breaking the jinx

Last night I was in a heat of the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year competition.

It seems irrational, in a way, to be doing new act competitions when you’ve been doing comedy for longer than two years. Competitions are horrible, stressful, and are absolutely the antithesis of what stand-up comedy ought to be; but I felt like I had to enter the Laughing Horse one last time.

Partly this is because getting to the final of any national competition – which I’ve never done – can open doors to better gigs. The Laughing Horse competition in particular is worth doing well in because it’s so big; this year they’ve had something like a thousand entrants from all over the country. It’s like the FA cup of new act competitions.

But in particular, the Laughing Horse competition has taken on a bizarre kind of jinxed significance for me because my previous record in it is just so bad. I got knocked out of it in the first round in my first year of performing despite having a pretty good gig; the next year I got my friends to come along (which I hardly ever do), got lots of laughs and still got knocked out because others on the bill brought even more friends who laughed even louder than mine did. Last year I finally got to a quarter final, but let myself down by doing basically all-new material. Getting knocked out of that was what made me start this blog (I cringe when I look back at that first entry now so I’m not going to link to it).

Anyway. Last night was just an initial heat with the only prize being a place in the quarter-finals. Since there are 27 quarter-finals, each with at least ten people in them, it only really means progressing from the 1000-odd wannabes into the final 300 or so.

But then I saw the lineup for last night, and I was petrified. It was a frighteningly strong bill for an initial heat, and included Mark Simmons (who was in three competition finals last year); Luke Graves (who’s in this year’s Hackney Empire Final); plus three or four others who, with a bit of luck, could easily be at least semi-finalists; and a bunch of others I didn’t know (of which there is always at least one who brings loads of friends who laugh uproariously for them and stay silent for everyone else).

And me.

All it would take, I was thinking on my way there, was for the others to do as well as they normally would, and then one dumb mistake from me would put me out in the first round again…

I needn’t have worried so much. I’ve made a huge amount of progress in the last year, I got a lucky slot in the middle of the first half and had a fairly strong gig with lots of laughs. I went too fast at the end, but it was enough for me to get through. Plus for some odd reason, nobody else really killed and the second half especially felt oddly subdued.

The horrible thing was that at a normal gig with that kind of lineup, I would have been pleased to be on a strong bill and would really want the whole night to go well. But at a competition, once you’ve done your bit you just find yourself sitting at the back of the room, secretly willing others to fail but not admitting it to anyone and pretending that the whole thing doesn’t really matter while secretly feeling petrified.

It’s awful.

None of which means I’m not happy to progress. I am. Now I just need to keep working hard, do lots of gigs and not balls up the next round.

Oh, and remember that the whole thing doesn’t matter.



1 Comment

  1. Great article Charlie,

    I had my Heat last night & the standard was comparable to last years semi-final.

    I liked your comment about secretly willing others to fail……i always feel that you want everybody to be good but not great !!! and then you go on and storm it !!!

    Very rarely happens that way though 🙂

    Best of luck in the competition.

    See you in the quarters,

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