April 19, 2011

Funny Women

Dean has been waiting to get home all day to play Portal 2, but it’s decrypting right now, which gives him a chance to rant briefly about something fucking awful

The Funny Woman comedy competition started taking entries today. And is charging £15 for the privilege.

Now. Pay-to-play is bad. It happens a lot in the US, but over here any attempts to bring it in have been swiftly rebuffed. I’m not going to go in to details, as I’d recommend Pear Shaped’s wonderful illustrated guide as background reading that explains exactly why it’s bad for the comic, the punter, and the industry as a whole. But when I first read about the entry charge for Funny Women I wasn’t too bothered. £15 wasn’t a huge amount, it’d maybe filter out the people that aren’t really serious about a comedy career and just want five minutes on stage to try it, it’ll help pay for a decent prize fund, and it’ll let them keep ticket prices low. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t like it, I could just see the argument in favour. I appreciate the competition does a lot to showcase quality female stand-ups in a world where they’re very much discriminated against, so if it’s necessary to charge a small fee to entrants to keep the competition going, I wasn’t going to get all that mad about it.

Some more details emerged today, that, frankly, threw a whole new light on the situation.

Detail number one: there is no prize fund. The winning prize is a management deal and tour, a DVD of your gig and a website. Taken one by one: if you win you’re supposedly the best new female comic in the country, so the management deal and tour should actually be profitable for the people providing it; making a DVD is a piece of piss and anyone with a digital camera and Windows Movie Maker can do it; and for the website, they don’t say which website you win, but it’s probably not a good one like bbc.co.uk or even a decent has-been like MySpace (more seriously, even getting a website done professionally shouldn’t cost more than a hundred quid or so). Basically, the whole thing can be done in-house so there’s no real expense on the prize fund. So where is the money going?

Detail number two: tickets for the shows cost around £10-£12. Now let’s all stop and have a chuckle at the fact that this means going to see a Funny Women heat costs £12, and for an extra £3 you can get up and do five minutes. Done? Okay, so that’s £12 then. For that you, as a punter, get to see a whole bunch of unpaid acts, with the whole thing held together by a paid professional MC. Some quick maths: assuming a conservative 50 tickets sold at £12, that’s £600 on the door. Now these MCs are pros, they’re good, but from what I’ve seen of the names so far, they’re not exactly £600 good.

A punter can, of course, for £12 can go see a full line up of three or four professional acts at the weekend. Said punter can get the same line-up mid-week for half of that. Our mythical punter, for a sixth of that price, can come to Reckless Comedy in Leamington Spa on a Monday night and also see a bunch of unpaid acts with a paid, professional headliner. Basically, if you’re charging £12 for a gig full of unpaid open spots and one professional, you’re already running something of a racket. I can only assume the logic goes that if you’re going to rip-off the punters, you should probably rip-off the acts by charging them to play too.

I’d say that if this really is all above board, just let us know exactly where the money is all going. Show your working. I’d love to know.

So that’s me wearing my promoter hat and explaining why that bit pisses me off, but from the perspective of just a regular comedy fan it’s really, really frustrating me.

“Women aren’t generally that funny” – I hear that a lot from friends that consider themselves comedy fans, from friends I know don’t have a sexist bone in their body, from female and male friends. It annoys me but I understand where it comes from: they went to a comedy night, there was one women on, she wasn’t as good as the men, and so a prejudice is formed. Why that happens is an entire other blog entry, but the only way to convince them otherwise is to take them to see some really funny female comics.

Cut to the Funny Women competition. They charge you £15, and guarantee you the chance to perform in a heat. Stop and think about that: anyone willing to pay can get stage time. There’s no filtering based on experience, or requests for references. So sure, you’ll get a lot of good female open spots that hate the idea of paying but see it as a necessary evil to enter such a high profile competition. But then you also get people that have never done comedy before, perhaps don’t even know that there are plenty of gigs out there that will give a new act a shot and not charge them for the privilege. Maybe they’ve always secretly wanted to be a comic, or maybe they just see £15 as a reasonable figure for a fun new experience and night out. Either way, as with so many things in life, you’re rarely that good your first time.

So here we have a promoter charging an audience £12 to come and see one professional act, and a bunch of people whose only guaranteed comedy credentials are that they had £15 in their wallet. Some of them will be good. Some of them will be shit. The majority of them will be so-so. At £12, a punter expects more than 3 or 4 good acts out of 12. They’ll feel ripped off. And they’ll leave the gig, perhaps a bit annoyed. But they won’t be thinking “wow, that promoter is rubbish, remind me never to go see shows that they put on again”. They’ll be thinking “wow, women comics are shit, remind me not to go see female comics again.”

Which is undermining the whole supposed point of Funny Women as an organisation.

Postscript: If you are about to turn your comedy competition in to a pay-to-play setup, and you want a sympathetic reaction, it’s probably best not to write an article called Turn Your Passion in to Profit a few months before. Just saying.

If anyone is reading this and thinking “yes, but it’s so hard to get stage time any other way” then e-mail me and I might be able to help you out.


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