Last night at World Cafe Live the Philadelphia comedy community gathered for the 2014 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy. It’s the third straight year the awards have been given out (and the first that I’ve had nothing to do with the planning, production, and writing of the show, theoretically giving me a lot of extra free time to work on my own jokes–time which I have squandered by instead re-watching episodes of The Shield). It’s also the third straight year Philly comics (and their social media accounts) seem to be divided as to whether the awards are a good thing, or complete bullshit and the worst thing to ever happen in the history of the world.
I’m not sure exactly why – but I feel an overwhelming need to write this to try to clear some things up. So, here’s some history on the WitOut awards to let you in on their motives, reasons behind them, and why can live in that area where they are both “important” and “bullshit”.
The idea for the WitOut awards came to me in a bolt of inspiration as a Facebook message from Rob Baniewicz. It was as simple as this: Philly comedy award nominations (and, yes, wins) would be something a local act can pad their resume with when applying to out-of-town festivals. That’s it. No other reasons behind it than that. So, basically the whole motive of the award show was as a way to help Philly comics branch out to other cities and perform and work in more places, not even as a way to self-congratulate and pat ourselves on the back.
We weren’t even going to have a show. We were just going to vote and announce the winners online. The first year had a “For Us, By Us” feel. The nominations and voting would come completely by votes from “members of the comedy community.” Then we figured, why not have a party?
Philly Improv Theater Executive Director Greg Maughan floated the idea that if we were going to give out awards, we should do it for real (PHIT owns the WitOut.net domain with the idea that when one editor gets sick and tired of volunteering their time to run the website for free they can find another that can keep it going as a web presence for Philly comedy news.) I didn’t have a job at the time and had plenty of time to volunteer to help plan the show, so I figured it could be fun. We could have a big party for Philly comedy, get people who usually don’t hang out with each other (improvisers and stand-ups) in the same room, and have a fun #friendship fest. I plan stupid get-togethers and picnics in the summer, and this was a chance to do that when it’s cold outside. The award show itself would be used as a way to make fun of awards shows. Yes, all awards shows are big jerk-off fests, and a local comedy award show would be a self-aware, make-fun-of-jerk-off-fests jerk-off fest.
Then, we secured World Cafe Live as a venue to have the event. It’s a pretty legit room, so another reason started creeping in for our Friendship-Fest-Jerk-off-
The first WitOut Awards got covered in Philly Weekly. The second WitOut Awards got write-ups in Philly Weekly (twice), The Daily News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Stage Time Magazine (twice). I’d like to take this time to give credit to Alison Zeidman, who came on as new editor-in-chief of the website and worked super hard to promote the hell out of the show.
So, if you ask me, that’s how the WitOut Awards are important. Their significance does not come in “winning” an award, the significance comes when the show can bring attention to our comedy scene. When people can read an article in the mainstream media covering comedy – and those people decide to come and check out a locally produced show. After that, it’s up to us as performers to make sure they see a good show so that they want to come back for more.
The actual “winning” of the award means nothing (trust me, I’ve won four). That part is all just a jerk-off fest. And jerking-off isn’t all bad. It can be fun..it can relieve tension…it feels pretty good. But don’t forget to remember that you’re not actually fuckin’.
I really, truly feel it is a problem when people take the actual awards and nominations super seriously. Yes, it’s nice to be nominated by your peers and be recognized for your work as a comedian – but for all the work put in by the editors of the site (Luke Giordano, Alison Zeidman, myself, and now Ryan Carey) the site is still growing. It doesn’t have a universal audience even among Philly comedians. Even with that said, if every person in the world was able to nominate and vote the fact remains that comedy is subjective! Some people are going to like what you do, some are not – the key is to work as hard as you can, be as good as you can, and find the people that appreciate what you do.
In summary: 1) the awards were originally created as a way for Philly Comedians to branch out, both among each other and to other cities, not get more insular 2) the show itself is a party and a jerk-off fest, and also originally meant to be a self-aware parody of the fact that it is a jerk-off fest 3) stop taking things so seriously, you’re supposed to be comedians for christ’s sake.