If you have been following my blog, then you know that I am competing in this years Seattle International Comedy Competition. Last week was the preliminary round, and I was able to be one of five comedians to move on to the semi finals. There are a lot of things I learned about this competition. I would like to share them with you.
It Doesn’t Matter: Going into this competition I was worried that my reputation as a comedian would be tarnished if I didn’t make it to the next round. This is completely false. I think it is something that you can put on your resume. It doesn’t mean that you will never get work as a comic again. There are just too many good comics for that to be the case. It also didn’t matter how you placed the first night. I didn’t make the top 5 at all and two of the comics that did didn’t even make it to the semifinal round.
Doing You Best: I noticed before everything was said and done that I would make the top 5 or not. I was never shocked (except the first night) that I didn’t do well. Wednesday night I took first. I knew right after my set that I did well, but I didn’t think it was good enough for the top spot of the night. Tuesday night, I didn’t do my best material. I did material that gets laughs. I changed it up. Some people who didn’t place any night kept doing the same stuff. I didn’t know if that was their best or if that was just what they wanted to do.
There Will Always Be Bias: We are humans and we carry a lot of baggage with us. I saw that on several nights when one comic would not make the top 5 and I think I know why. Because he would talk about being gay. Now he never talked about homosexual sex, but some of these little areas of the country are still stupid and I think that is why he didn’t finish better. I also think it was because he talked bad about football in general and people hate that. I also heard people telling comics that they were trying to become a judge so they could score them highly. That probably would not have made them win because it would have been just one night and there were other judges that might not be biased in that way, but it was weird to hear someone say that no matter what, I would have scored you high even if you didn’t deserve it. Of course judges had biases as well. I think Tuesday night (which was industry night where agents and such would be judges) that happened to me. They didn’t like my “look” I didn’t look like I should be doing shows and stuff. And I would agree. That is why I would be perfect for such a thing.
All Comics Have The Same Fears: All these guys (and gals) just want to be loved for the stuff they are doing on stage. That is all. They want to win because they believe that it will mean more shows and more recognition. We fear being hated for what we wrote down. We fear not being seen as a good comic. Because this is all we know.
I Am Funny…To Some: I feel like my act is for the in between crowd. The average joe. It didn’t do well with the rich or the older crowd. I don’t know why. It just does.
This is a question that every comic should ask themselves from time to time. If you are trying to get paid from comedy, you have to access your worth. You have to be honest, critical, and self aware. This is an important question that only one person can really answer. You.
Now, you could say that the market determines your worth, but that isn’t really true 100% of the time. For example: You could be asked to do a show and they tell you that you get 100 bucks for the night and a hotel room (pretty average in the northwest for a feature doing a one nighter). That is what the large amount of feature comedians accept as their pay. If you do not like this amount of money there are a couple of things you can do. You can just accept it and know that eventually you will be making more money with this booker in the future. You could tell the booker to shove it and never get booked by them again, or you could just politely refuse and try to get more money in the future. This is the rub with comedy. You can independently work out a wage, but people have accepted what promoters and bookers have given them and I think it is because we all deep down feel a little weird about accepting money to perform comedy. We love it. You rarely get paid to do the things you love. If that were true there would be a lot of professional masterbaters out there.
The comic is really in control of the money. It is just that because of certain things this is what we have arrived at. I will tell you a couple of stories. I worked a club in Boise and I got paid 600 bucks for the week. I did shows on Thursday, two on Friday and Saturday, and one on Sunday. I have done other comedy clubs and they have not given me 100 a night because their reasoning was that because I didn’t have to travel in between shows that 75 was good enough. See the reason I got paid these amounts is because comics before me have said this is what is acceptable for all of us. This becomes a problem though when the money becomes so low that it is not really feasible for quality comics to perform on those shows.
When I was starting out, I did a bunch of shows like this. Mainly because I wanted to be on stage and it was a bonus to be getting money as well. I would get thrown 35-40 bucks and I felt good about myself. It became an issue when I felt I didn’t need to jump on a stage for time and that my act actually suffered for it. I mean, I haven’t actually gotten paid 35 dollars at a well established place. The places that are paying that out to the talent are not the greatest places to begin with. I would be asked to do shows where there were 5 comics and four of them were doing it for 6 months and had a shaky 5 minutes. That was when I came to terms with the fact that I may have just placed myself out of that type of money. I am not saying I am gonna get 6 grand a show, but I think that the act that I have developed is worth more than 35 bucks. That is hard to tell someone that just started doing comedy 5 months ago.
