How Social Media Changed Comedy Promotion

When I first got started in comedy, the most popular social media network by far was MySpace.  In my opinion, Myspace wasn’t built for promoting your services and events, but people made it work.  Some of the best examples of this are Dane Cook and Kevin Hart.  They became huge names in comedy using social media and now everyone thinks this can happen to them.  The problem with that however is what I will coin the “ground floor effect” That is when a new service  or platform comes out, the ones on the ground floor have an easier time making a name for themselves on the platform and when it gets flooded with people trying to duplicate what made the first few successful, it doesn’t work as well.  So when Cook and Hart got huge from promoting on MySpace everyone thought they could do it.  This has lead to a lot of promotion solely on social media and a lot of assumptions made because of a lot of our misunderstandings of how people operate.  I will go through some of those in this article.

Let’s talk about the good first.  Social media has made it so any comedian can get the word out about an event in seconds.  You can also target groups of people.  Want all of your followers in Indiana to know you are coming through?  Done!  Don’t want your ex to know you will be in town Thursday?  Done! You can potentially save money on flyers by not having to print them out.  You can have your flyer guy make it up and you can throw it up on your favorite social media site and all those people (minus your ex) can see the event.  It can be a better solution then taping flyers to poles and hoping people will see them.  There is also an extra layer of engagement when you can talk to people interested in your show.  You can also do more as far as promoting because you can add video and chats and all this stuff to drum up excitement about your event.

Ok.  Now that I have talked about what makes social media a good thing for comedians, I want to now discuss why it is bad…well, not bad, but has changed the way we promote and get the word out about shows.  I think because it is easier than ever to tell many people about our shows, we have a tendency to lay off on the duty of promoting.  Here is an example:  We put on a monthly show that involves at least 12 comedians.  Every month nothing happens in way of promotion until the last couple of days before the show (if that).  There are a couple of things at work here.  First, is the bystander effect.  That is when there are so many people involved in something that they all assume that someone else will do the work.  What usually happens instead is no one really gets the word out, and then everyone is saddened that no one is at their show.  The other thing is that because someone is going to be promoting the show, the other comedians just assume that is enough.  It usually isn’t.

Comedians also make weird assumptions about the people they are promoting to on social media.  They create an event and then count the number of people that said they were coming as a sold ticket.  NO!  You can’t do that.  Until that person has bought a ticket, or sat their ass in a chair, they should not be counted.  People will say they are coming and then anything can happen.  They don’t have a babysitter, they are broke, they have violent diarrhea, or they could just be lying to make you feel better.  I have talked to many comedians putting on their own shows and they will say the same thing when it is ten minutes to show time and only seven people in the audience: “70 people said they were coming to the show!” Well, you know about 70 liars.  If you post your flyer on a social media platform and it gets 100 likes or hearts or whatever the hell they are doing, that doesn’t mean those are anything other than likes or whatnot. Those are not people coming to the show!  Even if your post about your event reaches 10,000 people it doesn’t mean a single soul is coming to the show.  It means that maybe 10,000 people saw your thing about that thing.

Comedians also tend to assume that people are just waiting to go to comedy shows.  Maybe, but you have to assume that your comedy show is on the bottom of their list of entertainment choices.  This is not the 1980s or 1990s.  There are a myriad of other things people can do.  They can watch TV, listen to podcast, play video games, and if they are going out, there are many movies, concerts, and other events that you are now competing with, so it is silly to assume that they will choose you over all that if the first time they found out about your thing is the day before.  You have to give people a chance to choose your event over all the other things they can be doing instead.  That is why a flyer is important, but also why making sure as many people as possible know about it by putting it out there as much as possible (without being annoying of course).

