Comedy And The Modern Market

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The world keeps turning, but the world of comedy doesn’t seem to spin at the same speed.  As an industry, we are really behind the times in a lot of ways.  Let’s talk about some of them.

Pay: This may be where the comedy industry as a whole has fell way behind.  Right now, the going rate on the west coast of the United States for one nighters (just one show) is $100 for a feature and $200 for a headliner.  That has been the amount of pay for about 25 years!  What other profession has been this stagnant?  Hell, teachers have gotten more raises, and no one like to pay teachers.  The reason it is this way is because comedians just accept it as such.  Whenever someone does say something, 2,000 comedians come out of the wood work and agree to the old price.  You can’t fix what most don’t see as a problem.

Venue Responsibility: It has been this way since I started, but if a place wants to do comedy and they are not willing to invest anything in it (just throwing up flyers in your bathroom is not going to cut it) then you have to decide if it is worth it.  If you are just trying to line your pockets, then you don’t care if four people show up to a bar show if you already have your money, but they may never do another show again.

Merchandising: Selling items after shows has become more than just a way to supplement your gas budget.  Years ago, you would sell a cd or a shirt, but now comedians are selling everything from pens to bumper stickers.  This makes it easier for a comedian to go to any venue in the country because then they will be able to make a decent amount of money.  That doesn’t mean the pay shouldn’t be raised though.

Social Media: No longer do you just walk into town and do a show.  You can announce your arrival weeks in advance.  This can generate buzz, and in the future, when you do return, you can build a following that can help you make even more money.

These are just some of the things that can help the comedian in the modern market.  What is important is to keep looking for ways to get noticed by more people. More people that know you exist means more potential people that will show up to a show.

Following Your Dreams Is Not Enough

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You hear it all the time:  “Follow your dreams!”  “Do what you love!”.  It is such an empty statement.  Following your dreams isn’t enough, and if that is all you are doing then you will most likely never achieve them.

We will look at this saying from a comedy stand point of course, this is a blog about comedy (and photos sometimes).  I see it all the time where someone wants to be a comedian, but then there are a lot of stipulations to when they want to be a comedian.  They come out to an open mic once and now they plaster their social media accounts with the label: comedian.  That isn’t enough if you REALLY want to be a comedian.  What people learn quickly is that there are a lot of funny people at the bottom and a lot of not as funny people at the top.  Comedy is not an empirical discipline where the funniest get the great stuff and the not funny remain at the bottom.  That means that if you want to be a comedian, it takes more than just the thought of being a comedian, and it frustrates me when I see comedians that are “following” their dreams when instead they should be fighting for them.

Every successful comedian’s story is full of times they had to fight to keep doing what they love.  They didn’t sit at home because it was cold outside. They jumped on a greyhound to get to a show.  They sat around all night to get that three minutes at an open mic.  They kept getting on stage and proving to management that they were good enough for more than just last minute replacement comic.  They sat their asses down and wrote and wrote and wrote.  Then they got lucky enough to be seen by the right person, but that also meant sleeping on couches and in their car.   The thing is, when I say successful, I am not talking about just the ones you see on TV.  This is the story of all the guys you see come through your town to perform on a given weekend.  That is what it takes to do this.

It frustrates me when I am talking to local comedians and they will give me so many excuses to why they can’t come out.  They have class.  They have a job.  They have a child.  These are all things that I personally have had to deal with, and you have to make some sacrifices.  When I was in college, I would get my class work done and then I would get my ass to the local open mic.  It was harder to get work, so what I did was only take stuff where I could get back home the same day. I had a job after class as well.  It usually meant being tired some nights, but I kept doing it because it was something that I truly enjoyed.  When I started my kid was three, so that meant that if I could not find someone to take her I could not go, but I did sacrifice a lot of time with her to pursue comedy because I felt I could make a living at it and she would benefit. Before college, I spent a lot of time driving for hours for shit pay so I could one day be able to do the shows I want for the money I want. Not everyone has my exact situation.  I’m just giving an example of some of the things you have to do.  After all of this, no one knows who I am.  I am not a nationally touring headliner.  I don’t have TV credits.  This is what I had to do to get this far.  And this isn’t all of it.  There was homelessness and overdue bills and all that, but it is what I loved so I fought to keep doing it.  Look, if you just want to come out every once and a while and dabble in comedy, then go ahead and do that.  Nothing wrong with stand up as a hobby, but I am talking about those whose dream is to do this for a living.  If you are not fighting for those dreams, then you can not be shocked when they do not come true.

