Having to Prove Your Worth

Comedians are always out trying to get work and that means proving to the promoter/client why you are worth what you are worth.  I have written articles on why its important to get what you think you are worth in every instance in which you can.  This article is a little different (and a little late, blame World of Warcraft).  I will tell you how you can look someone in the eyes and tell them why you are asking for that amount.

Think of it as a full time job:  I never understand why comedians are never thinking of comedy as a job.  Almost everyone I talk to would like to do nothing, but comedy but how can you when you don’t think of it as something that can replace the money you make during your day job.

What niches do you fill:  You have to be able to know what demographic you attract.  Do you bring in the younger crowd?  Do you bring in the wine drinkers? Maybe the type of comedy you do attracts a certain person.  My friend Michael Glatzmaier, plays the guitar and improvs songs.  That is an incredible niche that can fit in a variety of situations.  Comedy is not just bars and clubs anymore.  There are retirement communities out there that are looking for entertainment, and if you work clean (at least PG-13), you can book those shows during the weekday and still have the weekend available.  If you know what niche you fill, you can express that to whoever is looking to hire you.

Sicker than the average:  I had someone email me from a place and wanted to know what I charge.  Once I told them, they asked me why I would charge that much when they could get someone for half that.  This happens a lot during the holiday booking season (this was one of those shows).  This is when you have to hype yourself up a little.  I am not that good at doing this, but in order to justify why I charge what I charge, I will state some information for them.

The first thing I let them know is how long I have been doing it.  This should express to them that I have been in enough situations to perform a show that the majority of people in the room will enjoy.  Then I let them know that for what they are looking for, (which makes it important to know the talent pool in the area) there are not that many that can do it.  This is why it is so important to be able to perform clean (when need be).

Hopefully this can help those of you out there that have been having trouble justifiying what you want to charge.  It is hard to stick to these tips when you know there are people out there that will take less for the same show.  I try to look at it like this:  I am asking for an amount equal to the annoyance of performing when the suns out (or in a living room or dance floor etc.). So don’t fold and you will see the benefits!

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Why Spokane May Not be the Best Place to Start Your Comedy Career

Last week, I wrote a post about how Spokane (or similarly sized city) would make a great place to start your comedy career.  As I said from that post, I would write a post about why it would not be a great place to begin your comedy career.  Lets do it!

Limited Audience: A city like Spokane has about 250,000 people living in it (almost twice as much if you count the metropolitan populace).  Out of that amount you have to start counting out certain groups, like people who don’t like stand-up or people to young to attend shows.  That leaves you with an even smaller group of people in which to apply your trade.  On a Saturday night, for example, only about 300-400 people are attending a comedy show in the area.  Cities like New York or Chicago are seeing multiple times that many people.

Talent Pool: Spokane bleeds talent every year.  Comedians get to a point where they feel as though they are stalling in their career and make the move to a larger city.  This is one of the downsides to living in a town of this size.  Just when the amount of talent in the city reaches a level where attention is drawn to it, enough people leave that it starts to effect shows.  When your best comedians leave for greener pastures, the only comedians left may not be ready to get paid, but you have no choice sometimes but to put them up.

Small chance to make it BIG:  Let’s face it.  Spokane is not a destination for any of the late shows.  No talent agent is going to Chan’s to look for a comedian to give a Netflix special to.  That is why people go to NYC and LA and Chicago.  You have a higher chance of being spotted or connecting with the right people and changing your life from just comedian on the side to full time comedian.  No matter how cheap the rent is in Spokane, the possibility of making it trumps that every time.

Trapped in local material:  There is a saying (one which I will be writing an article about soon) that goes: Local jokes get local work.  Because Spokane and the surrounding area can be a comedy island, people tend to cater a little to much to the townsfolk and before you know it, you have a set that is basically all about Spokane and towns around it.  That may work here, but once you go somewhere else, no one cares about how methed out Ritzville looks.

