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.


Take Charge of The Stage!

The stage is a comedian’s workplace, and territory.  When you are on stage, it should be clear that it is time for a show and you are going to give one to the crowd. Here are some ways you can better take charge on stage.

Look at them! Unless your act requires it, you should be up there looking at the audience.  When I first started, I could not stand to look at them judge me.  What I started doing instead was looking just above eye level.  That way the audience thinks you are looking at them, but you aren’t.  Just staring ahead at the first couple of rows isn’t enough.  You have to look at all of the audience!  Try to connect with everyone in the crowd.  It let’s them know you are not only going to tell them jokes, but connect with them while they laugh.

Look comfortable.  You have to look as though you are in front of a group of friends.  If you are nervous, don’t alert the crowd to that fact (unless it is a part of your act of course).  If your hands shake really bad when you are nervous, place one in your pocket or keep the mic in the mic stand in front of you.  Starting out, I would get so nervous I would get sick.  So, I started out telling a couple of smaller, warm up jokes that would get the crowd laughing and in turn, would calm my nerves.  If your knees get a little wobbly, try pacing a little on stage.  This will get you moving so the audience can’t see how nervous you are and that may help you calm down sooner.

Memorize your material. You don’t look like you are so sure of your stuff if you are constantly looking at the stool.  During an open mic or something, looking at notes is cool because that is what an open mic is for.  Looking at your notes at a paid show looks like you didn’t bother to prepare, and keeps you from physically moving away from your notes.  There are comedians that can bring notes on stage and not make it known that they do.  If you must take notes with you, then you may have to get inventive.  Trying taping it to the side of your water bottle or glass.  Then when you take a drink, you can sneak a peek.  You can also try writing it on the inside of your arm.  Don’t write on your palms because it is much more noticeable to the audience.

Ignore distractions! Part of being an effective comedian is knowing when you should and should not interact with things off stage.  Some things can not be helped.  If someone is getting thrown out of the bar, you have to address it so as to get the attention back on you.  A lot of comedians with not a lot of stage time will want to point out every thing that is happening in the room.  This can throw the show off course and make it seem as though you are easily distracted.  If a glass drops, the audience knows that.  Unless you have a really good joke, just let it be and keep on with your act. Sometimes the audience is the distraction.  Hecklers should be shut down, but you have to analyze the situation and see if it is needed.  Sometimes the best way to deal with a heckler is to ignore them.  If an audience member is responding to you material, sometimes not saying anything back is the best way to keep it from messing with your ongoing show.  If it can not be helped make sure let them know that you heard them.  If this does nothing then your standard heckler response may be needed.  I always advise comedians not to go to hard on a heckler at first because you don’t want the audience to think you are the asshole.  Most audience members want the person talking to shut up, so all you have to do is make it clear that it will not be tolerated.  This will show that you are in charge, and this is your show.  Do not let the inmates run the asylum!

I hope this helps those that have been having trouble getting that edge on stage.  I think these tips will help you get that crowd listening to your dick jokes.

How to Survive a Comedy Competition

Comedy competitions are weird beasts.  You are asking people to evaluate you as a comedian on criteria that is totally subjective.  What one person thinks is a funny joke, another person may see as a stinker.  Competitions can be stressful and pit you against people you thought you liked.  It can also bring out the best…or worst in people.  I will help you survive this upcoming competition season.

I think it is important to know, going into a competition, that losing doesn’t mean you are not funny, or a comedian, it just means through the process of elimination, you were not good enough to defeat people who were also being judged subjectively. Another thing that you MUST NOT do, is walk into a competition already counting the money.  This is putting the cart before the horse!  You still have the actually competition to go through, and you have already put yourself in such a corner.  Don’t think about the money or the prizes just yet.  Think about your performance.