How To Stand Out In Your Comedy Scene

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A lot of comedians think that the best way to stand out is to just be funny.  All you have to do is write material, work it out week after week, and someday…you will be able to host!  Here is the thing that a lot of comedians just can’t understand: That is not the way to stand out in your scene.  I will tell you what does and why?

You may be saying, “Well, Harry, handsome mofo you, why isn’t being funny the best way to stand out?  That is my job, right?” Your job is to be funny, but being funny is just a part of being a comedian.  You have to think about all the stuff that a comedian does before and after they get on a stage and be funny.  You have to get to the show, on time.  You have to perform your time, not going over or under.  If you are gonna be on stage, you should probably not be up there so high that you forget your material, or go after people in the audience.  When you are off stage, it is probably not a good idea to touch the wait staff (unless they consent of course).

If you want to stand out, you have to do what the others around you are not willing to do.  For example, in Spokane, we have a major comedy club and some independent shows.  If you show up to the open mics and show yourself not be a douchebag, it is not that hard to rise to the top of the scene and start working at the club, where you can be sharing the stage with some huge names.  Because in almost every scene I have witness, there are the same groups of people.  You have the entitled people that think that they should get work because they have stuck it out. You have the comedy fans that are more into the idea of comedy then actually creating and performing their own stuff.  Then you have just lazy comedians that will not show up to open mics, and when they do they are still performing the same jokes.  It is not that hard to rise above these guys.  While they are sitting around wondering why no one is booking them, you are making face time with all the other comedians that are trying their best to, just like you, stand out and be noticed by the people that are booking shows.

People always look at me and assume I get work because I make people laugh.  That is so far from the truth.  At first it was because I was available, and that I could go to places at a moments notice.  Later, bookers turned to me because I was dependable. I got to the venue on time and was nice to the staff.  When the manager of the room sees that, they will book you again.  Now, if you suck, you will get some work, but after awhile it will be harder, but the idea here is to get your foot in the door with a lot of these bookers and promoters by being dependable.  Bookers need people to fill time.  Yeah they want a great show, but if the funniest person on the planet only shows up 50% of the time, then there is no show.

Look comedy is still hard, if you have read any of this blog you know that, the thing is to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success, and that means getting out and being seen and not being a horrible garbage person.

Where The Blog Is Heading

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If you stop by this blog on the regular, you will notice that I have been pretty sparse with the articles during the 2016 calendar month.  There are many reasons for this.  2016 was a really good year comedy wise for me.  Lots of shows, but that also meant lots of travel.  It was hard for me to get out of a car after a five hour drive or after a plane ride and write an article on something.  That is not a great excuse, but it is the only one I have.  It is not that I have ran out of ideas for articles or anything, I have just been busy and have not had time to dedicate it to weekly articles.  I will try to change that.  I think I will start releasing articles on Sunday instead of Monday.  I don’t know why I started on Mondays, maybe it was the day after I got back into town after shows, so I was still hyped up.  I am also thinking of doing YouTube videos that mirror the blog because blogs have not been a thing for awhile.  I mean my favorite sites are basically blogs, but not many people get their information from blogs.  If they do, you don’t have to update it.  I keep getting about 50 hits a week about a article I wrote entitled ‘Donald Trump Is A Cartoon Super villain’.  I don’t think I wrote much about Trump, but the title alone keeps getting people to come.  I am glad people still come to the blog.  Last year was a down year, and I still managed about five thousand visitors.  For a site like IGN that is what they get in about a minute, but for a guy that has no TV credits and is not known, I think it is alright.  I want to thank you guys for sticking with me, and reading my stuff.  Like I have always said, this blog is by a guy that is living it just like every other comedian trying to break to the next level.  I will never pretend to know how to get an hour special, or get on Conan, but if I get those things, I will tell you how did it.  Thanks, and welcome to 2017 where there are still no rocket boots.

