Stand-Up Ireland Comedy Final

It’s that time of year again; the final of the Bulmers oops, sorry, Stand-Up Ireland competition Final, where eight comedians go head-to-head in the most hotly contested comedy competition in Ireland.  The Bulmers (fuck it, they may have pulled out, but it’s still the fucking Bulmers Competition as far as I’m concerned) is a competition that I would have loved to have won, but having come up short the past few years, decided that it was time to let it go. Still, I look back fondly on those ulcer-inducing days of competitive comedy, being that they were without doubt the (self inflicted) highest pressure gigs I’ve ever done, and everything after them has been relaxing in comparison. Ciaran McMahon (organiser of the competition) told me himself that most finalists would say that after the big show in the Laughter Lounge, they felt like they could do anything in comedy, and I have to agree. Well put, Ciaran.

"Not a problem, Gerry"

LOL indeed, a little cheeky dig there, for those of you who believe that the Bulmers Competition may not be completely legit. In a comedy competition, it’s impossible to keep everyone happy, and with this being the Bulmers seventh year, that means you have Seven people completely happy with the judges decision, and approximately 273 people who feel they got hard done by, somewhere along the way. After each heat, you’ll get the usual conspiracy theorists claiming that the whole thing is as rigged as a pirate ship… sometimes it’s sour grapes, sometimes it strays into Jim Corr style paranoia, and sometimes… well, sometimes people have a valid point. But what can’t be denied, year after year, is that the winner is a comedian of the absolute highest calibre. Looking back over the years, the winners list reads like a who’s-who of Irish talent. Past winners include;

Gearoid Farrelly...

Chris Kent...

and Kieran Lawless.

The main gripe about this(or indeed any) competition is that the early rounds are audience voted, and when you have any sort of audience-voted competition, you’re going to have a lot of disgruntled contestants that feel they’ve been jipped by somebody whose approach to the contest was to give homeless people money to attend and vote for them. The good die young. That’s just the nature of the beast in the early rounds, but when it comes to the final, it doesn’t matter how many of your mothers friends you’ve assembled in the crowd. The final sorts out those who got there on merit from those who clearly didn’t, being that it’s entirely decided by judges, and not a rent-a-crowd clapathon. So in order to win the competition, all you have to do is impress the judges. Simple, right?

"That last chap was terribly witty, but frightfully blue... that's good, isn't it? Or bad?"

The thing with the judging of the final is this; the judges are anonymous (although usually glaringly obvious), and as such its hard to know who exactly you’re playing to, and what they might be marking you on. What are their tastes? What kind of material will alienate them? More to the point, who the fuck are these guys, what are their credentials as judges of comedy, and why the fuck am I pandering to six or seven guys when there’s hundreds of other people in the crowd that seem to be having a great time? The fact of the matter is, I don’t know who the judges are, or whether they’re about to judge you on your material, your presence, or the time you cut in front of them at the bar in the Halpenny Inn six months ago. So as to offer advice as to how one might go about winning, I’m afraid I can’t help anyone. Now,  if you were to say “Gerry; if YOU were judging a competition, what would YOU be looking for in a Champion?”… well, then that’s a different story. I’d give you the following advice;

Material

As for what material should win a competition; not for anyone to decide. X is not funnier than Y. This guy is not funnier than that guy. So I don’t believe that anyone should be judged solely on their material. What I will say is this; if you’re material is BLATANTLY offensive, bigoted or crude, with no actual content… I can’t see that going down well. If it’s a well written set, you can get away with murder on a stage. Not everyone will like every joke; they never do, but if it’s FUNNY, you have no worries.

Timekeeping

Now, here’s where I would judge people harshly. If I was looking for a comedy champion, I wouldn’t be looking for just the funniest guy; I’d be looking for the most professional. And nothing says unprofessional like going over time. It can be hard to leave a stage when you’re getting a good reaction, but you gotta remember that there is more to the night than just YOU. The wheels have to keep in motion, and if you go a few minutes overtime, then the whole show runs overtime. If you’re asked to ten minutes, do ten minutes. I would not thank anyone for any more than they were supposed to do. If we’re picking a champion, we’re picking someone that can be relied on. Someone who can deliver a set dead center, no matter what he’s asked. I personally think a professional comedian is one who, on his way to the stage to deliver a ten minute set, gets stopped by a frantic promoter who says that the show is running wildly over, and can he please do seven instead of ten, to which the comedian can instantly know what material to drop, what to substitute, and without a watch can bring it in on time. That’s the hallmark of a champion.

Stage Prescence

If I was running a competition in which I picked a champion to send out to the biggest clubs and say here; this guy, he’s the one we thought was the best out of everyone we seen, then I’d be damned sure I picked someone who could be comfortable on any stage. Nobody will forward a champion who gets flustered under the spotlight, misses lines in his set, draws a blank or messes up a delivery. In comedy, it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it. For many people, the final of the Bulmers will be the biggest crowd they’ve ever been in front of; how they react in front of that crowd is what I would judge them on. Are they intimidated by the big room? Are they playing to everyone in the room, or just the people up front? Did they missfire a punchline, mumble into the microphone, or shout too loudly into it… are they reading their set off their hand, are they looking like they belong on that big stage? I’d be looking for someone who gets up and acts as relaxed as he would do if he were having a chat with his mates in the pub. And I’d be looking for it from the start, too; if your style is manic, be manic, if your style is quiet, be quiet, but whatever you do be consistent. Don’t start off shy, get confidence halfway through and then rock to the finish; that’s only half a good gig. The fact of the matter is, the cheer you get on your way TO the stage will probably be the loudest you’ve ever heard. You’ve won already, you’ve got these people before you’ve said a word. So hit that stage like if it didn’t have your dinner ready. You’ve GOT THIS. You’re Rocky at the top of the steps. You’re George McFly when he punched Biff in the fucking mouth. You’re Slash playing the last two minutes of November Rain. You’re the next Bulmers Winner, until otherwise notified.

And more than that, I can’t say. To everyone competing, I wish them the very best of luck; from the guys I’ve been gigging with from my first gigs, to the newer guys that have burst out of the traps and rocketed to the final. If you guys are reading this, it’s time to step up and show us what you’re made of. Rock the shit out of it, lads.

Start your engines!!

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