A lot of people think there are prime spots in the line up that can increase your chances of winning.  I am here to tell you that is false.  Going first is not a death sentence and going up last doesn’t mean you are perceived to be the headliner.  It all depends on the comedian.  In competitions I have participated in, I have gone first many times and I have won, and lost.  It has nothing to do with your order and how the audience or judges perceive your order in the show.  It has more to do with how the audience and judges are feeling.  Did the show start on time?  Did the host do a decent set? Is it hot or cold in the building?  These have more to do with how a judge will perceive you then the order in which you are.  If anything, going first would be a great advantage.  You are the first comedian so you set the tone.  If you come out and light a fire under the audiences’ ass, then that can play with the rest of the comedians’ heads.   Going up last can have the opposite!  What if all the other comedians have done really well and now you go last?  There is no way to tell, so don’t worry yourself about the order.

Competitions are graded in different areas.  Some just leave it up to who’s friends can yell the loudest.  Some just pick random audience members and then others like to use a panel to do the judging.  I have personally competed in all of these types and I will tell you that the one that is the least scientific (for lack of a better word) is the audience response.  It is hard to judge who got more noise slung after their name was read.  I have seen people so butt hurt over this and I can see being competitive, but it isn’t worth it.  Just bring more friends next time.  Random audience members come next and they are better than just yelling, but not by much.  You don’t know if the person that was given the task of judging has ever been to a comedy show before.  This type of judging can be most influenced by biases.  The best type of judging in my opinion is the panel.  These people have usually been briefed on how to judge and because they are there to do that, they have a tendency to take it seriously.  When you just leave it to any old audience member, they may have gone out to smoke, or they have a tiny bladder meaning they miss parts of the show.  There are variants of all of these. Like some competitions have all the audience members judge.  This is better because the odds are better that a comedian hasn’t filled the ENTIRE room with just their friends or family.

Comedy competitions should be fun!  There is money or work at stake, but you should be walking into it thinking of what it can teach you about yourself as a comedian.  Do you go over time a lot? Well, competitions will cure that right up! Do you have jokes with way too many words in them?  That will disappear soon!  Do you spend the first 30 seconds asking the audience how they are doing? You will see how redundant that is at a competition.  Some comedians are not built for competitions.  Do you tell big epic stories?  It is tougher for you because you’re stuck on one thing for the entire allotted time. Do you have a dryer sense of humor?  That is tough because it may take awhile to get them accustomed to your way of joke slinging. If you are a nervous Nancy (sorry Nancy) and it takes awhile to shed that when you are up there, then competitions will only magnify this.  These are just my opinions from what I have witness.  There are exceptions to everything.

I can not end an article (or blog post if you must) about comedy competitions and not talk about some things.  If you are thinking that the best way to advance your career is to do competitions, then you will soon see that it is not.  They can be expensive and time consuming, and there is only a payout to a select few.  I performed in both the Seattle and San Francisco comedy competitions, placing 6th and 7th respectively.  All told, I spent about three grand and received about two grand in prize money.  I was able to afford it, not everyone can. Don’t go broke thinking that winning a comedy competition will put you in a spot to make more money.  That is all up to you as a person.  Some of the best comedians in the world apply to these competitions, and you have to be aware that you may end up on the losing end more times than not.  That’s even if you get accepted.  Competitions are looking for the best, but they are also looking to create a great show for people to see.  If you have been doing it four years, understand that it is harder to get in than someone that has been doing it ten and has done other competitions, and has a lot of credits to their name.

Have fun and be nice to all the competitors.  These guys are you competition today, but may be a booker tomorrow.

I Built An Ark Out Of Toothpicks

This week has been a somber one.  A friend committed suicide, and it just brought up all these emotions. Here is the thing though: I respect her decision.  I always find it odd that people call persons who commit suicide selfish.  How is it selfish?  I think it is the other way around.  I feel it is selfish to want someone to keep existing because it makes you feel better.  If you don’t want to deal with someone dying then listen to them when they talk.  What I mean by that is, by just listening to people while they talk you can gather a lot of information.  People don’t do that though.  They just wait for their time to talk again.  I’m not blaming anyone, I just accept that if a person is in so much pain that they think about not existing anymore then it must be a terrible pain.  Or, maybe it is because I have felt like that in the past and so it makes more sense to me then it does most people.

