Comedy Clubs Changing Philosophy And What It Means For You

Many comedians try to break into the comedy club circuit.  I mean why not?  That is where the comedy happens, right?  Here’s the thing, comedy clubs as we have romanticized are for the most part over. Bad business dealings, terrible customer service, and total lack of comedic knowledge have left a lot of clubs scrambling to find ways to get people back in.  Some have found it, and that doesn’t mean that you are getting a call anytime soon.  It’s the celebrity comedian.

When I say celebrity comedian, you have to understand what I am trying to say.  Dave Chappelle is a celebrity, and a comedian, but he is not a celebrity comedian.  When I say celebrity comedian, I am talking about celebrities that later decided to become comedians to supplement their income.  Let’s take for example Steve-O.  We know and love him from the Jackass series.  It wasn’t until later that he turned up in comedy clubs across the country.  His celebrity means he can fill a comedy club, and that attracts club owners who are trying their best to get people into the club.

You may be thinking, what does a celebrity comedian have to do with me?  A lot if you are trying to increase you work by getting into comedy clubs.  It is already a struggle to get into most club in the country because of the lack of knowledge from the casual comedy audience. Clubs want people that the audience either knows or is assured can make them laugh.  You have to be a proven entity to even get a feature spot at most clubs.  You may have an easier time getting hosting work, but you will have to pay a lot out of pocket for the possibility of coming back in the future as a feature performer.  Clubs like to see that you have done something in your career.  That is why so many comedians scrabble for the limited number of tv spots so they can have that on their resume.  That shows clubs that you have been “filtered” and makes it (a tiny bit) easier to break into the comedy circuit.

Now, you factor in that there are not many spots in comedy clubs, and the fact that there are even fewer when you start adding in celebrity comedians, and you can see where this can be a problem.  If you are a comedian, your potential work shrinks because those spots are taken by a celebrity that has decided to become a comedian because everyone knows that they can sell out a club for a weekend.  It’s like watching an exotic animal.  You don’t know what they might do, but you want to see it when it happens.

So, if you are like me and are on the cusp of headlining smaller clubs and featuring in the larger rooms, this can be a big problem because now that a celebrity is taking the spot, everyone drops down. A headliner will probably agree to feature (especially if he can’t find some other work for that weekend) and that feature drops to maybe a MC if he gets that spot at all because it is difficult to make money driving across the country hosting, and you can see where this can be an issue.

Comedy clubs need to make money.  They are businesses, and if they want to stay afloat they have to have people coming in and buying drinks.  There can be a negative to this if no one is coming out except to see the one guy from that movie, but that isn’t your concern.  You have to worry about how to make a living knowing that with the increase of celebrities turning to comedy clubs to make money.  One thing you can do is turn to theaters.  There are a lot of tiny theaters all across the country that are looking for events to put in them.  You can just google these places and see what they can offer.  I have done 300-400 room theaters and walked away with as much money as I would make in a weekend at a comedy club.  The thinking is simple.  Small towns get passed over for entertainment options.  If all of a sudden the town’s theater is gonna have a comedy show, you will get interest.  A lot of comedians have turned to this as a way to deal with losing dates because a celebrity took their spot (or they can’t get into many clubs like me😭).

Instead of getting mad that a club wants to bring in Screech from ‘Saved by the Bell’, use it as a chance to probably make even more money by going to these theaters that are starving for a way to stay relevant.  I have been in discussions with people that get so angry about losing work to a wrestler that decided he will go to comedy clubs.  I don’t see it as a club not wanting me.  If they could get the same interest with a comedian like me (that they don’t have to pay as much) I wouldn’t have a free weekend ever.  That is not how it works though.  Everyone is trying to feed their families and we all have to adjust.

 

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How To Deal With Slack Comedians

As you move up in the world of comedy, you will meet lazy ass comedians.  Let’s talk about how to deal with them.

Before we go any further, we have to talk about comedians that are just doing it as a hobby.  If they are not trying to make this a career, or trying to make money then this doesn’t really apply to them.  They can be as slack as they want.  This is talking about those that talk about making this a career, but their lazy asses get in the way of all that.

It may seem subjective to call some comedians lazy or slack, but it isn’t.  Think about ways comedians get better today.  They go out to open mics and shows, they write new material (or sharpen the old stuff) and they try to network with as many comedians as possible.  If they are not doing that then their actions do not meet up with their talk.  Life gets in the way of our dreams, but it seems like those that really want it find a way and those that don’t find excuses.

