So you want to be Madison’s Funniest Comic

Well, it’s here folks. Madison’s Funniest Comic Competition (MFCC) begins April 6, 2022.

MFCC 2022 was originally supposed to start earlier this year, but a little-known rapscallion by the name of COVID-19 threw a wrench in the works and now I’m out of town for the duration of the competition. So, now that I have no horse in this race, I offer some friendly recommendations.

The competition is broken into several phases: you do three minutes (Phase 1, which is broken into two parts due to the sheer volume of contestants), and if you move forward you do a new three minutes (Phase 2), and if you move forward again you do a new five minutes (Phase 3), and then if you move forward once more, you do ten minutes of whatever you want, repeat material permitted (Phase 4). What determines whether you go forward is a combination of audience votes and official judges’ scores. By Phase 4, there should only be five comics left after an initial swath of 70+ hopefuls.

So, what do?

When I first (and last) competed in MFCC, someone advised me to put my best jokes in my first set. This is was good advice; there’s no point in holding back your best bits if you don’t end up advancing to the phase where you wanted to showcase them. But there are a few other factors one should consider when putting together that first three minutes for Phase 1.

Mind your time

Three minutes is an incredibly short duration, so maximize laughs per time. This is always a good rule of thumb no matter how long your set is, but it’s more important the less time you have. If your best jokes are long, they shouldn’t be in Phase 1 unless you have laughs or constituent jokes peppered in throughout.

To help with this: practice your set by saying it aloud and timing and/or recording it. This will give you a real sense for how long the jokes actually are. If you aren’t budgeting for laughs in rehearsal, you may end up having to talk over them in order to do your set as planned. And to account for the potential danger of going over your time, it’s also good to have a short, standalone banger in your back pocket so you can get off stage on a big pop at a moment’s notice.

Stand out

Something I would really emphasize when you build your first set is memorability. Sure, you can be funny, but you’re up against 34 to 35 other people in Phase 1. You have to stand out, especially if you represent a demographic that doesn’t.

I remember years ago when I attended MFCC as a civilian, there were at least four platinum blond-haired white girls in the competition (that’s Wisconsin for you) who all did jokes about vibrators. Think about this from the perspective of an audience member: if someone tries to describe you–a blond girl who did a joke about vibrators–to their friends and says, “I liked the blond girl,” and their friends reply, “Which one?” and the audience member says, “The one who did the vibrator joke,” and their friends reply again, “Which one?”, you are officially a brick in the wall. Do your most distinctive funny jokes, not just your funniest.

And if you’re miserably unfunny and have no memorable bits, you may as well wear a ridiculous outfit.

Make sense

Another thing to think about is coherence. This really applies to any set you do ever, but it can be harder to accomplish when you’re trying to fulfill the things mentioned above. How do you incorporate your best, most memorable jokes into a tight timeframe without jumping chaotically from one unrelated bit to the next? It’s hard! Hell, it may even be impossible.

If it’s truly impossible, you may as well lean into it and acknowledge that you’re taking a few hard lefts in your set. Sure, it’s a little hacky, but I find that audiences always love a meta-commentary on what’s happening in front of them.

If you can be coherent, however, do it. It’ll make it easier for the audience to follow your set and for you to remember it.

Set a personal goal

Let’s be real: you are almost certainly not going to win this competition. But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to gain. When I did MFCC in 2020, I had only two goals and accomplished both: to make it to the semifinals (Phase 3) and to advance farther in the competition than one specific person (lol). Incredibly petty, but hey, that’s what motivates me.

But I also ended up with three great clips because MFCC audiences are some of the loudest, most enthusiastic crowds you’ll encounter. So at the very least, set a goal to do your damnedest on stage because you’ll get yourself a clip where the audience is roaring. Clips like that are perfect for social media, self-promo, bookings, and so on.

And if you’re petty like me, set a dumb, spiteful objective or two.

And finally:

GOOD LUCK AND HAVE FUN!