Why Getting What You Are Worth Matters

It is always weird to me when I hear comedians talking about getting paid and they are so comfortable with just taking whatever they can get.  It may be due to their awkwardness in asking someone for money, but I think it is due to something much bigger:  not knowing what they are worth.  You can sit down with a comedian and tell them how much everyone else is getting, but if they don’t know why it matters it will go in one ear and out the other.  I will try to explain as best as I can.

Now, your worth as a comedian changes from place to place.  In the Midwest, the money comedians are getting is different than in the Northwest.  It can also vary depending on if it’s a one night performance in a bar or if you are at a comedy club.  It can also change depending on demand.  If you have a market that is flooded with comedians, it may be harder to get as much as say, someone who lives in Spokane, WA.  So, the very first thing you need to do if you are a working comedian (or trying to be one) is that you need to ask other comedians what is the going rates in your area.  That way you are not undercutting yourself out of ignorance.  It is important to know that, for example, if you are tasked with hosting a show at a bar, it usually pays a certain amount.

Okay, now that we took care of that, let’s look at why it is important to get paid what you are worth.  If you ask any comedian that has been doing it for 20-30 years, they will tell you that the pay hasn’t really increased since they started.  With the price of inflation, that $100 that was seen as great in 1990 is almost $200 in today’s dollars!  That means that the market has not kept up with inflation.  Why?  Because so many comedians are insecure and love comedy so much that they will take the $100 and be happy.  A lot of comedians think it is weird in the first place to get money for something that they enjoy, and that gives the people handing out the money an advantage in that they use this against you. They know that the average comedian will take that $100 bucks and if that one doesn’t then the next one will.  Because there is no union and for a lot of comedians, work so infrequent, they think it is better to get something rather than nothing.

This is all well and good until you think about all the other aspects of comedy other than just performing.  You have to get there.  That cost.  You have to eat.  That cost.  If you take that $100, after you have paid for gas and food you maybe down to $60.  Now, that means much more work on your part.  This is why there aren’t that many touring feature acts. You can’t afford to travel and perform.  If you are traveling and performing in comedy clubs, that may soften the blow because you don’t have to jump in your car each night, but a lot of clubs don’t give features hotel rooms, so that means you will either have to have a friend in that city, or get a hotel room and that eats into more of your pay.

Getting what you are worth is important because if you want to do it full time, you will have to maximize your pay while minimizing the cost.  So, if it cost you $150 to go perform, you may want to make sure you are getting enough that you are not constantly doing expensive open mics.  It is also important because it adds value to not only your comedy, but comedy as a whole.  Some of the worst crowds I have ever perform in front of are crowds that got in for free.  They see no value in it so they don’t care what they get out of it.  If a booker knows he can pay you $25 to feature, he is not thinking of your comedy as a valuable product.

People make fun of me because I am always trying to get more for my performance.  The reason I do that is because I feel like even though I am not a big comedian or famous, my time and my comedy are worth something, at least more than what others are getting.  I know I am not going to raise the amount everyone gets paid because it is only me looking for more pay, but it does add value to my comedy.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to make it seem like while others get $100 I get 400, but I try to make sure I am getting what I am comfortable with so that after I am done paying for expenses, I have money for silly shit like bills and drones.  That is also the reason I have kinda moved away from mostly bar stuff to corporate stuff.  I can get paid what I am comfortable with and I don’t have to drive all over the place.  Getting what you are worth is not greedy.  It’s just smart.

Finding Your Niche In The Market

If you are just starting out on your comedy journey, then you may be trying to find ways to target the people that will enjoy your comedy.  This is why I am here.  I will try my best to help you.  I am using demographic and niche kind of interchangeably, please don’t get too butt hurt.

Here is the thing you have to learn first of all.  When you are just starting out.  You will usually have no clue the demographic that will enjoy your material.  This is completely normal. Don’t sweat this too much.  The more you write and the more you perform, the more you will get a grasp on who in the audience is enjoying your material.  Another thing to take into account is that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE falls into some sort of niche or category and sometimes you will be able to operate in multiple niches.  Even someone like Kevin Hart, arguably the hottest comedian on earth right now, falls into a niche.  His niche seems to be very large, but it is still a niche.

Some people have an idea of where their material is taken them.  There is a comedian I know that has a large chunk of “drug material”, when he is getting booked for shows, he is usually getting booked on shows where drug use is the theme or in places that are a little more “loose”.  This is not his only niche however, because he is a talented comedian, he can do other stuff.  This is important when you do not have a large fan base because it allows you the ability to work more often.  If he could only tell jokes about drug use, then he would be extremely limited, especially in an area of the country that is a little more conservative, and frowns upon that sort of stuff.

