Anticipation And Defeat

Anticipation is a huge thing for a comic when you think about it.  We anticipate getting the gig.  We anticipate the success of the gig once we got it.  We anticipate getting up on that stage.  We anticipate the laughter of a new joke.  Anticipation plays a big role in being a comic and it can undo you as well.  I was in Seattle this weekend for a comedy competition and that is what ultimately did me in, I think, and caused me to not do as well as I wanted and not win the competition (and the fact that there were amazing comics on there did not do me any favors as well).  I got to the place the competition was going to be really early because of festivities that were going on.  I sat there just wishing the time would speed up somehow and I could get up on that stage and do what I thought was going to be a set that would bring me success.  The anticipation lead to my nerves getting the better of me and causing me to not perform my jokes as well I would have liked.  It was the anticipation of getting up there and trying to out do other people at something we all love to do.  These comics all deserved to be there performing for the prize and that made me want to get up there more and more.  I stumbled my way out of the competition because the anticipation of everything got the better of me.  I didn’t listen to my own rules (last week’s article) and I it cost me.

Defeat is a part of competitions, show business, and life.  We are all fighting for finite resources, be it jobs or money or shows.  If you are going to be in show business disappointment and defeat is going to go with success.  We have all read about the best selling author who had to go through hundreds of rejection letters before someone took a chance on their book and made them a success.  With comedy it’s no different.  You will have to send out ton’s of emails and promotional materials and for every 10 you may get 2 responses and they may both be negative.  I remember wanting to get a comedy agent a couple of years ago and so I sent out my stuff to several agencies and I got a response from one agency and they said that I wasn’t ready to be represented.  I was disappointed of course, but I had to think about what that meant.  Does that mean I am a bad comic?  Or does that mean that I do not have a following that would allow them to sell me to comedy clubs?  I have auditioned for tons of work as an actor.  I have only gotten 3 and 2 of those I just walked around in the background.  You can’t let it get to you or it will eat you alive.

What’s hard for me is that my mind lingers on such things for an awful long time and it can bring me down to the point where I stop sending out emails and trying to get into more places around the country.  What made me realize that comedy was in my blood was when I did a show in Medford Oregon.  I got on stage and for 25 minutes I bombed.  I was so shell shocked that I just drove home that night.  While I was driving back I thought about giving it up and just doing something else.  It was around hour 6 of my drive that I got this urge to get back up on stage and do it again.  That was when I looked out into the night and realize that I was curse to relive this drive over and over and I would keep wanting to do it over and over because it made me feel alive.  I think that is the weird thing about defeat.  It is only defeat if you allow it to defeat you.  If you give in to the thoughts surrounding the disappointment of not achieving a goal then it can drive you away from it.  Instead, dust yourself off and go at it again because even defeat can be defeated.



The Comedy Competition

In this week’s post, let’s discuss something that I went through recently, A comedy competition.  Comedy competitions are a popular thing.  From small ones where only people in the immediate area will participate in all the way to huge ones like the San Francisco Comedy Competition.  I have a love/hate relationship with comedy competitions.  I like the fact that there are prizes to be had, and exposure if it is a big one, but I also hate how nervous they make me.  I like that you can meet new comics from all over, but I hate having to be judge on something that I feel is subjective.

The only really big comedy competition I have participated in was the Seattle Comedy Competition and I didn’t get into the first round.  I have however participated in and won several smaller competitions and the more I adhere to my personal philosophy about such things the better I have become in them.

A lot of people hate comedy competitions because they can be easily rigged or it can funnel out a lot of competitors with it’s rules.  Like for instance, on the newest season of Last Comic Standing on NBC, a lot of people complained (or voice their opinion) that it isn’t much of a competition if only people with agents get to be on the show.  I think this is an instance where the creators looked at previous seasons and decided that instead of having a ton of random people who think they are funny, and do it American Idol style where you come into a room and do their thing, to just have an already filtered product.  Comics with agents must be funny because if they weren’t no one would represent them (that is the thinking).  So now you have what is on TV this summer.

This is one of my big thoughts on competitions.  I don’t worry about that stuff.  I don’t worry about who is running it or the cogs that make it work, or if the person running the competition is only letting people in that like to wear funny hats.  If I think the competition is fishy in anyway I just don’t do it.  That is why I don’t do competitions where I have to pay to get in.  My feeling on having to pay a submission fee is the same as paying someone to work for them.  I am already performing for at the very least free, so I should not have to pay to maybe get the chance to perform for free.  Especially if you have sponsors and are charging at the door.

