Don’t Go “Cheap” With Your Comedy Career

A lot of us are not making bank with our comedy careers.  That does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t seek out quality when you are getting promotional materials made.  Technology has made it that we can do a lot of stuff ourselves.  We can design posters, shoot head shots and film and edit videos for submission.  Well, I am here to tell you that going cheap will make you look cheap in the eyes of those that are booking you.

Lets talk about posters first.  It may seem like all you need is Photoshop and pictures of who is going to be on the show, and BAM! Poster.  Designing posters is an art form in itself!  Do you know the techniques it takes to make an appealing poster?  Are you just making a wall of text with a couple of tiny, blurred photos?  These are things to take into account!  I like to make my own posters, but not because I am cheap, but because I like to do stuff like that.  The problem is that I am not that good at designing something appealing to people that are jaded with advertising as it is.  So, if it is an important show, I like to make sure someone that is well versed in creating posters creates mine so it looks as good as possible.

Comedians just starting out don’t realize how important head shots are.  They are the first thing bookers, promoters, and your potential audience will see of your face.  What people fail to understand is that there is a difference between a head shot and other types of photos of your head and neck.  If you are on stage performing when the photo was taken then that is considered more of a candid photo.  You may not want to lead with that for many reasons.  The light may not have been the best so you look like you have a triple chin.  One of your eyes were slightly closed when the photo was taken so you look like a knock off Pop-eye.  You should be getting your head shot as soon as you think you want to make money doing comedy.  It doesn’t have to be in a studio, but you do want it to be a structured environment so the photographer can get the best version of you on the sensor that they can.  You also want to get them redone every couple of years or when you change something significant about your face (beard, no beard nose ring, face tattoo).  I take head shots so whenever I talk about this I have to make sure that I say I don’t care who you go to for your head shots.  I care that you take good head shots because bookers get tons of emails with a ton of promotional material and the last thing you want is for them to ignore you because you had your friend take a photo of your head with their iphone.

A lot of comedians just starting out also tend to forget another important part of your promotional materials and that is the video.  I have a couple of articles that you can read about why video is important.  I have seen comedians ask if anyone has a camera to film their set.  If you are using it to send to bookers (as opposed to just uploading it to YouTube), then you should be asking more questions.  Do they have a decent camera?  You want something that can take good video in low light.  Do they have a lens that can record you cleanly on stage?  If they are in the back of the room with a 35mm lens or an iphone, you will look tiny and promoters don’t want to see a bunch of silhouettes and your tiny ass up on stage.  You want someone that can get you from roughly the waist up.  Do they have the ability to get good sound?  Do they have a way to either get the sound from the soundboard or are they using just the camera’s mic?  If they are just using the mic on the camera, then you are gonna get everything AND your set.  That is distracting!  Are they gonna color correct the video or just give you what came off the card?  This is where it pays to pay someone some money to film you! If you look like a smurf because the white balance was off that tells the booker that you most likely just sat a camera in the back of the room and hit record, so you aren’t really trying that hard to get work.

Here is the thing.  I learned all these lessons the hard way.  My first head shots were taken by my girlfriend at the time.  She didn’t know anything about photography.  We just took them around Eastern Washington University and sent them to bookers.  I would set my camcorder up in the back of the room and send that video to comedy clubs.  It would be all dark and I was so far away that you could tell I just sat it and forgot it.  I didn’t get a lot of work because I was trying to go as cheap as possible.  Now, it is worth it to me to pay someone to design a poster or my t-shirt.  I charge comedians to record their sets and take their head shots. The thing is, I did not go to school for this stuff, so I encourage them to seek out someone else if they are not happy with the results I provide.  If you want to make a go at comedy, give it a good go, and don’t go cheap!



Why Stage Time is Important

I see this a lot.  A comedian will get their 20-25 minutes or maybe they will get a solid 45 minute set, and then you never see them unless they are getting paid to perform.  Then, more often then not, you watch them struggle on stage and they blame everything, but the most obvious:  You are lacking stage time! Stage time is more then just getting up on stage and working towards new material or sharpening old stuff.  I look at stage time like athletes look at practice.  You go over the stuff you plan to do so when you are in a real situation it comes out more natural.