Some comedians don’t have no clue who will like their comedy so they bounce around until the hole in the market opens allowing them to fill it.  This is what happened to me about six years ago, when there were a lot of corporate comedy going on and they wanted comedians that could perform relatively clean.  It was something I didn’t want to do because I enjoy cursing and doing what I want on stage.  The thing that got me doing it was because of all the benefits of doing these sorts of shows.  You usually did one show and they feed you and paid for travel expenses and the pay was really good.  I figured since all I had to do was not curse that much, I could do it since there weren’t that many comedians in the area that could.  It helped me earn a good deal of money and because the market is still in need of that type of comedian in Eastern Washington I can get a lot of work.

I would not say this is the only niche I can fill though.  People want to put me on shows because I am black, or because I am a veteran.  Sometimes you have to use your life experiences to your advantage. I know of former teachers turned comedians that are now performing at corporate events for teachers.  Former drug addicts that go around and perform for others to put a lighter spin on a serious issue.  There are many niches in the market that can be filled if you know that it exist and that you can target it appropriately.

How do you find these niches in the market.  Well, if you are a comedian then go to Facebook and find a area page for comedians.  Every area has one.  Join it, and see what bookers and comedians are looking for.  If you fill that need then go after it and network seeing if it is a market that you can use further down the line.  Another way is going to a site like GigMaster or GigSalad and signing up (you can sign up for free, but they usually want your money), you can then observe the types of shows people are putting, and then you can hopefully go on to fill.  I do a lot of private shows during the fall and winter and it is because of sites like these that I know about them.

If there is one more piece of advice I can give you it is this:  Don’t pin yourself into one corner!  Just because you like video games, doesn’t mean that everyone on the planet will want to listen to that.  Write what you like, but keep yourself open until you gain a following and can afford to do what you want.

Making Those Summer Moves

Summer is approaching and that means the kids will be getting out of school, bathing suits come out of the closet, and you…will not be getting much work.  It happens.  There is this thought that no one wants to see a comedy show because the weather is so good.  I talked about how it is pretty much a myth here, but if you think it is a thing and have to keep the money coming in so you can feed your slurpee diet, then I will tell you things that I have seen that work pretty well.

If you don’t have any shows lined up during the summer months and you want them, then you may have to line them up yourself!  The summer is a great time to plan a tour.  The weather is good, so you can drive to the snowy parts of the country, and because people are usually looking for spectacles during the warmer months (movies, concerts, monster rising from the ocean to devour a famous landmark), you can go and make a nice little chunk of money.  Here is the thing though, you can’t aim for the big cities.  You have to look toward the smaller towns in the country.  Why?  Because everyone ignores them.  While all the bigger comedians are playing a show in a big theater in some fancy city with their fancy motor cars, you can be in a bar in a small town making a nice little bit of money because when the sun goes down, people still want to do stuff, so that means being there with your notebook full of cat jokes.

You can also try to diversify yourself, and target niche markets that you never thought of going after before.   I have a number of shows during the summer that would be considered corporate gigs.  I looked at retreats and ceremonies that may be happening and I put myself out there and I got a few bites from people that are looking to spice up that boring ass summer team building meeting you always see signs for in hotels when you are there to bang in the swimming pool.  They pay pretty well, and depending where you have to go for the gig, they may be willing to pay for travel expenses (YAY!!).  It’s not all bubble gum and hover boards though, you will have to be working in the PG or PG-13 area of content.  Remember, these are stuffy suits, not cool ass trend setters like you, so if you want this work you might have to lay off the taint talk for a bit.

Both of the above methods of keeping money in your pocket this summer involve a lot of prior planning.  I didn’t plan the stuff I got, it just worked out with the first couple then I started to move when I saw that it was a thing.  Another method, that may not require as much work is starting up a show in your area.  Try to make it a big deal.  The old club here in town would close during the summer, but once or twice a month would put on a show and a lot of people would turn up and money was flowing like Pepsi through the streets. You can do the same thing.  Do you have a comedy club nearby?  Ask them if you can promote a show on one of there off nights.  You may have to rent the room, but if you try to sell it as a great event, and an awesome way to get out of the sun for a bit, you may see a nice turnout.  It beats having a bar give you a set amount because you may make enough money that those one nighters seem silly (for now at least).

