Sometimes, You Have to Bet on Yourself

I wish I could tell you that there was an easy way to comedy stardom ( or at least the ability to pay your rent with it). Just show up, blow up, and glow up. That isn’t the case though. Everyone’s career has a different path. No two people will achieve their comedy goals the same way. There is one thing I can tell you though…sometimes you have to believe in yourself enough to put your money behind it.

Don’t Depend On Others For Your Living

Depending on clubs to accept you, or waiting for someone with a bunch of bar shows to put you on is not a good way of making comedy work for you. I know this because that is what I have done. If no one was calling me for a weekend at their club or a couple of bar dates then I just didn’t do comedy for money that month. It left me feeling hopeless and that I had no chance to succeed at this. You should never wait for people to pay you. Pay yourself, but to do that you have to put money out there.

Ways To Make It Work

If you are someone that is mostly doing bar shows or one nighters, then you should be selling merchandise. I have a whole article on selling merchandise, but I will say it again. SELL SOMETHING! Bands do it. You can do it. T-shirts, stickers, coasters, hats, lighters, socks, just sell something! Now, you are not just dependent on the money you are getting from the show, and that can go towards paying bills.

You not getting booked enough? Then you do the booking. Call up your favorite bar and ask them to let you do something. You may get a “no”, but you may also get a “yes”. Don’t want to perform for the bar crowd? Find a venue that you can perform in. A lot of times a venue will charge you to rent it. Save up and buy the place for the night and push it.

I have friends that have set up months of work by just calling and seeing if they can perform in a venue. They work out the details so they can make some money and they are out performing, but they usually pay for the rental of the place or clean up after the show, and they usually do all their own advertising. They put money in, betting that they can make a return on their investment. They did that because the investment was in themselves.

Why A Lot Of Us Don’t Do This

There are many reasons to not do this. You could lose your shirt if you bet too big (don’t rent a thousand seat theater if you are just a no name like me). That’s the thing though, believing in yourself has to go with a little bit of foresight and reality. If you have been performing for a month and think you have enough time to headline your own show, you may come crashing down to reality.

If you are one of those that sit around, emailing clubs, and messaging your buddies that book one nighters to see if they have anything for you, this could work for you. It is all about taking that step. Take a couple hundred dollars and get some shirts or something made for selling after a show. Book a venue and advertise it and see if you can make some money. It seems daunting because it is. We all want to be able to have our talent equally judged, but that isn’t the case. Not every club booker or every hole in the wall promoter will see you the same. These people don’t care that you put in hours a day writing and you line up at the open mics and you do your two to three minutes and you rewrite and you drive hours and you sleep in crappy motels where you stay awake to listen if anyone smashes your car window. The only one that cares about that is you, and if you care then you should care enough to want to get to the places you think you should.

Why Do I Tell You This

I tell you this because the first twelves years of comedy I did this. I would send email after email to clubs and bookers just hoping that they would enjoy my video and headshot enough to see that I was serious and I was funny enough to pay. I would sit here in this chair wondering what was wrong with me and my act. Is my headshot blurry? Is my video submission not loud enough? Not sharp enough? Did I curse in it? I never took that effort I spent worrying and using it to look for places that I could book myself and making money when I wasn’t doing something for someone else. I didn’t look into the adjacent things I could be doing like submitting to commercials and TV shows. I just sulked.

Then one day I stopped. I got tired of the “We can’t use you” email replies and I took some money and invested in some merchandise and getting myself booked at more private events. Then my attitude started to change. I wasn’t so saddened when a club told me they were booked up because that meant that was a weekend to book a private event. When a bar show fell through I was not going to miss paying my phone bill because I sold enough shirts from the last show to pay it early. I’m not saying it is all sunshine booty rubs. Sometimes I don’t get that private event or I don’t sell any shirts, but that is just how it goes.

I can’t tell you what you should do, but what I can offer you is this. When it is all said and done, do you want to say that you wasted your time chasing after clubs and bookers that had no time for you or do you want to say you gave it your best shot and you bet on yourself. Only you can answer that.

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Social Media Is Not Your Friend

In my time as a comedian, I have changed my mind about many different things, most recently comedy festivals (mostly). Well, after much thought, I have changed my mind on something else. Using social media as the only way to expand your brand.

Social Media is crowded

In the olden days (2005) people got on social media to see if their ex from high school was still with that person they hated. You got a MySpace account and you tried to talk local women to come to your house.