I deal with comedians all the time that want to be a paid comedian, and make it a career, but they refuse to do the things necessary to make it happen.  It used to bother me, watching comedians that I would call my friends not coming to shows and not going to open mics and doing the little things to get better. Then when they got on a show they wouldn’t even tell their friends that they were doing one!  It would frustrate me.  After talking to comedians that have been doing this far longer than me, I realized that you can’t drag everyone across the finish line.  Out of any population there will be those that have a better work ethic than joke delivery.  Those that are funny, but lazy, and those that just like the life of a comedian without all the joke telling.  If you are trying to succeed, you can not concern yourself with that because it can drag you down as well.

It’s not just the comedy itself, but everything that surrounds comedy.  I help put on shows here in the area, and it used to get to me how people would get on the show and then not do the little things to help it be a success.  They wouldn’t promote it on their social media, they wouldn’t tell anyone, they would just show up.  That is not how it works in 2016!  You have to get the word out that you have entertainment because you are fighting against Netflix, movies, concerts, and just people laying on the couch.  What I realized is that I was transferring my goals on to every other comedian I met.  I just assumed that if I wanted to be a working comedian that everyone else wanted to as well.  That isn’t the case.  So what I started doing was focusing on my own goals.  What I noticed was that because not everyone was trying as hard, it made it easier to stand out.  This was about seven years ago and it is the same today.  If you want to make a career out of comedy get to work and you will notice that you are leaving those that aren’t willing to write and get their stuff in order (head shots, videos that sort of thing) behind.  So, to answer the title of this article.  How do you deal with slack comedians?  Don’t.  If you are working and are consistent you won’t see them for much longer.

The Myth Of The Comedy Competition

There are tons of comedy competitions across the country, with tons of comedians all competing, with most thinking the same thing: “This is my chance to make it big!”  The problem is that, for the most part, it isn’t true.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most likely you will get whatever the prize is and nothing more…hell, you may not get the prize money!

Now, we are not talking about the local comedy competitions that happen in almost every city with more than 20 comedians.  We are talking about the big comedy competitions, like the one in Seattle, San Francisco, and even Last Comic Standing.  All of these competitions have a prize of thousands of dollars and some like the World Series of Comedy even promise 50 weeks of paid work.  So, for the comedian with dreams of leaving their boring day job, this sounds like a sure fire way of doing it.  But, just like pancakes, or threesomes, it’s not as simple as it seems.

The first hurdle you have to make is of course getting into the competition.  Most of these competitions have a fee to enter which isn’t really a lot of money.  Last Comic Standing doesn’t have a fee (that I know of), but you do pay in standing in line for hours waiting to get seen, while people in sombreros and chicken suits do the same (I’d rather pay the entry fee).  These competitions are not just looking for the best entries, they are looking to create a great show.  So, if you are just a plain white dude talking about being single, you may not have as much of a chance as the large hispanic woman with the two nose rings.  Yes, it is a competition, but these organizers also have to put on a show that people want to see.  If the entire show is just white guys, that doesn’t seem like a unique show.

Ok, so you won the entire comedy competition!  Now what?  Are you gonna get on the phone and contact these comedy clubs and get your ass working or are you going to sit there and wait to be called?  Because if you are waiting to be called to fill that calendar of yours then you are truly mistaken. These bookers are not scanning the internet for people that have won comedy competitions.  They have a slew of comedians that are begging to get in.  You have to get up off your ass and make it happen.  So why did you do the competition?  Simple.  Credits.  Clubs today are looking for comics that they can easily sell to their audience.  If the audience sees that you won a big competition, it validates you.  Other people have found you funny, so it is safe for them to pay $12 bucks to see you.

You should not look at comedy competitions as a way of making it big.  If anything, you can look at it as an efficient way of making contacts.  I was in the Seattle and San Francisco competitions, I only made it to the semis in both of those, but the most valuable thing was making friends with comedians all over North America.  Now, I have connections all over the US and Canada.  That was worth the money I paid to get in the contest.  Comedy is about hard work and dedication and just preparing yourself for the opportunities that arise.  There are no “get big quick” schemes in comedy.  This is not to say that winning a competition won’t be that doorway to bigger things.  It can!  It’s just not going to do the work for you.  You have to write the jokes, and perfect your act, and be consistent, AND if you win be able to take advantage of your chance.  If you get into a competition this fall, get to know all the comedians and have fun!

When Told Not To Follow Your Passion

So my buddy Josh Teaford, posted a video by Mike Rowe (of dirty jobs fame).  If you want to watch it before reading the rest just click here, If you don’t, the point of the video was to tell people not to follow their passion because they may not be good at it.  He also argued that while you are following your passion, you could be missing opportunities to pursue good work in a trade that could later become your passion.  Now, we will ignore the part that this was all basically an advertisement for online courses from an unaccredited university.  We will just get into why not following your passion is a terrible bit of advice.

