It All Seems So Simple…

not-what-it-seems

Comedy seems like a simple endeavor.  You write material and you get stage time and eventually, you get paid lots of money to do it in front of lots of people.  The steps seem simple as well. You sit down, write all the stuff that you joke about with your friends, and you should be making a living in comedy by the end of the year.  It seems so simple.

You start by finding an open mic near you and this, this is where you start your career as a comedian. You have your material set up.  You get there, and you realize that you are not just one of a few, but one of many other comedians that are thinking the same thing.  Wanting that shot at fame and fortune. Because there are so many comedians, you have to curtail your material to the three minutes that you have.  You go up and what you thought were three minutes were four and you get the light before you could finish.  You didn’t even get to the big finish!

After a couple of months of stringing together material, you have a great 30 minutes.  Now you are ready to start touring the country, getting paid to make people laugh.  You start asking the seasoned comedians in the scene who you can get work from.  They look at you like you are silly, but they give you the email addresses of people and you try to get booked.  They ask for head shots and bios and videos, and now you have to scramble to get these things because you are this close to being a comedian. You have your friend take your photo and record one of your sets at a bar.  You send that all in and…nothing. Hours turn to days and days to to weeks.  You send another email and again nothing.

You have been doing it for six months now and you finally get to feature for someone!  You have your material memorized and ready to go.  You get to the bar and you realize that the eight people there did not know a show was going on so they keep talking while you go through your material. What you thought was 30 minutes of great material was actually 18 minutes of okay stuff.  No one laughs and you walk off the “stage” dejected.  The headliner goes up and gets the crowd into it and by the end of his time, everyone is having a blast.  This did not go as planned.

You finally get a show out of town!  You are excited.  You get to the casino and you get your free meal coupon and you finally feel like you are in the big time.  You get to your room and try to watch some Netflix, but the internet is so shaky that you go to the casino floor instead.  After losing 20 bucks, you go get a meal before the show.  Tonight you will be performing in front of 20 bitter gamblers and they do not enjoy your jokes about gophers.  You get your check for 100 bucks…in a week or two.

Comedy seems simple.  You can see the steps to success right there.  That isn’t how life works though. For every comedian that gets a Comedy Central special after performing for two years, there are hundreds of comedians in bars and casinos all over the country just trying to get by on whatever they can.  Comedy’s wash out rate is second only to the Navy Seals (an exaggeration of course), mainly because the steps seem simple, but when actually acted upon, it is soon discovered that the road to fame is tough. That is why so often you don’t often see full time comedians.  If you relied on just comedy to make it you would be homeless by the time you gain traction.

Comedy is hard.  I know it because I have done it for eleven years.  Terrible casino shows and late payments are the norm.  Driving all over just in the hopes that you can get more work from this booker later.  Hoping that the hotel smells less like butt and more like lavender.  The thing is, I never thought I would get this far.  I am thankful everyday that I get to do this.  I get to step on stage and try my best to get a room full of strangers to laugh.  That should be your first duty.  Funny.  After that, get better at the networking and the promotion, but get funny.  Because no one can turn away funny.  It is not simple, but not much is.

How Your Mind Can Sabotage Your Stand-up

tree-of-knowledge

Comedians are a curious bunch of people.  They stand on stage, usually by themselves, and say things that you would think they are totally confident in.  This can’t be further from the truth!  While a comedian is on stage, their minds take several fallacies to convince them that what they are doing, or want to do, is not worth it.

Let’s start at the beginning.  It takes a lot for comedians to just convince themselves that they are funny enough to get on stage.  A lot of us have to build up courage and talk ourselves into doing it.  That is why so many times you see drunk people on stage their first time.  They are trying to calm their nerves, but even more so, they are trying to drown the mind.  This is not the best way to go about it because you may end up thinking that is the only way you can get on stage, and that will lead to other issues.

Comedians love to go with what works.  So, if they find material that is getting laughs they may never want to put it away.  There are comedians out there still doing jokes that they wrote in the 90’s!  Why is that?  They have convinced themselves that there is nothing new that they can write that will get them laughs like what they are already doing.  This can become a big problem when their livelihood depends on it.  If you are not performing new material, bookers may see you as a stalled comedian and just stop booking you.