Can You Make A Living As A Feature Act

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The answer to the title is:  You can!..If you work at it.  Being a feature act is hard. You travel a lot and you are usually tasked with warming the crowd up, and at the end of it all, you get paid a tiny amount of money.  It is hard to make the money stretch to the point that you can make a living off of it as a feature, but I am here to give you some ideas on what you can do to help make it happen.

MERCH!

If you are a feature act and you want comedy to be your career, then I suggest getting things to sell after the show.  I sell CDs and buttons, but you don’t have to do that (especially if you don’t have the material to record a CD).  Do you have a cool joke that would look good on a t-shirt?  What about bumper stickers?  You have to be smart though.  Don’t just sell a shirt with your name on it because people may not want to wear that.  The reason you want to sell stuff is simple:  the pay is crap, so you need to supplement that income as much as possible.  You can easily double or triple the money you are getting from the venue by sales of merchandise.

When I first started out, I got this advise from a great comic Morgan Preston.  He was selling t-shirts and making hundreds of extra dollars.  He knew how much feature acts were making so he told me to get something to sell or I would be doing this for nothing.  Now, you can’t be 100% sure that you will get that money every night, but it will help in the long run.

RIDE SOME COATTAILS

If you are a feature act, the BEST thing you can do is work with a headliner that has a lot of shows and is willing to take you along.  Headliners are peculiar creatures.  They like to be comfortable in knowing that the feature is not going to crap the bed and mess the show up.  So, if you help make the show great, they may be willing to take you along.  What this does is keep travel cost down, if you are travelling together.  If they are really big comedians then they may get travel covered so that is more money you don’t have to spend.

For the past four months, I have been the feature act for John Caparulo (off and on), and it is pretty sweet.  Having money for travel means more of the money you make from shows stays in your pockets.  The fact that John is a big name helps me sell more CDs which means even more money to keep in my pocket.

BOOK YOUR OWN STUFF

If you are mainly doing bars and the occasional club, you may want to think about booking your own shows on off nights.  There are many bars that have nothing going on so you may able to sell them on doing a show.  More shows equal more money.  This is more work for you, but if you are looking to fill dates this is a great way to go about it. And it is not just bars!  Look at wineries or coffee shops and well.

Being a feature act is hard, but you can make it work.  Get out and talk to comedians and don’t be afraid to ask headliners to think of you when they are in need of an opener.  I just went to do a show with John Caparulo and he asked me if I would be willing to feature for him more when his regular can’t do it.  I said yes because why not.  He is a great comedian, and a really good dude.  I did not know that it would change my income.  With the pay and selling merchandise, opening for John pays more than being a headliner in a bar!  This will not work for everyone because not everyone knows a John Caparulo, but get out and see, and hopefully you can make a nice little living being a feature act.

Gift Ideas For The Comedian In Your Life 2016

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I thought I would update this article to give those out there more ideas on what to get that special someone in their life that also happens to deal in the funny arts.  They will be in three categories: Stocking Stuffers, Mid range (sorry I couldn’t come up with s cooler category), and then Loaded.  I hope this guide will help you find a great gift for the comedian in your life.

 

STOCKING STUFFERS

These are great for the comedian that is hard to shop for

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Pens: Comedians need a writing utensil when an idea hits their head meat, so you might as well keep them well stocked in pens.  I like gel pens.  I don’t know why, but I tend to gravitate to them.  Get them a box of pens and whenever they are thinking of the perfect butthole joke, they will think of you.

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Gift Card:  A lot of people think gift cards are lazy gifts.  I don’t!  I love them.  Instead of someone getting me something I will never use, I get to go out and pick what I will leave in my closet forever.  This is a great idea for the comedian that is so hard to shop for that you are losing sleep because of it.

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Netflix:  If they are a road comic, they will love you for getting them a subscription to a service like Netflix. While they are in a hotel room or on the side of the road trying to get some much needed rest, they can watch their favorite comedy special.

 

MID-RANGE

This is for the comedians that you want to spend a little bit more on.