When I do enter a competition I figure out how it is gonna be judged.  I have seen it where everyone in the audience judge, a few random audience members judge, and a panel of comics/random people do the judging.  There is always a time limit and if there is a panel it is usually graded with stuff like stage presence and the like.  I often find that the audience judging is the easiest because you just go up and make the people laugh.  You don’t have to worry about what someone thinks is a clever joke or if standing in one spot is considered stage presence.  You just do your thing. If you have comics judging then that can be harder because they have an idea of what a joke is or what stage presence is and I often find that those are the ones that people get heated about.  Think about it like this.  Someone that does the same thing as you is judging you.  If they grade you poorly, a lot of people would take that as them not being a good comedian.  If it is a really fishy competition, you could even have collusion where some or all of the judges have already decided who they are going to give high marks to.  I don’t worry about that.  I just worry about the things they say they are grading on and I go.

A lot of competitions have rules for the type of jokes that can be done.  Like the Valleyfest competition that is held in Spokane Valley Washington is a PG competition where curse words and more R rated material are not welcome.  So then what I do is all the stuff that I do that is anywhere near the edge I don’t do and I do a set that I could do on TV.  There was a competition last year where it was R rated.  Where all the dirty stuff went.  I just turned up the content of the jokes, not necessarily the curse words and I was successful in that.  If you have a question about the joke you are doing you should probably not do it.  I have seen people that have not won money because they did a dirty joke at a clean joke competition thinking that because they took out the bad words that makes the joke clean.

I want to make something clear.  I am not a competition type comic.  I don’t go out and seek them. They make me nervous and make my stomach hurt and I hate having to put my butt on toilets that are not mine. I am a comic that likes to do comedy and those little things above work for me.  I adopted them right after I tried my hand in the Seattle Comedy Competition.  I drove to Seattle and sat in my car for two hours and went up on stage and did my jokes and I wasn’t comfortable and I didn’t get into the competition.  I learned a very valuable lesson from that experience.   I put way to much into the Seattle Comedy Competition.  I sold my iPad to finance the trip over!  I was super nervous because I wanted to get in so bad and it was my belief that If I got in that would validate me and mean something to my career as a comic.  The thing is I found out about not getting in while driving over to the midwest to do a week of shows.  That means that I am already doing what most comics want to do.  I get paid to tell jokes.  A competition is not going to make you a comic only you and hard work are going to do that.

The Bar

I don’t know too many comics who didn’t start out their careers doing shows in bars.  I don’t know what makes this particular form of performance art go with the bar scene, but whenever you are looking to do comedy people just gravitate to the bar.  It may be because jokes are something that are slung around a lot in bars, or it may be that someone a long time ago said that alcohol needs to go with comedy, or it may just be that bars have a stage or an empty area and a hustler thought it was a great idea to do a show with a dart board as you backdrop.  Whatever the case, comedy is done in bars all across America and as such those shows have there own set of rules.

One of the biggest things to remember is that doing a show in a bar is a lot like playing a sport and it’s an away game.  What that means is that this bar is probably frequented by an established clientele and anything out of the ordinary is going to be met with hostility.  I remember when I first started doing comedy and I was doing a show in Great Falls Montana.  This bar didn’t have a stage they just put a plank on top of some crates and we were good.  When we announced that there was a comedy show being had in about 15 minutes everyone in the bar looked at us like we just told them we were coming for their guns. See, the thing about a lot of bar patrons is that if comedy is a newish thing there they won’t know.  They are not paying attention to the flyers in the bar most of the time.  Hell, they may be to drunk to remember that they were told about the comedy night.  When you are in this situation you have to remember that attacking the crowd isn’t going to be a good idea.  They already don’t want you there.  They can’t talk to their buddies about the asshole at work now, so even if they wanted to they can’t hear over the seething rage that is going on in their heads.  I have see a lot of people sit there and ridicule the customers and I have only seen a positive result once. What I do is I just go up strong.  Nice and loud so I drown out their talking (a lot of bars won’t have someone go around and tell them to hush up) and I talk about something local or recent.  Not like a stabbing or a kidnapping, but like fishing or sports or something.  That’s what people go to the bar to talk about anyway. Then I go into my set unless I am rocking it with random sports stuff or they love hearing about how horrible of a fisherman I am.