Getting up on stage regularly helps “knock the cobwebs” off of material.  Sometimes you have a joke that you are really comfortable with, and so you stop performing it at open mics.  Then, you get on a stage during a show and try it out and you lose your place and forget where certain parts go into the joke as a whole, this can be diminished with trying that joke every so often.  Here is something I do:  Every so often, when I’m at an open mic, I will just do material that I haven’t done in a while, but I really want to keep in my set.  That keeps it fresh in my mind so when I do want to use that material in a show, I am not lost.

Stage time also keeps that “comedic edge” about you.  Comedic edge is the ability to make the funny seem natural.  The best comedians in the world keep their comedic edge easier because they work more often then comedians that only get a couple shows a month.  They are able to control the room because they are so confident in the material and where it is going.  This is important for all comedians, especially those of us that play in bars a lot.  You need that edge to keep the crowd on your side.  If you are fumbling around, how are you gonna convince the audience to keep listening to you?

I get it.  Comedy can be a drain sometimes.  You are out at open mics for hours for three minutes of time.  If you get a guest set, you have to drive down to a club and pay for parking and all of that, but if comedy is important to you as an art form and as a means of income, then you owe it not only to yourself, but also the audience that paid to see you.  Don’t you want to be the best comedian you can?


Dealing with Depression As a Comedian

I have been dealing with depression since my military days, and it has taken me many years and many ups and downs, to come to terms with it and live with it effectively.  My strategies and experiences will differ from many of course.  All I am trying to do is give insight into how I deal with this and how it has, and continues to affect, my comedy.

What some people get wrong about depression is that they think that the only way to feel depressed is to have either a rotten life or something bad happen.  Most of the time, for me at least, it just hits.  I will be doing well, and then all of a sudden a curtain comes down and I don’t feel as well as I did.  Sometimes I will go to bed happy as hell, and I will wake up feeling miserable and not wanting to get out of bed.  Things that I had planned I just sort of push to the side and even things that I like to do (like photography and video games) I will forgo so I can just curl up.  Its not just feelings though.  Sometimes I will be more tired than I usually am.  I will go to bed earlier and stay in bed later.  As you can see this can have an effect on a comedian.

Don’t get me wrong, depression can make any profession tough to pursue, but comedy is a crazy one because everything else is always moving.  Here is an analogy:  If you have been to an airport, they have those conveyor belt like things on the floor that will just take you down the walkway.  Well, that is most comedians.  They are doing shows, and networking and pushing to get more shows and get more recognition.  Then you have the people that are just walking normally.  Those are the hobbyist or the slackers.  They are moving, just much slower.  Then you have the person curled up in the middle of all this.  Using their luggage as a really uncomfortable pillow.  That is how I feel.  Depression can creep into every aspect of your comedy career.  It makes you not want to chase the club spots because your mind is flooded with thoughts of what’s the use.  It makes you not keep up with opportunities that most people would gobble up.  Projects get delayed or outright canned.  And that is before you have written a joke!  Depression can affect your comedy on stage in a variety of ways.  It may sap your confidence to try that new joke.  It can keep you from really selling a joke to make sure it works, or it can keep you from even getting out to work on your material all together.

Over the years, I have come up with ways (with help from professionals of course) to deal with my depression.  One of the biggest things I try to do is when that cloud finally lifts, I make sure I get as much done as possible.  I do this because I know that cloud will come back and hold back my progress, and since I don’t know when it will hit again, I have to make sure I get stuff taken care of.  That means once I feel better I hit up all these bookers and promoters and I contact people that are doing stuff and I try to book myself up.  That way I don’t fall into an even deeper depression when I am down and on top of that, I have no shows on the calendar because of it.  I try to keep things consistent in my life.  So, I try to hit a couple of open mics a week and stick to it, so when I am down it is such a habit I can barely break from it (I do more often leave earlier when I am depressed then when I am not though).  I try to talk to, and hang out with, people that bring positive vibes in my life.  So, my kid and my girlfriend, and a couple comedians that always make me laugh (I don’t want to say their names because the ones that don’t will probably feel bad). When I am depressed and I have a show, I try to stick with jokes that even depression can’t convince me isn’t funny.  I had a show this past week and just getting up on stage kind of pumped me with enough feel good juice that I forgot about everything for an hour.  That maybe why I have stuck with comedy for as long as I have because when I am feeling down, I can get on stage and turn my thoughts into jokes and it gets the adrenaline pumping (because I don’t know if it will work or not) to the point that I feel a bit better.

