Comedy seems like a simple endeavor. You write material and you get stage time and eventually, you get paid lots of money to do it in front of lots of people. The steps seem simple as well. You sit down, write all the stuff that you joke about with your friends, and you should be making a living in comedy by the end of the year. It seems so simple.
You start by finding an open mic near you and this, this is where you start your career as a comedian. You have your material set up. You get there, and you realize that you are not just one of a few, but one of many other comedians that are thinking the same thing. Wanting that shot at fame and fortune. Because there are so many comedians, you have to curtail your material to the three minutes that you have. You go up and what you thought were three minutes were four and you get the light before you could finish. You didn’t even get to the big finish!
After a couple of months of stringing together material, you have a great 30 minutes. Now you are ready to start touring the country, getting paid to make people laugh. You start asking the seasoned comedians in the scene who you can get work from. They look at you like you are silly, but they give you the email addresses of people and you try to get booked. They ask for head shots and bios and videos, and now you have to scramble to get these things because you are this close to being a comedian. You have your friend take your photo and record one of your sets at a bar. You send that all in and…nothing. Hours turn to days and days to to weeks. You send another email and again nothing.
You have been doing it for six months now and you finally get to feature for someone! You have your material memorized and ready to go. You get to the bar and you realize that the eight people there did not know a show was going on so they keep talking while you go through your material. What you thought was 30 minutes of great material was actually 18 minutes of okay stuff. No one laughs and you walk off the “stage” dejected. The headliner goes up and gets the crowd into it and by the end of his time, everyone is having a blast. This did not go as planned.
You finally get a show out of town! You are excited. You get to the casino and you get your free meal coupon and you finally feel like you are in the big time. You get to your room and try to watch some Netflix, but the internet is so shaky that you go to the casino floor instead. After losing 20 bucks, you go get a meal before the show. Tonight you will be performing in front of 20 bitter gamblers and they do not enjoy your jokes about gophers. You get your check for 100 bucks…in a week or two.
Comedy seems simple. You can see the steps to success right there. That isn’t how life works though. For every comedian that gets a Comedy Central special after performing for two years, there are hundreds of comedians in bars and casinos all over the country just trying to get by on whatever they can. Comedy’s wash out rate is second only to the Navy Seals (an exaggeration of course), mainly because the steps seem simple, but when actually acted upon, it is soon discovered that the road to fame is tough. That is why so often you don’t often see full time comedians. If you relied on just comedy to make it you would be homeless by the time you gain traction.
Comedy is hard. I know it because I have done it for eleven years. Terrible casino shows and late payments are the norm. Driving all over just in the hopes that you can get more work from this booker later. Hoping that the hotel smells less like butt and more like lavender. The thing is, I never thought I would get this far. I am thankful everyday that I get to do this. I get to step on stage and try my best to get a room full of strangers to laugh. That should be your first duty. Funny. After that, get better at the networking and the promotion, but get funny. Because no one can turn away funny. It is not simple, but not much is.