We will continue our series on comedic styles with the clean comedian. Some would probably say this isn’t a style, but I think it is. Being a clean comedian or telling “clean” material is about more than just not cursing. A lot of people associate this type of comedy (or they used to) with the boring comedian that tells jokes in front of a conference room full of people. That stigma has changed in recent years because of comedians like Brain Regan and the fact that writing clean comedy is the fastest way to get on network TV, which leads to possibly getting booked in comedy clubs. So without further ado… let’s get into it!
The ability to perform anywhere. No one has ever kicked a “clean” comedian off the lineup (unless they are just not good). You have the ability to perform in all group settings, so if there is a mixed aged audience (like with children) you will not worry anyone with your presence.
The ability to quickly advance. If you are a clean comedian, you have that ability to work as a host much sooner because you won’t turn the crowd as quickly as someone that may be little more coarse. This is great if you are trying to get into clubs.
The ability to make more money as a corporate comedian or maybe on cruise ships. There is so much money out there for a comedian that works clean! If you can show promoters that you have quality clean material, you can book these gigs that my not be on the radar of people looking to get into clubs, but pays way better.
Bar shows can be hard. A rowdy bar may not pay attention to the clean guy if he doesn’t have a couple of jokes that can get their faces out of their beer.
Depending on you joke writing talent, writing clean material can be harder. Not saying that curse words or dicks are essential to making a joke, you may not be digging deep enough into you mind to find material that can work out as clean.
I think every comedian should have a clean set. Whether that means pulling curses and the more lewd details out of your existing jokes, or writing an entirely new set of jokes just for those cases, I think if you are trying to get work as a comedian, you should be as flexible as possible when it comes to your content. When I am booking a corporate show, it is much harder to suggest comedians that I know are funny, but can’t do solid clean time. If you don’t care about paying your rent with comedy then that is cool. I don’t want you to sacrifice your beliefs just for money, but isn’t it cool to be able to get paid doing something you love?
If you read last week’s article, then you know that it is already very hard to make a living as a stand up comedian. One way to balance the low pay is to sell stuff. I have been doing this for awhile now and I will tell you want I have learned doing this.
When I first started going out on the road, I had nothing but jokes. I was in Montana working with a comedian, and he told me simply: You need to sell stuff! As time went on, I went from CDs I would burn hours before the show to having them professionally produced. Now, I let other comedians (especially feature acts) know how important it is to have something to sell. Not only does it add to your base income, but it allows you to engage audiences and form a following.
At first I never had anything to sell, just like any other comedian out there, I was just happy getting paid. It then became clear that the money I was getting from the performance itself, was not going to pay the bills. So, I produced a DVD of a performance I recorded in a dimly lit room. I drew the artwork myself and begun to sell it. The thing was I would be standing there with other comedians, trying to sell my stuff and they had shrink wrapped, professional looking CDs and I had a walking etsy store. That is the first thing you need to know about selling merch: Make it look nice. Just because you are in the basement of a Holiday Inn, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the presentation. I learned that spending a couple of bucks to make things look professional and nice paid off because it showed that I was really a comedian and not a guy just trying to take your money and move on to the next town.
Why did I pick a DVD at first? It was the thing I had. I later took just the audio and sold that because I figured that I was not important enough for someone to sit in front of their TV for 50 minutes, but they may listen to me while on a road trip. The sound quality sucked so I had to get a real recording of my act. I had a friend (shout out to Will Gilman) produce and edit my first real recording. It sounded great and I had better cover art, so I did not feel weird selling the stuff. It sold really well but I learned a couple of things from having a real product to sell. First, I had to get over selling things to people. Not everyone will enjoy your material enough to want to take it home, but they will not buy it if you are not telling them about it. I had to ensure I was setting stuff up and at least presenting my product. Second, A lot of people just wanted to talk after the show and if I was posted somewhere they could come by say hello, and most of the time they would buy something! It was odd to see people who didn’t have money out all of a sudden laughing with me and now they are buying multiple CDs!
Now, just because you have a product to sell, doesn’t mean you will all of a sudden start making all this extra money. I have been selling merch for awhile now, and I have no idea from show to show who is going to buy something and who isn’t. I’ve had shows where I thought they really liked me and not sell anything, and then shows where I thought I was not my best and leave selling stuff. The only way to be increase your odds of selling stuff is to have more stuff for sale. That is why I made a t-shirt (not the whole shirt just the stuff on the front). CDs are a hard sell nowadays. I have a CD player in my car, but I haven’t used it! That is why I also have download cards that they can get instead of just the CD. T-shirts sell well because it is something you have to wear anyway, so might as well have something funny on it! I have seen comedians make thousands in a weekend from just their t-shirt sales.