I am not a promotion guru.  I experiment with how to get the word out about a show as much as anyone at my level.  You have to understand the market in which you are working.  If you are in Seattle, it may be a tough sell to put on a show at the same time the Seahawks are playing.  You may have a hard time selling a show that happens at 8pm on July 4th.  You have to do more than just make a flyer and put it up at the place of business and post it on your social media platform of choice.  People get flooded with ads constantly from all angles.  Legit companies, bands, movie studios, and also local services.  You have to be persistent in this day and age to get your event seen. It is tough, but if done correctly, you can maybe end up like Dane Cook or Kevin Hart…or at the least have enough money to get an Lyft home.

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The Offended Audience

I walked into our local comedy club, and mixed in with the promotions that they project before the show, was a disclaimer that the views that are expressed by the comedians do not reflect the opinions of the staff and owners of the club.  A local comedian walked up to me shortly after and said, “You see that!  These audiences are so damn sensitive now.”  That got me thinking:  Are people more sensitive or is there something else at play here.  Here is my hypothesis.

I will try as best as I can to explain that audiences are not more easily offended, or not more offended then they have always been.  I think there are a couple of factors at play here that make it easier to upset someone.  Let’s think about technology for now.  Social media has made it so you can join people who have shared your experiences all over the world. Now, we are able to hear the voices of those that usually have their voices silenced.  Now you can see police brutality and recounts of bullying and sexual assault.  Before technology these marginalized groups were looked as as complainers or people that added to their own suffering.  Now that you can find people who have had the same experiences as you, those voices become louder and can actually be heard and push things forward as far as trying to correct the ills of society.

So now you can see all of these groups of people getting victimized.  If that is the case then there are people that are doing the harm.  If women want to get paid as much as men, then there are men that are holding them down.  That leaves a group of people looking like the bad guys.  Now I don’t know if this was started by corporations or politicians, but someone figured they can use this to their benefit.  So then these non marginalized groups started coming out saying that they are getting victimized as well, but by the very people that were accusing them!  That is how you end up with men’s rights activist and sayings like white genocide.  If you are still following (I hope I did a good job of getting this across), then that means you have a lot of people that feel like they are being attacked, even if it is bullshit.  If you believe men are getting their identity taken by women, then when you spot a glimpse of someone attacking your side you will want to get upset.  It is easier for these groups to be “offended” then it is for them to explain away why things are the way they are.  If you claim to be offended by what someone said about police on stage, then you don’t have to explain why black’s are more likely to be shot (on average) then any other group of people getting arrested.

Another factor that plays into this is that because social media has given everyone a voice, everyone thinks their voice and opinions are as important or valid as everyone else’s.  This leads you down a rabbit hole where even things on the fringes before get held up the same as the valid.  Here is an example.  If you believe in a flat earth, you had only your friends to bother…until the internet let you scream it at every opportunity.  If you also see your ramblings about ice mountains on the edge of the earth right along side valid scientifically proven things you start to see yourself as not a lunatic, but someone who is being victimized.  So, when you go to a comedy show and listen to a comedian talk about how silly your beliefs are, then you get upset!

Comedy clubs usually serve a vast number of people with different beliefs and different experiences.  I think because of technology and social media, a lot of people want to be seen as victims even if they aren’t, so they can avoid or minimize the harm caused to others.  Humans are not that good at changing strongly held beliefs and we will defend them even if it make no sense to do so.  Instead of coming to terms with how we contribute to certain wrongs in the world, a lot of us would rather feign being one of the harmed so as to keep on believing what we do.  That is why their seems to be more people walking out of shows and complaining after shows. I think all of us know when we are just clinging on to something because we belief it is what makes us. I just think most of us are comfortable doing nothing about looking within.

Why Being A Great Show Producer Is Important

It may seem easy to just throw a couple of your funny friends on stage and rack in the millions, but it is much more difficult than that.  If you are going to put on shows there are some things you have to be aware of.

