From what I’ve noticed, Fall is the best time for comedy in terms of getting people to come to your shows. It’s warm enough for people to want to go out, but cool enough to keep them inside. It’s the Spring and Summer time that comedy clubs and promoters need to pull out their special events to make sure business doesn’t slow down. This may be why you see more comedy festivals, competitions, and bigger headliners come during the slow seasons of June through August.
As great as as all of these special events can be, it’s important to know what exactly you’re getting into if you plan to perform or attend one. A lot of the time, comedy festivals entice comics to come and perform in their comedy competitions because it can give them a good amount of exposure and, if all goes correctly, even a cash prize with an opportunity for more gigs. That’s all well and fine, if you keep your end of the bargain. What I think promoters wrongfully assume about these kinds of shows is that they can save money on marketing the event by completely relying on the competing comics to bring as many people as they can in hopes to increase their odds of winning (that is, of course, if the winner of said comedy competition is judged by attendee votes).
From what I’ve been told, this is exactly what happened last summer at a comedy festival in Cape May, NJ. Comedians from all over the country sent in their audition tapes, along with a fee of $25, in hopes to compete for a cash prize and an opening spot for Gilbert Gottfried. I’ve heard multiple things about the festival since then and have been asked by the show’s promotion team again this year to help put the word out for their new festival happening later this year. I sent out a tweet not too long ago to get someone to explain exactly what happened so I could judge on whether or not it was worth doing. I ended up getting an email from one of the comedians who placed in the competition. After reading it, it gave me the idea to post it as somewhat of a reminder to comedians to be careful when applying to comedy competitions and bringer shows alike in the year to come.
The following article is by a comedian who competed and placed in in said comedy festival last summer in Cape May. Even though you may very well be able to tell who it is, I told him I wouldn’t put his actual name on it for the sake of convenience.
Tales From a Cape May Finalist
The Cape May Comedy Festival was an event that featured stand-up comedy showcases, workshops, mixers, open mics and a contest. By the conclusion of this event, many people considered it a scam. As someone who participated in the contest and finished in the top ten, I am not sure if you can call the event a scam, but more of a failure.
Let’s start from the beginning. To enter this contest, you had to send the festival a bio and a video along with $25. Out of all the comics that submit, 96 would be chosen. If you were picked, you would compete in one of eight preliminary rounds. If you were not picked you were out 25 bucks. Typical for most festivals. The odd choice was that they contacted the comics by e-mail and letter. Snail mail. The festival let comics know that the letters were sent by taking a picture of the stack on envelopes and tagging all the comics who applied… accepted or not. Many comics assumed being tagged in the photo meant they had been accepted. Surely the fest would not tag someone in this post and get them excited just to deny them, right? Wrong.
The comics who were not in the top 96 were treated to a letter explaining that they were not accepted but welcome to still attend the festival and would be given a discount on admission. Many comics did not take this well. Additionally, some veteran comics were denied in favor of new comics. It overall felt very strange.
That is not what happened to me. I was a top 96 comic. I competed in round 7 which took place Saturday July 27th at 11:00 am in the morning. Not the time many are ready to laugh. The show took place in a convention hall, which I am guessing could hold over 500 people easily. There were several round tables that each sat 10-12, then bleachers in the back. My 11am round drew about twenty people. This was made worse by the high ceilings, which meant sound and laughter had nothing to bounce off.
Then I was told the rules. They went as follows:
1. Comics will be given five minutes.
2. The order will be drawn randomly out of a bucket.
3. There will be three judges who will score you based of of stage presence, originality, and crowd reaction.
4. The crowd will act as a fourth judge. Each comic will have a bucket with their name on it on stage. Each audience member will have a red ticket that they will place into the bucket of the comic of their choice.
Keep rules 2 and 4 in mind. They come up a lot in this tale. The comics sat at a corner table in the crowd, making jokes and being comics. We quickly decided that this was a crap show, and we were just going to have as much fun as we could. The comics were from all over, some coming as far as Texas, so I was meeting many of them for the first time.
It was then show time, but you would not be able to tell based on how it started. A woman sat offstage, and said, “Okay, we are gonna start now.” The comics shot each other quizzical looks as we had not drawn names yet or met the host to make sure they could say our names correctly. The woman from the crowd welcomed everyone to the fest and introduced the judges. She then said the scariest thing I had ever heard:
“Okay, lets reach into the bucket and see who the first contestant is.”
I can relate hearing that statement to sinking in quicksand as we all slowly started to realize what this meant.
Oh, my God, no one is going to warm up the crowd.
Oh, My God, there is not going to be a host.
OH, MY GOD, we are going to have to stop and pick a new name after every comic.
We sat there, each panicking that we were going to be the first name picked. The first name picked ended up not being there, but showed up later and went on seventh. This is not really fair in my mind, but is by far the least of crimes this contest committed. The next name drawn was a good friend of mine. It is rough going first, but even worse when you have to walk from the crowd, up steps to the stage, with no music playing, and being told not to start until they finish taping his name to his bucket.
After his set, he returned to his seat, and I told him he did well as we waited while the judges discussed scores. Yes, the judges discussed the scores quietly among themselves between each comic. No music was playing. When the next comic took the stage, again with no music to bring him to the stage, he started his set to realize that the microphone was never turned on. So now we have discovered that my friend is now at a distinct disadvantage in that his set was just shouted at an audience rather than put through a sound system. This was never addressed by anyone running the show.
