3rd July 2018
On a particularly dull day in the Winter of 2017, probably a Wednesday, I (as The Stand-Up Club) was asked by the organisers of the PetFringe festival to meet up to secretly discuss helping them with a comedy competition, for which they had a staggering £10,000 prize to give to the winner only – no losers in Losertown. We met at midnight, a smoky haze enveloping us at a dive bar somewhere in Surrey, and plotted. Well we did plot, but it was in a brightly lit gastro pub by the railway station in Haslemere. The PetFringe organisers had the idea of it being a prize for the best hour-long Preview show at the Petfringe Festival that year. I suggested that it might be fun to try something different, to disrupt the standard big competition format and criteria that have the same types of ‘experts’ judging the same types of winners each time – often resulting in shows with not so many laughs, arguably more drama than comedy, winning awards. Great shows some of them, but just not that funny. Let’s make this thing big, and get as many acts to enter as possible, and ask them to do their best club set.
Most of the better acts on the circuit are more than capable of putting together a really good hour show should they put their mind to it. Week-in week-out they play to audiences around the UK, often in less than ideal conditions, adapting to the audience and thinking on their feet. These acts deserve championing. This competition I suggested, should be for acts who (and I can’t believe I was so brazen in suggesting this) were actually really funny. Imagine a comedy award for THAT! In order to be authentic a great comedy performance does not necessarily need to be making a deep political statement, or be inspired by a family death, or plot the painful journey of the comedian’s personal suffering. This competition should be about making people laugh, in comedy clubs. Normal people on a night out, looking to be entertained and go home with their faces aching from laughing.
Luckily they went with my idea, and 876 applicants later we were trying to decide the final 54 for 6 heats around the country. That’s a lot of videos to watch, and decisions to make. One of the best decisions I personally made was to get Mike Gunn, a brilliant headlining act, to be our head judge. His trousers may not be as high as Simon Cowell’s but he knows his stuff and is greatly respected in the industry. Each heat would have Mike leading a judging panel consisting of the local promoter plus a ‘lay’ person (who loves comedy). A mix of male and female. As fair as possible to everyone. Criteria would be the writing (is it funny, original, and not stolen or hack), the performance/delivery, and the audience reaction – after all, it is the audience who really matter at any show. Finally each judge would have some marks to allocate for their own personal enjoyment of the set. Acts would do 10 mins each, their slot on the night drawn out of the hat like the FA Cup 3rd round. This was the FA Cup of Comedy!
The heats started in March in London, moved on to Bedford, Manchester, Taunton and finished on Saturday in Petworth (Sussex). The Grand Final is this Sunday (8 July) and we have nine acts remaining, one of which will be ten grand richer! The finalists consist of the six heat winners, two ‘best’ runners-up and one wildcard. The wildcard and best runners-up gave the judges the flexibility to ‘even’ things out if one heat was especially strong, or if there were outstanding performances that merited a final spot. The finalists are (in alphabetical order):
MC: Andy Stedman
Judges: Mike Gunn + Team
Other runners-up who didn’t quite make it but were fab were Dave Thompson, Lenny Sherman, Peter Brush and Raymond Mearns. MC’s have been the fabulous Cerys Nelmes and Paul Revill, plus myself (Andy Stedman).
We are also delighted to announce that the same prize money is guaranteed for the next two years, to help support working comedians and promote the exciting festival that PetFringe is, and wants to be. Next year, 2019, we will be holding more heats, allowing more acts the chance to prove what they can do in front of an audience and not just from a video, and we will be travelling further around the UK in finding who will be Petfringe Comedian Of The Year 2019.
One last thing. I want to big myself up. I felt I should contribute to the prize money, to show my commitment to the cause. That £1 (a whole 100 pence!) I put in should make all the difference. Don’t spend it all at once, winner. It’s only a quid, but it makes this competition the biggest cash prize comedy competition prize in the UK. Sneaky. A lot of people were sceptical that this was real, that there was actually £10,001 to give away. Hopefully next year everyone will be talking about it, and Petworth Fringe will be well and truly on the comedy map. They’re great guys, it’s a lovely village/town/hamlet (I am not sure which!) We hope to see you at the Final.
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