The Lastminutecomedy Club New Comedian Of The Year Competition 2011 is the new, improved Bedfordshire Comedian Of The Year 2010, expanded from the original two heats + final to six heats, runners-up final and grand final. Last year I greenly booked the first twenty acts who applied and over the two heats saw a ramshackle collection in both attitude and ability, going from the eventual winners (Jay Foreman and Carly Smallman) becoming regulars on the comedy circuit to the mentalist who ran on to the stage at the first heat, grabbed the mic off me, threw the stand to the floor, jumped up and down on it until it broke and then spent three minutes berating Cheryl Cole before running out into the street and punching a wall.
This year I took a bit more time, viewing over two hundred Youtube clips before picking sixty of the most able entrants, dividing them amongst the heats by style, experience, sex (No point having all the women in one show) and wherever possible, proximity to the shows themselves which took place (in order) in Biggleswade, Langford, Luton, Hitchin, Letchworth and Chigwell, with varying degrees of success. I had contacted the local newspaper for each show about them sending a journo down to be one of the judges. There would be cash prizes for the winners and runners-up at each gig who would all progress in the competition. I'll run through what happened, heat-by-heat.
Ten acts booked, eight arrived, seven did well, audience liked it a lot. Landlord got on at the end and did a bit himself. He was actually quite good. No members of the press showed up. I stayed up until 5am with the landlady drinking Jack Daniels and getting angry about everything.
Ten acts booked, five arrived, all did longer, four did well, audience liked it. Organiser of event heckled me throughout. The local school had made "crowns" for the winner and runner up, which was a really lovely thing to do. No press. I drove home in a bit of a huff, went down the pub and drank quickly and efficiently.
Eleven acts booked (by accident), nine arrived, all did well, three did fantastically well, audience absolutely loved it. No press. A comedy punching match wtih the daughter of my mate's girlfriend resulted in a man asking if we "Were married".
Ten acts booked, seven arrived, some looked worried by size of room (it's big), last act stole the show, audience seemed to enjoy it. No press. I went to The Vic afterwards and watched a 21st Birthday party descend into chaos.
Ten acts booked, eight arrived, all did well, some shot themselves in the foot, audience enjoyed it. No press. Got in the Tavern about 11.45pm Drunk by one.
ten acts booked, nine arrived, two did really well. The rest went from "interesting" to "Appalling". I don't think anybody really enjoyed it. I know I didn't. Three of the acts left without even saying goodbye, which was a bit rude, I thought. No press. To add insult to injury I had to drive home as I had to get up early to do a comedy workshop at an assisted housing centre in Houghton Regis.
So what have I learnt? Well, quite obviously, I need to book more than ten new acts into a comedy night if I want ten to be there. The excuses were legion and I must congratulate the ones that DID appear when they were supposed to. They all gave it their best shot and the vast majority of them were punctual, polite, professional and a joy to have around. Some of the no-shows had fallen ill to a mystery bug that clearly affects nervous performers on the eve/day of their show. Several had car trouble. All expected me to believe them. A couple more had taken paid gigs rather than do a comp, which was fair enough. Two of them had actually dropped out at very short notice because they had got in the final of another competition which was the same night. This wound me up because not only were my own shows clearly of lesser importance to them but also because neither of them clearly backed themselves to do well in either competition and if you don't think you can win, what's the real point of entering?
I have also learnt that despite my efforts, very few of the comedians had spoken to each other prior to their heats, despite me letting them all know who was on. I had somehow managed to get four acts from Wales in the same heat and they all managed to travel independently of each other, one or two of them grumbling at the great expense they had gone to in order to perform. I felt like reminding them that they had applied to enter under the conditions of the competition and at no time had I offered to buy their train tickets.
Additionally, I have learnt that some people are destined to live in a little bubble, ignoring all outside factors, advice or even barked instructions. One act had asked on his facebook page two days before the Langford heat (That he was booked in for) if anyone else was driving up to Bedford on the Thursday night of the competition as he couldn't get a train back from there after 10.30pm. I noticed it and commented on his status that the gig was not in Bedford and wasn't on Thursday, but in Langford on Friday...
...Twenty minutes later he messaged me telling me that he didn't think he would be able to do the Bedford gig on Thursday because he couldn't get a train home after 10.30pm. I replied to his message in capital letters: THE GIG IS NOT IN BEDFORD ON THURSDAY BUT IN LANGFORD ON FRIDAY AND THE NEAREST STATION IS BIGGLESWADE, FROM WHICH YOU CAN GET A TRAIN BACK TO LONDON AS LATE AS MIDNIGHT...
...His next message was fascinating and said simply "I'm sorry but I will have to turn down your offer to enter the competiton as I have work on Monday".
A couple of acts also emailed me after their heats to tell me that they should have got through to the finals (Which take place in Devon) and that the judges were wrong/biased/idiots. I only replied to the one who didn't accuse them of anything but simply expressed his surprise that he hadn't won completely. I gave him my own appraisal of his performance and some reasons why I felt he had not progressed. I haven't heard back from him.
Finally, I have also learnt to not bother inviting the local press to anything unless you are going to chauffeur-drive them there, buy them drinks all night, take them for a curry afterwards and pay for their taxi home.
Still, none of this has detracted from what ultimately has so far been a success and I'm already planning ways to improve it for next year. I'll let you know about the runners-up final and the final itself in May, shortly after they occur, should I survive them.