Why Recording Your Set Is A Great Idea

The joke is not complete once you add the period.  Jokes can evolve and transform into something completely different and unless you have a steel trap of a memory, you will forget that tag or improv piece that you added.  When I started out I never really recorded my sets and now look at me, I’m a hobo living in one of Shaq’s discarded shoes because I wasn’t paying attention.

Recording your sets is great if you are one of those comedians that make a lot of things up on the spot. It may not all be gold, but what is will be worth capturing.  It’s not like you need a lot of equipment anyway.  If you have a smartphone you can record with that.  If you want better sound, then get a mic and attach it to your smartphone (can be found very cheap on Amazon).  If you want a separate device, check out zoom and get the H1.  It is a tiny recorder that you can put on the stool on stage or on a nearby table and get good audio.  I have an H6 which is complete overkill.  Don’t get that unless you are going to be connecting a band to it or need it for video work.

What I usually do is set the recorder either near me on stage or on a table where others are not sitting. Why? Because if your friends are comedians they will more than likely mess with your recorder and you will get their spoken manifesto instead of your set.  You have to learn to set it out every time as well.  It is not really gonna work for you if you only set it out once a week.  The idea is to get all of your sets.

What are you listening for?  You can be as broad or as detailed as you want with this.  You can just listen to see if people are actually laughing at the jokes you are telling.  You can see if you actually are telling the joke you are intending to tell (nerves can do that).  If you want to be more detailed you can listen to see if you are speeding through jokes.  Is it because you were cramming or because you are nervous?  Are you cursing more than you would like?  Are you using crutch phrases like hmm and like? These are things that your memory will not be able to replicate, but the recording of you will, and then once spotted, can be corrected.

Now, just recording the set is half the battle.  You have to listen to your sets as well.  I usually listen to my set when I am in the car alone.  That way I don’t have anyone trying to correct material that I am still in the planning phases of myself.  I am hyper critical of my material so it is hard for me to sit there and listen to my voice and my jokes.  If you are one of these people, you just have to realize that it is suppose to make you a better comedian.

The Pain Of Failure

Went to Colorado Springs to take part in the World Series of Comedy. I am always a nervous wreck when it comes to competitions.  I feel like I have good material and everything, but it never seems to hold up very well under scrutiny.  I do them anyway because it is the best way to get out there and network.

I was in the “wildcard” round.  If you place in the wildcard, you can then move on to the next competition. The 40 comics that were selected were all done so based on the video that was sent in.  So, the wildcard round is for those comics that had a pretty bad video, but not that bad. I was the ninth comic and I thought I did a good job.  I placed second and got to move on to the next round.

So I got to hang out Thursday and watch shows and got to see the sites of Colorado Springs.  I performed first show Friday and I was a nervous wreck.  I actually laid in my hotel bed, timing my material, so I could be sure not to go over time.  I never do this!  I just go up with a rough sketch of what I will do and I let the crowd take me the rest of the way.  Because I placed in the wildcard, I was the first comic to go up.  Comics call this the “bullet” spot or “taking the bullet”.  The reason being is because as the first comic, everyone else will be judge based on you.  You are the average, and being the average does not get you into the final night.  I did my thing, and I thought it was great.  As the first comic, you have to set the bar high.  You can’t mess up because then the bar is so low that the other comics can just walk over it.  They picked two comics to go on to the Saturday shows, and I was not one of them.

After the show, the guy that puts this all together told me I did a good job taking the bullet, and I only lost out by a point, but while I was listening to him, my brain was muddy.  Like he was talking to me while I was in a bowl of water.  All I could keep thinking was, “Not again.”.  I didn’t stay up that late because I had a flight back to Spokane, but I did stay to watch my buddy Phil Kopczynski take second during the next show.  The whole time though, I was sitting there wondering what I could have done differently.

This is my third of these types of competitions, and I always seem to do well, until I talk myself into failing.  I lay there at night just running through all the times I ran into hardship, or I just tell myself that I am not supposed to be a great comic.  I think about all the other failures in my life and think why would this be any different.  That sort of thinking will eat away at your soul.  I try not to let the negative thoughts get to me, but it is hard in a business where failure comes in bunches and the victories are so small, but seem so big because you don’t know what it feels like.  Comics in Spokane assume that I am doing all this stuff, but what they fail to see are the emails (or lack there of) from casting directors and club bookers turning me down.

