Opinion: Why I'm Quitting Comedy Competitions, by Tom Ward

Tom Ward

I've seen Tom Ward in three comedy competition finals over the last year – the NATYS, the BBC Radio New Comedy Awards final and most recently the Piccadillly Comedy Club New Comedian of the Year. He has always stood out to me as one to watch and I've been amazed that he has not won any of them. Last week Ward posted a message on Facebook saying that he would no longer be taking part in competitions. I was surprised by this decision as they are traditionally a great way for a comedian to get noticed by the industry. Heck, even Daniel Kitson did talent competitions when he was starting out. Though, notably he didn't win one. Anyway, I asked Tom Ward to write this piece to explain why he had taken this decision. Here is his response. BD.


The final. Ooh the final. The final! My favourite bit about a competition…getting to the final. Getting. Not the actual in bit, the getting. Telling people. People telling me. The final itself is like the friend the girl you’re seeing brings along to your third date to check you out. And you’re not sure how to act at the bar with both sets of eyes on you, so you can’t forget yourself, which is a shame cos you’re much better when you forget yourself. Then your audience goes off to the toilet at some point in the evening after you’ve tried to impress them both and avoid saying c**t or anything like that, to discuss their verdict. How did I do? But sometimes you’re sure you were rubbish at the bar but they seem to like you anyway, and sometimes you feel like you nailed it but the friend is still unconvinced.  

Competitions have never got the best of me. I’m like the tribute version of my act, the hair’s the same, the round glasses, the arm comes swinging onto the guitar just the way he used to do it, but something’s missing, it isn’t John Lennon! 

I like the days before, when people say nice things and their eyes are glowing and you feel yourself going up a few degrees in the world, moving. That’s what life’s about, right? Moving. Am I moving? Yes, I’m in the final this year and last year I wasn’t. The night itself is rarely a pleasant and playful experience though. A lot of anxious faces around, visits to the toilet and the car park (to practice), trying to find a corner to hide in, trying to breath properly and eat 2 hours and 12 mins before the show so I’m not hungry or full, remembering it’s all nonsense. Trying not to talk to Steve Bennett before or be rude to anyone who wants more than you can give them under the circumstances.

Stage time. Legs aren’t feeling their usual bouncy self, I feel acutely watched in a way that doesn’t have love or the potential for love in it, and love is what it’s all about. Are we going to fall in love? I‘d like us to. And if we aren’t going to fall in love why are we even here? Oh yeah, cos it’s good for both. Practice, for the real thing. Showcasing ourselves for other potential suitors. Plus for the audience; drama, excitement, winners, losers, press, faces, responses…

I try to talk to the audience like I do at all gigs, get to know them, look at them, talk about what I see - my favourite thing to do and the best thing about my act, but it doesn’t transfer in these new scientific conditions, these petri dish 5 minute experiments. It drops out of my mouth and onto the floor as if gravity itself is coming down harder, pouring down, its heart heavy to have to be there in the lab when it really wants to be at the park keeping kids on swings and that kind of thing. Plonk. Useless.

Okay, let’s ditch the talking to them bit then and get on with the material. And suddenly I’m agitated and bored by the words. Bored, during a big gig in a theatre! Not a good thing to be feeling under the circumstances. I do however take full responsibility for not having in reserve the kind of tight, crisp five that seems to win this kind of thing. I should’ve tried to hone one, but just enjoy the mystery that a gig without one has so much more, even in a competition.

The BBC final though was glorious. I said f**k it (the key to all happiness I believe) like I do before all my normal gigs and kept f**king it pretty much all the way to the end. A joke I’d written on the day at the top, talking to someone in the front row, playing around, loose and alert…my senses heightened and everything in harmony. It was a beautiful gig, and but for an old joke at the end that I shoved in due to restrictions on my other material, showed exactly what I am. In the other finals I just didn’t and that’s why after 7 (and not even one placing!) I’m leaving them behind. I cannot find love here. Thanks for the memories girls (and the other dates being seen with you got me), but when you get back from the toilet I’ll be gone. I need a wife now.



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