I did not win the “Funniest Person in St. Louis” contest at Helium last night. The winners were all friends of mine and are very funny people who deserve whatever they get. Nothing I write here is meant to diminish that.
I hate comedy contests*. Not because I don’t see a value in them, but because I don’t like what they bring out in me. I try not to compete, because I get incredibly competitive and emotionally invested in trying to win**. I can sum it up with two scenarios.
A friend of mine was eliminated in the first round. This person was feeling down about it. I said this, which I truly believe.
“Comedy contests don’t measure who’s a better comic. They measure who connected best with a specific crowd that night. The ability to make that connection rests on at least as many, if not more, variables that are beyond your control as there are variables in your control. You can’t judge anything based on the fact you didn’t advance. You judge it based on how you felt about your set. Did you have fun? Did the audience laugh? Did you do material you’re proud of. Everything else is out of your control.”
After losing in the finals last night, this was the narrative in my head. Which, I don’t believe and would never hold anyone else to this standard.
“Well, I guess I’m an unfunny piece of shit.”
There such pretentious conceit in that statement. I was lucky enough to make it to the final six, out of more than a hundred comics. Comics way funnier than me, with way more experience, and way better writing than me, were eliminated in the very first round. This includes comics I consider friends, as well as comics I don’t really personally connect with. If anyone had said that their elimination was some kind of reflection of the quality of their work, I would argue that person down.
When you’re your own worst critic, you are both being a piece of shit to yourself, and holding yourself up as better than others. It’s such a weirdly schizophrenic thing and we all do it. I’m trying to stop. It doesn’t make me fun to be around.
To prove the point of how unfun it makes me, here’s an example. A friend of mine was a judge that night; he’s a local radio personality. I was trying to duck out and he saw me in the bar after the show. He came up and said he thought I had a great set and asked how I felt. I said “Well, I wish I’d won,” in what I thought was a funny tone. He told me the next day that he thought I was going to stab him. Oops.
I’m trying to learn how to concentrate on all of the incredibly cool things that have happened to me in just four years doing this. I’ve worked really hard to hit the ground running, since I constantly feel like I have to make up for not starting in my twenties. All of that progress has not been erased because I didn’t win this (or any) contest.
I’m over it today, but I wanted to write about it in case you go through the same thing. Maybe you’ll benefit from knowing someone else has the same issue.
*Irony: I ran a contest for www.stlouiscomedy.com in April called “DEATH MIC 2017” to encourage comics to attend local open mics. I know..I know…
**I’ve always been this way. In high school, after every football game, win or lose, I always had some weird reaction to the adrenaline that comes from competing. I would have to find a shower stall and would find myself vacillating between crying and nausea. Today, I know what anxiety is, and have Xanax.