International Comedian

I went up to Victoria, British Columbia last weekend, and had a blasty blast. Here is what I learned.

It’s Not Hard to Get Booked

I have been doing comedy for almost fifteen years, and this was my first time going abroad for comedy. I think I was just afraid of the disconnect. Even though it is Canada, and I didn’t have to learn a new language, it is still another country with a culture all its own. I now know that all that worry was for nothing, and I want to go back VERY soon.

Certain Details May Be Lost…

We normally write about the things we are familiar with. So sometimes your material will have a landmark or event that is unique to a time and place. I had to make sure they knew what a Costco was because one of my favorite jokes is very detailed about the warehouse shopping giant. I would advise people going abroad their first time to comb their material and make sure you can substitute a replacement for whatever it is you are talking about. If you can’t then you may want to avoid the joke as to not confuse people.

Politics

The last night performing, I made a comment about their Prime Minister and heard a light hiss from the audience. That is because from the time I heard of him until that set, he has been in a scandal. I don’t keep abreast of world politics, so I would not know that. After I said he seemed cool, my brain immediately yelled for me to stop. That is when I think I saved it by telling them of the alternative. If I had the chance to do it again, I would have avoided the subject all together or just research a little more so I could be better prepared.

Some Things Everyone Knows About

R.Kelly. Michael Jackson. Donald Trump. People know about these things. Some things are universal and will work as long as the culture isn’t a 180 degree departure from your own.

The Take Away

I learned that comedy is comedy and people will laugh as long as you are funny and spend a little time getting to know them. I got a lot of laughs from talking about walking around their city. People know things about their city and when someone points it out, it can bring an audience together. I would advise again troupes that cities may have heard before. Like I would not perform in Tacoma, Wa and talk about the smell, or go to Detroit and talk about the empty houses…unless I thought I had a unique spin (which is seldom, but possible).

I think if you are a working comedian, you owe it to yourself to go to another country. It can really tell you a lot about your material and the way you perform. Do you have too many local references? Do you have a tendency to alienate the populace? These are things that could help you as a performer.

Next week I will begin a series of blogs on punching up material. I think we will start with just performing the material and work from there. Hope to see you back next week!

Advertisements

Why The Feature Act is So Underrated

When an audience goes to a more tradition comedy show, they will usually see an MC or host, the feature act or middle, and the headliner. Out of all those spots, I believe the feature act is the most underrated part of the show. Now, let me explain why.

The “Middle Child” Effect

I am coining this term today! The middle child effect works like this. When the MC gets up, everyone is trained to expect that they are just introducing stuff. They are gonna talk about the drink specials and the comment cards and tell you who is on the show. They are not expecting much from the guy that just told them to turn their phones off.

A comedy club rarely puts a more seasoned person in this spot because of how the pay for host usually work. So, they get someone that hasn’t been doing it long, but shows promise to fill that spot. People can usually tell that this is a comedian’s first couple times on stage in front of that many people so their expectations drop a little bit knowing that the comedian may stumble a little bit and be a tad awkward.

The crowd expects a lot from the headliner. I mean, his face is on the poster, but because he is last there is the expectation that he knows what he is doing. He is usually a seasoned person that travels the world performing and so, for the most part, an audience is expecting to laugh.

The feature on the other hand has the tough job of going up after someone that may not even be a comedian. I have gone up as a feature after the cook has come up to the stage, grabbed the mic and cursed the guy who was supposed to be introducing me, and then mess my name up. When I used to do more shows in Montana, audiences were trained to not show up until thirty minutes after the show started because they figured the feature was bad. The “middle one” is never expected to do much, but people put a lot of pressure on them because they are the official start of the comedy show.

The Pay Makes it Hard to Stay a Feature

Most clubs pay feature acts enough to break even on a gig. You are not going to keep the comedians that are great features because no one can make a living as one. Everyone wants to be a headliner, but the problem is a lot of people have a great fifteen or twenty and the quality suffers after that, but instead of staying a feature act they have to write that next twenty minutes so they can actually make money when they go out.

