Back from Boston Comedy Festival

So I competed in the first prelim round of the Boston Comedy Festival last night. Great show and very tough competition. I was pleased with my set so I don't feel bad that I didn't advance. (In retrospect, only thing I would have changed is one joke I do about coke/weed that prob wasn't the best choice considering it was an older crowd.)

Really, it seemed like about 8-9 of the 12 comics had sets that were strong enough to advance. (Strong comics like Myq Kaplan and Doogie Horner had very good sets yet also failed to make it to the next round.) Judging any art — and esp comedy — is a crapshoot, ya know? Oh well. But congrats to everyone who did make it to the next round. I think they were all deserving.

I'm still no contest vet but one thing I like about 'em is it really forces you to distill your material. I'm constantly grinding away on new material normally so it's a good stop-and-review process. A tight 5 minute set means ya hone and polish your shortest, tightest jokes and try to build a flow from 'em. Kinda like what building a late-night set must be like.

I toss out any bits that have long setups. Even there's a big payoff, it feels like you're wasting time. Also, I've got some touchy jokes that work better once I've established who I am onstage. At a contest, ya don't have much time to do that so I stay away from those bits and go for the surefire stuff. Also gone is weirder stuff that might work well at some alt room in Williamsburg but not in front of a bunch of tourists at the Hard Rock Café in Boston (where the Fest was).

What I don't like about contests (other than the inherent ridiculousness of judging art): Ya can get screwed easily if there's a certain type of crowd or if there's a bad MC and ya go first, etc. Lots of variables that are out of control.

Also, they come with a bit of an "America's Got Talent" vibe. With 12 people doing quick sets, standing out almost seems more important than delivering well-written jokes. If you're JAWGTJ (Just Another White Guy Telling Jokes), that can make it esp tough. A great comic like John Mulaney could totally lose to a beatboxing grandma in one of these things, ya know? But hey, that's part of the game.

On a side note, spent the weekend up in Boston doing other shows and I think the scene there is really cool. Feels like a real community up there. All the comics are in on this tourney pool (March Madness style) for the contest — run by Tom Dustin, great comedian aka The Mayor of Boston Comedy — and they all show up at each show to see and support each other.

One big reason for the vibe: Rick Jenkins at The Comedy Studio. It's a great hub for developing comics and Rick really has built a special thing there. Every weekend the Studio is sold out yet he still puts on lineups that nurture young comics and encourage experimentation. And he's able to do it because he doesn't charge a big cover/drink min. That small, cool, sustainable approach can really impact an entire comedy scene. Nothing like it anywhere in NYC.

Also weird in Boston: There are no midsize rooms (from what I gather). There are a bunch of 80 seat venues. And then there's a big leap to 1200 seat theaters. But nothing in between. That seems like a strange vacuum.

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7 Comment(s)

Blogger myq said...

Thanks for the mention, Matt.
It was a solid lineup, always fun to be a part of, glad you had a good experience in the festival and city that I call my comedy hometown.

Regarding the lack of mid-sized venues, there was one in the Comedy Connection, which sat about 400ish I think, and was open for many years until last summer when the owner shut it down and opened an 1100-seat theater, where there are some great comics coming through, but at the expense of the seven-day-a-week club that the Connection was.

Who knows what the future holds? Maybe some technology will allow all the 80-seat rooms to combine into a large 400-seat Voltron of a room to replace the lost Connection.
Or maybe something real.

But in any event, hooray for Boston and comedy and the internet (oh my), etc.

8/31/09, 10:01 PM  
Blogger Abbi Crutchfield said...

Woo hoo! I'm so proud of you and Myq for going and knocking it out of the park! Thanks for the update and the insight.

9/1/09, 9:53 AM  
Anonymous Doogie Horner said...

I'm glad you liked my set! I wish the audience had agreed! I think I should've followed the advice in your blog and gone with quicker jokes, less weird jokes, and probably also funnier jokes.

That guy who did time at the end, while the judges scored in the back room, that guy was incredible. Oh my god. Just awesome.

The contest in general had a really cool vibe, and I couldn't believe how friendly all the Boston comedians were. Really great talent on the show that night. It seems like there's a great scene in Boston, and I'd love to visit again sometime.

9/1/09, 3:31 PM  
Blogger Matt Ruby said...

Doogie, not sure what the reaction was like upfront during your set but the comics in the back were loving it. I think all this contest stuff needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Non-weird jokes may be good in that setting, but not so good in the big scheme of things.

9/1/09, 5:06 PM  
Blogger myq said...

Just a quick note--I don't believe "the big scheme of things" equates exactly to "entertaining just the comedians in the back of the room."
Not that that's what Doogie was doing, but that could have been implied from what Matt said...

In a contest setting where audience reaction is one of the judging criteria, certainly it can help you advance if you think about the jokes you tell that you love AND that audiences love. Not that you can ever guarantee anything, for sure.

Relatedly, in the same round, MC Mr. Napkins, who advanced and is hilarious and definitely weird by comparison to most straight-ahead standup comedy, I believe did not necessarily receive the same audience reaction as some of the other folks who moved on (nor the same reactions that he gets in front of people who get and care about what he's doing completely), yet that didn't stop him from being rewarded. So, sticking to your weird guns can certainly pay off.

Good work, all weirdos.

And on that note, just to reiterate what Doogie said about that round's closer, the gentleman's name is Jack Hearney, and he is beloved by the Boston scene and deserving of much much more.

9/2/09, 9:56 AM  
Blogger myq said...

PS I might have spelled Jack Hurney's name wrong. And I might have done it again.

9/2/09, 12:27 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Hey Guys thanx so much for the Mention , Im just reading this now
I had so much fun doing that set AT THE HARD ROCK , It was actually
very fun for Me , although I did run out of Material thanx to my Great Crowd work I got through. Thankz again for the Kind words It was really quite an Awesome Line-up , Thanks Jack

11/18/09, 7:48 PM