You would think that being a comedy show producer is all about gathering talent and making a flyer, but that isn’t the case.  At the very start, the producer has to make sure that the place they are performing is suitable for what they envision the show to be.  Are you looking for intimacy? Then doing it in a large theater is not going to work.  Are you planning on bringing a person that has a following?  Then you will be be served to not pick your uncle’s bar and try to charge people $25 bucks.  The venue is very important to how people perceive the product before they even get to actually witness the product.  It’s important that the producer see the venue.  That is hard to do if you are several states away, but if you are producing a local show, it is pretty simple to just walk into the place and see if it has functioning lights, or if the stage has dark spots (places left unlit on stage). Does the audience sit far away from the stage?  That is important to who you bring in.  Does the venue even have a stage, or are you just huddled in the corner of a dark ass bar?

When it comes to talent on the show I have always been of the mind set of leaving them wanting more.  There is no need to have 10 comedians on a stage if three or four will do. When you load a show with talent, it does several things to the audience.  It can wear them down because they are seeing comedian after comedian, and it makes it seem as though this is the only way this show could have been pulled off is with a bunch of comedians doing five to ten minutes of material.  You want to make the audience want to see your next show, not wish the current show is over.  Make sure you know the talent getting on stage.  Don’t give someone you have never seen before enough time to tie a noose around their neck.  Don’t pad the show with a bunch of open mic comedians thinking that it adds value to the show because it doesn’t (not ragging on open mic comedians, but they tend to be less experienced and thus should be dealt with carefully).

If you are going to do advertising, please ensure you proofread!  I know this blog has mistakes in it all the time, so I am not saying I don’t do it, but when you are making something that is supposed to attract people to your event, you have to make sure that the venue’s name is spelled right at the very least!  Do you have everyone’s name spelled right on the flyer?  Does it have the date and time?  These are things that separate the  professional from the unprofessional.

Let’s talk about the show itself.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine, but START THE SHOW ON TIME!  If you say 8pm and you don’t start until 8:30, you now have an uneasy audience that has probably been drinking for those thirty minutes and by the time the last comedian gets up, people have been waiting to leave.  Don’t do your audience like that!  They made it to the show.  The least you can do is give them the show in a timely matter.

I think the last thing to discuss is compensating the comedians.  There are a myriad of ways to go about paying comedians, but one thing is for sure: Pay the comedians!  Nothing will shorten your comedy producing career faster than not paying comedians.  That is why it is important to tell them up front what they are going to get.  Do they get a couple of drinks or a meal?  Let them know beforehand.  You are the producer it is your job to make sure the talent feels like their time was valued.  We had an incident here where there was bad communication between us, the show producers, and the talent.  They thought that a guest set pays, and they were upset that we did not pay them.  I offered to pay the person because they do not live nearby, so they may not have wanted to do it if they knew they would not get anything like gas covered.  I also let them know for future reference what a guest set meant.  These are things you have to do because nothing spreads faster than negative news.  You want to make sure you have a good reputation with comedians so sometimes you may have to take a bullet, but it is better than being the type of person that is screwing over the talent.

Mic Etiquette

For 95% of comedians, the mic is the only tool we have on the stage (unless you’re a stool humper, you have two).   The thing that makes our voices carry over the drunk masses should be treated with respect and dignity.  Here’s a bunch of rules I made up.

Stuff about the Stand:  The stand holds the mic, but some comedians use it like a stress ball.  Some comedians don’t like to remove the mic from the stand.  Some fiddle with it and slam it around.  That is fine, but if you notice when you have the mic in the stand, that the noise is travelling to the mic, then you should leave it alone.  It is distracting to hear ever tap on the stand while you are trying to tell  jokes.

Get familiar with the stand:  Is it a normal stand with a base and a straight pole, or is it one of those musician nightmare machines with eight joints and a bunch of knobs?  Well, get there early and give it a look so you don’t look like a fool playing with it.  All you have to do is walk to the stage and look at it.

Mic holding: I am not about to tell you how to hold a damn mic…ok I am.  Hold it somewhere near your mouth.  That is why you are holding a voice amplification device.  If you have it down by your waist, you will not be heard.  Now, sometimes the mic is “hot” (turned up too high) and the sound guy, or bar tender, isn’t around to fix it, so you may have to keep it away from your face, but that is the only case.  Also, if you are holding the ball of the mic, covering most of it, then you will probably sound mumbled. Rappers do it to look cool.  The eight people at this open mic already know you are cool.