That all changed when two comedians of note Kevin Hart and Dane Cook, gained a lot of fame (and money) by using social media to it’s fullest. They started gaining fans, by reaching out to people in the places they were performing. Once a couple rappers sold millions of ringtones through their social media push, everyone trying to sell something used it not as a place to booty call an ex, but to make a buck. Some relied on it too heavily.

Social Media tricks you

Once people started using social media as an internet hub, it became harder to use the tricks that got Hart and Cook into the millionaire’s club. It wasn’t just that people would ignore you bombarding their inbox with show adverts to shows they couldn’t attend, social media platforms started using tricks to make sure you spent money to have your “brand” seen by everyone that followed you.

Just because you have so many people following you, doesn’t mean they all see what you posted. This makes it hard for a low level comedian to use social media effectively. Yes, you could spend some money to have more people see your comedy flyers, but you are less likely to have your stuff seen by people your organically found.

What is the solution

Owning a website ensures that people see your stuff. All of it. Yes, having a social media presence is still important, but having a website makes sure that the people that like you will always be able to see what you are up too. Your website is the only sure fire way to get your message out there.

I used to be one of those people that depended on just a facebook page and I would push it, but people can follow it and still not know that you have a show near them. I made a website awhile ago and get just as much traction to that then I do my facebook page. People remember my name and they type that into their search engine of choice and my site pops up. There they can see when and where I am and get to see video of my face just to make sure I am too their liking.

Social media is still important

I don’t think social media will ever not be an option for artist because so many people are on some sort of social media platform. That is the appeal of it. It’s just that with the way these platforms manipulate what everyone sees really makes it hard for an up and coming comedian to use it to get more asses in seats. Sure you can spend money to get it in front of many people, but they only see what you advertise. That is why a website is crucial so they audiences get a better picture of you and are more likely to come watch you perform.

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!

Gift Ideas For The Comedian In Your Life (2017)

Yep, we are doing this once again!  Here is the list of things I think you should get that special comedian in your life.  There will be three groupings: Open micer, Feature act, and Headliner!  I hope this helps you.  You can help me by clicking on the embedded links.  Every purchase kicks a couple of nickles my way.  Thanks!

Open Micer

Saramonic Mini Smartmic

Just Starting out, it is a great idea to have a mic.  You can use the mic on your phone, but a dedicated microphone is an awesome option so you can get more of your voice and less of the pool game in the back of the room.  If you have a little more coin, Get this Rode Video Mic Me.

Lemome A5 Wide Ruled Hardcover Writing Notebook

Every comedian needs something to write with.  Get them one of these bad boys.  It is a nice looking notebook so when they walk into that biker’s bar they will look like someone.  If they always writing and you know they will go through a couple of these in no time, these will work great.

 

Pentel Libretto Roller Gel Pen

Yeah, these may work, but if you want them to feel important, then get them a fancy pen!  They will feel like Dickens or Poe while writing about their balls.

 

Feature Act    

The prices may be rising, so that also means this is for those that may be a little more serious about comedy.

 

Beastgrip Universal Lens Adapter & Rig System

 

Now that you have the time, it is time to start working on that set that will get you in the biggest clubs in the country, or at the very least, keep your granny from hassling you.  The beastgrip is designed for any phone, so you don’t have to worry about iphone, android, or (shudders) Windows phone.  They have lenses and connection to add mics, lights, and anything else to get the best video to send out there. If this is too much then this is a great alternative.

 

PRORECK PARTY 15 Portable 15-Inch 2000 Watt 2-Way Powered PA Speaker System

This is for the people out there that are putting on their own shows.  They may not be booked in a place that has their own sound system.  Instead of standing in the back by the darts, not getting heard, grab these bad boys and now they can take their comedy on the road, making that sweet, sweet tater tot money.  These are a little more expensive, but they are nicer to carry.

 

Mini Flash Strobe Lights

If they don’t have a sound system, they may not have proper lighting.  Now, you can go to Lowes and get a clamp light, but these will work great because you can slap them on a stand and you have a nice spot light.

 

Headliner

 

Lenovo Flex 4 Premium 2 in 1 Convertible 

Hey, a comedian is on the road all the time, and they need a companion that will help them unwind, or keep them writing deep into the night.  This has enough power to edit your videos and podcast, and it bends all sorts of ways so you can watch a movie while you lay on your friends sofa.  If you are an apple guy I suggest this bad boy.

