I have performed through two distinct eras of comedy. The older era where you worked the road until you were either “discovered” or had a heart attack in a Motel 6, and the new era where everyone that is trying to get eyeballs on them has to “brand” themselves. I’m also sorry to those reading this thinking we are going to scorch our skin. I am talking about the less smelly version.
When an agent or another comedian says brand, they are speaking about the actions you are doing to spread awareness about yourself. Not unlike Coke, or the makers of Oxycontin. The only difference is that you are not a multi billion dollar entity that can commit crimes without much punishment. Your brand is what’s supposed to drive people toward you and spend money on whatever it is you are doing. So if you have a good enough brand, you can go to different areas of the country and draw an audience. This is a very simple explanation, but it will do for now.
How Did This Come About?
There are different reasons, but they both have to do with technology. You see, at the turn of new millennium, a potential audience had many more choices for entertainment then ever. Gone were the days of going down to your local speakeasy and drinking bathtub gin with the hopes that it didn’t blind you. You could stay at home, watch a porn on the living room TV and drink bathtub gin in peace.
Companies had to adapt, and so too did live entertainment. Artist knew that with technology a fan didn’t have to see you live if they could do anything else. Then Dane Cook came on the scene (He may not have been the first, but for our sake he is important). He started collecting emails (and this was back when people enjoyed getting emails) and sending those emails notifications when he was coming to their town. This created a swell of participation and rise that many hadn’t seen before. After seeing what Dane could do, other comedians started using his blueprint to cultivate a fan base.
The Start of the Influencer
This wasn’t the only thing that got everyone going brand crazy. YouTube and internet influencers became a thing. These are people that may have a talent, or not, but they do have a knack for attracting people to them. People looked at this and brought it over to help with their comedy careers. Look at your favorite comedian’s social media and then go look at the social media account of an influencer. They share a lot of the same techniques. That is because it works!
Why Does it Work?
Simply put, it works because humans have a very strong bond to people they feel as though they know. We hold those bonds strongly and so if you can create a way to funnel as many of those people onto you and what you are doing, they will soak up whatever you’re spilling.
This is why people buy Dodge and nothing but Dodge. Brand loyalty is strong and this is why every comedian chases it. If you can get a sizable number of people to come partake in whatever it is you are doing, you can basically print money. This is why you see celebrities at comedy clubs that have done little to no comedy. They know that they have a name that piques the interest of folks and they can get enough people to come out and see what they are up to.
I think the biggest negative is that a person’s comedy is not as vital as the actual marketing of that person. There are so many comedians that start and they are focused on the promotion of themselves as a comedian that they forget to actually write jokes. In this day and age, a great marketer can open doors sooner than a great comedian. Now, this doesn’t mean that if you can promote yourself you will be the next Kevin Hart, but it will get you closer than the guy just trying to get a good half hour.
This may sound bitter…it probably is, but the industry has been taken hook, line and sinker by this and it will not slow down. All of the pressure is placed on the comedian to bring the audience and venues just sell the drinks and move on to the next person that can fill seats. It says nothing about the quality of the comedy to ensure repeat business. Think of it like a snake-oil salesman. They come to town, tell an audience that their bottle of liquid will cure what ails em and then they move on. The purchaser has no idea that they just bought toilet water. An audience that got pulled in because of the popularity of a person, but didn’t enjoy the show, may not ever come back, and now you are missing out of money down the road.
Do you Have to do This?
Nope. You will get left behind, and only the grace of sweet baby Jesus can help you, but you don’t have to do it. See, if you want to stay current in this business you have to at least know what trends are going on. Staying in place and doing what you have been doing for ages will only leave you an angry old has been.
The thing is, you don’t have to go hog wild with it. You don’t have to post 35 times a day and send emails to everyone about every little thing you do. If you want to collect an email list go ahead and grab them at the end of the show. I’ve seen comedians have people fill out a sheet of paper on their way out, and I have seen comedians direct people to their website to join their mailing list.
A social media presence is also a good thing. In this day and age you need to at least have a place for people to see what you are up to. A website is a nice little professional touch, much better than a rank and file Facebook page (But you can have one as well).
You can’t get much work if you don’t have at least a way for people to see you so there is a bare minimum you should do. As a matter of fact, I think building a brand is important for the reasons I discussed above. I just see the way the scales have tipped and I think it is a little lop-sided right now.