Successfully Running Your Own Show

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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

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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

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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

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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.

The “Summer Slowdown” Myth

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I have tackled a lot of myths comedians believe, on this blog.  The one that even I upheld, however is the myth that shows during the summer have a bad turnout.  I want to challenge this myth.

With almost every myth there is a grain or two of truth to it.  I think this one has as well.  You can actually measure the attendance of shows from season to season and see that there are differences in the number of people.  The problem with this is that you can not assume that because of A, B happens. It’s just not logical to say that because it is summer people don’t go to comedy shows.

The prevailing argument has always been that it is because people will be out barbecuing and canoeing, instead of staying inside to see comedy.  That would make sense if not for the fact that summer time is a big time for movies.  It seems that movies have no problem getting people to put down the pulled pork and head to a darken theater for a few hours.  You may be saying, “Well, that is different!” It is…but movies come out year round just like comedy is had year round, so saying that comedy suffers because of the summer months doesn’t hold much water.

Then there is the fact that this summer alone, the local club has had many sold out nights, even when the sun is still in the sky, something that older comedians always said was a killer of shows during the summer.  As if audiences were like a flock of gulls waiting for the sun to descend the horizon before raiding garbage cans.  This club has had numerous sold out nights when most comedy in the area would have packed it in until September.

Ok, after all of that set up here is my argument:  There is no summer slowdown, but a promotion problem.  People still want to come out to shows…if you tell them about it!  The weather does have a slight affect on attendance, but not more than say, a monster truck rally happening on the same date as your show.

Here is the thing about the summer time, there are a lot of things going on at once!  There are car shows and festivals and parades and cool movies with robots all going on in roughly the same time.  So the same amount of promotion that would have gotten out to your audience in say, April, will have to fight through more noise in July.  Comedians are like water, in that we like to take the path of least resistance. If putting up a flyer on Facebook gets a great turnout, we will attempt the same thing over and over. The problem occurs when the weather gets warmer and people’s attention is pulled in not just two or three directions, but ten!  Remember, your audience only has so much time and money so they will have to make a hard choice.  Go to the movie that is only going to be in theaters for a couple of weeks, or go to the comedy show that will probably happen again.

Comedians are under the assumption that the audience that they had in the winter has rejected them for the lakes and rivers that are no longer freezing cold. I don’t think it is in such huge numbers as we assumed.  Yes, people will be out tubing and fishing and hiking, but after a day of that, they want to turn in and be entertained just like anyone else, and this is where we go back to failure to gain these people’s attention.  Just putting a flyer up at the bar you will  be performing isn’t enough during the summer months because those people are out at the lake and may not see it until it is too late.

Another assumption is that people will not have the money to attend a show so they don’t go during the summer.  Why would that be any different than say, the fall, when kids are going back to school, and there are sporting events happening every weekend, or the winter, during the holidays, when people have to save for presents?  There isn’t a difference.  If anything, there should be more money because kids are not in school and there are no holidays for gifts!

So, this whole argument that people don’t want to sit down and watch comedy during the summer months is not about the summer, but about grabbing the attention of a person that may have kids and limited time and resources and may not be able to devote their time to sitting in a bar where their kids may not be able to come.  You may be thinking at this point, “Well, how do we fix it?”.  Good thing you asked because I have answers!  Good promotion goes a long way!  It also doesn’t help if you have a big name comedian on the bill.  You have to go at promoting your show knowing that you have to fight with all the other activities that a person could be doing, most of them for free.  If you know a place that has a budget go to them and use that budget during the summer months!  That way you may be able to bring in a bigger comic or have a show that is free to attend.  The establishment may make it’s money back in sales (food and beverage) and you didn’t have to deal with the money issue that a person has when deciding what to do.  You could promote the show to make it a huge deal.  Most times when a comedy show is promoted, there are just pictures of the comedians with information about time and place.  Well, you have to promote like this is a once in a lifetime show.  Record a video, and use all forms of social media to reach out to people to make it seem as though it is a BIG deal to get to this show.

When Uncle D’s was open, he would close for the summer under this belief, but he would still put on shows once a month during the summer months.  With a moth of promoting the show and making it seem special, the turnouts were really good.  A couple of years ago he tried it and didn’t get the word out and the turnout was about what you would expect for an 8pm show in the summer with no notice that it was happening.  There are shows going on all over the country that are packed because the promoters know that they are not just competing with the normal weekend activities like movies and sports, but also things that are free like sitting in the backyard getting drunk.  I think what happened was the lazier comedians, trying to justify the low turnout, blamed the tilt of the earth’s axis for their problems when the show just wasn’t promoted well enough.

