In the weeks leading
to the premiere of Crossfire Comedy Club, although I knew I wanted to do
something special with it, something to make it different from any of the other
open mics in town, I still didn’t know what that would be. At Taboo Comedy Club, my former partner and I
discussed having special theme nights but never did any of them; since then,
other clubs have run with that ball, so I didn’t want to do the same. (Carlin once said, “I’m ahead of my time.
Trouble is, I’m only about an hour and a half ahead.”)

I went to a comedy
awards show and felt it was a very small group handing out awards to a slightly
larger group of comics. Since the comedy
scene in Stockholm is enormous, I thought how nice it would be to recognize
more people. Then I thought, why not
have an awards show at the end of Crossfire’s season? Then thought of having a competition at the
end, then decided to make the competition last the whole season. I had my idea and it would have other
benefits, which I’ll mention later.

Competitions are
pretty common in other places, but not so much in Stockholm. I started here in a rookie competition that’s
sadly discontinued and another club had a season-long competition but closed
after one season. It’s a tough thing to
judge but I do believe it’s mostly positive because it gives comics a reason to
try a bit harder in a friendly environment.

The setup was simple-
five competitors a night, the audience would vote by applauding at the end and whomever
got the loudest response would win.
Towards the end of the season I even got an app for my phone to measure
it with more accuracy. From the start I
made no secret of the fact that comics who packed the room with friends would
have an obvious advantage. By the end of
the season we had twenty comics over two nights of semifinals that had two
weeks to come up with up to five all-new minutes each, and the crowd decided
which four should go on the final. At
the final, the crowd had a vote but there were three judges as well, each with
the same amount of say as the crowd, which made the crowd vote more or less symbolic,
at best. That was intentional.

There were a few
grumbles during the season that the setup was a bit unfair, but not too much,
at least not until after the second semifinal.
Then I heard much more complaints, that having the crowd vote at the end
wasn’t a fair assessment of talent, that even the comics themselves could
scream for a high score (though that didn’t happen, not once), that I should’ve
been counting laughs during the performances, etc etc etc.

To be honest, there
were a few cases when a comic advanced almost entirely thanks to supporters in
the room. But, as I made clear to all, it
was something everyone had an equal opportunity to take advantage of. In theory, one comic’s supporters could
refuse to laugh at the other comics and sit on their hands during the voting,
but that never happened either. The
reason I had judges at the end was to have a real evaluation of talent.

Here’s the thing-
besides wanting to motivate the comics to do their absolute best, I also wanted
to motivate them to bring people to the show.
I wasn’t paid to run the club, it was free entry, I had no budget to
speak of, no way to market the events or pay comics to perform. The only way I could get comics there is to
have place I hope they like and feel welcome.
The only marketing I can do is on Facebook, Twitter, and word of
mouth. I’m very happy to say that we
managed to get a few regulars even during the first season, people that shared
events on Facebook and brought others to the show. As comics, we’re pretty spoiled for stage
time in Stockholm, and many do very little to tell others about the clubs. It can be a challenge just to get scheduled
comics to even click “coming” on an event they’re scheduled for, much less take
two seconds to share it.

It takes some of the
fun out of running a club, but I get it, no one wants to annoy others with
constant advertising and spamming. I
understand that because that’s what I need to do to have a club. A crowd means the venue wants to keep the
club going, a crowd means the comics will have a good show. At Taboo, it was rare that a comic brought a
group to see them, so I knew having this sort of competition would be more
successful than me just asking the comics to push the events.

Overall, it wasn’t the
deciding factor for the vast majority of the twenty that got into the semis;
most advanced thanks to love from complete strangers. Bringing supporters didn’t always translate
into a win anyway- one comic brought a huge group, most of whom left after
their performance, apparently missing the memo about voting at the end. Another filled a table near the stage, a
table I had to remind, repeatedly, to pay attention during the show, and a
table that gave a pretty lackluster response during voting.

(I can relate. I once brought an enormous group to watch me
compete during a similar competition in Dublin, and even the host thought me
winning was a foregone conclusion. When
it came time to vote at the end they didn’t do a thing. People suck.
In my defense, English wasn’t their first language.)

I am happy to say,
however, that the feedback I’ve received from comics has been overwhelmingly
positive, about the competition in general and also for making everyone do five
new minutes during the semis. At this
point I’m hoping to start a second season there in February and I’ll likely
keep that competition going. I don’t
intend to change the format.