It hurts to work at something and not see it pan out.  That is comedy though.  That is show business.  It tears away at you and you mull over all the ways you could have turned it around.  Maybe I should have done this, or maybe I should have said that?  That always pops up in my mind after the fact.  It also doesn’t help that I get approached after the show and told how close I was to success.  It just plants another seed in my mind that I should not strive for a better position, that the space I take up now in comedy is the one I am best suited.  That may be right.  It doesn’t hurt to keep trying though.

Even though I fail in a lot of my pursuits, my YouTube channel, my photography business, my podcast, this blog, it doesn’t mean that the passion to do those things die along with it.  Every Monday, I still have a desire to type out these words even though a small number of people will read them.  I still take photos and offer my services.  I still write short stories and audition for commercials and movies.  I do these things because when I look at my life without those things, I don’t see me existing.  These are the things that make my heart race, that make me feel like I am adding to the positivity of the human condition, and so I will still perform comedy, and write and take photos, even though I will run into a lot more hardships. This defines me, and I can’t walk away from it.

Open Mic Etiquette

A local comic thought it would be a swell idea if I wrote something on what is and isn’t acceptable at an open mic.  So, that is what I am doing.  Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this though, I need to talk about a couple of things.  Not all open mics are the same.  In New York, looking at your phone is a no-no, but it may not be a big issue somewhere else.  Portland may be more strict on what you can say on their stages then say an open mic in Montana.  What you have to do is research! find out what is cool and isn’t cool and go have fun.

Respect the light:  Open mics are made to help comics work on their material.  What a lot of comics don’t realize though is that these places are also businesses and they are in it to make money.  That is why almost every open mic has a light.  The light alerts you to the fact that your time is almost up and you have to wrap it up.  The light is important because it helps a show move along.  Just imagine if there was no time limit and 20 comedians!  The show would be four hours long.  You will also see real comedy shows using the light to let comics know their time is up, so it is best to pay attention and respect it now.

If it is your first time at a certain open mic, ask about the time given to comics.  Make sure to adjust your material accordingly.  Don’t try to shove eight minutes in a five minute timeframe.  If you are at four minutes and 20 seconds, just call it good.  There is nothing wrong with leaving a little time on the table (it’s called giving time back to the club or mic). If you write your jokes into your phone, then you can just set a timer.  Let’s say you have five minutes at an open mic, set your timer to four minutes and five seconds.  That gives you five seconds to get on stage and when the timer goes off you know you should wrap up the joke or try a shorter one. Ask where the light is located.  The light may be someone’s cell phone or it may be a built in light.  Saying that you didn’t see the light, is not a good excuse.  Going over the light is a great way to be asked not to come back and it is a great way to not get booked.

Some words are off limits:  You may think you have a first amendment right to say what you want where you want, and you would be wrong.  If you are at someone’s place of business, they can restrict what you can and can not say while you are in their.  I have seen it time and time again where a newer comic will go up and say cunt, or nigger, or spic and get banned from the open mic.  If you are not sure, go ask someone who has been there before.  If that doesn’t help, just watch the show.  Are people up there just saying whatever?  Then it may not be an issue.  I know one club in Spokane did not want comics saying the word “cunt” on stage.  His explanation is that women don’t like the word and that will turn them away.  That is all the explanation you need.  Respect their stage, or start your own stage.

Stick around:  Here is the thing.  Comics need people to perform for.  If you have performed in front of a crowd, it is in bad taste to leave as soon as you get off stage. I thought this was a personal gripe, but it is universally disliked.  Look, everyone has things to do.  You may be going to multiple open mics or you have work early in the morning, but you have to consider other comedians.  If you have to leave and be somewhere else, it may be best to not come to the open mic.  Comics who do it a lot often get put to the back of the list as to keep them there.  I think this is a good way to keep comics who bail around or it makes them not sign up for the open mic.

Use your own stuff!:  A lot of people see open mics not as a way to develop as a comedian, but as a way to gain approval.  So, it isn’t rare to see a comic walk up on stage with material that they didn’t write.  Open mics for comedy are not like music open mics.  How well you repeat a famous Carlin bit will not be seen in the same light as if someone can belt out an Aretha Franklin tune.  Another common no-no is to repeat jokes you have seen on Facebook memes.  If you saw it on Facebook, it is likely that many, many people have also seen it.  You may get a laugh, but comics that write and work on their own material may not like it at all.

I think these are some good tidbits to help you succeed at open mics.  This is not a final list of course. If you have some suggestions, put them in the comments section and I may do another article on them.  Thanks for stopping by!!