If your area is having an event, then you could piggyback off that and produce a show.  In Spokane, WA, there are a couple of events during the summer:  Bloomsday and Hoopfest. Both of these days brings in a lot of people and when they are done running and breaking things on their body, they will want to be entertained.  That is where you can slide in and help them.  The amount of promoting will change because if you do a little footwork (maybe flyers where the event is going to take place) then you can have a nice turnout which means cold hard cash in your pockets.

I hope this helps you out.  I had to suffer many summers before I got information and started seeing what other comedians were doing.  If you are not a name where you can just go anywhere this summer and keep the lights on, give it a try and let me know how you do.

Let’s Chat

I haven’t written an post in awhile that wasn’t about some topic I had been thinking about all week, so I decided to just chat it up.

Local comedy is picking up nicely.  Every year or so we will get in influx of comedians and it is always interesting to see which ones will stick it out and which ones will stop showing up.  Every group has a couple of bright spots and then a couple that really have no business on a stage.  Not because their stand-up is bad, but because their definition of what is funny is usually disturbing.  I am not one to tell anyone what jokes they should and should not do, but you have to read the room!  If you start a joke and you feel the room not going with you on it, it is not being a coward to just drop it right there.  Now, this is easy for me to say.  I have been doing this for more than a decade, but when you are on stage you don’t lose your ability to sense social situations.

Comedy as work has always been a weird thing even for someone like me that has been doing it for a while.  A couple nights ago, I performed and while driving back to the hotel room, I felt this sense of dread sweep all over me.  I started thinking if this is what I wanted to do forever.  Will I be happy if I never make it out of the bottom rung of paid performers.  Destined to spend the rest of my life performing for people that don’t care who is up there, just as long and they keep the dick jokes coming.  I have been doing this for so long, that if I stopped…what would I do with myself.  Almost every aspect of my life is built around comedy and it would be an empty existence if I stopped doing this.

 

Treating Comedy Like A Full Time Job

If you are looking at a career in stand-up comedy, you have to realize that there is more than just writing and getting on stage.  Those are the fun parts!  The tedious parts, the parts that separate the successful comedians from the ones that never get it together are not fun at all, and can be down right embarrassing at times.

Unless you lucked out and got picked up by a touring act after your second open mic, you will learn that being a full time comedian means talking to lots of people.  Bar owners, promoters, bookers, event organizers, you will be talking to all of them.  Most comedy is booked because you have a relationship somehow with the people putting on the show. You meet them at a festival or competition.  They saw you perform and wanted to add you to their roster.  80% of my work comes from people that know me and my work before hand.  20% is generated by me without any prior knowledge of the other party.  That can be private shows, or special events.  It can be a spot that I contacted about comedy and they thought it was a good idea.  No matter what, you will be answering emails and taking calls.  I usually prefer emails to calls because then you have all conversations in writing. Trust me, this can save your butt.  This is at least 3-4 hours a day of me returning emails, or sending emails and playing phone tag with folks.  This is a big part of comedy for the non agent, non sought after comedian.  You have to generate the work.  It doesn’t come to you.

Then there is the driving.  All the driving.  Unless you live in a congested area, you will probably have to travel to a lot of shows.  I am not a big time comedian getting big time money so there are not that many plane rides in my budget.  The longest I have driven in a day was 13 hours, and it was during a snow storm.  It has gotten to the point now that a two hour drive is a plenty little Sunday stroll.  This adds a lot of time to your “work week”.

And with all of the above, you still have to keep writing new jokes and staying relevant.  The last thing you want to do is start getting your career going, but the one thing that is feeding you slowly starts getting more and more dated.  I feel it is important to remember why you wanted to be a professional comedian.  You wanted to be one because you liked to tell jokes.  If you liked to drive or answer emails for a living, then you would have gotten you CDL or kept your day job.  It is important to keep these things in mind because it is a tough road from getting booked every other month to trying to pay your bills with the money you get from performing.  I am lucky in that I can barely get by on the money I make from comedy, but that comes from a lot of work, and I have much to do if I want to feel good about my comedy career.

Following Your Dreams Is Not Enough

You hear it all the time:  “Follow your dreams!”  “Do what you love!”.  It is such an empty statement.  Following your dreams isn’t enough, and if that is all you are doing then you will most likely never achieve them.

