It's the greatest comedy competition you've never heard of. And this year I was there in the thick of it.
It's called the World Series of Comedy(WSOC), an annual event in Las Vegas where over 100 comics from around the US and Canada come to compete and more importantly, network. If you've read my blog before (and chances are you haven't) you know that I am no fan of comedy competitions. To me they are a necessary evil that we comedians must do to get work and recognition. The World Series of Comedy is slightly different for several reasons.
First of all there is no prize money at all. This may seem like a crazy idea, but since in most competitions the winner is the only comedian who takes home any money, I never go to a competition with the thought that it will be profitable. Instead of money the comedians who take the top spots at the WSOC win weeks of work as a feature at various clubs around the country. Comics who make the top 8 are guaranteed at least one week of work, while the winner can basically fill his or her entire calendar for a year. To comedians this is far more valuable than most cash prizes. It's like the story of teaching a man to fish, except in this case the fish is a club in the Midwest.
Another reason this is better than other competitions is because the shows are judges by club owners and bookers. These same bookers also take part in a meet and greet event, where comedians have a chance to shake their hands and ask questions about how to get into their clubs. As any comic knows, one of the hardest parts of the industry is getting a booker to watch your material, and when they are forced to watch your set and then meet you personally it is a golden opportunity.
In addition to the comedy the WSOC also includes chances for comedians to get new head shots (which I did), attend joke writing seminars, and socialize with several planned events such as a bowling night and poker tournament. Basically it is like a convention of comedians, which is an interesting mix of boredom and excitement.
As far as the competition side of the event goes there is good news and bad news for comedians. On the plus side there are very few big name comedians at the event, as most headlining comedians aren't interested in getting feature work at clubs that they already headline at. On the negative side there are over 300 comedians who submit to the competition, of which only 101 get invited to the main event, 50 of those have to compete with a five minute set in a wild card round to get a spot in the main competition. With so many comedians it's hard to shine. Fortunately for me, the tape I submitted was good enough that I was granted a spot in the main competition and I was able to skip a lot of the early rounds. Despite this, and despite a decent but not great set, I didn't move on to the finals.
Another plus, as far as competitions go is that the comedians who do win, are almost always the best comedians. Something that is very rare at competitions (see my previous blog).
Because the competition is judged by bookers who have seen a lot of comedy they can often weed out a genuinely good comedian from a group of average ones. The winner of this year's event was a comic named Landry. Earlier this year he won the Boston Comedy Festival, and by almost all accounts he is an amazing comic. Even so, I've talked to some bookers who had complaints he used a stock joke in his set: "Once you go black, your a single mom." (An original joke, but a premise that has been beaten to death by black comics.)
While I didn't move on to the finals I was selected by the organizer of the event as one of his top 10 favorite comics. According to the e-mail he sent to bookers I was one of the comics who almost won my round and could have possibly won the entire thing on any other night. This will hopefully help me get a foot in the door with some of the clubs.
It has been two weeks since the competition and I have just started my follow-up e-mails to clubs trying to get work. It's hard to say if I will get any work out of the competition. Even if I do I may not know it for almost a year.
Comics always ask me if I think the World Series of Comedy is worth the investment of traveling to Las Vegas and spending a week in a hotel room. I always encourage them to do it. I understand the fear of spending a good deal of money on something that has no guarantee to pay off. That kind of money is even more scary when you get paid as little as a comedian does. But you have to think of it as an investment in yourself. If you always do, what you've always done. You'll always get what you always got.
It doesn't matter if you're the funniest comedian in the world. If someone from the industry doesn't get a chance to see you the only people you will ever make laugh are your friends at an open mic.