So, there you have it, some reasons why Spokane may not be the best place to start your career.  I always like to give both sides to an argument, and I hope you will see both the good and the bad to being a comedian in Spokane.  Remember, if you have the persistence and the talent, you can be a great comedian anywhere.

Why Spokane is a Great Place to Start Your Comedy Career

I know Spokane is in the title, but it really stands that any city the size of Spokane can be a great place to start your comedy career and in some cases be a great place to maintain a career as well.  Let’s look at the reasons now.

Goldilocks Effect  Spokane is damn near the perfect size when starting out your career.  It isn’t as large as LA or NYC where you will be spending more time traveling to open mics than actually performing, but it isn’t so small that there is only one or two stages to get better.  Spokane has a stage almost every night of the week in which to perform, and unlike larger cities, you do not run the chance of getting bumped after making the commute to get there.  Spokane also has one of the premier clubs in the country with the Spokane Comedy Club.  That means you get to see and hopefully perform with bigger acts and get seen by more people and that can lead to more work down the line.

The Others In Spokane right now are about 40-50 comedians.  That is way less than most cities, but what than means is a close knit community.  From my observations, the larger the city, the more segregated the comedians.  The hip comedians are over here and the alt-comedians are over there and the comedians with puppets are on the roof for some reason. Most comedians in Spokane know each other which leads to a, mostly, equal distribution of work. With the amount of comedians in the area, there are enough for solid competition, but not enough to have the feuds that you see in other scenes.

Location, Location, Location! Spokane is is a four hour drive to Seattle, a six hour drive to Portland, and about the same amount of time to Boise.  That means you are pretty close to some large cities in which to further your career.  Say you have a day job and you have a show in Seattle.  It will be a challenge of course, but it is an early morning drive, and a late night drive and you are back at work, a little more drowsy, but it can be done.  You can maintain relationships with promoters in those cities and still benefit from Spokane’s lower cost of living.

There you go, some reasons why Spokane is a great place to start performing.  Of course I could list a couple more, but I liked the three that are listed above.  Next week, I will tell you guys why Spokane isn’t the best place to start your comedy career.  See, I can milk both sides for content!

 

Keeping Yourself Motivated

When you are first starting your comedy career, there will be a lot of ups and downs.  You will be working one week and may not work again for another two weeks or so.  This can have a negative effect on comedians, especially those that suffer from other mental health issues.  Let’s go over some ways to keep you motivated when the downs happen.

Be around comedy  What happens with comedians sometimes is they will only come out to perform when they are getting compensated.  This may work for the upper levels of comedians that are booked virtually all year, but if you are just starting or beginning to get paid, coming out to comedy shows and the like can be a great boon for your career and your mind!  When you are seen out at open mics and shows, it lets the people in the local area know that you are still pursuing comedy, and that increases your chances of getting booked.  If you have a local club and you are always going in to check out the shows, the management there will know that you are around and that opens the door for being put on shows.

Let them know you are looking for work  Look at the months coming up.  If you don’t have anything lined up, then start contacting those you know to see if you can be apart of a show.  This doesn’t mean just the normal format of show.  There are all kinds of special shows going on where you may smoke weed after your set and get back up, or drink and argue with other comedians.  These shows have the benefit of having a lot of other comedians there and networking with them can benefit you when you have another dry stretch.  If you have worked at clubs or know of bookers that are booking rooms, make sure you send them those dates that you are open.  Keep it up and that can help close a lot of those holes in your schedule.

Networking  This is kind of a combination of the first two steps above.  Go to your local club and rub elbows or butts or whatever with the other comedians.  Comedy is a very small community.  Knowing enough people can keep you busy!  You don’t have to kiss ass or anything either.  You can just approach comedians after the show and introduce yourself.  It helps even more if you are on a show together.  That way they can vouch for you.

