February 28, 2012

A Comical Tale

I’ve dusted off and updated a piece I wrote for the Warwick SU’s in-house magazine as it turns out I never put it up here – It was originally written for the 2006 heat of the Chortle Student Comedy Awards, and back then it was history. Now it’s ancient history.

So last night Warwick Uni once again played host to the midlands heat of the Chortle.co.uk Student Comic competition. At first glance this might seem like your average comedy competition but it is in fact an event intrinsically linked to Warwick Uni and their Students Union. To explain this, we have to go back in time nearly ten years.

The exec of the Comedy Society in 2003 was comprised of six entirely new people, the prior exec having all graduated in the same year. None of us had much of a clue what we were doing, but nevertheless we had grand ideas, the majority of which proved to be far too grand for our little society but nevertheless one idea stuck out. It developed from some discussion that had been going on with student comics at other universities, about the idea of having some sort of ‘act exchange’ program, where upcoming student comics could go and play at other university’s gigs. It was a nice idea but somewhere along the way it metamorphosed, and we thought: ‘why not make it a competition?’ And so the country’s first student comedy competition was conceived.

The Guardian had recently spoken to us about our society and the benefits it bought to student performers and we took the opportunity to mention the idea of the competition. We were rather bemused upon reading the resultant article that they’d also spoken to Paramount Comedy, who were rather disparaging towards the whole idea and were “not convinced it would go ahead”. “They said it couldn’t be done” is phrase that often gets used to add gravitas to a given success. Very rarely does anyone ever tell you who ‘they’ are. For us it was Dave Hancox of Paramount Comedy; now we had no choice but to prove him wrong!

There were still, inevitably, a fair few problems to solve. First was the issue of money – turns out that the previous exec hadn’t actually filled in a budget request form, and so the money available to us in our account was this: none existent. Un-deterred we quickly spotted that Barclays were running a capital investment competition, encouraging societies to submit ideas for worthy events that they would provide some funding for. A proposal was quickly written up and submitted, and we soon heard we’d been picked as a finalist. We put aside the irony of entering a competition to run a competition, and worked on a presentation we were to deliver in front of our competitors and a number of Barclays executives the following week. Despite strong competition from the likes of RAG and StreetVibe, as we emerged from the presentation evening we did so £300 better off. Was it the brilliance of our concept, the strength of our proposal, or the charisma of our presenters that won us that prize? It could have been any of them, but I like to put it down to a certain exec member (that shall remain Stacy) doing the presentation dressed up as a fairy. Never let it be said Barclays have no sense of humour.

So we had a concept and funding, all we really needed now were some competitors. We placed a notice on the forums of comedy website Chortle.co.uk, which are frequented by comedians of all statures, from the local guy who just started last week to Dave Gorman. Oddly, the most interesting response was not from any of the entrants, but from Chortle editor Steve Bennett, who was interested in getting involved in running the competition: “[It] struck me as a good
idea because there was nothing like it that existed, even though lots of
students perform comedy. So this was a good case of highlighting that
talent.” Steve kindly agreed to not only publicise the competition on the front page of his website, but also provided us with an MC for the evening and a panel of judges. After shifting through all the entries, we chose thirteen finalists who performed to a packed student crowd in the Cooler. After a closely fought competition (and some chilled out Jazz from The Pretty Small Band in the intervals), Warwick’s own Lloyd Langford emerged victorious. One could argue that the home-advantage helped him with the audience vote, but convincing our three-strong panel of comedy industry judges (Steve Bennet, Alexis Dubus and Rich Batsford) was undoubtedly down purely to his talent.

The event was a resounding success, and so it was no surprise that the next year it was agreed cast the net far wider, with a number regional heats culminating in a final in London. This year there are seven regional heats and it is now a major national comedy event. It continues to grow under the aegis of Chortle’s Steve Bennett Corey Shaw.

Last night saw a fantastic show, just one of thirteen heats nationwide in a competition that now includes two semi-finals and a £2,500 grand prize.. The whereabouts of Dave Hancox are unknown.

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