Every comedy scene has an order, and every comic has a place in it. I think this is normal of anything involving people, but it is much so in things involving prestige and money. Every one wants to get higher in that order. That makes sense right? You want people to see you as a meaningful part of the community in which you have placed yourself. The problem, or problems, arise because in show business there is no commission. There are no reviews that will allow you higher on the pecking order. Just work, attitude, and how you can maneuver in a sea of other people that want the same thing as you.
Before we go through this order of where people find themselves in comedy, we have to know why people find it important. It’s kind of like high school, well, without all the acne and awkward dances. It just seems like it is in us to group people together. Higher on this order means more work. If you are considered (this is important because opinion and reality can be different) one of the top guys in your area, you are way more likely to get paid work, better paid work, and more of it. That is why there is so much stress and drama in show business, everyone is fighting for the same limited resources. There are only so many shows a year and you can only participate in only so many of those shows, so everyone is looking to get the best ones possible. There is also reputation involved. Everyone wants to be considered good at what they do. No one, who is serious about comedy, wants to be the guy no one wants on a show, or respects for his craft, so drama will boil up when people think they are not being respected. Ok. Let’s not move on to the meat and potatoes of this article.
The highest group on this list I call the elites. These are the guys that are from an area, but they are hardly around or don’t live here anymore because they are too busy making bank touring the country. Like one guy that would be considered elite in the Spokane scene would be Dan Cummins. Cummins got his start in the Spokane area, but he isn’t coming to open mics and stuff because he is too busy working. He has specials and top selling CDs and tours the country doing comedy. Another person I would place in that elite status is Jay Wendell Walker. JWW is a past winner of the San Fransisco International Comedy Competition. He doesn’t tour as much, but he still get’s top billing wherever he goes. He has raised children off of his what he made doing comedy. When you are one of the elites, you are not calling the local club to see if you can get five minutes. You just show up and get five minutes. All the other comedians look up to you as the place they (might) want to be in their careers.
The next group are the…well, I don’t have a name for them, but they are the people that can headline. They have the time, but they just don’t have the clout, or want, or need, to do what the elites are doing. This is the group that either got here because they are really good, (Like a Michael Glatzmaier) or because they just have an hour and are put in this place in the pecking order. They are not looked at as reverently as the elites, but people believe that with luck they could be there. These guys (and when I say guys I am talking about all people not just people with wieners) have the time and are good and they get work, they just don’t get enough work to leave their day jobs. This group is usually looked at by a lot of people as obtainable if they can get enough time.
The next group are those that are solid features. They have 20-25 minutes of good enough material that if they got the chance they could go to comedy clubs and stuff and open for guys. People like Tom Meisfjord and Josh Teaford (both live and perform in Spokane along with Michael and anyone else I mention). This is where the drama starts to pop up a lot because more people think they can do it. I say a solid feature because there are a lot of people that can get on stage and do 20-25 minutes, but the key is whether or not someone would pay them for it. This spot in the order is the most up for debate. If you can do a decent hour, no one can debate that you stood up there for an hour. There is more debate though if your 20 minutes is good. I don’t really know why this is the case. I have seen people perform an hour’s worth of material, but I would not have called it headline material, but people just tend to let them exist. Features have a tougher go. Maybe it’s because features tend to be younger so people can more easily look over them or not show them a level of respect. Whatever the case is, people fight for these spots and drama exist here.
Ok. Now this group are the people that are working on their feature sets. There are a lot of people in Spokane that can fall into this group, but two right off the top of my head are Greg Beachler and Michael Evans. They are stronger at 10-15 minutes so they are usually tasked with hosting shows. A lot of drama exist here. I think the reason for that is because everyone wants to start making money if they think they can. This is the entry point for which a lot of comics will start seeing some kind of money. It isn’t a lot, but for people just starting out it means a lot. It means legitimacy. You are now a paid comic!! So everyone that is doing open mics every week, and sitting in bars, and working, wants to at some point have something to show for their new found alcoholism. I don’t know that many people doing comedy that don’t think they can do enough time to get hosting work, so this is where a lot of fighting and clawing comes about. People will argue about why one person got to host or do time at a big show and you get to see the worst in people sometimes.
The last part of the pecking order might sound messed up, but I don’t mean it like that. The last group is basically everyone else. These are the guys that just got started, or it is more a hobby than a possible career, or they are just not good enough to get paid to do comedy, but they like to do it anyway. They really have no dog in the fight so they usually won’t get into much crap with everyone. I did say usually. You can find people that think they can feature when they have been doing it for 2 months. You may see people that think they can headline after 6 months. Now, whether it is delusion or possible is another story. This is usually the bottom and the place where every comic starts…it’s actually not a bad place to be actually. No one expects anything from you, hell, some comics won’t even bother getting your name unless you blow it out of the water.
Here is the thing about this order. Depending on where you live it could be more chaotic or peaceful, but this order of roles still exist. In Spokane, drama will pop up every now and then, but not like a larger market like a Portland or Seattle would see. I think that is mostly because the city is small enough that you can see 90% of the comics that are doing it. In Spokane, you can also go up the pecking order faster than in other places.
Some places that I have been work the same way, but with slight differences. For instance in New York, the order of roles are the same it’s just very exaggerated. The elites are in the city, but they are in the big clubs and are never seen at clubs that aren’t prestigious. The headliners and the features are in the same boat just who gets to go up last is considered the headliner. The lower people that are trying to get up to that point are stuck in basements littered about the city, and have to hope that someone see them and plucks them out of there. I think New York is so big that the drama is nullified by distance. If I don’t know what you are getting, I can’t bitch about it.
Seattle and Portland have a pecking order, but it is not as big as New York and not as small as Spokane, so you will see a lot more infighting. That’s because there is a lot of work, but more comedians. In Spokane you will get a chance to make that host money if you work and keep at it. Seattle and Portland are just big enough though that you can be drowned by the competition (not really your competition though, but you understand).
So, you say you don’t want to be a part of this, well, you don’t have to be. This applies to people that are participating in the comedy scene. If you are writing your jokes and just going to shows then you are really outside of all of this. It will be much harder to get work though because there is no one there to vouch for your abilities. I have seen it done though, where people will show up for about 6 months and then just do private shows or whatnot.
The big thing to remember is that no matter where people see you if you want more then go get it! Don’t let someone tell you that you are not allowed to do something. Probably because they are just trying to tell you that so they can get it. A lot of people don’t seem to understand this, but comedy is an art and a business. Just like if you were to open a theater and wanted people to see all your artsy films, you would still need to make money to keep the lights on. If you want to make a career out of comedy you will have to take chances and relying on others to tell you when you can get that chance is just wrong. Now, you also have to be honest with yourself. If you can barely stay on stage for 10 minutes, then you should not be bothering people about feature work. You should develop your act and get better before looking at ways to get paid. Also remember that being a douchebag negates all the awesomeness you have on stage. If you can do a killer set, but you are trying to sexually assault all the female comics, then you will gain a reputation faster then if you were just a good comic. That will cost you just as much work, (in the long run anyway) then just not being that good.