 

Samsung Note 8 (64GB)

 

Everyone has a cell phone, but do they have a cell phone this sweet?  You can do a lot with this bad boy.  Joke ideas can be jotted down without turning the phone on.  Your set list can be written down last minute and saved on this gorgeous and huge screen.  It is pricey if not bought with a plan, but it will be your comedian’s favorite possession.  If you are an iphone guy this will do. If you are a Windows phone or Blackberry user this is for you.

 

PANASONIC LUMIX G7 4K Mirrorless Camera

This is personally my favorite thing to talk about.  A dedicated camera is great because you won’t have to rely on the digital zoom that a lot of cameras on phones have.  With interchangeable lens cameras, you can decide how you want the footage to look.  This Panasonic is one of the cheapest 4k cameras you can get.  It has a mic jack so you can get awesome sound as well as crispy video.  If you must have a camcorder, let me suggest this one.  It is another Panasonic, but it is a traditional camcorder for all of those that want to also film a sex tape when they are not on stage.

 

There are plenty of things that you can stuff in their stockings.  Get them a domain from Squarespace, that way they can set up a website to help fans get in touch with them.  If they are going from open mic to open mic then get them a lyft gift card!  That way they can travel all around the city attending mics and not have to worry about parking.  You could also give them a hug.  They will probably need it!  I would like to thank Phil, Missy, Mika and Folger for giving me some great ideas for this post.  Oh and Greg.  I didn’t forget Greg…ole Greg.

 

 

 

 

Invest in Your Comedy Career

I usually start off an article talking about my thoughts and then I end it with my experiences.  I am going to do the opposite this time.

When I first started performing comedy for pay, I was trying to cut as many corners as possible.  I had just gotten out of the military, so money was really low.  So, every chance I could, I went cheap. No business cards, head shots done by my girlfriend at the time, and I had no website.  I would go from show to show and I realized that people would come up to me and ask me if I had a business card. I would direct them to my Facebook page, and would hear nothing from them again.  As I got more work, and saw that this could be a career, I realized that I needed to do things to help me look professional and get more bookings so I didn’t have to have a second job!

I think this is common for a lot of comedians to assume that you don’t need to really put much into your career because you don’t really need much!  95% of us only need an amplified mic. So, we go in thinking there isn’t much to enhance our careers other than better jokes.  I really wish that was the case!  There are a lot of comedians out there that have a great act, but because they haven’t done anything to make themselves look more professional and ready to work, they don’t get the gigs that they deserve.  On the other hand, there are plenty of comedians that have invested in their careers and they are working every weekend!

As soon as you know you are going to start performing for pay, you need to get some head shots.  I don’t mean getting your friend to take photos of you with their iPhones.  No dig against camera phones, but if you want photos that will look great no matter what promoters and bookers are doing to them.  Find someone in your local area that take head shots professionally.  I must add this disclaimer that I have taken head shots of comedians, actors, and other artist.  I am not trying to tell you to hire me (it would be nice, my prices are really reasonable), what I am saying is when bookers open your email you don’t want them to ignore your promo package (I have an article on that, but I am too lazy to find it…I have written a lot of these things!) because your photo can’t be used on promotional material. Depending on where you live, you may be spending some coin, but it is one of the first things people see attached to your name!  You want people to see you as a professional comedian, it will pay for itself in a matter of time.

It may seem dated, but a business card is a great way for people to remember you.  I know it may seem cooler to tell people to go to your facebook page or website (more on that later), but just being able to hand them a card that has EVERYTHING on it is great!  That way when they are not within eyesight of you, they can look down at your card and see how you spell your last name.  Business cards are a great thing to hand to promoters as well. The great thing about this is that it doesn’t cost that much, so you can buy some and have them on your just in case.

A website!  A dedicated Facebook page is one thing, but if you have a website, it kind of elevates you in the minds of people looking you up to see if you are a good enough comedian to blow 15 bucks on.  There are many places to get a domain name, and hosting.  You can also have someone build it for your from scratch.  There is a lot more flexibility in having someone build it (as opposed to just templates that do it yourself sites may have), but it will cost more.  If you want someone that is looking you up to at least have a passing impression that you may be worth the price of admission a website is key.

Investing in your comedy also means finding ways to get more money out of the shows you do get.  Maybe join a site like Gigmasters or Gigsalad.  These sites are a like a database for entertainment. Say someone needs a comedian for a private event.  They go to one of those sites and find you. Gigmasters is free to join, but you will only be able to get seen from people up to ten miles away.  For $269 bucks, you will be able to be seen by anyone in the country looking for a comedian.  I have gotten a lot of work from this site and I haven’t even paid a nickel to them (except for the booking fee that they both charge if you take a gig from their site).  $269 is not that much if you can get booked a couple of times.

