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RAW Comedy

Celebrated as Australia's biggest and most prestigious open mic comedy competition, RAW Comedy looks set to once again harvest the stars of tomorrow. Established 20 years ago, the competition only continues to grow in popularity. “It looks like we’re probably going to have more people trying to get up than last year,” confirms Associate Director of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Gideon James. “In Melbourne there’s a wait list and we’ve just confirmed a couple of extra heats.”

This burgeoning passion to participate comes as no surprise - after all, a quick scan of RAW alumni reveals competition’s exceptional track record in unearthing real talent. As James explains, though, winning isn’t necessarily everything, with success filtering through the ranks.  “Some of the biggest names that have gone through - Ronny Chieng who is on The Daily Show, Hannah Gadsby, Josh Thomas, Celia Pacquola, Matt Okine, Tom Ballard - some of them are winners but others were finalists. I think once you’re part of the final, that’s a huge platform and obviously being in the final I think can help you definitely be noticed and help you in your career.”
 
In fact, as James points out, a select few finalists from last year’s competition are set to shine again this festival season.“Jess (Perkins) and Angus (Gordon) and Sam (Taunton) are all in The Comedy Zone,” he reveals. “Most people in The Comedy Zone actually tend to have come out of RAW - if not the previous year, sometimes a couple of years before. So it’s definitely the start of a sort of development stepping stone that can lead you right through the festival.”
 
RAW Comedy can resemble a career-making first step for just about anyone, the competition encouraging everything from stand-up to sketch comedy, as well as double acts, triple acts and musical comedy. Naturally, contestants must be armed with new, original material. As James points out, though, RAW entrants are generally an imaginative bunch. “This particular contestant came onstage in flippers, a wetsuit, a tight swimming cap, goggles and a fit ball. It started from there,” James laughs. “There was one act that I definitely can’t forget that was in Darwin. He wanted to go on after the interval because he had a bit to set up. He basically brought in this massive, massive grass tree and he did the performance from behind the pot. Fleety was the MC. I’ve got photos to prove it.”
 
But what’s the best path to becoming the ultimate RAW Comedy national champion and scoring the major prize, a trip to Edinburgh to participate in for the world’s largest Festival Fringe? Does it pay to be a relative trailblazer? Or is the secret to success working in with whatever comedy paradigm is in effect? “It’s hard to tell,” James explains. “Presenting work that bears contribution to comedy into the future...if someone looks like they’re going to do that, then that helps them stand out I think. But I don’t necessarily think that points of difference are the contributing factors. I think funny material, really original material, an interesting take on things, confidence and just that sort of...I don’t want to say it, but I’ll say ‘x-factor’: that something that makes you go, ‘Wow I want to come back and see them,’ or ‘I’m going to remember that name and I’m going to see if they’re doing a show next year or if I can catch them around town.’ It’s so subjective.”
 
For contestants, the journey begins with an online registration form. James has some advice for anyone wrestling with the idea of signing up. “ I’d say if they just want to get up and do it - to have a go - to just get up and do it. That’s absolutely fine. That could be your plan: do it, see how it feels. Maybe over the next twelve months, if you like the experience, spend the twelve months doing open mic rooms and practicing and getting as much stage time as you can. Or - you know, if you’re really, really serious about it - I suppose the best thing to do is be as prepared as possible and do as many open mic rooms as you can. “
 
“Sometimes you’ve just got to get up there and do it. Luke Heggie, who won the national final, his first heat was his first gig. He did his heat, the semi final, won the state final and then won the national final,” Gideon recalls. “Ronnie hadn’t done much: I think he’d done a gig at Melbourne Uni campus and then his next one was at The Espy. If you can’t get stage time, with RAW, you’ve got three goes, so you may as well enter and just get up and do it. It’s free to enter. I think that’s one of the good aspects about it: it’s open.”
 
Tickets are already on sale for the RAW Comedy national final. It’s an opportunity for the public to gaze into the Comedy Festival’s own crystal ball and obtain for themselves a forecast of the nation’s next big thing. “It’s really showcasing the best comedy emerging from every corner of Australia,” James confirms. “There’s people that come out of RAW to do things and I just think it’s really exciting to go and learn the names, take your program and go home and learn the names of people you will get to know further down the track. It’s just really fun. People are doing five minutes, there’s a fantastic MC and when things are being filmed for TV there’s always sort of this extra exciting vibe to it. It’s in the main hall, which is fantastic. It’s just a great day.”
 
BY NICK MASON

The next RAW Comedy heat will be MC'ed by Lawrence Leung on Saturday January 30 at Howler from 1pm. They then carry on weekly until the Victorian state final on Monday March 21, which will be followed by that national final as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival on Sunday April 10 at the Melbourne Town Hall.