but then they said his name and the crowd cheered even less!I had won! I had finally won a comedy competition! Plus 50 quid prize! And a little trophy! They gave me the microphone  to say something, but I was a giggling happy wreck and just thanked the audience. Twice. While grinning insanely.

Does this mean I will be entering more competitions in future? Maybe. And if I do, I’m sure I will be more confident, and remember to treat it just like any other gig. I am also going to prepare a mini speech for next time. After all, this is closest I will ever get to winning an Oscar.

carmen-ali-with-her-quipster-awards-trophy

 

They just weren’t ready for you yet

Last night I sent an article, I had written a while ago and just edited, to an online women’s magazine and got an email back just a few hours later to say it hadn’t been accepted. This is the same website that I applied to work for about a year ago and was not successful, but they encouraged me to submit articles on a freelance basis. It upset me that they were not taking it, and reminded me of all past creative rejections in the past (including their previous rejection) so I felt it even more strongly than if it was just a single incident. I may have cried a little, while listening to ‘You just haven’t earned it yet baby’ (the Kirsty MacColl version).

The article I wrote is not really in my usual tone of writing – it’s a bit more adapted for the tone I have seen their articles written in – way more cheesy  women’s magazine style than I generally write. That’s why I sent it to them. It’s frustrating when you see articles that you think are of a similar standard (or even not as good), and you think ‘if they take that, why won’t they take mine?!’

I recently went for an interview for a marketing job in a theatre and I didn’t get it – they said I was great but there were people with more specific experience. I wasn’t as bothered by this, as I knew only one person could get the job, and I know there wasn’t much I could do about it. But the writing rejection annoyed me because they publish lots of articles, rather than just a situation where there is one job available.

It’s the same doing stand-up – sometimes you see people doing gigs that you can’t get on that you don’t think are funnier than you. That’s the problem with writing and doing comedy. Applying for the same job over and over, and then comparing yourself to other people. Ah, high expectations followed by self-loathing.

I read something recently that said you should aim for 100 rejections a year because you will surely get accepted by some of them. I like this logic and plan to follow it more, for both writing and applying for gigs. I know I shouldn’t be so sensitive as well – J K Rowling received loads of rejections before Harry Potter was published!

Maybe I will also not try to change my writing to fit a specific style that I think someone wants, and just be myself more. Then if people hate my writing or my comedy at least I know they will be hating me for who I am.

I went to a life coaching class once and they taught us this mantra to console yourself when you are rejected from a job, or an opportunity, or a romantic partner – ‘They just weren’t ready for you yet’, and I have to try and remember this when I feel like I’m not good enough. Because if i keep going, there will be people who are ready for me. And I will be ready too.

Date with a Tory

On Friday, I did my first half an hour show as part of Laugh or Cry Presents Cruel Brittania, and I invited a date. I had met this person the week before at a friend’s birthday and we had some pretty good chemistry. Mainly because, well, he’s a Tory Brexiteer and I’m a Labour Remainer.

I’ve never had political class based banter before with someone, but it turns out it’s my thing. I told him I want him to fuck me like he wants to fuck the NHS, and he teased me for being an ‘adorable lefty’. It goes against pretty much everything I stand for, but it’s like my head says leave, but my pussy says remain.

Having a date at the gig made me way more nervous, because obviously I wanted to impress him, but I wasn’t planning to talk about him while on stage until I did my joke about steak and blowjob day, where I ask the audience if they have ever done it, and he cheered, so I took the bait and told everyone he was there. I also ended up telling everyone his political views – which were surprisingly not very popular in a North London theatre.

Everyone likes a bit of real life drama, and some of the moments were funnier because he was there, however I think it also had the effect of distracting from the show itself, and meaning I was self conscious when some of my usual jokes didn’t get as many laughs as my commentary on the situation did. It was frustrating because I wanted to get a real sense of how my show could be, but couldn’t focus fully on that.

I still think it was good to do my first half an hour, develop a bit of a narrative, and get comfortable with being on stage for that long. I also did have a lot of fun. Watching back the video, I actually wish I had abandoned the specific jokes for the show a bit more, gone further with getting him involved, and been more mean to him. I mean Tories do deserve it.

It’s also difficult writing a blog entry knowing he’s going to be reading it. My last date story I knew wouldn’t be read by the guy it was about – it was a Tinder date, I never told him my full name, and I didn’t want to see him again. But I know this one is definitely going to be reading this, so I still feel like I am trying to impress him.

If you would like to see some of the best bits of the gig, below is a video of the highlights. Sadly my phone stopped recording before the end where I said ‘right I’m off now to get some Tory dick’, which may or may not have happened later on. Gotta keep some things private…(just not the railways or the NHS).

How to write a comedy show

The longest set I’ve done is 20 minutes, but next week Friday the 16th of September, I am doing a half an hour work in progress at Laugh and Cry at The Lion and Unicorn Pub in Kentish Town. But how to do it? Should I treat it like long set, just doing more jokes than usual, or give it a narrative?

Most comedians tend to centre their shows around a theme or a story, this involves writing specific jokes to fit with that story, so is it easier for your first show just to get all your best material together and screw the narrative arc?

I thought about doing a show about my father’s death (I’m sure I heard somewhere that Stewart Lee thinks this is one of the main reasons Edinburgh shows have become hack), but I don’t know if that’s too personal, or worse, too reductionist. I don’t want to have to leave out some of my best jokes, or force the show too much to fit to a theme.

Sometimes a show’s theme or story can change along the way as well. When I went to see Bridget Christie’s preview (which was hilarious), the Brexit result hadn’t come out yet, as it was on the day of the referendum, and she did make some jokes about it, but apparently after that happened, her show became much more focussed on Brexit. I might have to see it again now.

I do think that having a ‘schtick’ or a theme can make audiences more inclined to come and see your show, but on the flip side, if it’s a good show, it doesn’t matter. Some of the best shows I have seen have had a story, and some of them haven’t. Some of them are a collections of little stories; snippets into a person’s life. I’m going to spend some time writing down all my ideas, and jokes I already have, and see what happens. Maybe a theme I hadn’t even thought of will come out of it…