I finally got the podcast started!  It wasn’t that long, but it got out there.  I am still trying to work on the finer points of the podcast.  I want to make sure it is a great podcast, so that means probably adding a couple more segments.  I am still trying to stay away from a co-host.  It isn’t as dynamic when it is just one person talking, but what it means is I can do it without worrying about another person that may not want to do it as much as me.

The photography side of things have been ramping up, but I think a lot of the quotes I give, causes people to pause and reconsider if they really want to pay that much for pictures.  I think the same thing happened to music.  Because everyone can just get music, they value it less.  Whenever you want a picture, you just jump online and save one.  The thing is, someone had to take that picture.  The reason why you find someone that knows what they are doing is the same reason a lot of people find a plumber instead of doing it themselves.  You want someone that took the time to learn what they are doing.  Since starting this photography thing, I have come to realize that, and I feel bad for photographers because people think that their camera phones is good enough…until they try to blow it up or have it printed up.

Oh, and all pictures that appear on this podcast are license free.  Just go to Bing or Goggle and look for an image and there is a tab above the photos where you can select the license of the image.  I pick public domain, or free to share and use options.

Keeping Your Head Up When All Seems Lost

This thing we do is hard sometimes.  There are a lot of lonely nights, of self doubt, where you can only see the darkness.  Standing up and bearing your soul to the world is a painful thing to do, and to complicate matters you also have to put up with the rest of the world when you step off stage.  Relationships, relatives, jobs, all of the hardships others have to deal with.  What makes it even worse is that you are one of the few that notices it. That is what makes a comic a comic.  They have the ability to see the nuances of the world that other people just ignore.  That can tire you and make you look at the world negatively.

With that going on for years and years it will eventually get to the point where you see no other way out. Your non comedian friends just don’t understand what propels a person to drive 3 hours for 100 bucks. They don’t know how it feels to notice the world the way you do.  So, you hang out with like minded people. The problem is that those people also tend to be in the dumps as well because this is the albatross we carry to be able to do this.

How can you keep on going when it seems the world doesn’t understand you and you feel as though you are falling down a jagged cliff?  I have no idea.  I am in the same boat as you.  I can tell you what deadens the pain. I find the things I like to do and I do them a lot.  That is easy for me to say however, my favorite things don’t include ingesting drugs and/or alcohol, which could make matters worse.  I read, play video games, and go to the pawn shop, and hang out with my loved ones.  I try to stay around positive people. Those people tend to be comics, but more often then not they make me feel good to be around them.  I also try to keep as busy as possible. The way my mind works (and the mind of most depressed people) is that if it is left idle, to just rummage around through the blank spaces in my mind, then negativity will arise from that.  That is why I decided to start photography and videography and podcast and anything else to stay out of that place that brings me down.

It’s hard.  You don’t know if this thing you love will be loved by others to the point where you can earn a living from it.  The grind of being a comedian can get you down.  I just hope that while you are pursuing your dreams that you stay positive and make sure you are doing the things that make you happy, not the things that you think will make others around you happy.


This blog post is dedicated to Meredith Flanders.  She was a not only a great comedian, but also a great person.


Heartbreak Motel

I came in 7th in the 2015 San Francisco Comedy Competition.  I tried my best, I think.  I left the state of California with a check and a broken heart.  The last time I felt this way was when I didn’t get into the finals of the Spokane Comedy Competition all those years ago.  Personally, I thought I was good enough to be in the top five, but the judges thought otherwise.

When you get your ass handed to you like this, you start to wonder if your head is to big, or you think more highly of your abilities than you should.  The second to last night I put on a performance that I thought was worthy of placing.  I felt good about it and the crowd buzzed.  I can’t explain it, but you could feel the energy coming off the audience.  I didn’t place that night, and I was just a zombie driving back to the hotel room.  I couldn’t believe it.  I kept questioning the things in my head.  Did they not believe I had a heart attack?  Did they not like the description of child birth?  Do I look too stupid?  All these thoughts popped in my head, I was just heartbroken, like a love had just left me.

I wanted to make the finals so the comics in Spokane could be proud of me honestly.  A lot will tell me I did alright to my face, but when they are with others, they will let the truth be known.

