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Blog: Bands And Stand-Ups And Competitions

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A few months ago there was a HUGE FUSS in the world of stand-up comedy when a Stand-Up Comedy Competition was seen to be CHARGING people to enter. Those of us from the world of ROCK threw up our hands in MOCK ASTONISHMENT. "What? Charging people to enter a competition? That would NEVER happen here!"

For LO! For us a Battle Of The Bands Competition (which is the direct equivalent of all these stand-up comedy talent shows) is ALWAYS a complete rip-off. You pay a fee, drag all your friends down to a local pub on an otherwise quiet Monday night, and whoever gets the most friends in WINS their round. This is repeated EVERY Monday night until the Grand Final, when the band with the haridest followers gets a prestigious three hour session in the local studio and everyone else goes home. The only lasting legacy of ANY of these is that any bands still going at the end of it all learns a valuable lesson: NEVER give money or time to ANYBODY who asks how many people you expect to bring along to the gig.

Over in stand-up though it does appear to be different. Comedy bookers actually GO to these sort of shows, so appearing in them (at least, appearing in the finals) CAN to lead to other bookings. Comedians not only ADMIT to winning competitions but put their awards on their CVs, PROUDLY - any band who did that would surely be a LAUGHING STOCK - and the competitions themselves are regarded as a VALID, WHOLESOME part of a young comedian's career.

The situation seems to be even MORE different in the world of WRITING, where I have also been dabbling of late. Here there are competitions GALORE, with prizes AND publication at the end of it, and special SCHEMES set up SPECIFICALLY to FIND new writers. Even more than that, whenever I've sent SCRIPTS out to Producers and Script Editors I've ALWAYS had responses - not from everyone I've sent them to, but from SOME of them. In all the years I sent demo tapes out I never EVER got a reply, and I certainly didn't get the constructive criticism and MANNERS I've had from Script Rejection Letters.

But WHY should this be? Whenever I've spoken to people about it the first answer is usually "Because there's MONEY in music" but it's actually COMPLETELY THE OPPOSITE. Musicians are FOREVER getting stiffed for CA$H - we OFTEN don't get paid for gigs, or just get petrol money, are stuff is forever being used without permission, and hardly ANYBODY makes a living doing it. The old MYTHS about making your fortune with a song are OLD OLD STORIES perpetuated only by people who think they can make money out of young bands willing to sign away their lives on the promise of a Rolls Royce in a swimming pool.

But you only have to turn the telly on to see how many opportunities there are for writers, and especially COMEDY writers. There are hundreds of TV shows on all day every day on hundreds of commerical TV channels needing THOUSANDS of writers to keep them going, and there's also films, radio, commericals, magazines, even comics - a MASS of outlets desperate for anyone who can string a few words together, CRYING OUT for even a HINT of humour. It's a world where you CAN and DO get paid for writing things - you'd think that all the SCAM ARTISTS would gravitate there, rather than piddling around in local pubs on a Monday night.

Or maybe that's why it actually DOES work. Maybe it's the fact that there IS money to be had that means there's a huge structure of Producers, Script Editors, Agents, Talent Scouts, Festivals and so on - there's a Financial POINT behind it that means it NEEDS to work, unlike here in the silly old music "business" where decades of crooks and charlatans have occasionally got lucky, while in the meantime millions of other people have just got on with MAKING music for the fun of it.

So I think what I'm saying is this: OI! THE ARTS! Stop funding grants and outreach for poets and novelists, and go out and buy some ALBUMS instead. We need it, they don't!

posted 3/5/2012 by MJ Hibbett

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You can write a song for nowt and these days record and distribute it for nowt. If you want to write a TV show, you need someone else's money to make it and broadcast it. Ditto big features, often ditto (but less so) independent features and short film, depending what you're looking at. I think that's a large part of why there's a polite and well-established (but still ferociously competitive!) infrastructure around writing for performance. The internet may change all that, but it's a long way from doing so yet - and I doubt it ever will entirely, as mounting any performance to any sort of standard requires performers and support.
posted 3/5/2012 by John K

Comedy bookers don't just go to those competitions, they often judge them. Which is why there's actual value in winning one. Believe me, those of us who book comedy know which competitions employ judges, and which are based entirely around who brings the most mates with them. They are treated accordingly. I think you may slightly be over-stating the number of comedy writers needed too. Lots of channels, most of them showing repeats of Friends and Scrubs. The amount of new comedy shows being commissioned is low. The rise of reality shows further removes the need for writers. Then we come to the most awkward bit when it comes to writing: I can't play guitar. If I pick up a guitar and attempt to play a song, everyone will know and recognise that I can't play guitar. I know that I can't play guitar. Less so with writing. If someone can't write, lots of people won't even really realise. There's tons of people that think they can write and can't. "I don't need a writer, I can write it myself" is all too common. Also worth noting that all those TV shows, films, radio spots and commercials also require music. Someone's making money off that backing track somewhere. Not that you're wrong - new music gets horribly stomped on - just figured a perspective from a comic/writer/editor might be of interest...
posted 3/5/2012 by Dean

Oh i DO like a well reasoned comment, thank you sir! I fully endorse your point about music have basic entrance qualifications, and also about music getting used in the background of things. However, those are almost always established songs that the music pickers like, they very very rarely commision new music. Actually, they use a lot of stock (i.e. free) music too.As for reality shows - true, but they still employ people to write the links and/or narration, and it's not necessarily comedy writing I'm talking about. Daytime soaps need writers too!
posted 3/5/2012 by MJ Hibbett

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