 

And yes, I know my photoshop skills are lacking!!

When Submitting To Bookers

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At some point in your comedy career, you will send an email or Facebook message to a show booker. That is how a lot of comedy gets booked.  I will try to help you as best as I can.

Now, I have separate articles about head shots and videos and writing up a bio, but I haven’t done an article on how to submit your info to bookers.  The first thing, and this is a no-brainer for some: Show some professionalism.  They may be someone you met at the strip club, but when sending them your package, make sure you are as professional as possible.  The old saying: “Fake it til you make it” applies here.  Make it seem like this isn’t the first time you have contacted someone about work.

There are many ways to start your email.  What I do is just let them know who the email is from.  Yes, they may see it when they open it, but that doesn’t matter, you have never met this person before (and if you have still act as though you haven’t).  I leave out where I am from, why?  Because I don’t want to be judged before they have seen my material.  If they don’t like it, then that’s fine, but I don’t want to not get work based on a bias that someone has about a city or part of the country. I tend to keep it simple, and I think that is the best way to go.  The body of the email is usually 4-5 sentences.  Just letting them know who I am and what positions I can fill.  I headline in bars and smaller clubs, but telling them you can do anything can get you in the door easier.  Once you have that going for you, you can headline if that is a possibility.

If you have been referred to them by another comic, then make sure you tell them that.  You may get work before they even see your video!  Bookers will trust a good comics’ word more than almost anything else.  If you know someone that has worked that club, see if you can add their name to your email.  I try not to add people as references if I have not talked to them before hand, or I have a good working relationship with them. Some comedians might not like to be emailed by a booker asking about a comic they didn’t even know they were vouching for.  I have been messaged liked this and I don’t care, but at the same time, I don’t have much leeway with any bookers I work with to the point that they are hinging working with a comedian on my word.

Now that the email is all typed up, you can now start adding the stuff that will sell you to the booker. Make sure you have a bio, a head shot and a video.  The bio should not be too long, just long enough for them to add to your photo for promotional purposes.  You can add who you have worked with, but make sure you don’t make stuff up!  Will they go out and fact check?  Probably not, but do you want to start lying to someone you JUST started working with.  If you don’t have much then that is fine, it is better than making stuff up.

You need a head shot.  A good one.  A great one.  So many comics forgo this because it usually means they will have to spend money.  Your headshot is more important than your video because this is the photo that people coming to a show you are booked on will see.  If it is all grainy because you took it with your iphone, or it looks like your friend took it with his mom’s DSLR, then you will not be taken seriously.  If you are in a large city like a Seattle or Portland, then there is no excuse to not having a professional looking headshot.  You don’t have to spend a grand to get them done!  There are people that are offering good prices (ahem…) so try them out.  What you need to remember is that you should have the photo at 300 dpi.  That will make it look nice and sharp when it is printed out or enlarged.

People fret about the video and for good reason. Your video is going to sell you to the booker, and it is important to get some things right.  You need good looking video!  Yes, your phone can record video, and most new phones now can do 4k, but if you are all blown out or the video is really dark no one is watching it.  Make sure the resolution is good enough to be watched on a computer screen.  1080p is great and can be enlarged in a browser window without it looking like old porn.  You need to have good audio.  This is important!  No one is gonna sit through your video if they can’t hear it.  I have an article all about getting microphones for your phone, but I will state it here because I am too lazy to go looking through all those articles.  Rode makes the video micro that will attach to your phone and is way better than the crappy mic that is on your phone.  Try to get an app like FiLMiC Pro or ProCam (iOS, I don’t know about android) so that you can adjust things like exposure so you can battle with the lights in most clubs.  You can make the video however long you want because they will only watch as much as they need to make their decision.  I have a five and ten minute video, and I usually send out the five minute video because that is about all they will watch and if they want to watch more, I have that ready to go.

Make sure the video is just you.  Not the host talking for 30 seconds.  Just you.  Make sure the video is tightly cropped on your upper half.  Whenever I am filming someone I try to get right at the sternum area, unless I know they will roll around on the stage or something then I go a little wider.  The reason you want to have it tight is so there are no distractions going on off the stage to get the bookers attention, and they can see your face better.  Try to dress like you will if you are going to work one of their shows.  Don’t be in a tux in your video, when you usually work in a shirt and jeans.  Refrain from having alcohol on stage with you.  A lot of bookers see it as not being professional.  Now, that you have your video, put it up on a place like YouTube.  Don’t send people a big ole file that they have to download and try to play on their computer.  If they have to do that they will just delete your email.