I won a prize for my photography at the fair!  It wasn’t for placing it was like a consideration award.  My photos were posted for all to see.  That is what I really liked.  My eye basically shown to the rest of Spokane. It was a great feeling.

I got accepted into Idaho Laughfest down in Boise Idaho.  I am excited.  Why?  Because it is a festival and not a competition!  I can just go there and do my thing and not worry about scores and stuff.  I can also hang out with the comics without that layer of competitiveness seeping through.

I am for real for real gonna start the podcast….soon.

Not Always Roses And Slurpees

Comedy is one of the hardest parts of the entertainment industry to break out in.  For every Jerry Seinfeld they are 10,000 comics like me that have a lot of holes in there calendar and don’t know how to fill it.  I think a lot of people get into certain things looking at the end result before looking at the trail needed to walk to get to there.  No one just gets up on stage and their second or third time on stage they get a special and a TV show.  Unlike music or movies, comedians go through the gauntlet and a lot of people never really make it out.  From crappy bookers to long lonely drives it is not always being a superstar.

Starting out you will spend a lot of time in bars and comedy clubs trying to write a set 2-3 minutes at a time.  If you drink I guess this isn’t a problem, but if you don’t then you will have to deal with the one comic that is drunk, and he can’t get on stage unless he is wasted.  You will then notice a trend. Comics are broken people. I have never met a normal comic.  They all have perverse minds that see the world as a playground.  They are troubled and feel a need to be accepted and this is before you even get paid work.

I have been doing it for 10 years now and the majority of my shows still take place in a bar.  A lot of the time the people in the bar didn’t know something was going on even though there have been posters of your face plastered over every inch of the place for a month.  Some of the bars patrons don’t want to hear you.  They want to look at the TV so you have to come out HARD to get their attention.  If you lose em?  You may have to perform for two tables up front.  If you don’t get a drunk person yelling at you, then you will be forced a lot of the time to sit around while the bar staff figures out who is supposed to pay you.  I don’t know how many times I have had to sit there while the owner of the bar sees if I will just walk away without pay or something?  Does that work?  Are people just leaving their jobs without getting their paychecks?

Most of the time you will deal with bookers and not all bookers are true to their word.  You may get there to find out the pay has changed or that you have to wait two weeks to get paid…if at all.  Bookers are people as well. Usually people that want to make more money than you.  If you don’t want to be pissed off, don’t find out how much the booker makes compared to you each show.  I have met a lot of bookers and only a couple would I leave my prized sheep with.

There are lonely drives and lonely nights after not so great shows where you have to sit in hotel room that was last cleaned in the 90’s watching the history channel.  Well, unless you get drunk or high then you will probably forget to lock the door to the shady hotel room and get robbed of the 40 dollars you have left from the show.  You will be eating terrible food, unless you eat just fruits and vegetables. When I am out doing comedy, I eat like a raccoon in a suburb.  Just junk.

Now, you may be saying, “Well, why are you doing it then?”.  Why would you do this?  Why would you subject yourself to abuse and being told that everything you have worked so hard on sucks?  For the love of the craft.  No one goes into this (or should) thinking they will be the next big star.  You do it because you love to make people laugh.  So much so that you want to make it your profession.  This post is not to discourage you.  I get down on myself for weeks at a time.  I sulk about wondering what I am missing and why no booker will call me back.  Then something breaks and I am on the road for a month straight.  The thing is that you have to work.  I mean WORK.  You want to be a professional comic?  Well, are you willing to give up 2-3 hours a night 6-7 days a week to perfect your jokes and network?  Are you willing to drive to whoknowswhere and tell jokes in front of 8 pissed off locals for 30 bucks and all the off brand energy drink you can chug?  Are you willing to email bookers everyday for weeks on end to get some bookings?  You have to be honest with yourself.  If you are willing to do it 40% of the time then expect 40% in return.  You can’t expect this to drop in your lap.  Out of all the forms of entertainment, this take more fine tuning than any other and if you would rather sit at home and watch America’s got talent then you should not be upset when someone that works their ass off every night goes further than you.  This is the reality of the game you chose to play.