Another thing that separates a bar show from a show in a traditional comedy club is that a lot of these people have not been to a live comedy show.  They are in a bar and they may be a little tipsy so you have to take into account that they may yell things at the comic or not be able to control their inside voice.  I have seen some comics literally shutdown when they are getting to much feedback from the audience.  That will happen if you are new to this.  I have had it happen to me and my brain, which is usually working overtime during a show, is just blank and left me there to die a horrible death.  That is why having some strong stuff up front is going to help you survive.  If you tend to go up and just spend 30-45 seconds asking everyone how their day is going they could turn.  Go up firing!

Comedy clubs have what a show is down to a science.  You have the MC that will do 5-15. He is usually there to establish the rules for the night (you know, turn your phones off no heckling). The feature that will do from 20-30 and the headliner that will do 50-60.  A show is usually an hour and a half and everyone is happy.  In a bar you may not have the luxury of a MC to get the crowd going and to iron out the rowdy table or the people still playing pool in the back.  If you are the feature (the first guy up) you are the hybrid MC/feature for tonight and you have to work as such.  Your first 10-15 may not even register with the crowd so you have to work through that and not get flustered.  You have to tell them about their cell phones and talking ahead of time so that when your headliner is getting up he doesn’t have to wade through that mess.  When you are working in this role you might want to start off light with pleasantries and the like. Personally I hate doing this role because I like to tell my jokes.  Not babysit, but I am also not the best MC so that may explain that.

I have been the headliner of bar shows and they can be awesome or they can be terrible depending on how the other guy did.  If he didn’t do his job, or just wasn’t funny, it’s almost like you never had an opener to begin with.  If the room is just rowdy, most headliners can power through that with material that will please a rowdy crowd that is craving dick jokes.  I have an entire set devoted to just such a room.  Do I like to do it?  Not really, but you have to remember that there are not talent scouts in a bar in Bozeman Montana so that stuff that you plan on doing for Letterman may not fly with this group. I was told that you could also do street jokes (jokes that are told by a lot of people where the author of the joke is not known), but honestly I have enough material that I just stick to my thing and leave that alone.  Bar shows will make you work sometimes.  You will be sweaty and tired, but the audience will love it and you may get to come back to do it again under more favorable conditions.  The best thing about bar shows is that it is a great to iron out what jokes are really lame and should be let go.  You will be able to work through anything so when you get to a comedy club you look that much more awesome because you are used to trying to get and maintain their attention throughout your show.  It can get you into bad habits like more cursing or more material that is of a sexual nature that works great for bars, but might be too much for the wine room.

Before I stop typing I really hope this blog helps people and also entertains.  I am not Jerry Seinfeld.  I do not have 30 years of experience under my belt.  I will not be able to tell you  how to get a show or book out Madison Square Garden.  All I can write about is what it is like for a struggling comic to get by on comedy and his charm.  I have stuff on YouTube under Harry J. Riley and I am on the usual assortment of social media sites.  Thanks for reading!


The Art of Bombing

Life is such that you will not always have the best experience possible.  That is with everything.  Great Baseball players fail seven times out of ten.  Comedy is no different.  A joke can be funny, but for whatever reasons it will not work 100% of the time.  When almost all of your jokes are not working, they call that bombing.  And bombing is one of the most horrible feelings in the world, but also a learning process and an art form in itself.

No one that describes themselves as a comic actually goes on stage saying they are going to do bad.  There would be no point in going up. You can’t predict it, but you know when it is happening.  Sometimes its because the comic before made the crowd angry.  Sometimes, its because they didn’t like that joke about Polish people.  Sometimes its because they don’t like your face, it doesn’t really matter at that point, you just have to recognize that you are bombing and there are only so many things you can do to save yourself anymore embarrassment.

One thing I see comics do that I always think is in bad taste is complain that the crowd isn’t getting the joke.  That smacks of elitism.  That because you call yourself a comedian you know what should be laughed at.  If they are not laughing, it is because they do not think that joke is funny.  Another thing a bombing comic will do is start to get angry with the crowd, which is understandable.  It’s like if someone didn’t enjoy a poem you wrote.  Jokes are (usually) your creation and because you created them you feel for them.  The thing is you can love your material, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has too.  It’s like other people’s kids.  You like your own, you hate other people’s little bratty bastards.  One of the most poisonous things I have seen a comic do is when they are bombing bad, is that they will stay on longer.  Please don’t do that.  Especially if you have others that are going up after you.  See comics do this because we feel as though we can pull ourselves from out of the dump back into the glory of the audience.  It can work sometimes.  A lot of the times you are just up there drowning and instead of swimming to the lifeboat you decide to punch the sharks some more.  If you are bombing and you have tried corrective measures and it still isn’t helping just call it a night.  There is nothing wrong with admitting defeat.  The comic that has to go on after you will thank you.