We will look at this saying from a comedy stand point of course, this is a blog about comedy (and photos sometimes).  I see it all the time where someone wants to be a comedian, but then there are a lot of stipulations to when they want to be a comedian.  They come out to an open mic once and now they plaster their social media accounts with the label: comedian.  That isn’t enough if you REALLY want to be a comedian.  What people learn quickly is that there are a lot of funny people at the bottom and a lot of not as funny people at the top.  Comedy is not an empirical discipline where the funniest get the great stuff and the not funny remain at the bottom.  That means that if you want to be a comedian, it takes more than just the thought of being a comedian, and it frustrates me when I see comedians that are “following” their dreams when instead they should be fighting for them.

Every successful comedian’s story is full of times they had to fight to keep doing what they love.  They didn’t sit at home because it was cold outside. They jumped on a greyhound to get to a show.  They sat around all night to get that three minutes at an open mic.  They kept getting on stage and proving to management that they were good enough for more than just last minute replacement comic.  They sat their asses down and wrote and wrote and wrote.  Then they got lucky enough to be seen by the right person, but that also meant sleeping on couches and in their car.   The thing is, when I say successful, I am not talking about just the ones you see on TV.  This is the story of all the guys you see come through your town to perform on a given weekend.  That is what it takes to do this.

It frustrates me when I am talking to local comedians and they will give me so many excuses to why they can’t come out.  They have class.  They have a job.  They have a child.  These are all things that I personally have had to deal with, and you have to make some sacrifices.  When I was in college, I would get my class work done and then I would get my ass to the local open mic.  It was harder to get work, so what I did was only take stuff where I could get back home the same day. I had a job after class as well.  It usually meant being tired some nights, but I kept doing it because it was something that I truly enjoyed.  When I started my kid was three, so that meant that if I could not find someone to take her I could not go, but I did sacrifice a lot of time with her to pursue comedy because I felt I could make a living at it and she would benefit. Before college, I spent a lot of time driving for hours for shit pay so I could one day be able to do the shows I want for the money I want. Not everyone has my exact situation.  I’m just giving an example of some of the things you have to do.  After all of this, no one knows who I am.  I am not a nationally touring headliner.  I don’t have TV credits.  This is what I had to do to get this far.  And this isn’t all of it.  There was homelessness and overdue bills and all that, but it is what I loved so I fought to keep doing it.  Look, if you just want to come out every once and a while and dabble in comedy, then go ahead and do that.  Nothing wrong with stand up as a hobby, but I am talking about those whose dream is to do this for a living.  If you are not fighting for those dreams, then you can not be shocked when they do not come true.

How To Stand Out In Your Comedy Scene

A lot of comedians think that the best way to stand out is to just be funny.  All you have to do is write material, work it out week after week, and someday…you will be able to host!  Here is the thing that a lot of comedians just can’t understand: That is not the way to stand out in your scene.  I will tell you what does and why?

You may be saying, “Well, Harry, handsome mofo you, why isn’t being funny the best way to stand out?  That is my job, right?” Your job is to be funny, but being funny is just a part of being a comedian.  You have to think about all the stuff that a comedian does before and after they get on a stage and be funny.  You have to get to the show, on time.  You have to perform your time, not going over or under.  If you are gonna be on stage, you should probably not be up there so high that you forget your material, or go after people in the audience.  When you are off stage, it is probably not a good idea to touch the wait staff (unless they consent of course).

If you want to stand out, you have to do what the others around you are not willing to do.  For example, in Spokane, we have a major comedy club and some independent shows.  If you show up to the open mics and show yourself not be a douchebag, it is not that hard to rise to the top of the scene and start working at the club, where you can be sharing the stage with some huge names.  Because in almost every scene I have witness, there are the same groups of people.  You have the entitled people that think that they should get work because they have stuck it out. You have the comedy fans that are more into the idea of comedy then actually creating and performing their own stuff.  Then you have just lazy comedians that will not show up to open mics, and when they do they are still performing the same jokes.  It is not that hard to rise above these guys.  While they are sitting around wondering why no one is booking them, you are making face time with all the other comedians that are trying their best to, just like you, stand out and be noticed by the people that are booking shows.

People always look at me and assume I get work because I make people laugh.  That is so far from the truth.  At first it was because I was available, and that I could go to places at a moments notice.  Later, bookers turned to me because I was dependable. I got to the venue on time and was nice to the staff.  When the manager of the room sees that, they will book you again.  Now, if you suck, you will get some work, but after awhile it will be harder, but the idea here is to get your foot in the door with a lot of these bookers and promoters by being dependable.  Bookers need people to fill time.  Yeah they want a great show, but if the funniest person on the planet only shows up 50% of the time, then there is no show.

Look comedy is still hard, if you have read any of this blog you know that, the thing is to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success, and that means getting out and being seen and not being a horrible garbage person.