We’re obsessed with winning awards and prizes – but that’s no way to live

·3-min read
From the Oscars to the National Comedy Awards, these coveted prizes are evidence of society’s desire to be officially rewarded for achievement (Getty)
From the Oscars to the National Comedy Awards, these coveted prizes are evidence of society’s desire to be officially rewarded for achievement (Getty)

This week, the new National Comedy Awards announced a host of long-lists, inviting the public to whittle them down to the cream of British humour community. These, the selected elite, will have the honour of being invited to a ceremony at which at least one person will stumble up and yell “always loved your stuff!” having spent the past decade in meetings saying “I don’t really find her funny at all, I have to say”.

Despite some embarrassing omissions (like, bizarrely, the absence of any radio awards whatsoever), these awards show real evidence of being assembled by people who have seen more than one comedy show in the past year and are interested in actual comedy fans’ opinions; in this respect they’re a major upgrade from certain similar events of the past. Half my comedy fraternity were celebrating a deserved nod on Tuesday; I was delighted for them. And by delighted, I mean seething with jealousy. My own award-gathering days are some years behind me. There isn’t one for Best Middle-Aged Standup Still Giving It His Absolute Best Shot.

All the same, I did get my hands on some prizes this week: 15 of them in fact. I had the honour of presenting something called the IWFM Impact Awards, recognising the efforts of people working in workplace wellbeing and sustainability. You may be thinking you missed this on Channel 4, but in fact – mysteriously – no broadcaster televised the ceremony. Nonetheless it was a night of genuine celebration and solidarity, in one of the many industries which see people grafting tirelessly without the glitter thrown across the faces of people in my own field. What it had in common with the Comedy Awards, though – and with all prize givings – is that some people were visibly disappointed by what I read out; that there were far more losers than winners.

Of course, it isn’t really “losing” to appear on a shortlist of an entire industry’s champions, only to be pipped to the post by a man called Gavin just across the table. It isn’t even “losing” to be me, happily productive in a career I set out in search of, and which would represent a dream existence to many up-and-coming people.

It’s just that, as a society, we think relentlessly in terms of victory and defeat. Movies are not just tipped for Oscars but made with their acquisition in mind and said to have been “snubbed” if they don’t win. Supremely talented footballers are mocked for slipping over once in a 15-year career of excellence. The mentality extends far beyond traditionally competitive fields, into every aspect of our activity. Influencers claim to be “winning at life”, basing the boast on little more than a picture of a Caesar salad which we don’t even have hard evidence they made themselves. In the early months of the pandemic our leaders endlessly talked about “beating the virus”; even now, there are public figures who will not stop likening it to the Blitz, as they have likened every national problem to the Blitz since they grew up in the 60s and were disappointed to find they had missed it.

Of course, rewarding achievement is important, and prizes should be savoured. But life isn’t meant to be lived on a scoreboard. There’s more glory in having a sustained and consistent effect on others’ lives than there is in staggering up to the stage in a tuxedo and thanking your hypnobirthing consultant. Most of the best and most treasurable people I’ve ever met have no championship titles on their CV. Without wishing to sound too much like an M People song, there are examples of unshowy, quotidian winning out there everywhere, and it’s time we started looking beyond trophies as a metric. And that will be my position until someone finally nominates me for something again.

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