Are You Ready?

Am I ready? This is probably the question I get asked the most from comedians just starting out.  There are many reasons for that.  They could be anxious to get to a place where they can make money doing what they love.  They may NEED it to start making money with the amount of time they are putting into it.  Or, they may just be looking at everyone else and assume that since others are getting paid to do comedy that they should as well.  I will tell you, the reader, the same thing I tell them, the comedian:  I can’t decide that.  I can make an opinion, but it is just my opinion. So, I decided to make it the topic for this week’s article.  Are you ready?  Ask yourself these questions and be honest with yourself.  That is hard to do, but I promise that being honest with yourself is better than having a booker or audience be honest with you instead.

The Time: People are always so worried about the time.  How long they have been doing it, How much time they have, etc.  The problem is this fluctuates depending on the person and type of comic you are.  If you are a one-liner type comic, or a comic that adheres to their material religiously,  just having 30 minutes worth of time may not be enough. What happens if a series of jokes falls flat, or you are in a town where you can’t joke about bear attacks because just the other day a bear ate 3 kids?  Whatever time you have you have to have an overflow.  That means if you are trying to be a host and you think you have a solid 15, think of it as a solid 10. Solid 25? 20. This has been evident in every aspect of my comedy career.  When I started, I thought I had 30 minutes.  I tapped out at 18 and just blabbed for the next 10 minutes.  Just timing yourself isn’t enough either because you may be in a favorable situation.  Time yourself in multiple locations and see how you fare.

You also can’t think that because you put x amount of time into it that it is time to get paid.  Not everyone develops the same.  I wrote a lot of jokes and liked to wing it on stage.  Not everyone is me, so not everyone will be able to do that comfortably.  Some people have been doing it for 3-4 years and haven’t gotten paid to do it.  That is because they don’t have quality time.

The Basics:  I have discussed this in other articles, but it bears repeating.  You need to have certain things before you can just start getting work.  You need a headshot!  I am not just saying that because I charge great rates to get yours done by me (wink, wink).  People need to know your face.  You can’t just have a flyer with your name and think people will just flock to that.  You also need a professional headshot.  When I say professional I am not speaking about $1,000 headshots.  I am talking about photos of yourself free from grain that comes when someone is snapping your photo with a smartphone or a compact camera. There is a reason that after all these years, cameras and lenses are still so big.  It is because you can’t substitute light! And that does two things for you.  A great headshot lets bookers and promoters know that you are serious, and it ensures the audience that you are a “real” comedian.

You also need things like a bio.  That give bookers a little bit about yourself and you need a great video.  Now, I have done articles on all of this so please read those for more detail on what you should be doing.  These things are what serious comedians have.

The Confidence:  You can have all the jokes and the best looking headshot, and you can have your bio written up by JK Rowling herself, and it won’t do a lick of good if you are not confident enough to look people in the eyes and let them know that you are worth something.  I had trouble with this.  I loved comedy so much that I felt like it was stealing to ask for money.  The thing is, bookers know this!  They know that a lot of people like the attention of standing on stage and a lot of comedians are hungry so they want stage time.  You have to be confident in knowing that what you are doing is worth paying for.  This is not just for comics, but all artistic professions where people tend to undervalue it.  No matter if it is a drawing or a half hour worth of comedy, if you think it is worth something, then have people pay for it!

This is just three things I think you have to be honest with yourself about.  If you feel like you have all of this down then get going.  Start trying to host at your local comedy club, or set up a show in a bar.  If you think you are ready to get paid work, then you have to test the theory out.  Best of luck to you, and if you get that bar going give me a call.

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Respecting Your Audience

A lot of us imagine getting up in front of packed houses of people, and all of them are there to see us and only us.  This is sometimes not the case and I think it is a very important skill to learn.  That of appreciating the audience.

A lot of us forget that people have a myriad of options when it comes to being entertained.  They could go to the movies or a concert or stay home and do meth in their basement.  When you have a paying person sitting there willing to listen to you say things into a mic that should be appreciated and valued.  We focus so much on art that we sometimes forget that we are also entertaining people.  People that could very well be out doing something better with their time.

I see it a lot at like a poorly attended show where no one on the stage seems to give a damn.  It is not the audiences’ fault that there are not more people there.  They still paid the same (either in money or time) to come see you perform.  There wasn’t a stipulation that if there were less then a certain number of people that the show was going to be shit.  This also speaks to the professional level of the people involved as well.  A professional comedian should be willing to swallow their pride for the time they are performing in order to give the customer what they want.

Maybe I feel so strongly about this because when I started in Spokane, no one was coming to shows.  Open mics were sparse and if you had a show somewhere you had to basically hold people hostage for them to listen.  So when you did get people that came in voluntarily, it was freaking awesome and you wanted to do all you could to entertain.  It may also stem from me having such low self-esteem. No matter how many people show up I am always still surprised they came to my show.

