This year's Hubcap Comedy Festival got off to a rousing start Wednesday night with its annual amateur stand-up contest. There were 17 hopeful participants on the docket and I got a bunch of friends together to check it out. It had the makings of an excellent evening. I was especially excited to check it out, because I have aspirations to give stand up a go. I’d never been to this particular contest so I had high expectations, but perhaps my expectations were just a little too high.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting high calibre performances. Amateur stand-up is hit or miss; people are developing new material, others working on their timing, while some are in front of an audience for the first time. Standing alone on stage at the mercy of the crowd is intimidating. You have to admire their courage to trek through their performance after their opening joke gets no reaction. It’s such a hard thing to prepare for, because you have no idea how the audience will react. However, we didn’t have to worry too much about reacting to the comics, because from where we were sitting it was nearly impossible to hear them. This is why Wednesday’s contest was disappointing.
Recently, I’ve missed a few opportunities to see shows, because of lack of planning. I’ve missed the last two Hairy Tease plays, because I didn’t bother to pick up advanced tickets to the sold out shows, so I learned my lesson. If I want to take part in Moncton’s cultural activities, I have to get off my ass, and buy advanced tickets. It was with this in mind that I made arrangements to attend the contest.
I called the Pumphouse on Tuesday afternoon to make reservations. I specifically asked for seats by the stage, because we wanted to watch the comedy. I made reservations for 5:30 so we’d have lots of time to eat and then enjoy the show. Things were set- there were ten of us excited for an evening of good food and laughs. We had lots of laughs, but not the laughs we were expecting.
We arrived at the restaurant, our reservation ready, but it was nowhere near the stage. We were seated at the back, right behind one of the large barrels; if we stood and leaned awkwardly over the booth we could see, but the acoustics were so bad, and the people around us, who had no interest in the night’s comedy, made it virtually impossible to hear. I was upset. I’d been really clear about specifically coming to see the show.
We did enjoy our meals and conversation and hoped to grab seats closer to the front once the show started. However, that was wishful thinking; the Pumphouse was hopping all evening and our hopes of getting better seats were dashed. I popped up from time to time to check out next year’s potential competition. I quickly realized the toughest competition was the crowd. Very few of the contestants were getting any kind of reaction whatsoever (the people seemed more interested in their microbrew than the show) but I give the contestants credit--they just kept the jokes coming. Once it became obvious we weren’t getting any real taste for the show, we just settled in and entertained ourselves.
Perhaps the Hubcap Festival should consider holding their competition at a different venue. The Pumphouse has a poor layout for watching shows. I’m sure they hold it there, because it’s one of the few places in downtown Moncton that’s consistently busy on a week night. The place was definitely crowded, but I wonder how many of the people were there to see the show or were most there to enjoy a few pints. There were 17 contestants in the competition, which suggest there’s enough interest in the competition to attract its own audience. There were probably lots of people who would have gone anywhere to see it. The Empress Theatre would be a nice size venue for this competition and it would encourage people to watch the show. The question is, was Wednesday’s event about promoting local comics or selling beer? We know The Pumphouse will always sell its beer, but these comics rarely have an audience. This competition should provide them with a venue and a captive audience, and The Pumphouse obviously is not that venue.