Submission Fees

While I spend a lot of time doing comedy, my job is doing science.  I recently became aware that the American Heart Association is charging $100 for the RIGHT to apply for a grant.  This fee is typically not paid for by the department you work in, and has to be paid “out of pocket”.

Most people reading this aren’t scientists, so they don’t realize how ludicrous this is.  To make it more clear, I’ll put the grant application process into a comedy analogy:

The only way for you to succeed in comedy is to perform in the Science Comedy Festival.  There are 2 Science Comedy Festivals every year, and entry into the festival goes by a free video submission process.  However, getting into the Science Comedy Festival is very difficult process, as your video is scrutinized by a panel of randomly assembled comedians.

You submit your video one year, and it is reviewed by 3 comedians.  Two of the comedians have an important say in how your video is judged, and the third is sort of a tiebreaker.  These comedians give your video a score of 1-5, and when the panel meets to discuss who gets into the Science Comedy Festival, 60% of all videos are immediately ignored, because their score is too low.

The rest of the videos are discussed based on their merit and the top 8-10% are granted entry into the Science Comedy Festival.  Since you didn’t make it into the top 10%, but did make it into the top 40%, you get feedback on your video (people in bottom 60% have no idea what is wrong with their video).  The feedback would look something like this (I’ll use my standup video as an example):

REVIEWER 1 Video Comments: I really didn’t care for the lighting or sound of the video.  The comedian was hard to hear sometimes, and when I could hear him, I didn’t really get any of his jokes.  I don’t really know why the audience was laughing at those jokes.  I didn’t get them.  Probably he just brought a bunch of his friends in the audience and they were laughing with him to be polite.  I’m glad he mentioned what race he was, but he didn’t really make any jokes about being Indian (like how his parents act/talk weird, or how everyone thinks he smells like curry), nor did he use the “accent”.  I don’t think this guy’s ever going to be funny.

REVIEWER 2 Video Comments: I really liked this guy.  He was funny, and his jokes were smart.  There were some tags that I didn’t care for, but overall he was good.

So, if you want to get into the Science Comedy Festival as the act that you submitted, you’ll have to address the comments of the reviewers.  Otherwise, you’ll have to develop a brand new, completely different act (i.e. a different character, persona, etc.).  It’s clear that Reviewer 1 really didn’t like me, and not for any clear-cut or correctable reasons.  Meanwhile, since Reviewer 2 wasn’t effusive in his/her praise, the opinion is heavily weighted to Reviewer 1.

If all of this seems arbitrary, it is.  If you get different reviewers, you could get two people that really like your act, possibly because one is Indian and they like to see more Indians in the Science Comedy Festival, or because they personally know who you are and like you.  And the worst part is, you don’t know who’s viewing your videos, as this process is supposed to be anonymous.

Now they’ve introduced a $100 submission fee, just for the right to apply to get into the Science Comedy Festival.  They say that this is to pay for the cost of viewing all those videos, but really the end result is that people who get to perform in the Science Comedy Festival get to be paid even more.

This grim picture is not too different from the way crappy comedy festivals already operate (without the feedback), but the difference is that if you’re a comedian, you don’t have to do crappy comedy festivals.  If you’re a scientist, you HAVE to apply for grants to keep your job. Also, the extra money for funding that this will ensure is great IF YOU GET FUNDING, which is only if you’re in the top 8-10% of applications.  The rich get richer as this $100 submission fee is serving its true function: beating science into submission.


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