Worst Pieces of Comedy Advice I Ever Received

As an entertainer, you will be given advice from damn near everyone. Other comedians, singers, DJs, your mom, your uncle, the local methhead, they all think they have the advice to get you going. The problem is, not all advice is good. It may seem good, until you think about it for more than a minute. Here is some of the advice I have received and why I think it is terrible.

Always have a street joke ready to tell (in case you lose the audience etc.)

No. I don’t (intentionally) tell street jokes. Why? Because any comedian can memorize a street joke. The audience is there for my take on familiar topics, not to hear a joke that their dad can tell during a barbecue. I think this sprung up from the early days of comedy when there was just a bucket of jokes out there, and comedians would just pull from that bucket and tell those jokes. Nowadays, no one wants that. Even if the crowd is about to decapitate me, I would rather get them back by telling jokes I wrote then by a worn out joke that most comedy fans have heard.

You should get on “Name of TV competition”.

That sounds like a great idea! How did I never think of that? I mean I was telling jokes in this bar with hopes that a drunk TV exec would see me and give me a million dollars and my own TV show. EVERY comedian has thought about getting on ‘Last Comic Standing’ or ‘America’s Got Talent’ to jump start their careers. That’s the problem though, EVERY comedian is trying to get on those shows, so it is not just a case of walking up to the set and getting a moneycheck. TV producers know this so they have lots of measures to make sure only the people that make good TV get seen. So, you either have to be unique in say background (first female lesbian brown bear) or have an agent that can arrange to get you on these shows. If you are just a white guy that tells funny jokes about the internet, it will be really hard to get on these types of shows because white guys are everywhere. If you are other than white, it is still difficult because you are now competing for a limited number of spots. I did a showcase this month for Just For Laughs. There are only so many spots for no names like me and they auditioned a couple thousand comedians. This isn’t even advice, it’s just a statement. It’s like saying, “you should fly like superman” or “You should buy a castle.”

Don’t tell the audience sad stuff

There is a limit to the amount of sad shit you want to hear from a comedian, but there is something to telling an audience something so personal about yourself and being able to make light of it. When I was in the military, I had to take all these test to see if I had some kind of cancer. It turned out to be lupus, but the result of that was about five minutes of material about the experience. I did it one night at a show and it received a lukewarm response. Later a veteran comedian came up to me and told me this piece of advice. It wasn’t that audiences didn’t want to hear my misfortune. The best jokes ever told on stage are about mishaps. I just wasn’t skilled enough to make it palatable for a bunch of strangers on a Sunday night. Audiences will more than likely ride with you on almost anything if the payoff is worth it. 60% of my last album was me talking about my heart attack and the struggles afterward. It can be done if you know how to approach it.

I think that is enough of me banging at this keyboard, I may do another one of these if this one gets the clicks. Hit me up on my website harryjriley.com or on all the social media stuff. I can be found under KingPeppersnake damn near everywhere.

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The Pros and Cons of Set Lists

I have always been of two minds about set lists. If you don’t know, a set list is what (in this case at least) a comedian brings on stage with a list of the jokes they want to tell. I used them early on, but decided to abandoned them so I could work a bit more organically. Lets look at the good and bad and have you decide what you should do before you step on stage.

Pros:

  • Keeps new jokes, that you haven’t memorized yet, at the ready
  • Ensure you keep certain jokes together that would ruin a flow if they were separated
  • For those that have trouble remember most of their jokes, this can kick start your memory

Cons:

  • Makes it harder to work organically within the show
  • Can become a crutch and keep people from memorizing their material
  • Can look unsightly when a comedian looks down and stares at the stool

The way I see it, if you are at an open mic, or working with a lot of newer jokes, then you may want to use a set list so you can keep the jokes you want to do at the ready. There is nothing weirder then a comedian that gets on stage at an open mic and can’t remember the jokes they wanted to tell.