Maybe you don’t want to sell a t-shirt or a CD (maybe you don’t have an hour of material). Well, you can go with just about anything! The idea is to sell things that are easy to carry around, and that will make people think of you. I have seen everything from buttons to baby onsies! What is important is having something that when someone looks at it they say, “Damn, I want that!”. Now, instead of paying for things like gas and meals with the money I am getting for the show, the merchandise I sold can pay for it. I am not saying just slap your name on a shirt and then you can lease a cigar boat, but when it comes to road comedy, every little bit helps!
It is always weird to me when I hear comedians talking about getting paid and they are so comfortable with just taking whatever they can get. It may be due to their awkwardness in asking someone for money, but I think it is due to something much bigger: not knowing what they are worth. You can sit down with a comedian and tell them how much everyone else is getting, but if they don’t know why it matters it will go in one ear and out the other. I will try to explain as best as I can.
Now, your worth as a comedian changes from place to place. In the Midwest, the money comedians are getting is different than in the Northwest. It can also vary depending on if it’s a one night performance in a bar or if you are at a comedy club. It can also change depending on demand. If you have a market that is flooded with comedians, it may be harder to get as much as say, someone who lives in Spokane, WA. So, the very first thing you need to do if you are a working comedian (or trying to be one) is that you need to ask other comedians what is the going rates in your area. That way you are not undercutting yourself out of ignorance. It is important to know that, for example, if you are tasked with hosting a show at a bar, it usually pays a certain amount.
Okay, now that we took care of that, let’s look at why it is important to get paid what you are worth. If you ask any comedian that has been doing it for 20-30 years, they will tell you that the pay hasn’t really increased since they started. With the price of inflation, that $100 that was seen as great in 1990 is almost $200 in today’s dollars! That means that the market has not kept up with inflation. Why? Because so many comedians are insecure and love comedy so much that they will take the $100 and be happy. A lot of comedians think it is weird in the first place to get money for something that they enjoy, and that gives the people handing out the money an advantage in that they use this against you. They know that the average comedian will take that $100 bucks and if that one doesn’t then the next one will. Because there is no union and for a lot of comedians, work so infrequent, they think it is better to get something rather than nothing.
This is all well and good until you think about all the other aspects of comedy other than just performing. You have to get there. That cost. You have to eat. That cost. If you take that $100, after you have paid for gas and food you maybe down to $60. Now, that means much more work on your part. This is why there aren’t that many touring feature acts. You can’t afford to travel and perform. If you are traveling and performing in comedy clubs, that may soften the blow because you don’t have to jump in your car each night, but a lot of clubs don’t give features hotel rooms, so that means you will either have to have a friend in that city, or get a hotel room and that eats into more of your pay.
Getting what you are worth is important because if you want to do it full time, you will have to maximize your pay while minimizing the cost. So, if it cost you $150 to go perform, you may want to make sure you are getting enough that you are not constantly doing expensive open mics. It is also important because it adds value to not only your comedy, but comedy as a whole. Some of the worst crowds I have ever perform in front of are crowds that got in for free. They see no value in it so they don’t care what they get out of it. If a booker knows he can pay you $25 to feature, he is not thinking of your comedy as a valuable product.
People make fun of me because I am always trying to get more for my performance. The reason I do that is because I feel like even though I am not a big comedian or famous, my time and my comedy are worth something, at least more than what others are getting. I know I am not going to raise the amount everyone gets paid because it is only me looking for more pay, but it does add value to my comedy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to make it seem like while others get $100 I get 400, but I try to make sure I am getting what I am comfortable with so that after I am done paying for expenses, I have money for silly shit like bills and drones. That is also the reason I have kinda moved away from mostly bar stuff to corporate stuff. I can get paid what I am comfortable with and I don’t have to drive all over the place. Getting what you are worth is not greedy. It’s just smart.
It may seem easy to just throw a couple of your funny friends on stage and rack in the millions, but it is much more difficult than that. If you are going to put on shows there are some things you have to be aware of.
You would think that being a comedy show producer is all about gathering talent and making a flyer, but that isn’t the case. At the very start, the producer has to make sure that the place they are performing is suitable for what they envision the show to be. Are you looking for intimacy? Then doing it in a large theater is not going to work. Are you planning on bringing a person that has a following? Then you will be be served to not pick your uncle’s bar and try to charge people $25 bucks. The venue is very important to how people perceive the product before they even get to actually witness the product. It’s important that the producer see the venue. That is hard to do if you are several states away, but if you are producing a local show, it is pretty simple to just walk into the place and see if it has functioning lights, or if the stage has dark spots (places left unlit on stage). Does the audience sit far away from the stage? That is important to who you bring in. Does the venue even have a stage, or are you just huddled in the corner of a dark ass bar?