As time went on, the silence between comics became more and more awkward. So another comic who was not performing started playing music in between comics from his cell phone. After the first few songs, the few crowd members started to sing along. Hey, it was actually starting to feel like a show! Awesome! The woman running the show then got on the mic.
“Before our next comic, whoever is playing music, stop it! It is really distracting! Your next comic is…..” and she said my name. Awesome.
I took the stage and opened by saying that I loved when someone getting scolded opens for me. I got some chuckles and start my set. As I was doing my thing, I looked at the buckets on stage and got an idea. At this point, I was more excited by the idea of enjoying my day in Cape May than having to perform again.
“I just want to remind everyone that after the show, you will be asked to vote for your favorite comic by putting your red tickets the bucket of your favorite comic.” I then walked over to my bucket and started filling it with dollar bills in an attempt to persuade the them. “I mean you don’t have to vote for me….” I then proceeded to kick the other comics off the stage. I kicked them into the wings, backstage, and into the crowd, showering them in red tickets as I laughed like a crazy person in my act of rebellion.
It suddenly it me. I was “showering them in red tickets.” There were already votes in some of the comics’ buckets. This could only mean one of two things. Either they never cleaned out the buckets from past shows, or the votes were rigged. Since *spoiler* I won this thing, I am going to go with the first one.
Before I get to the ending, one more important note. One comic took the stage and acted like it is a spelling bee and spells something, playing off the awkwardness of the setup and the appearance of the room. This comes up later.
After my set, I put the buckets back onstage, the rest of the comics performed and the show ended. We were then told to go stand behind our bucket so we could beg for votes when the audience decided. You have never seen a sadder sight as comics pled and failed to convince twenty people to vote for them in a contest that they honestly did not want to win at this point.
The show ended and we waited for the judges to return. While we are waiting, my girlfriend told me that her family had arrived late, and thus were not able to vote. However, other people had arrived even later and were allowed to vote. Again, very shady. However, none of this mattered because I noticed the judges had left all of the buckets on the stage. So the votes were not being counted. As I was about to vent to my girlfriend, I was interrupted by a member of the festival who wanted to sell me a twenty dollar Cape May Comedy Festival shirt. Needless to say, I did not buy one.
The judges returned to make the big announcement. The woman took the stage (for the first time) to announce the winner. I was so glad this was almost over. Having basically given the finger to the show, I was pretty sure I was not going to win. I ran over to two of the comics that I had just met, put my arms around them and jokingly, and said “lets experience this moment together.” She then said the second scariest statement I had ever heard. “And here is your winner, it was pretty obvious…” and said my name.
Put yourself in the mind of the loser here. After a shitty show, you are told that not only did you lose, but it was not even close. The guy who won was the clear and obvious winner. And that winner, who you just met, has his arm around you because he wanted you to “experience this moment” with him.
I immediately started apologizing to everyone that is listening and slunk to the stage so that the comics that were no competition for me could cheer for me. I felt like such an asshole, but I had to shake it off. There were just two hours before the semifinals. That’s right, 2pm show.
Before the show, I ran into [the festival's creator], and thanked him for letting me perform. I asked him what the deal was with the format. This is important. His response was that it was all by design. He actually said, “We wanted you guys to feel like it was a spelling bee.” His words. He wanted it to be uncomfortable for the comics to see who had the best chops. This is the most telling moment for me. The creator of the festival said, in not exactly these words, that he charged comics 25 bucks to enter a contest that was designed to be a bad experience for comics. That is insanity.
So the top eight comics then competed for the three spots in the finals. It went basically the same. No host, no music, but more people since it was the semifinals. Now I did not make the top three, but was asked if my friends and I would still go to the finals. The finals were taking place immediately after the the semifinals. Let me put that in perspective. My friends were asked to watch the three people who beat me, perform the same set they had just seen less than an hour ago, and pay ten dollars to do it. We left.
The rest of the story I report second hand. The winner of the top three got to open for Gilbert Gottfried that night. That means that the winner performed three times back to back to back that night. Had I won, I would have done four shows that day. The winner was then never paid the promised cash prize. Granted, I am sure the venue was pricey, and headliners had to get paid, and that they did not have a huge turnout for the shows. However, t-shirts plus tickets plus 25 dollars from every comic that applied is a lot of money. Speaking for myself, I could almost understand if they came out and apologized and said that they could not pay the winner, but they did not do that. As a matter of fact, they actually have enough money to run Laugh AC.
I will end it with this. I paid to be in a contest that did not have a host, DJ, or crowd at 11am. I was was later told that the show was designed to be difficult for the comics to have a good show, and the winner was not paid. Now I am not in contact with the winner, (Jeff Norris I believe) so I do not know if he is still waiting for his money. And if the people who ran this festival want to dispute my claims, I will gladly listen. I am not telling you this tale to attack the festival, but simply to report what I experienced. Some comics feel like it was a scam, while others may feel like it was a failure.
To me, the scariest part of this is they might have considered the Cape May Comedy Festival a success, since they were trying to make comics perform under terrible conditions. There was never an apology for the festival’s shortcomings. The facebook page for the festival is gone, as is the website. Their twitter still exists and their last post is just “Thank You”. Their website acrocksolid.com has evidence that the show happened, but there is no mention of who won or even anything showing that I was a part of it. So let the buyer beware. I personally do not think it is a scam, but I also see no evidence that they have learned from past mistakes and that Laugh AC will be any different than Cape May Comedy Festival.
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