All I can do is tell you what I do to combat depression in my life.  One thing I don’t do is use alcohol and drugs, so I can’t tell you what that will do, but I do have friends that it has negatively affected.  Look into anti-depressants and try to have a network of people that give a shit about you.  Comedy is my drug, and even depression can keep me from pursuing that fully.  It has affected my career.  It has kept me from traveling and networking as much as I should.  It keeps me from applying to things that could help my career.  Only when I am feeling better do I look and see the opportunities missed because of it. This blog has been affected by depression (that is why sometimes you will see a surge in articles from time to time).  I have to live with this as best as I can, and at the same time be the best comedian I can be.  It is hard, but with the right tools anyone can get through it.

The Offended Audience

I walked into our local comedy club, and mixed in with the promotions that they project before the show, was a disclaimer that the views that are expressed by the comedians do not reflect the opinions of the staff and owners of the club.  A local comedian walked up to me shortly after and said, “You see that!  These audiences are so damn sensitive now.”  That got me thinking:  Are people more sensitive or is there something else at play here.  Here is my hypothesis.

I will try as best as I can to explain that audiences are not more easily offended, or not more offended then they have always been.  I think there are a couple of factors at play here that make it easier to upset someone.  Let’s think about technology for now.  Social media has made it so you can join people who have shared your experiences all over the world. Now, we are able to hear the voices of those that usually have their voices silenced.  Now you can see police brutality and recounts of bullying and sexual assault.  Before technology these marginalized groups were looked as as complainers or people that added to their own suffering.  Now that you can find people who have had the same experiences as you, those voices become louder and can actually be heard and push things forward as far as trying to correct the ills of society.

So now you can see all of these groups of people getting victimized.  If that is the case then there are people that are doing the harm.  If women want to get paid as much as men, then there are men that are holding them down.  That leaves a group of people looking like the bad guys.  Now I don’t know if this was started by corporations or politicians, but someone figured they can use this to their benefit.  So then these non marginalized groups started coming out saying that they are getting victimized as well, but by the very people that were accusing them!  That is how you end up with men’s rights activist and sayings like white genocide.  If you are still following (I hope I did a good job of getting this across), then that means you have a lot of people that feel like they are being attacked, even if it is bullshit.  If you believe men are getting their identity taken by women, then when you spot a glimpse of someone attacking your side you will want to get upset.  It is easier for these groups to be “offended” then it is for them to explain away why things are the way they are.  If you claim to be offended by what someone said about police on stage, then you don’t have to explain why black’s are more likely to be shot (on average) then any other group of people getting arrested.

Another factor that plays into this is that because social media has given everyone a voice, everyone thinks their voice and opinions are as important or valid as everyone else’s.  This leads you down a rabbit hole where even things on the fringes before get held up the same as the valid.  Here is an example.  If you believe in a flat earth, you had only your friends to bother…until the internet let you scream it at every opportunity.  If you also see your ramblings about ice mountains on the edge of the earth right along side valid scientifically proven things you start to see yourself as not a lunatic, but someone who is being victimized.  So, when you go to a comedy show and listen to a comedian talk about how silly your beliefs are, then you get upset!

Comedy clubs usually serve a vast number of people with different beliefs and different experiences.  I think because of technology and social media, a lot of people want to be seen as victims even if they aren’t, so they can avoid or minimize the harm caused to others.  Humans are not that good at changing strongly held beliefs and we will defend them even if it make no sense to do so.  Instead of coming to terms with how we contribute to certain wrongs in the world, a lot of us would rather feign being one of the harmed so as to keep on believing what we do.  That is why their seems to be more people walking out of shows and complaining after shows. I think all of us know when we are just clinging on to something because we belief it is what makes us. I just think most of us are comfortable doing nothing about looking within.

So, You Want to Produce Your Own Show…

So, you have been beating your head against the wall trying to get into your local club (other than at their open mic nights), and now you think you should produce your own shows.  Not so fast power ranger!  There are a lot to take in before you start performing in the corner of your friend’s bar.