Why Are You A Comedian

I wonder if people ask themselves this question from time to time?  I think it is the most important question a performer can ask themselves.  Why comedy?  Is it more accessible than say, acting?  Is it more mainstream than being a mime?  I am constantly trying to figure out why comedy appeals to me so much and not something a little more lucrative like hedge fund manager.

I grew up in a small town in South Carolina called St.  Matthews.  It was so small that the big event in my childhood was when we got a Hardee’s (Carl’s Jr). I was always a shy kid, so making people laugh was my way of connecting to them.  I think it still is.  A way to talk to people without engaging in actual conversation.  I had a stutter when I was younger.  So bad, that I had to go to a speech therapist provided by the school.  That made it difficult to just converse with people normally, so maybe a sense of humor formed from there.

When I was in high school, I had the reputation of being the funny, quiet kid.  I had great friends who allowed me to be me.  They didn’t disapprove of the things I said, to the contrary, they said sillier things.  I was the guy that wanted to be different.  I didn’t want to do what others did, and I think because of the speech impediment it made it easier to do whatever I wanted because I was already a little weird in other’s eyes.

That carried over to the military.  I was enlisted, but that didn’t mean I was going to just be an airman and that’s it.  It is hard to crack jokes and not be serious all the time in an environment that wanted to be serious all the time.  That was when I started writing a blog and getting the silly out there.  I also got in trouble a bit for not being dead serious at times.

When I left the military, I was lost.  That was my purpose and now it was gone.  A friend suggested I go to an open mic one night and it just clicked.  Everything just seemed like training to get me to this point in my life.  It’s like meeting the person of your dreams.  I loved getting up on stage and saying all these silly things to make people laugh.  I loved watching what made other comics different.  How they got away with things others could not.  Facial expressions, tone of voice, cadence, the deliberate time of joke delivery, all these things fascinated me, and made me want to venture off and do nothing but perform.

It wasn’t until someone asked me if I would perform for them and they would pay me that I had given any hard thought to comedy as a career.  That was when I shifted and started looking at it as a way to support myself financially instead of just mentally.  This is basically where I am now, I perform all over the country and I use that money to pay bills, and put large shoes on my kid.  I love doing it as a career.  I love to travel and going to new places and seeing new things.  I love trying to solve the puzzle every comedian is faced with:  How will I make these people laugh?  About the only thing I wish I could change about my career is the amount of work I get.

Why are you a comedian?  Have you asked yourself that and actually tried to answer it truthfully?  Is it a way to get attention? Are you looking for the fame?  Did you have “get on stage” on your to-do list? Whatever your reasons, I hope you understand it so you can achieve your goals.  Thanks for reading and I hope you return next week.

Views From Mediocrity

I am a low middle level comedian.  My occupation is “comedian”, but just barely. I make enough to have to file taxes on it, but I don’t make enough to have dental insurance. I completely understand where I stand in the comedic food chain.  I will tell you about some of my experiences, and hope you can learn something from them.

When you are at the level I am at, you have to be comfortable with what is going on.  Stressing over it doesn’t really solve anything.  If anything it makes things worse.  I know I am not a draw, unless the place I am going has had me there before and people remember the big black guy.  My mistake once I got out of college was thinking that every club works like generic brand items in a grocery store.  What I mean by that is, a lot of places where I perform, are serving people just generic comedy.  The people going hope to have a great show, but they don’t know what they are getting themselves into.  The clubs I was trying to get into however, want draws, people who can put asses in seats, and I am just not that person.  So, I changed my approach to just trying to get hosting and feature spots in some of these clubs and use headlining road work to fill in the rest.

There is a problem with that strategy though and that is a lot of these clubs don’t want to go to far for their features.  You have to put another person up in a room and stuff and it is mainly easier to just source your feature work from the community you have in the area.  That meant if I wanted to get those spots, I’d better get more stuff on my resume.  That means contest and stuff, so people can see that you are actually legit.

The work I do get includes long drives to small towns that just want to be entertained.  There is a large market out there for entertainment in these rural areas.  If the driving wasn’t so bad I would say that it is pretty good to go out and do your thing for these folks.  The bookers that hire me know that I am just there to deliver generic entertainment so you do have to put up with certain things.  You may have to wait on your payment, and that can take up to a week or more.  The hotels are usually crummy, unless it is a casino, and if it isn’t a casino, expect it to have last been updated in the mid 90s.

My goal, like that of other comedians, is to move up to a point where people are coming just to see me. Sometimes, while I am driving down a long road in the middle of the heartland, I see it being very far in my future.  I try to work hard everyday though so that when I do get a shot that I don’t blow it.  Thanks for reading and have a great week.