I think it is important to have some etiquette when it comes to a set list. Don’t write your set on a big piece of paper and bring that up with you (talking about shows, take whatever up at an open mic). It looks like you are not prepared. Don’t write the entire joke on the paper. Just the title (if it has one) and a couple of words to jump start your memory. The set list shouldn’t be there for you to read and recite your jokes, it is there as a handy reminder.

Another thing worth trying is hiding your set. I have seen comedians put it on their beer or water bottle. That way when you take a drink you can look at it. When I am using a set list, I will right the title on a comment card or something and leave it on the stool. While I am prancing around on stage I can take a quick peek at it and see where I am supposed to be going next.

There is nothing wrong with a set list as long as you remember that it is supposed to help you remember material, not replace your memory all together. The audience doesn’t want to see a comedian spending most of their time reading a note card when they are supposed to be performing. Just think about what you would think of if you saw a comedian doing that.

How I Make Money in Comedy

I get asked a lot about how much money I make doing comedy. Mainly because I pursue comedy full time and I don’t have a full time job. Well, with this article, I will try to tell you how I make the money I do and about how much I make. Now, before we go on, I will state that all of my income does not come from just comedy. That would be a rough way to live for the level I am at. I am a disabled veteran so I get VA compensation. That is a check every month due to injuries I acquired while in the military. This gives me more leeway then other comedians at my level because I don’t have to fill in my income with normal work. Now lets get into it!

I am at the level in comedy where I can feature a weekend in a large, what comedians would call an A room club, or headline smaller clubs and bar shows. This means in any given month I can go from A room to corporate event, to a sleazy bar. It does put things in perspective when you are playing for a room of 200 people that are laughing their asses off and then go to a bar where they won’t turn the TV off because they can’t find the remote.

I am not in a position to ask the clubs to pay me what I am looking for. Clubs usually have a set rate for MCs, features, and headliners that are not so well known, so make sure you know what that is before you take a date. I usually try to make a little more money off of selling merchandise like t-shirts and copies of my comedy albums. This can be a big part of your income as a comedian at my level. I have had times where the merchandise I sold was two or even three times as much as the pay I was getting from the club! There are some industry “standard” pay when you are dealing with bars and the like. Usually I can get between $150-$300 for those kinds of performances. Corporate shows are a little different. I try to get a sense for who is asking me to perform. Is it a fortune 500 business or a local mom and pop? How long do they want me to perform? Will there be children? Basically the more I feel like it is going to suck the more I feel I should be paid.

Now, comedy isn’t like a normal job where you show up and then you are working. You either have to know people or know how to get in touch with people. About 80% of my work is from people I know. They will either hire me themselves or they will tell the person looking for entertainment about me. That is the biggest struggle at this level, trying to get noticed by the right people. If you have read this blog, then you know one thing I harp on a lot is getting to know people and networking. This opens so many doors for you that will eventually lead to more work. I get to work with John Caparulo because someone I knew thought I would be a great fit.

I send a lot of emails to a lot of clubs around the country and right now my percentage rate for responses is about 1%. Out of that 1%, about 75% of the responses is a no. This can wear on you, but you have to understand that these clubs have hundreds of comedians and only a certain amount of them can actually put asses in seats. I know I am not a household name, so I can understand that they will be hesitant to have me at their club. Besides, most of the time they are looking at me as a feature, and for a lot of clubs they see the feature as an expendable piece of the comedy show puzzle. They would rather cultivate their own local batch of features that will be cheaper to hire and more loyal, so I am also fighting with that.

So, you read this entire thing and am now wondering how much I actually make. Well, feature work is not what it used to be, what with the cost of living rising, but the pay for features (and headliners and MCs as well) has remained more or less the same. I have been doing comedy full time since about 2013. I have been a comedian for 14 years, but I spent a lot of that time in college and the military. I was actually able to start paying bills with comedy in about 2016 when I started getting more than a show a month. 2017 was my best year (also the year I got to feature for John) when I mad in the five figure range. 2018 was a down year mainly because I didn’t get to play in a lot of the bigger rooms with John Caparulo (going in with a comedian at his level meant I got paid more). I didn’t break the five figure barrier for another reason and that was because I had less corporate shows during the holidays. I make a lot of money during the fall when there are all kinds of parties going on. I may have priced myself out of the Spokane market by charging more, but that will be something I will write about in a future article.