The Proposal:  You can’t just walk into a bar and say, “Give me 9,000 to perform here!”.  You have to be prepared to answer questions and dampen expectations.  You have to understand the business in which you will be intruding upon.  They will look at it like this:  Will I get a return on my investment?  These are businesses, not charities.  If you are charging an amount they can’t possibly make back then they will not want to do it.  How many people can the bar hold…comfortably.  If you want the show to be a success, you have to ensure that everyone can enjoy it.  If you have 30 people standing, that is the area in the room that is gonna get loud and cause a distraction to all the other audience members.  When you speak to the manager or owner of the place, you have to make sure they understand that just because you put a show on in their establishment doesn’t mean they will get a new customer base.  The people that come into their place of business will be there for between one and half and three hours and that is when they have to sell their product to them.  After that those people may never come back there again.  Don’t tell them that they are going to make X amount of money.  You can’t guarantee that and that will make it seem like you lied to them if they don’t.  Let them know your job is to keep them there and their job is to sell their product.

Comedians: If you are planning a long term comedy spot, then you have to have a stable of comedians.  If you live in a place with a small comedian pool, it may do you well to reach out and see if you can wrangle comedians that may be passing through, or looking to pick up extra work.  The last thing you want to do is have the same comedians come through time after time.  I have seen so many comedy spots rot and die away because the producer had such a small group of comedians to choose from that people were no longer interested.

Other Tidbits: Start on time!  Don’t have people waiting for that imaginary audience.  When you are talking price, make sure it is enough to attract people to the gig.  If you charge too little, only the people in the immediate area will be able to do it, leading to your running out of comedians quickly.  Try to get enough money to invest in advertising.  That extra money could mean a couple more butts in seats. And finally, always remember to have fun!  You are performing and getting paid!  Enjoy it!

Are You A Comedian?

Yes.  Yes you are.




Damn.  You want more than just that…alright.  I already told you all you needed to know, but if we must.

I suspect every scene in the country, if not the world, has to deal with this question from time to time.  What makes a person a comedian?  How many open mic nights must you attend to be designated a comedian?  Is it when you get paid for comedy?  Is it when you get paid more than once?  Is it at a certain amount earned a year?  You see how silly this can get, right?  The reason it is so silly is because there is no education or class needed to make people laugh. The title of comedian doesn’t hold the same weight as calling yourself doctor or lawyer, or hell even plumber.  Those people have to take classes and train.  All a person has to do to call themselves a comedian is…well…nothing really.  I haven’t seen too many people just calling themselves comedians because they make people laugh at the monthly meeting, but there is really nothing stopping anyone from calling themselves a comedian, and I think that is what bothers a lot of people.

Think about it.  If you sit down and write jokes and try to work on them, it may seem unfair that someone that comes signs up for a couple of open mics are now calling themselves a comedian.  I don’t know why anyone would be bothered, but people get really upset about it.  That is why some will start placing people in this order so they can classify folk.  You will hear open micer said a lot, usually not in a great way, to describe someone that is mainly doing open mics and not really getting paid work.  Then there are things like MC, feature, headliner, that may be used as positions in a show, but can also be used to place you on a comedian totem pole.  Why do people do this?  Because it places class structure on people in a situation where class doesn’t really exist.  It can be used to separate, and belittle people.  You know, all of the already terrible stuff we are doing everywhere else.  That is why a lot of people get hung up on the notion of what is a comedian.  We want to get recognition for what we do, and we do not want others to claim the same recognition if they have not done as much as us (even if what we do isn’t much).

I said all that and yet I do believe that you have to do something to be considered a comedian.  Yeah, you can set up a Facebook page, and call yourself a comedian without stepping foot on a stage, but that would make you seem like a weirdo.  I don’t care if after one open mic and nothing else, you want to think of yourself as a comedian.  It has no bearing on me and my life and the comedy dreams that I pursue.  I don’t want to get hung up worrying about who is and isn’t a comedian because I still have a dream that I am chasing and do not have time (other than writing this) to consider these things.  I say worry about your goals and leave questions that divide people alone.

Why It’s Hard To Break Into Comedy Clubs (For Some)

I hope everyone had a happy New Years.  Now it is time to get back at it.  With this one let’s talk about the difficulties of getting booked into comedy clubs.