Now, when I am doing bad and I need to get back in the audiences good graces I follow an emergency checklist in my head.  This works for me.  I don’t know if it will work for anyone else, but you are free to try them.  If the crowd wasn’t feeling the previous comic I go up and try a crowd warming joke.  I call them crowd warming jokes, because they are just light jokes to kind of set the mood for the rest of my act.  If that doesn’t get a response I go into a joke that I know works more than it doesn’t.  I go “off the script” as some would say and not do my jokes in the order that I had planned.  If I have been doing good and I feel the air leaving the room (where the audience has stopped laughing at my stuff), I will just stop with that topic of joke.  Sometimes a crowd doesn’t want to hear anymore about Bigfoot.   I just move on to whatever else I was going to do, if I have time.  If not I just call it good and depart.  If you have switched from topic to topic and they have not responded, then you can go to the ole comic stand by stuff.  If they are rowdy then pull out some dick jokes.  If you don’t have anything find you raunchiest material and start throwing it at them.  If you don’t have any and that is the type of crowd you have then you can do crowd work, but since I don’t really do that I can’t tell you how to do that with confidence.  If all that fails then just say good night and get ready to get them the next time.  That is the beauty of comedy.  There will be a next time with another crowd.  So stick with it.

Got a part in a television show that is filming in Spokane.  I play a slacker, and although my girl thinks I am a natural, I don’t really know what that means.  There is the stereotypical slacker that is sleeping in his mom’s basement and eating junk food all day and playing video games and not taking showers. I know a lot of comics and a lot of them are slackers, but I don’t know how to put that into action.  They just don’t go after stuff.  It films the first three days of this week so I may miss my kid’s talent contest which is something I do not what to do, but this is the business I signed up for.  I think she understands.  I hope she understands.

Business Is Personal

Unlike most art forms, comedy is completely subjective.  In music, if you can’t hit the notes you aren’t a good singer.  If your face can’t show some emotion then you can’t act.  Comedy isn’t like that, but that doesn’t stop people from attempting to make it so.  I mean yes, you can talk about stage techniques and things of that nature, but that can be incorporated into your act.  What some think is funny some find it stupid.  One person could love religious material and another could hate it.  So, the business of comedy is this way as well.

Unless you are producing your own shows, the only way you are getting work is through a comedy booker.  If that booker doesn’t like anything about you, you are not getting any work through them.  They could not like your material or your stage presence or the shape of your head, all of that could contribute to not getting employed through them.  The thing you have to remember is that you can’t take it personal.  It is really easy to take this stuff personal.  Writing jokes (at least to me) is like letting people inside some of the dirty things you write in your journal at night.  If people say they don’t like it then what they are saying is that they don’t like what makes you a person (not really, but you know what I mean).  The same could be said for someone that writes a song and then everyone pans it.  It was a personal song to them that is getting trashed.  It is hard not to take things like that personal.

I was trying to get with a comedy agency about a year ago.  I contacted a lot of these guys and got one response that said that I was not at the level for them to pick me up as a client.  I felt really bad for about 15 minutes.  Then I realized the business aspect of this.  Why would they spend time on me, someone that isn’t well enough known, has no TV credits and has only been doing comedy in about two regions of the country their entire career?  They want something easier.  These big agencies are not in the business of developing people.  They are the major leagues. I am still in Double A (that was a baseball reference I hope you got it).

I have been thinking about moving ever since I got out of college.  I feel as though my talents are being wasted doing one open mic a week.  Whenever I am in Seattle I take it all in and I am really thrilled at the results.  I have a lot of comedy friends who tell me that I should move and get as far away from Spokane as possible.  That is easier said than done.  I have a daughter here.  I have a girlfriend who has a career and a family here.  It isn’t just me anymore.  When I make this decision I am actually making a decision for 4 other people as well.  My daughter and I have been seeing each other and I enjoy that.  I love my girlfriend.  These are not things you can just duplicate in another city.  That is why my actions have been a lot slower than others.  If it were just me, I would have been over there as soon as I got my degree and be done with Spokane.  Until I can make a move, I will cherish the weekly open mic.