Because clubs don’t pay enough for a feature to travel to them, that means they have to find features from the area. That is a good thing when you have a club in a larger city because you are sure to have features who can perform and you don’t have to worry about the cost of putting them up somewhere. The issues arise when you are in a medium to small area and the talent pool isn’t as large. Now you either have to have the “good” features perform a lot, or you have to promote comedians to feature when they should be hosting longer.

So because of the pay to feature and the audience’s expectations of the “second guy”, it is really hard to be a feature act. I seriously think most comedy clubs do not hold feature acts in much regard. Think of it from the business aspect though: They are not putting any asses in seats. They don’t serve a more central purpose like the host, and they don’t have the clout of a headliner who has TV credits and name recognition, so the feature is where a lot of leeway is afforded if you are booking shows.

This is how I see it though: (Remember, I am a feature is 90% of the clubs in the country so you can take this however you see it.) A show is only as good as the assembled pieces. If one of those pieces has been skimped on, it does the paying customer a disservice. Features are important because they lay the groundwork to make the headliner’s job that much easier. A feature that can hold their own is so valuable that a lot of bigger headliners just bring their own.

How do you fix this? The answer is simple. Venues need to make it so a feature can actually make money when they perform. That will keep a lot of good talent from leaking out to other places just because they want to get paid enough that they aren’t losing money when they perform. Maybe try putting them up in a hotel or condo (Clubs do this a lot, but some don’t). That keeps the cost of doing business way down (for the feature not the club). It will cost more money, but how much? Will it be offset by the fact that audiences will talk about how the entire show was awesome and not just “the last one”? This is a question only a person writing the checks can answer. All I can do is offer this suggestion as a way of making shows more entertaining.

How The Economics of Comedy Clubs Make Stormy Daniels Possible

There are some comedians in the industry that are up in arms after exotic dancer and business woman, Stormy Daniels announced that she was going on a comedy club tour. There are many opinions on why it is wrong and many on why its no big deal. I can see both sides of this argument, and I will present to you why her doing this is even possible.

People like spectacle

I think it is obvious, but humans have been attracted to the odd and scandalous forever. So there is always a market for people on the “fringes” to make money if they know where to find people willing to see it. This is no different. She had sex with the President of the United States. People would pay to hear her talk about just that alone. Comedians need to understand that spectacle will put more asses in seats then a great, non famous joke teller.

Comedy clubs are the new vaudeville stages

For those that don’t know, vaudeville was like a travelling stage show for variety acts. They would play in theaters and you could see everything from comedians to singers to a guy that set his beard on fire (I made the last one up, but it could be true). Vaudeville disappeared roughly the same time comedy clubs started taking off. Comedians had a legit place to perform! Except that left a lot of other acts out in the cold. Vaudeville shows would have famous people that would basically sit on stage and talk about their life. So when those stages disappeared these people had to find a place to go, and that is when comedy clubs became that place. Most comedy clubs have comedy from Thursday to Saturday. What about those days when they don’t have comedy? That is a great time to bring in a popular person that may not be a comedian, but can put asses in seats.

When you combine the two…

So, you have people wanting to see certain individuals and a place with a stage that is empty sometimes three nights a week…that makes it pretty simple to see why a comedy club would bring in someone like this. Go to your local club’s website and I am sure you can find one date on their calendar that isn’t considered comedy in the tradition sense. Mike Foley, Jake the snake Roberts, male reviews, a podcast recording, all these things bring people into a club at times when no one would be there otherwise.

I wish it wasn’t true, but it is hard as hell to get people to just come see a comedian. I did two shows this past weekend, one in a legit theater, and the total number of people that attended these shows was probably 70 people. That is good for a person with no name, but a comedy club can not possibly sustain themselves on 70 people a weekend (depending on size of course). Comedy clubs are not like the Philharmonic, they are not just presenting art for artistic sake, they are trying to make money. They have payrolls and bills to pay just like anyone else, and if an exotic dancer can put asses in seats and get people to buy drinks then they will do that.