Sometimes we have to deal with what we want to do on stage.  Sometimes the jokes we wrote seem good, but we decide not to do it because we are sure that the people that are in the audience will not laugh at it.  I see this a lot with comedians that haven’t been doing it that long.  They have ten good minutes, but are sure that the audience doesn’t want to hear their new stuff.  This is when you have to be a performer and decide to take some risks.  The problem is that even then, subconsciously, we will wreck the joke by not selling it, or not doing the act outs, just so we can later say that we gave it a try and it isn’t working.  That is why I usually give myself a couple of times to perform a joke.  That way I can account for maybe not feeling well on stage, or me trying to sabotage myself.

Next week I will get into how we will mentally sabotage our careers.

 

Beware of Predatory Comedians

predator

This world is filled with unscrupulous souls just waiting for unsuspecting people to get within their grasp so they can screw em.  Show business is no exception.  Lets discuss those uncaring bastards that call themselves comedians.

The thing about Predatory comedians is that they have a lot of potential victims because of just how weird comedy is.  Every couple of months or so, there are a couple of new comedians hungry for stage time and fame, and that is when these assholes strike.  It is just like any con game, they gain your trust and next thing you know you are traveling the state with a chainsmoker that isn’t paying you or buying gas just giving you “experience”.  Now, there is a lot to be said for experience.  That is the one thing you have to go out and get, but no matter what, there are less expensive ways to gain it. Lets go over some of the major traits of Predatory comedians.

Praise:  Have you been doing comedy all of three months and someone is already coming up to you telling you that you are the best thing since slice bread?  It could be it’s true!  It could also be that they are just softening you up so they can use and abuse you later.  This is usually the first step.  They get you alone so none of the other comedians in the scene (who have seen them run their bull on others) can hear them talk you up.  Be honest with yourself.  If they are piling on the compliments when before they didn’t even talk to you, it could be that they are gearing up for the next step in their plan.

Promises they can’t keep: People are always working on stuff that just falls through.  I do it all the time.  The problem with these guys is that they make it too unbelievable.  Have you been doing it a short time and now they say they can give you 500 bucks for one show somewhere way out into the future?  Then what they are actually doing is setting your mind up to allow them to freeload off of you for a bit because you think you are getting a windfall in a couple of months.  People do this all the time in more classic scams like the Nigerian Prince scam that we all know about by now.  The old saying, “Too good to be true.” holds here.

Asking for favors really soon after meeting them: So you talked to the scumbag on Monday and on Thursday they are asking you to drive them out of town for a show and they promise stage time?  That may be really cool…unless they are not splitting expenses with you.  If anyone wants to mentor you that is cool, but don’t let someone take advantage of you with the promise of stage time in a bar somewhere.  Besides going out on the road may do you more harm than good.  You don’t want your mind destroyed at a bar show in the middle of nowhere only to then have to drive back home and pay for gas.

My best advice is to have your head about you.   Understand that there is no “get famous quick” scheme in comedy.  Those comedians that you see on TV have been doing it for years before they got to that point so you have to accept that your road may wind like others.  Now, there is nothing wrong with going out on the road and gaining experience with cool comedians.  It’s just that a normal, none douchebag comedian won’t make you pay for the gas and food just so you can do five minutes somewhere you didn’t even know existed.  Women have to be extra careful because there are some pervs in the industry that will make it seem like all they want to do is nourish your comedy, when actually what they want to do is put their penis in you.  Again, if you want to that is your thing.  Just be careful, and have a fun.

Successfully Running Your Own Show

Show_TV.svg

I have been involved in the running of shows in the Spokane area for about six months and from my experiences with that and my observations with other independently ran shows, I have seen what works and what doesn’t.  Here are some of those observations.

Everyone needs to be on board: If you are running a theme show or just a normal comedy show, everyone that is participating needs to on board with what you are trying to do.  If you are doing a show where you tell jokes and then dress like a dinosaur and then tell more jokes, you need everyone to be comfortable with putting on a dinosaur outfit.

Promotion: If people don’t know you are doing a show about telling jokes dressed as a dinosaur, how are they gonna pay you to see you tell jokes in a dinosaur outfit.  This goes with the first point:  Get people on your show that are excited to do the show.  That way, they will want to let their fans know about it.  This also means that you as the show runner need to be on top of things.  That means getting flyers ready and the events made.  Comedy is filled with folks that just want to get up on stage in front of a sold out crowd, and not do the little things to ensure there is a sold out crowd.  Don’t book those people!  Book people that will work with you to make sure it is a success.  I don’t know how many times I have worked with someone that did no promotion for the show, but then sat there and wondered why the pay was low.  This does not apply to out of town comics because they may know less people in that area than comedians that work in that town.