When  Josh Teaford tweeted about this I had to give it a watch.  My entire life since the age of 23, has been about following my passion, and I wanted to see why Josh was so angry. The beginning of the video was pretty straightforward.  Mike was saying that just because you are passionate about something doesn’t mean you are good at it.  He sited American Idol as a prime example of people who love to do something, but may not be good enough to do it.  Here is the problem with that example: Those people were seeking approval for their passion!  If you have a passion to do something, you should never seek approval to keep following it.  Besides, American Idol is a contest that is looking for a certain type of person.  Not everyone will be what they are looking for.  So you may be a ok singer, but you may have a big ass head and American Idol had a strict one big head per season policy (which was taken by Simon Cowell).  Man, if I listened to contest and competitions, I should have given up on comedy a long damn time ago.

The video then went on to talk about how because everyone is following their passion, there is a huge gap in jobs that no one is trained for.  That is true.  There is a huge gap in the number of trade type jobs and not enough people to fill them.  That isn’t your problem though.  You are supposed to try your hardest to be happy.  If being a plumber will make you happy, or help you achieve it, then go for it!  If the thought of a job that you don’t want to do makes you run for the drain-o, then don’t do it.  Don’t go after a career because it will make your bank account look good.  Sure, you may, after awhile, love to do it, but if you don’t want to chance that and pursue your opera singer career then go for it.  You have one life.  Do you want to spend that one life regretting that you didn’t do the one thing that filled you with joy?

Now, I am not saying just blindly pursue your dreams and ignore what people say.  If you want to be a singer, you need to make sure you are doing the things necessary to go after it.  You can’t sit around drinking and smoking and dreaming of something, and never doing what it takes to get there.  I see it all the time with comedians.  They want to headliner or feature, but they don’t write jokes, they don’t work on their sets, they just sit around talking.  Talking doesn’t make things happen, action does.

If I had to give you advice it would be this: Follow your dreams, and take everyone’s “concerns” with a grain of salt.  No one knows your passion except those that are also following it.  It is easy for Mike Rowe to tell you not to follow your dreams because he isn’t in your head and he can’t see that your passions are what makes you what you are.  He doesn’t know the hurdles you had to jump to get to where you are. Just like I don’t know either.  That’s the thing.  You have to access your situation and respond to it accordingly.  If you have 5 kids and you want to be a comedian, I would suggest not quitting your day job until you can ensure you have solid work making people laugh. I have been pursuing comedy for eleven years now, but I still went and got a degree in sociology, just in case it doesn’t work out.  I will never tell anyone not to follow their dreams, and no one else should either.  Do what makes you happy, but remember, you will have to work to achieve those dreams.

How I As A Comedian Have Changed

I have been performing comedy for eleven years now, and during my time, I have changed a ton as a comedian. One way that I have changed, is that I have strived more to get noticed.  When I first started and the years afterward, I was really into just hiding behind the shadows and just performing in hopes of getting work. I think that happened because I was so unsure of my comedy.  It took me awhile, but I figured out that I needed to put myself out there if what I wanted to do is get paid to perform stand up comedy.  No one just comes up to you with a fist full of money and begs you to perform.

Another thing that took a while to get was that it doesn’t really matter what the audience likes (to a certain extent) it is what the people paying like.  I learned this from doing competitions and the bar owner not liking that you made fun of the old TVs on the walls.  I learned that from performing at clubs and a booker not booking a person again because they wore a t-shirt.  It’s not how funny you are in this business, but who you know.  Do you know a traveling comedian?  That may be better than that dick joke that smashes.

I learned to write reality better.  What I mean by that is when I first started, I wrote a lot of absurd stuff. I like the ridiculous.  As I got older and I wrote more, I learned to pull from my everyday and turn that into something that can make people laugh.  That adds to the relatable nature of the jokes.  This does not mean I have strayed away from that type of joke writing, I have just learned when and where I can pull stuff like that out.

I think what was most important for me is just valuing myself.  After college, I told myself that I was going to get paid what most comics at my level would get paid.  Jay Wendell Walker told me, “Don’t be afraid to say no!”  I stopped taking every show and hoping I could make the money work.  All it did was stressed me out and I didn’t have fun.  Now, I plan better and I don’t accept everything.  Sure, there are times when I want to go somewhere because it is cool, or I am trying to get in with a booker, but I learned about taking what I thought I was worth and trying to get just that.  That has decreased my stress level and I enjoy myself when I am out doing shows.

I didn’t get into other things that I thought changed with me in the past years.  I have gained more confidence. I have branched out more in my act, and I have tried to do things other than comedy to fulfill that part of me that wants to create. I hope it doesn’t take you as long as it did me to learn these things.  Thanks for reading.