I don’t think most people care that she is an exotic dancer. At least I hope. I think there is a subset of comedians that think comedy clubs should only be for comedic acts and that isn’t the case. With the increase in other forms of entertainment, a club has to rely a lot more on food and drink to make it and so they have to open their stage to a larger variety of entertainment. It is cost effective to the act because they don’t have to rent a theater that will have you paying a bunch of money and not do much to promote your presence. It works for comedy clubs because they may not have anything going on that night and it only helps their bottom line to have someone with a following come stand on their stage. Since the person putting on the show may only get paid based on the amount of people paying to see them, it makes sense to have them if there is no risk to the club.

I hope this helped those that do not understand the issues at hand. I think comedians need to not worry about acts like this because they have no impact on comedy as a whole. I think the average adult is not thinking less of a comedy club because they had a male review there last night instead of some comedy act. The average person will only go to anything if they have an interest in that thing and no matter what you do, you will not be able to force them to see comedy for comedy’s sake. It doesn’t hurt women comedians because her presence doesn’t mean they will not hire another woman, it just means that date is no longer available to anyone.

Why are There so Many Sociopaths in Entertainment

I have spent the past couple of days watching the documentaries on the Fry Festival and all the terrible things that surround that. One thing that I noticed about both (other than the Hulu one was much better than the Netflix one) was how easy Billy McFarland, the head of this bullshit snake, was able to scam people out of millions upon millions of dollars. Then I got thinking about my own experiences and realized that there are a lot of sociopaths in the entertainment industry.

As a comedian, I have my ass in all other sorts of creative endeavors and there is almost always a person there pulling the strings, and sucking the life out of others. They are almost always failures in whatever it is they decided to do. I have been around music promoters, comedy promoters, and producers that are so good at suckering in people.

But why? Why are there so many sociopaths (a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience. – google search) in the entertainment industry? Well, the biggest reason is because there is normally not a barrier to entry. All you have to do is say you are a comedy booker and you can operate as such until everything crumbles around you. You don’t have to know how to play a single note to put together a show, as long as you can get the person that has the building you plan on having this show agree to let you enter.

You also get to deal with damn near the perfect victims. A lot of people in the entertainment industry are on the outer parts of it. Like me, for example, I get paid to perform comedy, but I am not a known entity. I am the type of person that a sociopath loves because they can feed on my want to get higher on the comedy totem pole. These guys will tell you anything you need to hear in order for you to go with them on their bullshit. Sociopaths have this ability to lie so easily that even the hardest people will fall for it. It’s even easier because those of us on the outer edges of entertainment want any route to get to the next level.

So you have an easy industry to enter and victims that want to believe everything you have to say. I have been a victim many times from people that want you to believe that they are that next big promoter or the next booker people will bend over backwards to please. You also don’t have to deal to much with your victims. If a show goes bad and no one got paid? Oh well. Next time it will work out. Then after the fourth show, when people finally realize that they are dealing with a con man, they have made money to make it seem worth it. Then they just either move to a new city or lay low until it is time to do it again.

My advice to all up and comers in entertainment is to take almost everything with a grain of salt. Just remember the old saying: “if it seems to good to be true, it usually is.” Don’t fall for the traps that many do. Don’t pay for stage time. Don’t sling tickets if that is the only way you can get on stage. Don’t perform before you find out what you are getting as compensation. Thanks.

My Time in the 39th Seattle International Comedy Competition

I was one of 32 competitors in this year’s Seattle International Comedy Competition (SICC).  I will talk about a couple of things that I experienced during my second time competing in this competition.

For those that aren’t familiar with this, this is a multi week competition all around the Western part of Washington state.  The first two weeks of the competition are the preliminary rounds.  The top five for both of those weeks move on to the semi-finals and the top five move on to the finals.  There have been a lot of amazing comedians that have taken part in this competition.  Many people submit each year and it is quite an accomplishment to get to compete (at least in my opinion).