Keep writing  I see this so much.  A comedian will start getting a little bit of work and then they stop really writing material and then the work dries up and they are left scratching their head as to why that may be the case.  Your one weapon to keep you relevant is your material.  If you only have twenty minutes and you have performed at your local club they can’t really use you as much as the person that has a bucket full of jokes to pull from.  I think one of the worst things someone can say about a comedian is, “I heard all that last time they were here.”.  If you keep working you will keep working.

Engage in other creative endeavors   The worst thing to do when the shows slow down is to stop being creative.  Just maintaining yourself in creative task can jolt you out of a slump and keep your mind on task.  I like to write and take photographs so I will write a couple of sketches or go out and photograph some stuff, anything to keep my mind working and that usually keeps jokes coming to me and keeps me out and about.

Don’t let it define your worth  This is an important one.  When I first started out, if I had a couple weeks of no work I would let it get to me big time.  My mind would just go nuts and I would assume that it meant I wasn’t funny if I wasn’t getting work.  That is usually not the case for most comedians.  Sometimes it is just a matter of the ones that are better at networking will get the work.  It took me many years to realize that having jokes and sitting in your house are not how you get work as a comedian.  I still have a ways to go, but I am not so down in the dumps because I haven’t had a working weekend in three weeks.  I see that and I hit the pavement.  When you are feeling down about your comedy is when you should strive to fix it.

I hope this helps.  Being motivated is one of the ways to turn comedy from a part time job into a career.

Lets Just Talk

When I started this blog, the goal was simple:  Give people that are just starting out a guide so that they can be as successful as possible.  I can not tell you how to get on Conan or pitch a TV show because I have never done that.  I have spent over a decade in shady bars all over the country and I have dealt with the ups and downs of climbing the comedy ladder.  When I was starting out, there wasn’t anything online to help you.  You just walked on stage and made mistakes until you learned it.  This may seem like a good method, but what it does is make it extremely hard for some to even attempt comedy.  Not all of us can just collect ourselves and get up on stage.  Some need that confidence that something like this blog can provide.

I will never charge people to access what I have written.  I like to make money, but I want these tips available to those that are actually trying to find something to help them get to that next step.  One thing that has to be remembered though when reading this is that these are my observations and experiences.  Yours may differ.  With any amount of advice, you can take all, some, or none.  It wasn’t until I was doing it for a while that I had people that actually steered me in a direction that helped me get better and get more work.  Not everyone will have access to important mentors like this, so hopefully this will help at least a little.

Comedy has to be entered into with a passion and a persistence that is not like many things in this world.  Comedy is a long, painful, embarrassing, journey that many will just simply give up.  For those of us that continue to grind and persist, and struggle, it may seem at times to not even be worth it. That is where the passion comes in.  There are plenty of funny people out there, but there are not that many that can get on stage and articulate that humor to the masses.  It is also a business and if there is one thing I have learned its that many human don’t like to take chances when it comes to their money.  It is hard to get up on stage night after night to sculpt a joke that will work most of the time, but it is even harder to then go to someone and tell them to give you money for those well-crafted jokes.  A lot of people just can’t do it.  I have had to get part time jobs in between dry spells.  I have had to pawn almost everything in my house at one point to keep this alive.  The thing is, some people don’t want to go through that.  Does that mean they were not passionate about comedy?  No.  It means that comedy is a great way to see how far you are willing to go for something.  Before comedy rewards you, it will ask: What are you willing to give up?  Some give up their friends.  Some give up their marriages.  Some give up great jobs.  It will ask how hard are you willing to work.  Will you go to every mic in your town?  Will you spend three hours in a bar for three minutes on stage?  Will you drive across the state for dinner and gas money?  It will ask for more and more, and when you have given all you have to it, it may give you what you sought out.  You may be a working comedian, or a get commercial work, or appear in shows and movies, or you won’t.  Comedy will ask so much from you and still there is the chance that you will end up at the end of the road empty handed and broke.  Most passions are cruel that way.  Not every painter gets to live on just the sale of their paintings and not every singer gets paid for their songs, but we all pursued the thing that makes us feel alive and whole.  These things that we pursue are what gives this human experience meaning.  It makes a life worth living.