2019 is looking up, but the summer is approaching and it is always pretty slow for me. I have more stuff on the calendar this year then I have had in awhile. It could be from the Comedy Competition, or it could be that I am gaining some traction in the industry. My income is not just purely comedy though. I get paid to take photographs and I appear in TV shows, commercials and movies. If not for the VA though, I would be working if I wanted to keep the life style that I have. It may seem bleak, but the way I see it I am living pretty well. No, I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank, but I get to do the things that I want and not stress to much. I hope this gave you a clue as to what a low level comedian like myself is making and I also hope it helped you decide not to leave your day job until you are making enough that you can afford to get a cavity fixed. Until next time!

HAPPY 300th blog post!!

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.

Why We Don’t See More Women Comedians

This can be a touchy subject depending on who you talk with. I will try my best to treat this topic with care. I know plenty of female comedians and from what I have observed these are the most common reasons why we don’t see more of them working. Remember, women are over half of the population in the U.S. The majority of households with females in them are making the purchasing decisions. So why is it hard to get females on shows?

This topic came to me last week as I was talking to a booker about any local female comedians. I had to tell him no. Then it got me thinking…I see new male comedians come and go all the time, so why not the same for women. This is what I came up with

The Stereotypes

Women have to deal with stereotypes that even minority male comedians don’t have to bother with. We have all heard one of the more common ones: “Women aren’t funny!” That is such a bullshit answer to why we don’t see women comedians. There are tons of funny women! I think the problem is guys get uncomfortable about subjects important to women and so instead of saying, “When women talk about getting stalked or their vaginas, I get weird feelings in my chest.” They will just say they aren’t funny to dismiss what they are talking about on stage.

The Drama

The entertainment industry is full of drama. You think your office is petty? Try comedy. If it is this petty when there are no women around it gets even more so when there are ladies sprinkled in. Why? Because women have to deal with it from the men and their fellow ladies. I have seen it personally when a female comedian starts getting work, everyone starts going back and forth about why that is. It can’t be because she is funny and worked hard! It has to be because she is sleeping with everyone! Why would any woman want to go through all of that just for drink tokens? Never mind the fact that you should be able to sleep with anyone you want, but to use sex as the only way a women can get ahead in comedy is just low.

The Dangers

If you think the Louis C.K. thing was an isolated incident then you got another thing coming. He was the most famous case, but for every comedy scene you have predators in it looking to take advantage of everyone, especially ladies.

Usually when you are starting out, you want to get out on the road and perform in a crappy bar for people that would rather watch the hockey game. For a guy, getting taken advantage of could mean the predator will just make up a lie about not getting paid or something and not pay for gas. There is a whole different ball of wax for a female. Instead of their ride as a target, their sex is. Every female comedian I have talked to has had something like this happen. Where a guy wanted to have them work with them, but it was just to try and have sex with them. It’s not just other comedians! Bookers, club owners, and promoters have tried similar things, and that’s before you get in front of a bunch of horny, drunk audience members that think it’s alright to touch a woman. I can see why any women wouldn’t want to bank her living on this. Why deal with the already hellish grind that is comedy AND have to dodge sexual predators as well.

Society

Society doesn’t make it easy for women either. Think about when you were in grade school. Who was usually the class clown? A dude. It seems as though society suppresses the sense of humor out of women more. “It is not like a lady to tell jokes about their bodily functions!” I’m assuming an old geezer would say. Why? Women have the same observations that men do, why wouldn’t some of them turn that into something funny? We also don’t allow women to “relax” in maturity. That means when women grow they are usually not allowed to be silly or immature. “Boys will be boys” came about to tell you right away that boys are allowed to talk about masturbating and bodily functions, whereas women shouldn’t because they are mentally old enough to know better.