Respecting the audiences goes further than just the number of people.  It also goes to how you perceive them.  As comics we all look out into the audience and we assume things about them.  If you are in Idaho you may think they are more conservative then if you were standing in front of an audience in Portland.  Even though they may seem like different crowds, they all share one thing in common:  They want to laugh!  Do what you need to do to make them laugh.  I don’t know how many times I have actually heard a comic tell a room of people that they may not get a joke, or they ridicule them for where they live.  That does not endear you to the audience. Unless that is your persona on stage, you come off as an asshole.

I have done a show for a total of two people.  Yup.  Two.  And you know what?  It was a great show!  They sat there and listened to my silliness and I thanked them both and gave them a CD to thank them for not turning away.  See, without an audience we would just be a bunch of people screaming really messed up stuff.  We need people to come and want to be entertained.  That is how comedy works.

The Uniqueness Of The Spokane Comedy Scene

I live in Spokane Washington.  Here it is on a map:

800px-Map_of_Washington_highlighting_Spokane_County.svg

Spokane’s location is unique.  It is the biggest city this side of the state and every other large city (Seattle, Portland, Boise) is at least 4-6 hours away.  Spokane is basically on a comedy island, a comedy Galapagos, where comedians grow a bit differently then in other cities.  For instance, because there are at most 25 performing comedians at a given time, there is time to be had at open mics.  This is different than other areas such as a Seattle or Portland where there could be hundreds of comedians trying to get on a limited amount of open mics in the city.

An open mic in Spokane can net you 5-7 minutes, whereas in Seattle 2-3 is the norm. What makes this unique is that comedians with a a lot of material can filter through it much faster than in an area where you get less time.  There are even some open mics in Spokane where you can get 10-15!  This stage time is important for those comedians trying to find their voice.  It also means that comics growing here can be “game ready” sooner.

Because of the small number of comedians, all the comics know each other.  This can be good or bad depending on how you see it.  I think it is a good thing because constructive criticism from someone you know doesn’t seem as bad as from someone that doesn’t know you as well.  There is a camaraderie amongst the comedians in Spokane that is unique.  Any drama is pretty contained to about 1 or 2 people.  As in Seattle or Portland there can be lots of different sects because of the size of the city and the number of comedians in the scene all competing for those limited spots.  The bad though is that because you know all the comedians you can get too comfortable and not as willing to point out things they could fix in their act.

Spokane has a reputation as being a hillbilly area and all the comedians might as well be wearing cowboy boots and spitting tobacco juice all over the stage.  Because Spokane is so far away, it is hard for a lot of comedians to get over to Seattle and Portland, so comics over there are just left with their imaginations.  It also doesn’t help that when those comedians come to Spokane or look at doing shows over here, that there aren’t many shows going on all the time.  That may be Spokane’s biggest fault.  Because of the amount of comics and the more conservative nature of the region, that there just aren’t as many shows going on at a given time.  That can give the illusion that there isn’t comedy going on or that the comedians over here aren’t as serious about it as those in larger cities.

Spokane is a unique area with it’s own comedy eco system that continues to grow.  The comedians here are as good as any you can find in a Seattle or a Portland.  To get your start in Spokane is a great opportunity to grow much quicker than other places.  You may also meet some great friends as well.

The Popularity Of Themed Shows

Themed shows are comedy shows that are based around a premise, like a show where you do your set while high, or a show where you have to fight bears in between jokes.  These shows have popped up everywhere, and they have finally gotten to Spokane, and they have been pretty successful.  Let’s talk about why they are so popular.

I think they biggest reason they are popular right now is because they are cheaper to put on.  Most of these shows profit off the door instead of some set amount that the establishment is giving the show runners.  This makes it really easy for a spot to agree to let it happen a couple of times just to see if they will benefit.  Now, in a perfect world, you could get some money and the door that way you could pay people from further away to participate, but that isn’t usually the case.

It is popular with comedians because they get to do something that is a little bit different then their average show.  In Spokane, I kind of help with a show called Drink N’ Debate.  It is a show where four teams of three go up and argue an issue.  The twist is that the topic is given five minutes before they step on stage.  This means they have to form their arguments right before they get on stage.  This works the improv muscles a lot! Comics seem to embrace it because it is not often they are forced to come up with stuff on the spot.  There is also a team aspect, so you are dependent on the rest of your team being equally as good or at least good at staying on message.

It is good for the show runners because they can get a lot of comedians on the bill and since it is a specialty show, they don’t have to pay anywhere near normal.  You are basically getting a lot of comedians for less than they are worth.  If you tried a show like this with the same amount of comedians that we have for Drink N’ Debate, then it would be upwards of 500-600 dollars.  Since this is a show with a theme and you are not asking the comedians to perform their acts, I think this allows them to do the show for little to no money.  Our show is such that their is a pot to the winner.  People who win rounds get a pitcher of beer, but other than that if you don’t win the night, you don’t get any money.  Now, I would love to pay all the comedians, but it makes it real competitive.

Lastly, these types of shows are great for people that are turned off by stand-up for some reason, but still want to laugh.  Audiences tend to forget that when they see the show has a twist to it.  Our first show was really well received, more so then if it were just 15 comedians doing their sets.  This is a great way to get people that are new to live shows to come out without thinking the usual stereotypes that are associated with stand-up comedy.