Can You Make A Living As A Feature Act

The answer to the title is:  You can!..If you work at it.  Being a feature act is hard. You travel a lot and you are usually tasked with warming the crowd up, and at the end of it all, you get paid a tiny amount of money.  It is hard to make the money stretch to the point that you can make a living off of it as a feature, but I am here to give you some ideas on what you can do to help make it happen.

MERCH!

If you are a feature act and you want comedy to be your career, then I suggest getting things to sell after the show.  I sell CDs and buttons, but you don’t have to do that (especially if you don’t have the material to record a CD).  Do you have a cool joke that would look good on a t-shirt?  What about bumper stickers?  You have to be smart though.  Don’t just sell a shirt with your name on it because people may not want to wear that.  The reason you want to sell stuff is simple:  the pay is crap, so you need to supplement that income as much as possible.  You can easily double or triple the money you are getting from the venue by sales of merchandise.

When I first started out, I got this advise from a great comic Morgan Preston.  He was selling t-shirts and making hundreds of extra dollars.  He knew how much feature acts were making so he told me to get something to sell or I would be doing this for nothing.  Now, you can’t be 100% sure that you will get that money every night, but it will help in the long run.

RIDE SOME COATTAILS

If you are a feature act, the BEST thing you can do is work with a headliner that has a lot of shows and is willing to take you along.  Headliners are peculiar creatures.  They like to be comfortable in knowing that the feature is not going to crap the bed and mess the show up.  So, if you help make the show great, they may be willing to take you along.  What this does is keep travel cost down, if you are travelling together.  If they are really big comedians then they may get travel covered so that is more money you don’t have to spend.

For the past four months, I have been the feature act for John Caparulo (off and on), and it is pretty sweet.  Having money for travel means more of the money you make from shows stays in your pockets.  The fact that John is a big name helps me sell more CDs which means even more money to keep in my pocket.

BOOK YOUR OWN STUFF

If you are mainly doing bars and the occasional club, you may want to think about booking your own shows on off nights.  There are many bars that have nothing going on so you may able to sell them on doing a show.  More shows equal more money.  This is more work for you, but if you are looking to fill dates this is a great way to go about it. And it is not just bars!  Look at wineries or coffee shops and well.

Being a feature act is hard, but you can make it work.  Get out and talk to comedians and don’t be afraid to ask headliners to think of you when they are in need of an opener.  I just went to do a show with John Caparulo and he asked me if I would be willing to feature for him more when his regular can’t do it.  I said yes because why not.  He is a great comedian, and a really good dude.  I did not know that it would change my income.  With the pay and selling merchandise, opening for John pays more than being a headliner in a bar!  This will not work for everyone because not everyone knows a John Caparulo, but get out and see, and hopefully you can make a nice little living being a feature act.

Gift Ideas For The Comedian In Your Life 2016

I thought I would update this article to give those out there more ideas on what to get that special someone in their life that also happens to deal in the funny arts.  They will be in three categories: Stocking Stuffers, Mid range (sorry I couldn’t come up with s cooler category), and then Loaded.  I hope this guide will help you find a great gift for the comedian in your life.

 

STOCKING STUFFERS

These are great for the comedian that is hard to shop for

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Pens: Comedians need a writing utensil when an idea hits their head meat, so you might as well keep them well stocked in pens.  I like gel pens.  I don’t know why, but I tend to gravitate to them.  Get them a box of pens and whenever they are thinking of the perfect butthole joke, they will think of you.

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Gift Card:  A lot of people think gift cards are lazy gifts.  I don’t!  I love them.  Instead of someone getting me something I will never use, I get to go out and pick what I will leave in my closet forever.  This is a great idea for the comedian that is so hard to shop for that you are losing sleep because of it.

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Netflix:  If they are a road comic, they will love you for getting them a subscription to a service like Netflix. While they are in a hotel room or on the side of the road trying to get some much needed rest, they can watch their favorite comedy special.

 

MID-RANGE

This is for the comedians that you want to spend a little bit more on.

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Moleskine Smart Writing Set:  Comedians love to write, but they are also afraid of losing their notebook or once the notebook is full, and they have to write in a new one, all of their previously written jokes are not with them.  No longer!  With this bad boy, they can still write like they are Ernest Hemingway, yet keep all of their writings with them through the smart writing app.  They also have notebooks for evernote and livescribe, so if they use one of those services it will save right there!

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Squarespace:  Every serious comedian (and even the not so serious ones) have a website.  You need something to send folks to other than you Facebook page (that is so 2012).  With a squarespace subscription, they will have a great place to set up a site that looks really good.  I am not a website builder, but harryjriley.com looks pretty good.  The price is low, but the quality is high.

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GoPro: Watching yourself on stage is a good way to see what you need to change.  Pictured is the gopro 5, but they have a cheaper gopro session 5 that is good as well.  You can mount these bad boys anywhere and with the included app, they can see their shot without having to keep readjusting it if it is in a hard to reach spot (like over an audience member’s head).  They also have editing software that will help them clean the video up and have it ready for potential bookers.

 

LOADED!

This category is for those with deep pockets or you really, really love that comedian.

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Camcorder: Getting good video of your sets is really important when you are trying to get into competitions and get booked.  Hook your comedian up with a baller camcorder like this Sony FDR-AX33. It records in 4k, so when that comedy festival organizer sees every crease in their slacks they are a shoe in to be picked!

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A New Phone: Phones.  Where would we be without them?  Probably not in the bathroom playing candy crush.  Smartphones are like swiss army knives of tech.  A comedian can record their shows, and then edit them and then send them to YouTube for the world to see within minutes.  Pictured is the iphone 7 plus, but it doesn’t have to be Apple (make sure you know what operating system they like before getting them a new phone) Android has several great phones like the Google Pixel and then there is the OnePlus 3.

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Surface Pro 4: Nothing says you love someone like a new laptop, tablet thingy.  The surface pro 4 is everything a world traveling comedian could want in a device.  It has the power of a laptop, but the portability of a tablet.  They can sketch out their poster ideas right there on the touch screen and when they want to edit their script they can with type cover that can be had later.

I hope this gives you some ideas on what to get that special comedian in your life.

Special thanks to Michael Glatzmeir, Ryan McComb, and Missy Narrance, for the help with this article!