Properly review the venue: I have helped put on shows that were not suited for the venue we had access too.  If you have hints that your show involving dressing like a dinosaur and telling jokes is gonna be a small event, then putting it in a 600 seat theater is not good.  You loose money and you give off the impression that it is not a success.  If you would have just locked up a nice place that had 70 seats and you sold 50, you look better, and you don’t have the extra cost involved with renting a large venue.  Make sure that the venue has a competent staff.  The last thing you want is to have a great show, but the bar didn’t make money because the staff was too slow.  Can they handle an influx of people?  If they can’t then you might have to look elsewhere.

Keep your promises:  If you promise to pay everyone a certain amount, then you better have the money to pay them!  Nothing kills your rep faster than telling people one thing and then doing another. Not ever will be in it just for the dinosaur suits. I would rather leave the show with no money in my pocket then to short change the performers and have them tell people that I can’t give them what we agreed upon.  The reason this is an issue is because most people that are putting on shows like this have high hopes that it will sell out and they can pay people well.  What I have learned is to expect the worse and be surprise if it turns out different.

Make it an event: Make it seem like this is the show that you want to see.  Make it seem as though those are the only dinosaur costumes in the state and they will be set ablaze after the show.  You have to SELL the show!  If you are not excited about it, then why should someone that has to pay five bucks to get in?  Sometimes you have to put your modesty to bed and pull out your inner cheerleader and pom pom the shit out of your show.  The best promoters make their monthly shows seem like events that will rock the town to its core.  That is what you want.

I hope this helps.  I am not an expert promoter at all.  I just observe and see what works best and what doesn’t.  The biggest take away is that if you want to run your own shows you have to treat it like if you don’t make it a success, they will take your kidney.

 

Reading The Crowd

6049220331_50995e8be8_o

We love to talk about stage presence and material as important aspects of a great comedian, but one aspect that is overlooked is the ability to read the crowd.  Reading the crowd, is a comics ability to see how the audience is responding to certain material.  When a comic reads the crowd correctly, they can taylor their material in such a way that they can get the best reaction possible.

One of the easiest methods of reading the crowd is by just listening to what the comics before you are doing.  That is why most shows have a host or MC.  While the host is up there warming up the crowd, the comedians on the show should be able to hear what topics are really working and what topics are dead on arrival.  If you are listening, you should have no surprises when you get up.  That is unless all of your material is about a subject that the crowd is hating with the MC (for the most part).

What if you are a host yourself?  No one is going up before you, so how are you supposed to be able to read the crowd.  That is when the demographics are the audience comes into play.  Are they a younger crowd?  Then they may not want to hear about how your hip hurts.  Are they older?  Then they may not react well to you saying that you are too old at 24. Now, this is not a concrete thing.  You are basically guessing for a bit as to where you can take your audience.

For years, I  have used jokes that I could throw up quickly to see if the audience will be into what I plan on doing.  I also have two sets that I can use incase I guessed wrong.  One show I was performing and I assumed by looking at them that I should do my family friendly material.  They were not reacting to it. They wanted to go in the gutter, so I whipped out some of my more “blue” material and they were hooked in after that.  The thing is, I don’t expect everyone to have that much material to pull from, so if you have material that can go a couple of ways this is a good time to pull it out.  This way you have a safety valve in case you go up and they are not feeling it.

Reading the crowd to see where you can take them material wise is often overlooked, I think, because most comedians have a set list that they can not budge to far from, so if it isn’t working then they are stuck doing that material no matter what.  That is why it is important to keep writing and performing. You can get really good at seeing what a crowd wants with experience.  Have you ever seen a comic go up after someone crapped the bed and see them kill.  They read the crowd and could see that the comedian before didn’t get the collective humor of the audience, and was able to kick ass.  Start paying attention and you can do the same.

Notes On Stage

Notes

Notes on stage are usually frowned upon, but necessary in certain circumstances.  Lets talk about those circumstances.

One time I think you should not worry about your notes on stage is when you are at an open mic. Open mics are for you to work out material.  It is a great thing to be able to look down and make sure you are practicing the jokes the way you wrote them.  That way you can access the joke and see the areas that could be trimmed.  If you just guess the overall theme of the joke you could be going in a completely different direction.