If you think about it, comedy clubs are very unique.  Comedy is the one of the few performing arts that basically has its own space.  There is not a ballet bar, or a poem emporium.  This obviously means that if you want to ply your trade in stand-up this is one of the first places you would look. You would think it would be as simple as emailing the person who books talent at the club and if they see a use for you, then you are good to go.  Well, it is not that easy.  Let us talk about the simple fact that there is only so many comedy clubs in the country.  Sure some cities like Chicago and New York City have several, but a lot of places may have just one club, and that one club has between 48 to 52 weekends (depending on things like when holidays fall and such) in which to fill.  Most comedy shows have a MC, feature, and headliner.  So at most, a club needs three comedians a weekend.  Now I hope you see that there are a ton of people that have the capacity to fill these spots, so that makes comedy clubs sort of a gate keeper.  If they want to have people return, they want to put on the best show they can afford.  That means they have to be a little more picky then say the sardine factory that just needs to fill five canning positions.

Now the above tries to explain why its hard to get booked into comedy clubs on just a numbers aspect.  The thing is you have another hurdle, the booker.  There are men and women all across this country that book these shows and because they are human and have particular tastes, they will make decisions for a variety of reasons.  I have heard them all.  From just not that funny to you live too far away and we don’t want to house you.  Also because they are human, they are not immune from just grabbing what is nearby.  Why book a comedian for a show in Atlanta when they live in Portland?  Why not just look in your immediate vicinity.  Especially for features because there are a ton of people that can perform between 20-30 minutes of comedy.  It is less stress to know that most of your talent is in town.  That is why it is really hard to get booked as a MC or feature the farther away you look.  They can just grab a local comedian to MC and save money and hassle.  They don’t have to worry about comics changing their minds at the last minute because they can’t afford to come perform.  You also have to think about the booker and the amount of inquiries they receive on a day to day basis.  I can only imagine all the emails and packages they get from comedians that want to work their club.  They can’t possibly get to it all.  If you receive 200 emails a day, it will get to a point where you will ignore a ton of emails and base your decisions on what your peers are telling you.  Then there is just plain ole biases.  They may not like musical comedians, or comedians that wear hats on stage.  They won’t tell you this outright, but it could keep your from getting work from them.

Here is another thing.  Comedy clubs are businesses.  They are not non profits that are putting on comedy shows for the good of the community.  They are trying to get the audience to buy food and alcohol, and your quips about Tupperware is what is keeping them there.  These clubs are looking for people that can put asses in seats.  It is not so much how funny you can be, but an as of now undiscovered equation between funny and popular.  Why do you think your local club has that former porn star coming to town next week?  Because they are popular enough, and sometimes funny enough, to put asses in seats and make the club some money.  If you can’t offer them that, then it is hard to break in.  This is not so much a concern of MCs and feature acts because they are seen as younger, less experienced comedians, but headliners have to worry about this a lot.

So, how can you increase your chances you may ask.  Well, the thing you have to remember is persistence. You have to be able to accept that you will get turned down a lot and keep trying to get in contact with these clubs.  You will send out hundreds of emails and you may get one response back.  It’s important to know that you can not guess what is going on on the other side of email.  The booker may be ignoring emails.  They may be seeing it and not responding because you do not fit their place.  I will say this, if you got a response and they say no, then you should not keep sending them emails.  Accept the no and when you have a new headshot or new video for them to take a look at, then you should probably give it another try.  If they say contact again in six months, then do that. I have an spreadsheet (I know!) where I can check off who I have contacted and if they responded to me.  I don’t use it as much as I should, but it is helpful in keeping track.  You can also hit up the club’s open mic.  This is a great way of getting in front of people that can get your booked.  Don’t see it as a guarantee that the booker will be there though.  If I can get there, I like to do that because networking and getting to know bookers and what they are looking for is a great way to improve your chances of getting work in the future.  You can also try booking independent shows in clubs during off nights.  Some clubs will let you rent their spot on a night where they are not doing a proper show and you can show them that you have enough pull in the area to be brought back for a weekend.  You can also try this with a specialty show.  We have a show in Spokane called Drink N Debate, and it is put on at the Spokane Comedy Club every month.  The bookers get to see a lot of comedians and can evaluate them for potential work.

The key is being persistent and remembering that it is an uphill battle, but one you will have to go through if you are trying to get into comedy clubs.