Society also doesn’t like when different views are expressed. We can take it from a black, or Asian male because at least they are still men. Women on the other hand face opposition when their ideas run afoul of the norm. I don’t know how many shows I have seen where a white guy will rally his brothers about toilet paper going on the roll only one way, but when a lady tries to get her sisters united in their common hatred of Axe body spray there are crickets singing their song of contempt in the distance.

The thing is this is not just a man on women thing. The dirty little secret is that women will do this as well! When I was in the Seattle International Comedy Competition this past fall, no women made it to the semi finals. Everyone wanted to know why. Well, the truth is that there were women that were close to making it. It’s just that the women judges judged them lower than the men! Now, I didn’t get to see the numbers and be able to calculate them myself, but it holds true with some of my observations. Women are harder on other women then non douche bag men. I have yet to come up with an answer as to why this is the case, but I have seen it first hand and have heard about it.

I don’t want to close this article by being so negative. There are a lot of things out there that would push a women to stop doing comedy. In the past three years four of our best local women comedians just stopped. One of them just didn’t want to do it anymore. The other just saw it as wasted time she could be doing something more enjoyable, but one of them was really sad. She was a very funny comedian, but she kept getting harassed by men and women. She just got tired of being seen as the comedian that got work because she was cute. You may not think that is a big deal, but when you work on your craft you want to be known for your craft, not for how lovely you look.

I’m not saying we have to just cater to women. I’m saying there are a lot of barriers in this industry that make it difficult for a women to survive in it. What we should be doing as a collective is making it an environment where a woman that is funny can succeed as likely as anyone else. I do think the industry is moving in that direction. Bookers are constantly looking for women. So are festivals and comedy competitions. Headliners are also looking for women because it gives their show overall a nice bit of variety. The problem is it takes time to develop an act so it will take awhile to see this movement blossom.

We men also have to shape up. Take a female comedian under your wing without wanting to have sex with them. Encourage them like you would a male comedian. If we can make it an environment that funny women can excel in that just makes comedy better as a whole.

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.

The Grind Never Stops

There is no end when it comes to comedy.  The road narrows more and more.  You are either chasing the next great joke or chasing the next big payday.  Every conversation I have had with a comedian that I see in an enviable position is looking to get out of it.  They are always looking for that position that will bring them either more fame or more money.  It is hard to explain these things to those that just have to show up and work to get that steady paycheck.  Comedy is full of ups and downs, and every comedian is trying to achieve less downs and more ups.

No level of stand-up comic is immune to the grind.  If you are first starting out, you are looking for more stage time and jokes that work more often then not.  When you get a suitable amount of time, now you are looking for places that will pay you something, anything.  Once you get a couple bucks here and there for performing, you want to see if you can make it more of a full time endeavor.  You contact your comedians friends you’ve met along the way and try to set up enough shows to pay the rent.  You drive countless hours for little pay in hopes that these are the dues that are paid, and you will, by the end of this, be paid handsomely.  You perform in dimly lit bars and wine cellars and comedy clubs where the only requirement was that you had reliable transportation.  You sleep on floors and live out of a suitcase that is precisely 25 lbs.  You send hundreds of emails and receive two replies both saying they don’t have any use for you.  When you to start performing in more clubs, the only thing you want is to be the headliner so you can afford dental.  Then you start headlining and now you look to be a “special event”.  Maybe you want to be in movies, TV, have a successful podcast.  The grind never stops.

You wonder why that narrow road has so few people traveling it?  Because the grind can cause people to lose hope.  The grind of constantly swimming upstream can cause some of us to drown.  I don’t see it as a weakness, but a resolve that the heartache of the extracurricular of comedy outweighs the comedy itself.  Not everyone can take rejection email after rejected festival invite.  Just maintaining a career is a grind.  I don’t want to seem as though I am complaining, most of life is a grind, I just wanted to illustrate why even though you think you are going to be great when you achieve that goal, there is always another one just a little further down the road.