The Getting of Reviews

Posted on 23 April 2013

The 2013 Comedy Festival was most notable among comedians for poor review practices by both mainstream and online media. The Jenny Wong/Crikey debacle particularly stands out, but others were also stung by poor reviewing.

We saw people who were reviewed on the basis of one bad night. We had others reviewed based on the sexual attractiveness of the performer. We had reviewers who came to theatrical productions and critiqued them for not being standup. The list goes on and personally I find it deeply embarrassing.

When you are an up and coming comedian you need the visibility that comes with media attention. Even a so-so review in mainstream media is better than no review at all. The problem is a bad review can follow you around for years. What do you do to get attention? What do you do to get thoughtful attention?

Be a Go-Getter

This year I had a few people contact me before the festival for reviews. I slotted them into my schedule immediately. When it came time to ask for publicity tickets from the festival’s marketing agency, I filled up the rest of my dance card. When certain shows realised major media were not turning up, they contacted me as a last minute measure. I had two days in particular where I had a dozen offers of tickets. By that time I couldn’t do very much.

Now the festival marketing agency are not very pro-active. Mostly they let the reviewers come to them. So, if you want to see your show in the media, you should consider approaching them yourself with a press kit.

If you haven’t been on TV nor have a festival managed venue, you are unlikely (not impossible) to garner any major media pre-publicity. Plan with that in mind. Approach Yawp, Bon Vivant, Comedy Beast, Squirrel Comedy, and myself early. The sooner we can get in, the sooner we can help with word of mouth. Your go-to people are going to be community and student newspapers, radio, and tv. They may not make your ego feel as well stroked, BUT they do get the punters in.

Also remember all the niche media with which your show lines up. If you are doing a show about hardware, find a hardware newsletter and buy some advertising space. If your show is about robots, find science fiction emailing lists who would be willing to send out special offers for you. Who are your audience? What media are they consuming?

The Truth About Journalists

The sad sorry truth about reviews is that usually they are done by people with limited understanding either of comedy or of proper journalistic practises. The journalists at the big newspapers have degrees in journalism: not theatre, not cabaret, not standup. They get assigned to review because they can effectively put two words together, not because they have any real insight into your art. People figure they are deserving of respect simply because they are working at that particular organ. With blogs you might get people who have more direct experience of your field of performance, but they are unlikely to understand the concept of journalistic integrity.

You don’t have to give tickets to every reviewer who asks for one. If certain reviewers consistently do a poor job of representing the comedy community, make them buy tickets if they want to write about you. This should of course be a last resort option, but you have that power. Just be warned that if you get too sensitive about your reviews, no one may be around when you finally have the skill to crack the big time. That’s the trade off. If you want them writing about you when things are good, you have to let them write about you when things are bad.

Reward Blogs

A better approach would be to reward bloggers who do a good job of representing you. Print newspapers are dying. There’s a reason why The Age switched to a tabloid format. Most people check online to determine which shows they are going to see. They want online reviewers who are knowledgeable, reliable, and reflect their own opinions. When you name blogs that have given you good reviews on your festival page, when you quote blogs on your posters, you give them greater visibility and credibility. If people like your show, they will go to that blog to find similar stuff they like. The opinion of that blogger then counts for more, so when they review you again in the future, people will take it seriously. I know, it seems incestuous, but it’s how it works.

One final word, don’t let weird reviews get you down. You are working in live comedy. You don’t have the benefit of after show editing or special effects. What you are doing is edgy, vibrant, and alive. Watching a festival show as compared to a television show is like the difference between seeing a live tiger in the wild or a snapshot of one in the zoo. You deserve respect. Start by respecting yourself.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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