“Is this about Raw? Oh, sweet!”

It’s understandable that Cam Knight has spaced on the reason for his interview with the BRAG, for the much-loved comedian-cum-actor-cum-writer is in a constant fluster of activity – he’s just had an audition for a radio show, and he bashfully remarks: “I think it went alright, but I can’t say anything else – who knows?”


Yes, even the most successful of the entertainment crop are still required to audition for new roles – but occasionally, an audition takes the form of a fun competition, particularly for the next generation of comics. Enter the Raw Comedy competition. Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s annual hunt for the nation’s next undiscovered wit is holding its Sydney heats this month, and Knight emphatically dives into all things Raw. 


“It’s an [original comedy] competition that triple j has been running forever – the national grand champ winner has the opportunity to get taken over to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, then after that who knows? It’s a good opportunity for kids.


“I wish they’d stop doing it, but that’s just because I’m an old comedian who doesn’t need any more competition,” Knight adds, laughing. “Stop getting these children on, I’ve got bills to pay!”


Knight will be a guest MC at the Tuesday February 28 heat, and it’s clear Raw is a concept he is passionate about, harbouring fond memories from his previous involvement. “There are other working comedians who say to me I hosted their semi or grand final, and I don’t remember them but it was a poignant moment for them, and for that reason, it’s a good opportunity in the business.” 


The South Australian comic firmly believes that taking part in the competition can be a great tool to break into a comedy career. “There are people in the industry that started out in Raw – it has been a useful tool for a lot of people,” he says.


Indeed, Raw has given rise to many of our nation’s current crop of comedy talent: the likes of Chris Lilley, Josh Thomas, Hannah Gadsby and Ronny Chieng are just a few of those who have taken the plunge. Raw gets comics noticed – and more than this, it gets them coaching and direction from industry heavyweights. The focus is on the comedian, not the competition; on harnessing their talents and making sure they’re given the best direction for their skills to soar. 


“You wanna get noticed,” says Knight. “You get into the final, you’re playing [Melbourne] Town Hall. “You’re mentored by people who’ve been in the industry a long time, and [the winners] have to learn how to fly their own show. You get taught how to do festival shows until you’re ready to do your own hour.”


With or without a foothold like Raw, the world of stand-up comedy is tough – it’s an environment that requires a lot of practice and a lot of heart to succeed in. “You need to pay the bills so you’ve gotta take jobs,” Knight says. “There’s a lot of people out there that are calling themselves comedians, but yeah, if you can get a gig on TV or radio and are still able to have your own voice, it feeds itself.”


Knight is better placed than most to know what the Raw judges – and indeed, the audience – will be looking for throughout the competition. “Each year is different – it’s the individuality of the person, the act,” he says. “There’s people who wanna be offensive or who have watched Bill Burr too much. The person who wins is quirky, individual. Sometimes they’re a real wackjob!


“It can also be on the night, that particular crowd loves the person, loves the vibe – that could be any comedian. It could just be the right night.”

Raw Comedy 2017 runs until Tuesday March 21 at The Comedy Store.

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