April 19, 2007
Comedy Central Looks to Recruit Stand-Up Comedians Through Web-Based Contest

Working with one's fan community through soliciting user-generated content can lead to some substantial rewards. One is the amount of content that it generates which then can be used as ancillary Web content. More substantial, however, may be the ability it gives entertainment brands to try and find its creators and entertainers of tomorrow from "among the ranks."

That's what contests like Comedy Central's Open Mic Fight, a call to seek comedians online will do. I have seen news of the call circulating this week, in which an online talent competition asks for users to send in video with the winner getting not only the chance to appear on a show on the network but also $10,000 in cash.

The competition on Comedy Central's site opened this week, and 72 comics will be chosen from this pool to then compete in regional competitions across the country. That pool of 72 will be narrowed down to 12 via votes from online fans, who will then compete in a live contest in September. The pool of 12 will be narrowed down to three competitors, who will then have videos posted online, and fans will once again vote to select the winner.

It is quite an involved process, with that many steps, but it creates the potential for an ongoing competition or saga that generates fan interest on its own, not just from those interested in submitting videos but from the much larger population who would like to participate as critics.

According to TelevisionWeek's Jon Lafayette, "The winner, who also will receive professional representation, will perform in a Comedy Central live tour and be a 'featured comic' on iTunes, VOD and mobile platforms."

Many of these contests have been attempted in the past year, and they seem to provide substantial interest whether they actually solicit meaningful longtime talent for the industry or not. For instance, World Wrestling Entertainment has been recruiting performers through its Web site, as I wrote about early in 2006. I wrote then that:

The hardcore fan base knows when someone is hired for cosmetic reasons versus actual ones, and the best performers turn out almost always to be the one with the deepest passion for the product. What does that mean? It means that the best potential wrestling announcers would probably be those kids who grew up watching wrestling and turned the sound down to pretend they were calling matches. The best wrestlers are the guys who grew up watching the competitors from years past. And the best writers are ones who actually know the history of professional wrestling. In short, the best talent pool out there is the fans. That's not to say that sportscasters, Hollywood writers, and college athletes aren't good in these positions--they already have a track record of being very talented. But it almost always makes a difference if they are also lifelong fans.

Another interesting example would be CBS/PGP's InTurn, which had actor hopefuls compete for a small As the World Turns contract in an online reality show that fans followed through CBS innertube. I wrote about this last August.

While I don't know if WWE has found any future Rock's or Steve Austin's or Edge's among their recruiting efforts, and I doubt Elwood is going to become a permanent major character on ATWT, it's an interesting process nonetheless. There have been some substantial efforts to create contests similar to Comedy Central's that accepts user-generated content, and I want to return to a couple of those in upcoming posts.

Comedy Central is a member of C3 partner MTV Networks, but no one with MTVN was consulted for this post.