When I was selected to be one of the 32 competitors I chose to compete in the first round.  There were a lot of Seattle locals in this round so I was nervous because of home town advantage and all.  I had worked on a set that I thought would work well and I was ready.  Me and fellow Spokane comedian Michael Glatzmaier were late because like a lot of people we underestimated Seattle’s notoriously bad traffic.  That first night sets the tone for the rest of the week for a lot of people.  Those that are suited to move on will, and those that may have bitten off more than they can chew (always wanted to say that) can usually be found looking out into the world in confusion.  I placed first the first night with what I think was my best performance of the entire competition (which is bad because it was the first night of the entire thing).  I felt like my set was dialed in and I was confident it could get me to the semi-finals.  The rest of the week, I placed second in each show.  For the week I finished first and I was comfortably moving on to the finals.  There was only one other show in which I thought I did well enough to finish first, but when you get called second you kind of forget about all that.

The semi-finals was not as comfortable as the preliminary round (of course).  I had a week to lay about and think, and the five comedians from the second week were still sharp going in.  I hadn’t worked on a semi-finals set as much as I had liked so I was basically trying to cobble something together.  I took what I was doing during the prelims, and added another couple jokes onto it.  I won the first night and I was feeling really good.  Then things got pretty bumpy after that.  Took fourth the next night.  Didn’t place at all the third night.  The fourth night I placed second, but I was still worried because this competition is score based and so placement doesn’t mean as much if everyone else’s scores are really close. The last night was in this enormous theater and everyone brought the heat.  I finished third for that night and fourth for the week.  I was the only one from the first week to move on to the finals.

I knew I was in trouble because my plan of action didn’t take into account making it to the finals.  I have a lot of  material.  Two (or three if you count an earlier DVD I did) albums and an iPad full of jokes means that when you are in a competition, you have too much to chose from.  Do I go with the older material that works great, but I haven’t done in awhile, or do I go with the newer stuff that I have been doing more lately, but may not be “winning” material.  I went with going with the material I have been doing lately and slapping one of my closers on the end.  I was excited about making the finals with a group of amazing comedians.  I was there with my buddy Phil who finished first for the week in the semi-finals and that first night I was just up there having fun.  I finished fourth for the night.  I was happy and life was good.  After the second night though, I realized I maybe the only one just happy to be there.  I finished that night second, but I could see on the other comedian’s faces that they were trying to win.  That’s when I realized I should probably try better.  The next couple of nights were rough because no matter what I wasn’t finishing how I wanted.  On the last night, first was pretty much decided and second was pretty hard to get to.  I decided to do more of my more opinionated material because I was in the heart of Seattle and it didn’t really matter at that point.  I took a time penalty and ended up fifth for the night and fifth for the entire competition.

These competitions teach you what you are made of as a comedian.  Will you fold and just mail it in to get it over with, or will you keep pounding away until you reach the finish?  Do you have great material are you full of hot air?  Overall I am disappointed in my finish because I expect more from myself.  Yes, it is good to be there, but those couple of shows in which I was just “happy” to be present was my ultimate downfall.  I want more from myself because I have been doing this for so long.  I think I am also embarrassed.  I know it may seem silly, but I was embarrassed to be beaten.  Competitions are weird like that.

What you have to learn from these things is that not finishing first doesn’t mean you can no longer be a comedian.  Plenty of comedians never got out of the preliminary round and went on to make a name for themselves.  There is also so much work out there when you are around comedians from all over the planet.  I have booked so much work as of late all because of this competition.  I also have a couple things that could really be big in the new year.  So all in all, a pleasant experience.

Why Spokane is a Great Place to Start Your Comedy Career

I know Spokane is in the title, but it really stands that any city the size of Spokane can be a great place to start your comedy career and in some cases be a great place to maintain a career as well.  Let’s look at the reasons now.

Goldilocks Effect  Spokane is damn near the perfect size when starting out your career.  It isn’t as large as LA or NYC where you will be spending more time traveling to open mics than actually performing, but it isn’t so small that there is only one or two stages to get better.  Spokane has a stage almost every night of the week in which to perform, and unlike larger cities, you do not run the chance of getting bumped after making the commute to get there.  Spokane also has one of the premier clubs in the country with the Spokane Comedy Club.  That means you get to see and hopefully perform with bigger acts and get seen by more people and that can lead to more work down the line.