I knew when I was getting out of the military and pursuing comedy, that it may end up with me at the end broken and alone.  The thing is, I had nothing else to lose.  I was getting medically discharged from something that I was planning on making my career.  I was already spat out of something, and had no fear.  Would I have gone after comedy the way I had if under better circumstances?  I don’t think so.  I think I was looking for something to make me feel as though I wasn’t as broken as they told me I was.   I wanted to care about more than a paycheck.

I would not call myself a successful comedian, but I can call myself a working comedian.  It takes work and luck to make comedy something more than just pocket money, and I hope this blog does that at least a little bit.  I hope that even though I am not a successful comedian, you will look at what I have been through and help it guide you so you can achieve what it is you are looking for in comedy.  Comedy is hard, and that is why you need as much help as you can get along the way.

Ways to Conquer Your Stage Fright

Public speaking is a fear a lot of people have, even extremely funny ones.  With this article, I will try to help you get over your fear and at least try your hand at comedy.  I myself had a tremendous fear of getting up in front of people.  I hated being called on in class (it didn’t help that I stuttered until the fourth grade), and when I was in the military, it was actually comedy that helped me deliver my presentations in front of my peers.  When I started performing, it was debilitating.  Once I was opening for this guy at Oregon State University, and when I looked out at this sea of people, I seriously thought about giving it up.  I was about to go outside and call the promoter and tell him I was done with comedy, but something told me to do it and I did.

Memorize your material- This is important.  Remembering what you want to talk about can calm your nerves.  We are afraid of the things we don’t know and what we can not control.  The one thing that you can control is knowing your material.  That way you won’t have to fumble with papers or your phone.  When you have the confidence that you at least know what you are going to talk about, it can steady you before you get on stage.

Give it time- If you have your material in your head ready to go, then when your name is called take a deep breath and when you are on that stage, give yourself a second or two to take in your new environment.  That couple of seconds can give your mind the time to see that it isn’t that bad!  Take those couple of seconds to take a couple of breaths and get ready to perform.  Most crowds want you to be funny, they don’t want to have wasted their evening listening to terrible comedy, so you have that advantage.  Now that you are centered and you have let the room in, start crushing.

Use more of the stage-  Pacing can help you redirect those nerves somewhere else.  When you get on stage and you need your notes, put them somewhere that you have to go to.  For instance:  put them on the bar stool and make sure the bar stool is a couple of steps so you can pace and keep your notes within reading range.  Now you can pace and work off the nerves that are built up and your notes are there in case you need them.  If you have your material memorized then use the stage as the nerves hit to keep it from messing with what you are trying to do on stage.

Eyes and hands-  Comics that are afraid will sometime grab the mic stand as an anchor.  That mic stand works as like an antenna and it can alert the entire audience to your predicament.  Comics who are comfortable on stage and are using it as more of a cane have a different posture than someone that is wringing the hell out of it because they are scared out of their minds.  I would suggest against keeping the mic in the stand unless it helps you use both of your hands. Noise can travel through the mic stand so if you are holding on to it for dear life, everyone in the room can hear it.  Put that other hand in your pocket or talk with it.  It’s a bit harder to see your nerves if you have your hand in your pocket or you are using it to add flourishes to your performance.  What I used to do for years to help with my nerves was I would not look at anyone in the audience.  I had my material memorized and I went up and reacted to the laughs.  I would look at empty seats or look right past people. It really helped me get a hold of what I was doing on stage.

Start easy-  An almost sure fire way to settle those nerves is to get the room laughing when you get up.  Start off with a nice, even keeled joke to get the crowd on your side.  If you start by antagonizing the audience it will not help get those nerves down because you know the crowd isn’t hoping you make them laugh anymore.  This is especially true at open mics where the audience doesn’t care as much about your well being.  They just want to laugh.

