Opinion: Are There Too Many Comedy Competitions?

I know I spend most of my time as a critic judging comedy but in recent weeks I really feel as if I have been judging comedy. I’ve been a panellist at two comedy competitions and reviewed another one.

These were the BBC Radio New Comedy Award, the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian of the Year and the Jewish Comedian of the Year. Unfortunately I missed the Laughing Horse final last week otherwise it would have been a quartet of competitions in a fortnight.

And there are another two big ones coming up. The Piccadilly New Act Final and the NATYS. None of these are new competitions but somehow this year it seems as if there are more than ever.

I’m not sure why it feels like that. I thought it might be because the same names are cropping up – Yuriko Kotani (pictured), Luca Cupani, Svetlana the Oligarch’s Wife. But I think that has always been the way. I remember a decade ago seeing Rhod Gilbert, Greg Davies and Simon Amstell in various finals. And before that Jimmy Carr cropped up a few times.  

A roll-call of these past competition alumnae shows that they are a good way of spotting talent as well as a good way of getting yourself spotted. Not every comedian likes them of course. Not every comedian has the kind of material that can been turned into a tight five minutes or even a tight ten minutes. Tom Ward wrote a very eloquent piece for BTJ a while back about why he had fallen out of love with competitions. Read it here.

But I’m not writing here about whether competitions are good for some and not others. I’m just writing about whether there are too many. The Leicester Square Theatre recently launched a sketch competition too. They’ve also got Old Comedian of the Year.  

The bills tend to be quite long - up to 14 acts. The cynic in me wonders if promoters see them as good bankers for getting an audience in. If every finalist can rustle up 15 friends that’s already a pretty decent crowd.

My main issue is that with so many competitions the overall value of putting it on your CV is starting to be diminished when so many names can put it on their CV. Edinburgh has the Foster’s Awards, So You Think You’re Funny? and latterly the Amused Moose Award. Maybe on top of that there should be one in London for the rest of the year and that should be it. 

It feels a bit like the boxing world where there are different World Champions for different organisations? There have been attempts to unify the belts over the years, producing one overall champion. Maybe comedy needs to follow suit. Somehow bring all the competitions together to produce one overall champion. Let's just hope there isn't a Tyson Fury of stand-up out there. 

So maybe the answer is a ultimate laugh-off. A competition between all the winners of the year’s previous competitions. Oh great. I started off this article saying there are too many competitions and now I’ve suggested there should be another one.

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