This may seem harsh, but I will keep it short so it stings a little less: You are not owed anything in comedy. There. If that surprised you, or got your heart rate up, that means you are the perfect person for this blog post.
I think what happens is we take what we know from other industries, and assume it should work that way in comedy. Longevity does not equal experience. Experience does not equal ability. Ability does not equal employ-ability… None of these things mean you are a shoe in for certain things. This isn’t like working down at the docks, where if you were there for five years you get promoted. You don’t get promoted in comedy just because you have been going to open mics steadily for five years. If that were the case a lot of people would have HBO specials. When someone tells me that they have been doing comedy for x number of years, it means nothing because you can get on stage once, never get on again for 10 years, and still call yourself a comedian. Have you been writing? Have you been performing? These are the things that I think are more important than just how many years you have called yourself a comedian.
Just because you have been on showcases a bunch of times doesn’t mean you should be featuring at a club. I see it time and time again. Someone has been getting spots on shows, and now they think they are ready to feature. Getting on stage is good experience, but that doesn’t mean you have the ability to perform for 20-30 minutes. Ask a comedian that has been doing it for about six months to a year how much time they have, and most will overestimate. Why? Because open mics and such may give them the impression that they have a lot of material that works. That is not the case. Once you get in front of a paying, attentive crowd, they are not going to let things slide because “everyone is just working on stuff”. Get honest with yourself. Do you have 20 quality minutes, or 10 decent minutes and 10 minutes of bonus ramblings. Getting honest with yourself will help you not burn yourself when you are trying to get work.
So, you have been doing it for a while and have the chops. You feel you have what it takes to start working. What’s this though? No one wants to work with you? You can’t get booked anywhere even though you are funnier than all the other comedians that get booked? Have you ever thought that maybe you’re an asshole? Close you eyes (later, not now), and think of all your interactions with other comedians. Is it you and a bunch of probably skinny white dudes running through a meadow? Or, is it a bunch of arguments and Facebook post telling comedians to eat a dick? If it’s the latter, than that is your answer to why you are not getting booked. You can not expect to be a piece of shit, AND be booked. It may seem like the world of comedy is this large expansive network, but it is much smaller than that. There are only so many comedy bookers and the odds that they have dealt with someone that has dealt with you is probable at the least. If you have a great set, a set that makes bras fall off and guys get tramp stamps, but you can’t be worked with than people will just leave you off of shows. There is a limit to this though. If you are in the upper levels of comedy, like the Tom Seguras, and Phillip Kopczynskis of the world, then you may be able to get away with not being the coolest person to work with, because you are putting asses in seats. If, however, you are trying to get booked on your local show, and you are a total asshat, then why would anyone put up with that, no matter how funny you are.
Just remember that just because someone was doing it for 6 years and got on SNL doesn’t mean that is the trajectory for you. Things happen to people differently. I know comedians that started after me and are all over the country. That doesn’t mean I deserve to be there as well. That means that they may have had more connections, or were more personable to people, so they could network easier. Maybe their material isn’t 80% dick jokes. You have to be honest and look within when things are not going the way they should.