It does come with a lot of consequences though. I am friends with a lot of comics that don’t have the material or the experience and so small money is great to them. They can buy their beer and go get taco bell. They do not think of what is happening to their value down the road. If you are getting paid 35 dollars to do your feature set then why would a booker pay you more to do it for them? That is how I look at it and decided not to do these types of shows anymore. You don’t want to be uppity about it, but you have to help yourself somehow. I mean would we value a Ferrari if it cost 23k? Would we hold Jerry Seinfeld in such high regard if he was doing his show for 100 bucks a night (The cost of something doesn’t dictate worth, but you value something more if you paid more for it)? The issue comes when I tell my friends that and they think I have gotten an ego. I have had arguments about this with a lot of people for a long time. One night a comic asked me what I thought I was worth. At that time I thought I was worth the 25 bucks they were paying me to basically do an hour show. As the years went on though I noticed that the people I was doing these shows with either were not as serious about it as me or they were not strong enough to be getting paid to perform and I had to go back to that comic and say, “You were right.” I am worth more than this.
When you make this declaration though you have to come to terms with a couple of things. You will not be getting a lot of shows now. That is a good thing though because those 5 extra shows a month equaled the one show you did in terms of money. If you price yourself really high (Like I did for this college that wanted to book me) they may go another route. You just have to believe that you are worth it. That is why you have to have stuff like a great headshot and an awesome bio and well made clips on YouTube (I have one out of those three so please don’t think I am perfect). That way they can see you are as serious as you claim.
The closer I get to this comedy competition the more I start looking within to evaluate my faults as a comic. Everyone has them if they look hard enough. I think that is probably one of the best skills you can learn as a comedian…hell even as a person. If you know where you are weakest, you can either strengthen or hide that weakness. Comedy competitions can expose a comic’s weakness. If you can’t do clean material to save your life then you will have a hard time in a clean comedy contest. If you take too long to set up jokes, then you will suffer when there isn’t a lot of time to do so. Here are some of my major faults and how I try to deal with them.
Performing in Spokane is a blessing and a curse. I get a lot of stage time, but I get A LOT of stage time. That doesn’t really prepare you for contest where time is a critical component to success. It might be alright to go over your time at an open mic, but it is not a good idea when you are competing. I have trouble with this. I think a lot of comics do. We like to get up there and make people laugh. If someone isn’t forcing you off the stage you will take that time! That isn’t the case in larger cities where they can have almost 50 people to do an open mic and they give you 2-3 minutes HARD. You go over by a second and they cut the mic off and ask you not to come back next week. I have lost two competitions because I went over my time. I think the best way to solve this problem is to set the timer on my phone. There are apps out there just for this purpose. Just set it and watch your time and that should hopefully solve that.
Another problem that is not just with Spokane, but a lot of places that set up in bars is material. Your material gets a lot darker when you have to perform in front of a certain group of people. I think that is because that is what gets drunken people paying attention. You get em with the hard stuff and then see if you can work in your normal material. What has happened with me though is that I get dark real fast and that can turn people off. I have to remember my situation. That is where the host is a really important piece. If they know what they are doing, a host can find out what you should be doing before you even get up on stage.
Some of my material can take a while to get to a place. I have tried chopping them down a bit, but I see that is a result of all the stage time early on. I could get on stage and waste 20 minutes setting up jokes that had a reward, but when it comes to competitions that is time that can be put to doing more jokes. That is the focus for me of this competition, to throw more jokes out there. That way when compared to the person that did one great; if you did 3 great jokes then you can be seen as a better comic. At least that is the theory.
