If you read last week’s article, then you know that it is already very hard to make a living as a stand up comedian. One way to balance the low pay is to sell stuff. I have been doing this for awhile now and I will tell you want I have learned doing this.
When I first started going out on the road, I had nothing but jokes. I was in Montana working with a comedian, and he told me simply: You need to sell stuff! As time went on, I went from CDs I would burn hours before the show to having them professionally produced. Now, I let other comedians (especially feature acts) know how important it is to have something to sell. Not only does it add to your base income, but it allows you to engage audiences and form a following.
At first I never had anything to sell, just like any other comedian out there, I was just happy getting paid. It then became clear that the money I was getting from the performance itself, was not going to pay the bills. So, I produced a DVD of a performance I recorded in a dimly lit room. I drew the artwork myself and begun to sell it. The thing was I would be standing there with other comedians, trying to sell my stuff and they had shrink wrapped, professional looking CDs and I had a walking etsy store. That is the first thing you need to know about selling merch: Make it look nice. Just because you are in the basement of a Holiday Inn, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the presentation. I learned that spending a couple of bucks to make things look professional and nice paid off because it showed that I was really a comedian and not a guy just trying to take your money and move on to the next town.
Why did I pick a DVD at first? It was the thing I had. I later took just the audio and sold that because I figured that I was not important enough for someone to sit in front of their TV for 50 minutes, but they may listen to me while on a road trip. The sound quality sucked so I had to get a real recording of my act. I had a friend (shout out to Will Gilman) produce and edit my first real recording. It sounded great and I had better cover art, so I did not feel weird selling the stuff. It sold really well but I learned a couple of things from having a real product to sell. First, I had to get over selling things to people. Not everyone will enjoy your material enough to want to take it home, but they will not buy it if you are not telling them about it. I had to ensure I was setting stuff up and at least presenting my product. Second, A lot of people just wanted to talk after the show and if I was posted somewhere they could come by say hello, and most of the time they would buy something! It was odd to see people who didn’t have money out all of a sudden laughing with me and now they are buying multiple CDs!
Now, just because you have a product to sell, doesn’t mean you will all of a sudden start making all this extra money. I have been selling merch for awhile now, and I have no idea from show to show who is going to buy something and who isn’t. I’ve had shows where I thought they really liked me and not sell anything, and then shows where I thought I was not my best and leave selling stuff. The only way to be increase your odds of selling stuff is to have more stuff for sale. That is why I made a t-shirt (not the whole shirt just the stuff on the front). CDs are a hard sell nowadays. I have a CD player in my car, but I haven’t used it! That is why I also have download cards that they can get instead of just the CD. T-shirts sell well because it is something you have to wear anyway, so might as well have something funny on it! I have seen comedians make thousands in a weekend from just their t-shirt sales.
Maybe you don’t want to sell a t-shirt or a CD (maybe you don’t have an hour of material). Well, you can go with just about anything! The idea is to sell things that are easy to carry around, and that will make people think of you. I have seen everything from buttons to baby onsies! What is important is having something that when someone looks at it they say, “Damn, I want that!”. Now, instead of paying for things like gas and meals with the money I am getting for the show, the merchandise I sold can pay for it. I am not saying just slap your name on a shirt and then you can lease a cigar boat, but when it comes to road comedy, every little bit helps!