If you are building a new set that is also a good time to bring your notes up on stage.  Here is the thing. You have to be very stealthy about doing that.  I have seen guys pretend to take a drink, so they will grab their drink that is on a nearby stool and while doing so, they will look at their notes.  It doesn’t look natural.  It looks like you are doing a terrible magic trick.  Either learn to make it look more natural, or just add it to your set so it doesn’t look like you are trying to pull one over on the audience.  If you are doing this at an open mic, you don’t have to say anything.  If you are at a paid show, however, you should really try to be a little more sneaky with it.

There are pros that take notes up on stage.  They also do it in ways that the audience doesn’t know that they are keeping track of their set with a set list.  One way that I saw was putting sheets of paper on the floor of the stage.  That way while walking about on stage, the comedian could look down and see what the next joke was.  The only issue with this is you need a stage with monitors or is higher than the audience.  Some comedians use telepromters.  As they tell their jokes, the words appear on a monitor in the audience.  This is expensive so if you are working at a bar, you may not have this available.

Notes are great if you need to keep track of your set or you need to work on new jokes.  Take your notes up, but be careful and try not to use them as a crutch.

Guide To Spokane Open Mics

Spokane_Riverfront_Park_20061014

Spokane is home to a great deal of open mics.  A variety of open mics are great to those comedians that want to see if their material will work in multiple demographics.  If you are in the Spokane area, here is a guide to help you navigate the open mic scene here.  If you are not in the Spokane area, this is still helpful because it gives you a sense of the many types of mics that are in a lot of cities.

Monday:

Red Room Lounge, 521 W Sprague Ave:  This is usually a music venue, and so the open mic reflects that.  If you are a comedian that wants to get up on a Monday however, you can do so here as well.  I have not personally been here so I can only tell you this much.

Wednesday:

Spokane Comedy Club, 315 W Sprague Ave:  This is one of the biggest open mics in the city, so if you want to get on here you will have to get there early. The show starts at 8, but sign up starts at 7, and trust me, by around 7:15 it will be full.  Because of the number of comedians, stage time is limited (usually around three and a half minutes), but there is usually a good turnout and they seem ready for comedy. This is a great place to go for your first time because the audience seem supportive.

Soulful Soups, 117 N. Howard St.: This open mic is a mix between musicians and comedians.  You have an audience, but they tend to lean more towards the musical side, but if you are still craving comedy after your set at Spokane Comedy Club, then you can keep the stage time rolling.  If this is your first couple of times going up, it may seem rough, but that is just the open mic life. Now just every third Wednesday. Showtime starts at 10pm.

Thursday:

The District, 916 W 1st Ave: This is a newer mic, and as such the crowd is slowly fulling itself out, but if you want more time than the Spokane Comedy Club can offer and you don’t want to go up after a musical act, then this is the place on Thursday nights.  Because there isn’t much of a crowd, some weeks it can seem like a terrible place to perform.  I think there is a trade off though.  If you are working on your first five minutes, then this is a great place to iron it out.  If it can stay running, it will be a great place to work on material. Showtime starts at 8pm.

Neato Burrito, 827 W 1st St.: This is the longest running open mic in Spokane, and one that has gone through many “forms”.  In it’s earlier days, it was known for having an audience that didn’t really appreciate comedy.  It also didn’t help that if you were a comic that was a little rough around the edges that you would not do as well here.  That turned around about a year or so ago, and it is a much more fulfilling open mic experience.  It  starts late, but it gives you time (unless a band is going to play after), and you get a discount on their awesome burritos. Showtime is around 10pm.

Friday:

Chan’s Red Dragon, 1406 W 3rd Ave: When this room started, it was the wild west of open mics in Spokane.  Because of it’s location, it was known for having a more…rough audience than any other open mic in the city.  I have seen comics come off the stage in tatters.  When it first opened, if you were not a hardened comedian, it was a rough go.  Audience members would scream things at comedians and curse them out, and tempers would flare. Now that it is a more mature open mic, it is great for the comedian that wants to work on material, but can’t get on shows that are going on that night.  There is still the odd person screaming obscenities at the stage, but not as often as it used to be.  Get there by 7:30 and when 8 gets around you will be performing in the belly of a Chinese restaurant.