The Others In Spokane right now are about 40-50 comedians.  That is way less than most cities, but what than means is a close knit community.  From my observations, the larger the city, the more segregated the comedians.  The hip comedians are over here and the alt-comedians are over there and the comedians with puppets are on the roof for some reason. Most comedians in Spokane know each other which leads to a, mostly, equal distribution of work. With the amount of comedians in the area, there are enough for solid competition, but not enough to have the feuds that you see in other scenes.

Location, Location, Location! Spokane is is a four hour drive to Seattle, a six hour drive to Portland, and about the same amount of time to Boise.  That means you are pretty close to some large cities in which to further your career.  Say you have a day job and you have a show in Seattle.  It will be a challenge of course, but it is an early morning drive, and a late night drive and you are back at work, a little more drowsy, but it can be done.  You can maintain relationships with promoters in those cities and still benefit from Spokane’s lower cost of living.

There you go, some reasons why Spokane is a great place to start performing.  Of course I could list a couple more, but I liked the three that are listed above.  Next week, I will tell you guys why Spokane isn’t the best place to start your comedy career.  See, I can milk both sides for content!

 

Why You Will Never See A Comedy Union

Every couple of years, a comedian will pop up in a local area and proclaim that comedians need to join together and form a union so pay can increase.  It rarely gets far (beside the one or two situations when it did), and that is for a lot of reasons.  I am not going to write about all of them, but just a few.

Since the 90’s, the pay scale for stand up comedians have roughly been the same.  (the following are one night show rates.  Rates differ in clubs and such) $200 for the headliner, $100 for the feature and various numbers for MC’s ($25-50).  Now, if you adjust for inflation that is 358.64 to headline and 179.32 to feature.  So why hasn’t the pay gone up, but everything surrounding comedy has?  The cost of a ticket has gone up.  The cost of food and beverages has gone up.  The price of gas, rent, utilities and the like have gone up.  So why hasn’t the pay?  Well, the first reason, and a big reason why a union would not work is because that is just what businesses say you are worth.  In the 90’s $200 for the headliner was good.  People were going out to bars and actually seeing comedy.  Not for the person telling the jokes, but because that was what you did.  There wasn’t Netflix and video games on your pocket phone.  Now, a bar looks at comedy a lot different.  They can throw any number of entertainment options that will be cheaper and keep the crowd in longer.  So, the price has stayed this way because (among other things we will discuss in a bit) that is how much a business owner thinks it’s worth.  I have gotten more than the usually amount listed above for shows at a bar, but eventually they start looking at what kind of business the shows are drawing and adjust accordingly.  Art, in my opinion, isn’t valued as higher because we have constant access to it, making the value in people’s eyes lower.

It’s not just bar owners not valuing your comedy, its other comedians.  There are way to many comedians for the amount of work out there so that means what you don’t snatch up, some other comedian will.  Say you are in a city with 100 comedians. Out of that 100, 40 get work frequently and the other 60 for whatever reason does not   You and the other 40 guys decide to unionize to get $250 a show for headliners.  That is all well, for the 40 of you, but the other 60 has no incentive to adhere to that.  Every comedian you meet, is a comedian looking to obtain the next level, that next brass ring, and if that means taking $200 or less for that same show then they will do it.  If you are a comedian that can’t get a paid show, anything is better than nothing. Even if it hurts the collective.  A union would actually be worse for the 60 that don’t get regular work because they have nothing to differentiate themselves from the 40 that do get work.  If there is no union they can at least undercut the other comedians, which drives prices down.  That is why comedians will go to a place one year and get X amount and then the next time they go there the pay has gone down.  Why?  Because who ever is putting the show together is just trying to get something greater than zero.

In a perfect world a union wouldn’t even be needed.  This is not the perfect world.  We may not be bargaining collectively, but we can do things to help each other out.  Knowing what the usual rates are is important.  That way you know what you “should” be getting.  Try to get connected with working headliners.  I work regularly with headliners that make sure I get paid decently and that is a great way to get the people cutting the checks educated on what quality live entertainment cost.  There is nothing wrong with saying “No” to an offer.  If they ask why tell them!  The only way to make more money is to set your own prices and sticking to them.  Comedians are like nomads and a union for comedians would not work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get what you think you are worth.