I think my biggest fault as a comedian, is also my biggest fault when I am off the stage. My shyness. I hate using that word! I feel like a 4th grader whenever I say shy or timid. See, getting up on stage isn’t as natural for me as it may be to a lot of other comics. I was the kid that was terrified to read in class and never asked a girl out unless it was on a piece of paper. I avoid saying goodbye to people at work because I don’t want to talk to them and I don’t talk to the audience while I am performing because I don’t know if I have had enough time talking to people to come up with a proper response. I am a mess. That is why the first thing people say when they find out I am a comic is, “You? But you hardly talk!” Now, the shyness, at least for me, has a origin in my self-esteem. As such it is impossible for me to take praise. In my mind I cannot see why anyone would think I was attractive or smart or funny. Now, this is a paradox because how would I get paid to do comedy if I didn’t think I was funny enough. Hell, I don’t know! It just happened. It’s probably like when someone gets paid to bang out on camera. What I am trying to get at is that my self-esteem puts my head in places that sabotages me. Sometimes I will get on stage and my brain will say, “You are not funny!” and then I start acting like it. It has kept me from sending out my promo package and getting more dates because I get so down on myself that as a comic, I can’t function. There is no easy fix for this. This is my brain juices we are talking about here. This has been my make up for 40 some odd years. I have doubted myself out of prime opportunities. No matter how much people enjoy my comedy and me as a person, my self-esteem will not allow me to enjoy it. I have a hard time writing a Bio for myself, or telling people to come to my show because I can make them laugh. I try not to say I am funny out loud because I am afraid that the universe will make me pay for those words. I doubt my advancement in the competition because of how others did. This is no time to doubt this! I have to just believe that I am funny enough to do well in this competition. This is the chance I have been waiting for, and I do not want to be sabotaged by myself. If I lose, I want it to be because someone bested me, not me doubting myself.
I am of the belief that no matter what you do, you should set goals for yourself. That is really the only way to know if you are actually advancing. It is also a good way to stay on track. Everyone’s goals are different, and I am not the exception.
I think first starting out in comedy your goal should be to get on stage. You would be surprised at how many people can’t get past this step. It seems simple to those of us that are on stage weekly, but a lot of people are so afraid of that stage that it hinders them from ever progressing into show business. I think the reason for that is in performance art, you are exposing your thoughts to the world. A lot of things that we think about are not easily digestible to other people because what we think about and what we actually put out in the open are different. A lot of can’t handle that. A lot of people also have stage fright. Let me tell you something, I am probably the most socially awkward person you will ever meet. At some point I just went up and did it. That is how you have to do it. Just jump!
After just getting on stage you should be trying to get a certain amount of time. This is different depending on your writing style. If you are mostly an improv type guy, then you can just get up and try to do it. If you write heavily, then you should be trying to get more stuff written. I never really thought about time. I just always thought about getting enough jokes that I found funny. I was told that you should try to get 5 solid minutes at first and I think that is good. If you write more of course try to get more time, but the average person might not be writing every day to the point where they can get 20 minutes in their first couple of months doing comedy. Just focus on writing good stuff.
Your next goal should be getting stage time. If you live in a city like Spokane, with not to many stages in which to perform, you will have to be more conservative in this goal. If you live in or near a larger city then you should be trying to get out every night you have available. When I was first starting out I went to every place that had a stage and a mic (and sometimes not the mic). I was able to test out my 5-10 minutes in front of almost every type of crowd. I learned what worked where and what didn’t. This is an important goal because it get you comfortable in front of any crowd. I have seen people freak out because older people were in the audience. Well, if you play in front of everyone this will not be an issue.
After that this is where the goals can branch off. You can try to get paid after you have sufficient time under your belt or you can just keep it as a hobby. I wanted to see if I could get paid and where I could get paid. The comedy club in town was paying so I made it my goal to try to get paid to do stage time. Independent shows were paying me after about 4 months of doing comedy, but that isn’t going to happen for everyone. After just getting paid you may think of what you want to specialize in if you want to pursue this as a career. You could be just a road comic and drive all over and get paid that way. Or you could try to be a club comic and work the many clubs in the country (and Canada!). You could do cruise ships, or focus on corporate entertainment. You can even be a speaker and just go from school to school telling funny stories about why you shouldn’t smoke crack. There are many avenues to go. What I see though is a mix of things and someone just falls into one because they get booked there the most. Don’t put yourself into a corner unless that is what you want.
My goal right now is to do well in the Seattle International Comedy Competition. That is what I am focused on. After that I want to get booked more in clubs. Hell, I just want to get booked more! Right now I average about 2-3 paid shows a month. That is not really good enough for me. I want to be booked about 3 weeks out of the month. That is my goal. I am not worried about being a millionaire and buying a jet and a ocelot that I will name Jeffery. I am more looking to support myself with comedy. That means making about 900-1000 a month on just comedy (that is after all travel expenses are taking care of). I don’t focus on just clubs or casinos I try to get booked anywhere that will have me. I try to write jokes that I can do in more than one situation. That way I can perform in front of suits and ties and perform in front of a bar crowd. I would like to get into acting more, but that is just because I like it not because of the money (although the money is pretty good). So you should get your goals together and work toward them. Even if you don’t obtain them all at least you are working towards something.