I hope these steps help you.  They may not work for everyone but there is something there for at least someone.  I would advise against drinking or drugs to calm your nerves.  Now, taking a shot may help calm your nerves, but too much could make you more sloppy on stage.  I knew a guy that could not go on stage without at least a buzz going.  The problem is he didn’t have it down to a science so sometimes he would be drunk as hell when he got up there!  He would antagonize the audience and they hated him.  He would get sober and then feel bad about his sets.  Once he stopped doing that (as much), you could see the real comedian come out of him.  I would also advise against bringing a whole group of friends and family because that is like a drug in itself.  Your family will laugh at anything you say because they want the best for you (unless your family is terrible).  That will give you an inflated sense of what you can do on stage and as soon as they stop coming out (because they will eventually) all it will take is one bad show to strip away that confidence you had built up.  It is best to develop that stage confidence slowly to the point where a bad show won’t cause you to stop doing comedy.  I hope these tips helped.  Thanks for reading!

Why You Will Never See A Comedy Union

Every couple of years, a comedian will pop up in a local area and proclaim that comedians need to join together and form a union so pay can increase.  It rarely gets far (beside the one or two situations when it did), and that is for a lot of reasons.  I am not going to write about all of them, but just a few.

Since the 90’s, the pay scale for stand up comedians have roughly been the same.  (the following are one night show rates.  Rates differ in clubs and such) $200 for the headliner, $100 for the feature and various numbers for MC’s ($25-50).  Now, if you adjust for inflation that is 358.64 to headline and 179.32 to feature.  So why hasn’t the pay gone up, but everything surrounding comedy has?  The cost of a ticket has gone up.  The cost of food and beverages has gone up.  The price of gas, rent, utilities and the like have gone up.  So why hasn’t the pay?  Well, the first reason, and a big reason why a union would not work is because that is just what businesses say you are worth.  In the 90’s $200 for the headliner was good.  People were going out to bars and actually seeing comedy.  Not for the person telling the jokes, but because that was what you did.  There wasn’t Netflix and video games on your pocket phone.  Now, a bar looks at comedy a lot different.  They can throw any number of entertainment options that will be cheaper and keep the crowd in longer.  So, the price has stayed this way because (among other things we will discuss in a bit) that is how much a business owner thinks it’s worth.  I have gotten more than the usually amount listed above for shows at a bar, but eventually they start looking at what kind of business the shows are drawing and adjust accordingly.  Art, in my opinion, isn’t valued as higher because we have constant access to it, making the value in people’s eyes lower.

It’s not just bar owners not valuing your comedy, its other comedians.  There are way to many comedians for the amount of work out there so that means what you don’t snatch up, some other comedian will.  Say you are in a city with 100 comedians. Out of that 100, 40 get work frequently and the other 60 for whatever reason does not   You and the other 40 guys decide to unionize to get $250 a show for headliners.  That is all well, for the 40 of you, but the other 60 has no incentive to adhere to that.  Every comedian you meet, is a comedian looking to obtain the next level, that next brass ring, and if that means taking $200 or less for that same show then they will do it.  If you are a comedian that can’t get a paid show, anything is better than nothing. Even if it hurts the collective.  A union would actually be worse for the 60 that don’t get regular work because they have nothing to differentiate themselves from the 40 that do get work.  If there is no union they can at least undercut the other comedians, which drives prices down.  That is why comedians will go to a place one year and get X amount and then the next time they go there the pay has gone down.  Why?  Because who ever is putting the show together is just trying to get something greater than zero.

In a perfect world a union wouldn’t even be needed.  This is not the perfect world.  We may not be bargaining collectively, but we can do things to help each other out.  Knowing what the usual rates are is important.  That way you know what you “should” be getting.  Try to get connected with working headliners.  I work regularly with headliners that make sure I get paid decently and that is a great way to get the people cutting the checks educated on what quality live entertainment cost.  There is nothing wrong with saying “No” to an offer.  If they ask why tell them!  The only way to make more money is to set your own prices and sticking to them.  Comedians are like nomads and a union for comedians would not work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get what you think you are worth.