Every year, a dozen stand up comedians perform their best material at Melbourne Town Hall in front of 1400 strangers, a panel of judges, and a national television audience, to try and win the RAW Comedy Competition.

Past finalists include Chris Lilley, Hannah Gadsby, Josh Thomas, Tom Ballard, Cameron James (the writer of this article) and 2013 winner Demi Lardner. And yes, we have all consumed the bloody pulp of those who have failed. Show business; there’s no business like it.

“I actually had three attempts at RAW before I got through,” Demi Lardner says, negating my lie about the cannibalism.

“I first entered when I was 16, and I didn’t get through the heats. Then the next year I was in the State final. And last year I was in the nationals.”

Demi is being modest. She not only won the RAW Competition that year, she also went on to become a joint winner in the international equivalent,So You Think You’re Funnyin the UK. It’s more than just a pat on the back – RAW can be a young comic’s introduction to the industry of saying stupid stuff on stage.

But it’s not all laughs; t’s also a lot of hard work.

“My act changed a lot in the years between those three attempts,” Demi admits. “I started to realise that I didn’t even find my own jokes funny. I was just writing what I thoughtaudiences would find funny”.

This type of creative maturity is rare in a 20 year old. It took Louis C.K. 20 years to come to his own comic epiphany, which is Demi’s entire lifetime. I’m not comparing Demi and Louis C.K., I’m just showing off that I know maths. Suck eggs, Mr. Woolford. (NB: my Year 5 teacher who mocked me for not understanding long division).

Of course, the big question is: why would any sane person do stand up? The answer: sane people wouldn’t. People start doing stand up because they’re manic with ideas, or they like attention, or they’re driven by spite and want to prove to Mr. Woolford that they could make something of themselves.

“I used to write down funny ideas in a notebook from when I was 10 years old,” Demi remembers. “Then when I was about 14 I started watching Lano & Woodley, and I realised you could be a comedian. That that was a thing you could be.”

Like anything, comedy is a profession that requires work and commitment. And any of the performers who have been through the finals will testify as to how hard the day itself can be.

“I don’t think I slept for three days before the finals,” Demi remembers. “By performance time, I was so exhausted I had no energy left to be nervous. Until I had to give my winners speech.”

Demi’s speech was cut short on the TV broadcast of the event. Because she swore. A lot. In fact, if you look closely, you can see her swearing at the girl who hands her flowers.

“Yeah, my friends all texted me about that,” she says. “‘Did you just tell that girl to ‘Fuck off’? Well, I didn’t mean to! I was caught up in the moment.”

RAW Comedy is a leg up for a career in comedy; but it’s only the beginning. A real career begins in the clubs, in the alternative rooms, and at the festivals. This year both Demi and myself are making our Melbourne International Comedy Festival debuts, so once again, we will be trying to prove ourselves to a larger audience. Many of the RAW finalists, state finalists, and heat participants go on to greater achievements within the industry, as long as they are driven enough.

And if they aren’t, they’re ground up and fed to Chris Lilley.

Cameron James is performing the sketch show ‘Paradise’ with comedy partner Jared Jekyll. Demi Lardner is performing as part of ‘Comedy Zone’.

TheNSW heats of RAW Comedy run until Sunday February 26 at theComedy Store, Moore Park.

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