When it comes to talent on the show I have always been of the mind set of leaving them wanting more. There is no need to have 10 comedians on a stage if three or four will do. When you load a show with talent, it does several things to the audience. It can wear them down because they are seeing comedian after comedian, and it makes it seem as though this is the only way this show could have been pulled off is with a bunch of comedians doing five to ten minutes of material. You want to make the audience want to see your next show, not wish the current show is over. Make sure you know the talent getting on stage. Don’t give someone you have never seen before enough time to tie a noose around their neck. Don’t pad the show with a bunch of open mic comedians thinking that it adds value to the show because it doesn’t (not ragging on open mic comedians, but they tend to be less experienced and thus should be dealt with carefully).
If you are going to do advertising, please ensure you proofread! I know this blog has mistakes in it all the time, so I am not saying I don’t do it, but when you are making something that is supposed to attract people to your event, you have to make sure that the venue’s name is spelled right at the very least! Do you have everyone’s name spelled right on the flyer? Does it have the date and time? These are things that separate the professional from the unprofessional.
Let’s talk about the show itself. This is a huge pet peeve of mine, but START THE SHOW ON TIME! If you say 8pm and you don’t start until 8:30, you now have an uneasy audience that has probably been drinking for those thirty minutes and by the time the last comedian gets up, people have been waiting to leave. Don’t do your audience like that! They made it to the show. The least you can do is give them the show in a timely matter.
I think the last thing to discuss is compensating the comedians. There are a myriad of ways to go about paying comedians, but one thing is for sure: Pay the comedians! Nothing will shorten your comedy producing career faster than not paying comedians. That is why it is important to tell them up front what they are going to get. Do they get a couple of drinks or a meal? Let them know beforehand. You are the producer it is your job to make sure the talent feels like their time was valued. We had an incident here where there was bad communication between us, the show producers, and the talent. They thought that a guest set pays, and they were upset that we did not pay them. I offered to pay the person because they do not live nearby, so they may not have wanted to do it if they knew they would not get anything like gas covered. I also let them know for future reference what a guest set meant. These are things you have to do because nothing spreads faster than negative news. You want to make sure you have a good reputation with comedians so sometimes you may have to take a bullet, but it is better than being the type of person that is screwing over the talent.
If you are just starting out on your comedy journey, then you may be trying to find ways to target the people that will enjoy your comedy. This is why I am here. I will try my best to help you. I am using demographic and niche kind of interchangeably, please don’t get too butt hurt.
Here is the thing you have to learn first of all. When you are just starting out. You will usually have no clue the demographic that will enjoy your material. This is completely normal. Don’t sweat this too much. The more you write and the more you perform, the more you will get a grasp on who in the audience is enjoying your material. Another thing to take into account is that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE falls into some sort of niche or category and sometimes you will be able to operate in multiple niches. Even someone like Kevin Hart, arguably the hottest comedian on earth right now, falls into a niche. His niche seems to be very large, but it is still a niche.
Some people have an idea of where their material is taken them. There is a comedian I know that has a large chunk of “drug material”, when he is getting booked for shows, he is usually getting booked on shows where drug use is the theme or in places that are a little more “loose”. This is not his only niche however, because he is a talented comedian, he can do other stuff. This is important when you do not have a large fan base because it allows you the ability to work more often. If he could only tell jokes about drug use, then he would be extremely limited, especially in an area of the country that is a little more conservative, and frowns upon that sort of stuff.
Some comedians don’t have no clue who will like their comedy so they bounce around until the hole in the market opens allowing them to fill it. This is what happened to me about six years ago, when there were a lot of corporate comedy going on and they wanted comedians that could perform relatively clean. It was something I didn’t want to do because I enjoy cursing and doing what I want on stage. The thing that got me doing it was because of all the benefits of doing these sorts of shows. You usually did one show and they feed you and paid for travel expenses and the pay was really good. I figured since all I had to do was not curse that much, I could do it since there weren’t that many comedians in the area that could. It helped me earn a good deal of money and because the market is still in need of that type of comedian in Eastern Washington I can get a lot of work.
I would not say this is the only niche I can fill though. People want to put me on shows because I am black, or because I am a veteran. Sometimes you have to use your life experiences to your advantage. I know of former teachers turned comedians that are now performing at corporate events for teachers. Former drug addicts that go around and perform for others to put a lighter spin on a serious issue. There are many niches in the market that can be filled if you know that it exist and that you can target it appropriately.
How do you find these niches in the market. Well, if you are a comedian then go to Facebook and find a area page for comedians. Every area has one. Join it, and see what bookers and comedians are looking for. If you fill that need then go after it and network seeing if it is a market that you can use further down the line. Another way is going to a site like GigMaster or GigSalad and signing up (you can sign up for free, but they usually want your money), you can then observe the types of shows people are putting, and then you can hopefully go on to fill. I do a lot of private shows during the fall and winter and it is because of sites like these that I know about them.
If there is one more piece of advice I can give you it is this: Don’t pin yourself into one corner! Just because you like video games, doesn’t mean that everyone on the planet will want to listen to that. Write what you like, but keep yourself open until you gain a following and can afford to do what you want.