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Moleskine Smart Writing Set:  Comedians love to write, but they are also afraid of losing their notebook or once the notebook is full, and they have to write in a new one, all of their previously written jokes are not with them.  No longer!  With this bad boy, they can still write like they are Ernest Hemingway, yet keep all of their writings with them through the smart writing app.  They also have notebooks for evernote and livescribe, so if they use one of those services it will save right there!

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Squarespace:  Every serious comedian (and even the not so serious ones) have a website.  You need something to send folks to other than you Facebook page (that is so 2012).  With a squarespace subscription, they will have a great place to set up a site that looks really good.  I am not a website builder, but harryjriley.com looks pretty good.  The price is low, but the quality is high.

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GoPro: Watching yourself on stage is a good way to see what you need to change.  Pictured is the gopro 5, but they have a cheaper gopro session 5 that is good as well.  You can mount these bad boys anywhere and with the included app, they can see their shot without having to keep readjusting it if it is in a hard to reach spot (like over an audience member’s head).  They also have editing software that will help them clean the video up and have it ready for potential bookers.

 

LOADED!

This category is for those with deep pockets or you really, really love that comedian.

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Camcorder: Getting good video of your sets is really important when you are trying to get into competitions and get booked.  Hook your comedian up with a baller camcorder like this Sony FDR-AX33. It records in 4k, so when that comedy festival organizer sees every crease in their slacks they are a shoe in to be picked!

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A New Phone: Phones.  Where would we be without them?  Probably not in the bathroom playing candy crush.  Smartphones are like swiss army knives of tech.  A comedian can record their shows, and then edit them and then send them to YouTube for the world to see within minutes.  Pictured is the iphone 7 plus, but it doesn’t have to be Apple (make sure you know what operating system they like before getting them a new phone) Android has several great phones like the Google Pixel and then there is the OnePlus 3.

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Surface Pro 4: Nothing says you love someone like a new laptop, tablet thingy.  The surface pro 4 is everything a world traveling comedian could want in a device.  It has the power of a laptop, but the portability of a tablet.  They can sketch out their poster ideas right there on the touch screen and when they want to edit their script they can with type cover that can be had later.

I hope this gives you some ideas on what to get that special comedian in your life.

Special thanks to Michael Glatzmeir, Ryan McComb, and Missy Narrance, for the help with this article!

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter To The Heckler

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Dear Heckler,

 

I kinda get it.  I kinda know why you do what you do, but I am here to tell you that all the reasons you have piled in your head are wrong.

You may think you are helping the comedian.  You are not.  Being a comedian usually involves writing and rewriting and performing and rewriting and crying and rewriting a joke until it is nice and shiny. That comedian that you paid between nothing and $20 to see has been working on that material for so long that they know it front to back.  The last thing they need is someone yelling in between the joke. Why?  Because it throws off their timing.  Timing is important to comedians because it helps then know when they should do things like continue with the material or wait for the thunderous applause to end (one can hope). You screaming things does not help the comedian.  You hurt them.

You are also not making the show better.  There is a reason you are not on the bill.  You are not a comedian.  You may think you are funny, but that is the alcohol and ego talking.  You don’t know what it takes to get up on stage and tell really personal things about your penis or vagina.  These comedians have given their lives to try to make a room full (hopefully) of people laugh.  You have not.  As a matter of fact, you are actually making the show worse.  To you left and right, are people that paid between nothing and $20 to see a comedian.  They did not come to hear you yell at a comedian from the shadows.  They want what the comedian has to offer, not you musings.

Like I said earlier I kinda get it.  You are usually called the funny person at the shop or office, but you don’t have the balls to get on stage and give it a try, so when you get a couple in you, you feel a need to give it a try now.  Maybe that isn’t you.  Maybe you are the cool guy in the group and now the group is laughing at the comedian instead of commenting on the crease in your slacks.  Maybe you are the lady that has never had people not stare at them and now they are staring at the comedian and that bothers you.  Maybe you are just a loud drunk.  No matter where you fall, you are not needed or wanted at a comedy show. These comedians have gone through enough.  Let them entertain you. That is why you paid between nothing and $20 bucks.  Thanks.

 

Not really sincerely,

Harry J. Riley IV

P.S.  We also don’t want to hear your racist jokes after the show.