You have everything you need to send out to bookers and club runners.  How long do you wait for a response?  I usually give it a week or two.  You have to remember that these people are getting emails from hundreds, maybe thousands of people, so you have to be persistent if you want to get a response. I wouldn’t send them more than one email a week though because you don’t want to be known as the person that is sending too many emails.  You also have to know the reality of trying to get work this way.  A lot of bookers already are up to there neck in comedians that can fill spots for them.  That is why the contents of your email have to look so professional.  For every slacker that is sending them crappy photos and even crappier video, there are people out there that are serious and want to succeed and are doing everything they can to make it look as though they are worth the booker’s time.  You are competing with all the people that are working for them now, as well as other people trying to get in with them.  I hope this helps you get the work you want.  Have a great week.

 

** The photo is of wrestler Booker T.  Get it?  You didn’t get it did you?

 

Let’s Just Chat

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This blog has had it’s ups and downs.  It started out very weakly, until a friend told me to keep at it.  I made it a mission to write something about my experiences with comedy.  My experience is that of an 11 year comedian that lives in Spokane, WA and makes barely enough from comedy to be considered poor.  I have not been on The Last Comic Standing or have been on any late night talk shows.  I am the average comedian just trying to get more work and support what I love very much.  That is why this blog doesn’t cover things like forming your late night set and working at The Laugh Factory.  I’ve never done that.  I have performed in a club in the woods of Northern Idaho.  I have performed in bars where a fight broke out before and after the comedy show.  I have performed in front of 900 people and I have performed in front of two people. I have driving through deserts and I have driving through snow storms.  I struggle to get the email addresses of bookers, and I am afraid of asking my comedic friends for favors.  That is what this blog is about.  The struggles of the comedian that just wants to do what they love for a living.

A lot of things I do are not truly popular.  I have a podcast, a photography business, and comedy and they would all be considered…meh.  This blog gets about 100-200 readers a month.  I book about 1-2 photography appointments every couple of months and my podcast is listened to about 40 people a month. I get booked about 2-3 times a month.  Most people would consider that an utter failure.  I don’t consider it that because it is what makes me get out of bed in the morning.  I like to write (even though I should write more so I can get better at it) I like to do my podcast, and I like to get on stages and make people laugh.  I may not be making 60k a year from comedy, but I enjoy this more than sitting at a desk. That is not to knock people who have normal jobs, that is just to say that I personally could not do it knowing that what I really love to do, what drives me, is right there.

I started writing this blog because I would get newer guys asking me how to do things that no one ever told me how to do.  No one told me how to write a bio.  I had to write it up and see that it was terrible and then read about it and then work from there.  No one told me how to get in contact with bookers.  I was giving an address and I mailed my stuff to them (what I thought they would need).  No one told me what I needed to do to make sure my feature set was something that wouldn’t get me booed off the stage.  I had to go through the stares and sad looks myself.  I’m not saying I did this all on my own. People gave me advice, but I had to ask for it.  So, I decided to just start a blog that people could turn toward and get that info.

If I am an expert in anything it is how it feels to fail.  I have failed a lot.  In love, marriage, parenting, finances, military career, I have sat with my head in my hands, trying to find a way to keep pushing when I was pinned to the ground.  I have given up a lot.  I have, for some reason, gotten back up more. That is life though, not just comedy.  Life is just a series of kicks to the nuts, and it is up to us to decide if we will let it or if we will keep going.  The only reason I have kept going at comedy, and writing, and acting, is because it is one of the few things that brings joy to me.  I can not run away from the things that make me who I am and you shouldn’t either.  I may never be the comedian that I want to be.  I may forever stay booked 2-3 times a month to sparsely attended bar shows, and I may forever be “random guy #2” in a straight to Netflix movie, but those are the things that make me feel alive, and if I turn away from that what would that mean for me?  What do I do when I give up on the things that I love?  This blog does not have all the answers.  It can’t ensure you that one day you will be in a movie with Kevin Hart.  All it can do is help you out and inspire you to keep pushing.  Happy 4th to everyone and have a great week.