There are also other smaller things you can invest in to help you along your comedy career.  Acting classes can help you a bunch, especially if you want to get work as an actor as well as perform stand-up.  Getting a fuel efficient car can cut down on  fuel expenses. Getting a camcorder or voice recorder to help you sharpen your act.  I am sure I am forgetting some, but you understand what I am getting at.  If you want this to be your career, you have to do more than just convincing people that you want to take this seriously.  You have to actually do the little things that shows people you are.

Comedian Pet Peeves: The Third One

If you haven’t read the first one, or the second, you should check those out to see if I hit something that bothers you as a comedian.  Here are some more of not just my pet peeves, but a lot of comedians I have talked to over the years.

The Attention Whore:  We are talking about audience members with this first one.  This is the person that can’t stand that their friends are enjoying someone other than them.  They always thought they were the life of the party, but are too chicken shit to get on stage.  They will do any and everything to get inserted into the show even if it means making an ass of themselves.  They don’t care that they are embarrassing their friends because fuck their friends who suddenly paid money to hear this person tell jokes!

The No Notice Cancellation:  This sucks donkey balls.  This usually happens with bar shows where they either don’t give a damn about the entertainment, or the establishment caught the manager embezzling money and they are so busy with that they forgot to tell you they don’t have money to pay you.  It sucks more if you are trying to connect shows together so you don’t have to sleep in your car or call up that one night stand from three years ago, and beg to sleep in their garage.

Over Promisers: That may not be a word, but this is a thing.  Usually involves a promoter that has never promoted anything before.  They want you on their show because you are one of three comedians they know.  They say you will get a meal and a ton of money and a BJ, and 400 people said they were gonna show up.  You get there and there and only his family shows up, you get a lukewarm redbull as a meal and the BJ he promised was from is asthmatic aunt.  You have to blame yourself a little bit for this. You got suckered in by the promise of sexual favors and now you have to drive four hours back home.  At leas the redbull will keep you up.

The Promise Of Exposure: Can’t pay your rent or car payment with it, but people love to try to pay you with that.  I am not getting exposure from a bar in the remotes of South Dakota.  A talent scout isn’t coming to Medford Oregon. Some times it is a real possibility that something else will happen if you do the show, but mostly it won’t. People who ask you to work for exposure must have the largest assholes.  Only someone with that much shit in their lives can possibly think that exposure is this thing that artist eat up like Ramen noodles, which is what you will be eating a lot of if you keep doing all this work for exposure.

 

 

A Letter To The Heckler

Dear Heckler,

 

I kinda get it.  I kinda know why you do what you do, but I am here to tell you that all the reasons you have piled in your head are wrong.

You may think you are helping the comedian.  You are not.  Being a comedian usually involves writing and rewriting and performing and rewriting and crying and rewriting a joke until it is nice and shiny. That comedian that you paid between nothing and $20 to see has been working on that material for so long that they know it front to back.  The last thing they need is someone yelling in between the joke. Why?  Because it throws off their timing.  Timing is important to comedians because it helps then know when they should do things like continue with the material or wait for the thunderous applause to end (one can hope). You screaming things does not help the comedian.  You hurt them.

You are also not making the show better.  There is a reason you are not on the bill.  You are not a comedian.  You may think you are funny, but that is the alcohol and ego talking.  You don’t know what it takes to get up on stage and tell really personal things about your penis or vagina.  These comedians have given their lives to try to make a room full (hopefully) of people laugh.  You have not.  As a matter of fact, you are actually making the show worse.  To you left and right, are people that paid between nothing and $20 to see a comedian.  They did not come to hear you yell at a comedian from the shadows.  They want what the comedian has to offer, not you musings.

Like I said earlier I kinda get it.  You are usually called the funny person at the shop or office, but you don’t have the balls to get on stage and give it a try, so when you get a couple in you, you feel a need to give it a try now.  Maybe that isn’t you.  Maybe you are the cool guy in the group and now the group is laughing at the comedian instead of commenting on the crease in your slacks.  Maybe you are the lady that has never had people not stare at them and now they are staring at the comedian and that bothers you.  Maybe you are just a loud drunk.  No matter where you fall, you are not needed or wanted at a comedy show. These comedians have gone through enough.  Let them entertain you. That is why you paid between nothing and $20 bucks.  Thanks.

 

Not really sincerely,

Harry J. Riley IV

P.S.  We also don’t want to hear your racist jokes after the show.