Monday, August 29, 2005

I hate judging contests

Okay, so last Saturday I was asked to judge in the "South Shore Comedy Riot" in Marshfield at a place called Courtney's. I had the night free and it was fifty bucks so I figured, "ah, what the hell, I have nothing else to do."

The contest is for comedians with less than three years experience. There are three "heats" or preliminaries or whatever you want to call them. This was the last of the three, with the night's winner taking home (I think $100) and the second place finisher advancing to the finals to be held next Saturday night at the same location. The winners of the first two heats were two of my favorite local comics: Shane Mauss and Orlando Baxter, who are both original, likable and kick ass. Apparently, there were some crazy ties in the previous heats, so there were already 8 people qualified for the final, including two "wild cards"... which go to the performers that scored the highest while finishing out of the top two places in their heats.

Each comic was judged on three fronts, 1) audience response 2) writing & originality 3) performance (that was my category)

Well, it was a wild night in Marshfield. We wound up with a four-way tie for first, all with 25 points. the best part of it for me was that I was able to hear two guys with a lot of years in the business critiquing performers. I got a good understanding that no matter how funny it is, a hacky bit (something that has been done to death) is going to cost you in a contest like this no matter how much people laugh at it.

Though, it does call into question how Tom Cotter won last year's Boston Comedy Festival with a joke about the likelihood of a seat on a plane left in the "recline position" causing a plane wreck, and referring to euphemisms being silly and citing calling homeless guys "urban outdoorsman" (which I have heard a number of times) as a potential example. Don't get me wrong- he killed, and I thought he deserved to win as much as anyone, but in my mind his victory was based on performance and crowd response, not originality in material, as he was arguably the least original of all eight finalists.

Anyway- Saturday... I knew several of the performers, so I was immediately uncomfortable. I did my best to disregard my personal feelings about them and judged as fairly as possible. One of the things I hated was judging strictly on the performance category. The guy I thought was best didn't have the best stage presence or command of the audience, nor did he look like a pro in any capacity. He had this nervous twitch which I found incredibly distracting and drove me nuts. he also had waaaay too much material about beating off. I know the kid is 21 or something, but the for the love of... talk about something else. Aside from that, he was incredibly original and outright hilarious. I told him afterward that he did great and he might want to consider reducing the spooge jokes to half of his set or less.

I sat there thinking, "who am I to determine which of these people gets a shot at 10 grand next week? Who am I to say who is funny and who isn't?"

Some of the choices were easy. I am a nicky nice guy, but cripes, some people just need to be told to stop. Stop performing, stop writing jokes, just stop it, in the name of your dignity, in the name of comedy, in the name of all that is still holy in this world, get off...get off the stage.

One guy, seemingly quite a nice chap trotted out horrid impression after horrid impression. If the lines weren't so hacky and the impressions so done-to-death-by-way-of-torture I wouldn't have known who the fuck he was impersonating half the time.

I was sure he had gone way over his time limit and was shocked to find that he came in under 6 minutes. It felt like half an hour. I sat there after the first minute and half wincing at my velcro watch (cuz I'm that classy) and by the end of the set, felt as though I had been robbed of 8 minutes of life that I could never get back.

The field was evenly split between people that clearly "get it" and folks that don't. Maybe they will, I don't know. I can only hope these guys have people that care about them enough to tell them the truth. One kid kept shifting from robbing Rodney Dangerfield to cribbing Johnny Carson. He couldn;t wuite decide which of them he wanted spinning is his grave. I couldn't quite bring myself to give him the boot him in the ass he so desperately needed.

I think my greatest resentment was the lack of forsight that if you have a lot of comics, and only three judges and ten possible points... you're going to have a lot of ties. I can only hope they go to 100 point system or something for the final. I have already decided judging just isn't for me. I was meant to be on the stage, not dissecting other people's performances.


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