As comics we have a habit of taking everything that comes our way. Most of us believe that if we don’t take the gig now that it will never come back. I am here to say that it will. If you are good enough opportunities will show themselves to you. We are not just gonna go over what shows not to take, but other instances in show business when you should just say no.
Let’s start with the very simple. You are on stage and it isn’t going well. You have tried everything and it is just not working. This is a great time to just call it good and get off the stage. This is a lesson every comic will have to learn. There are times when there isn’t anything you can do to rescue your show. I think it comes from our want or need to please the people we are standing in front of, so of course we don’t want to get off stage before we do so. I learned this lesson from a great comic named Mike Wally Walters. He has been doing this for damn near 30 years and one night I was hosting a show for him and the feature act was up there just dying. The feature did 25 painful minutes and after the show Mike came to me and told me that if that ever happened again it is probably best to just cut that person off. It’s like if you get an infection in your big toe, cut it off to save the body. I should have gone up there and gotten the mic back and brought on Mike to saved what was left of the show. I mean the show was great after Mike got up, but it was a painful start.
If you want to make money doing comedy it is easy to just say yes to everything and then do the shows and make the money. There are many times when it is probably best just not do the show. You have to ask yourself some questions. Like: How much money will I make? Does the show date include a hotel? How far away is it? These are important before just saying yes. When I first started, I didn’t pay attention to distance or if a room was provided I just hopped in my PT cruiser and went. Then I would come home with no money and bed bug bites.
Is it your type of audience? That is another question that should be asked. If you are a shock comic you probably shouldn’t book yourself at a high school. If you are a Christian comic then it might not be the best thing to sign up for a gig in a biker bar. These things are important. Yes, you will earn money, but you are not really gaining anything else. Why would you spend time and money to get somewhere to just get stared at? Most of us comics don’t fall on those two extremes. We are usually in the middle somewhere and we can go a wider range of shows. The thing is will you enjoy it? Think about that before you say yes. If it sounds painful just thinking about it then maybe say no. I know of a comic that opens for a famous musician. When I think about opening for bands, my skin crawls, but it works for him. You have to be mindful of these things before you just jump on any gig.
There was one time many years ago when I got booked several times to do an “Urban room” what that usually means is that the audience will be black. I don’t really have much material that you can label as “urban”, but because I am blacker than sin they asked me and because I like to buy video games I said, “sure.” When I got there it was packed and I was the second guy on. The host was wild and cursing up a storm and so that is what I decided I was going to do. The thing is I only have a certain number of jokes like that before I went back to my normal not as high spirited material. As soon as that happened…they stopped laughing. Completely. For the next 10 minutes I drowned up there before I cut the cord and bailed. I have tried doing rooms like that several times after and each time it got worse and worse. That is when I realized that I don’t NEED to do stuff like that. Yes, I want the money, but it was causing me pain to go up and bomb for 15 minutes.
Sometimes we take a show because we want the money, but we don’t really have the time. When I first started I took a show in central Washington. I thought all I had to do was the material I wrote and I would be good to go. I got there and went through all my material in about 15 minutes…I had to do 30. So for the next 10 minutes I pretended to know what the hell I was doing. It worked for the most part, but I was so nervous from that experience I didn’t do another paid show for like a month until I had more material to lean on.
The thing about saying no is that you also have to know when it maybe time to say yes. Say I get another gig for a mostly black crowd. I would say yes because now I have a couple of years of experience under my belt and I maybe able to pull it off. I am much more comfortable on any stage then I was before, and I think I could actually do well.
Are you giving people what they paid for? If the answer to that is, “I don’t know.” then you have a problem. Just because a person came to you to do a show doesn’t mean you and only you should do the show. I don’t know how many people have come up to me at the last minute wanting me to do some time for a show they got cornered into doing. If they ask you to do a show you should ask how much time they want you to do. If they say more than you can do then you shouldn’t just say yes and then eat a bag of ass. You may ruin any chance of getting repeat work. This business is a lot about reputation. You don’t want a reputation of being a terrible comic. That will follow you more than herpes.
I hope the point I was trying to make came across. Unless you are going to die tomorrow, there is no need to just take everything in sight. Get your material to a point where you can do a show for any group and start making that money. Other than that ask yourself some questions and if you get a bunch of answers you don’t like, say no.