The mic is your friend, don’t hurt it!: I don’t know why this is a thing, but people beat the hell out of mics.  They slam em against their legs, they pound on em.  They throw em, and swing em around.  Don’t do that! Microphones, good microphones, like almost every comedy club has, is not cheap.  If you have a bit where you beat a microphone up, then just go to Amazon, and buy a three dollar mic to abuse.  The mic should not be an expense for the club.  This is extra true for bars and other places that may only pull out their mic but every once in awhile.  If you mess that one up, they may not have another one, and you are left with a dead mic.  Look, I get that you saw you favorite comedian beat a microphone up, but they can probably pay to get it replaced.  You probably can’t afford to do a mic drop, so don’t do it.  Mainly because you are not the only one that has to use it later.

It may seem like a silly thing to write about, but people have been asked not to come back to a spot because of how they beat up the mic.  That is like being a janitor and destroying the floor polisher.  Show the people running the place that you have respect for their equipment.  You don’t want that to be the reason you are out of future work.

 

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.

 

 

Beware of Predatory Comedians

This world is filled with unscrupulous souls just waiting for unsuspecting people to get within their grasp so they can screw em.  Show business is no exception.  Lets discuss those uncaring bastards that call themselves comedians.

The thing about Predatory comedians is that they have a lot of potential victims because of just how weird comedy is.  Every couple of months or so, there are a couple of new comedians hungry for stage time and fame, and that is when these assholes strike.  It is just like any con game, they gain your trust and next thing you know you are traveling the state with a chainsmoker that isn’t paying you or buying gas just giving you “experience”.  Now, there is a lot to be said for experience.  That is the one thing you have to go out and get, but no matter what, there are less expensive ways to gain it. Lets go over some of the major traits of Predatory comedians.

Praise:  Have you been doing comedy all of three months and someone is already coming up to you telling you that you are the best thing since slice bread?  It could be it’s true!  It could also be that they are just softening you up so they can use and abuse you later.  This is usually the first step.  They get you alone so none of the other comedians in the scene (who have seen them run their bull on others) can hear them talk you up.  Be honest with yourself.  If they are piling on the compliments when before they didn’t even talk to you, it could be that they are gearing up for the next step in their plan.

Promises they can’t keep: People are always working on stuff that just falls through.  I do it all the time.  The problem with these guys is that they make it too unbelievable.  Have you been doing it a short time and now they say they can give you 500 bucks for one show somewhere way out into the future?  Then what they are actually doing is setting your mind up to allow them to freeload off of you for a bit because you think you are getting a windfall in a couple of months.  People do this all the time in more classic scams like the Nigerian Prince scam that we all know about by now.  The old saying, “Too good to be true.” holds here.

Asking for favors really soon after meeting them: So you talked to the scumbag on Monday and on Thursday they are asking you to drive them out of town for a show and they promise stage time?  That may be really cool…unless they are not splitting expenses with you.  If anyone wants to mentor you that is cool, but don’t let someone take advantage of you with the promise of stage time in a bar somewhere.  Besides going out on the road may do you more harm than good.  You don’t want your mind destroyed at a bar show in the middle of nowhere only to then have to drive back home and pay for gas.

My best advice is to have your head about you.   Understand that there is no “get famous quick” scheme in comedy.  Those comedians that you see on TV have been doing it for years before they got to that point so you have to accept that your road may wind like others.  Now, there is nothing wrong with going out on the road and gaining experience with cool comedians.  It’s just that a normal, none douchebag comedian won’t make you pay for the gas and food just so you can do five minutes somewhere you didn’t even know existed.  Women have to be extra careful because there are some pervs in the industry that will make it seem like all they want to do is nourish your comedy, when actually what they want to do is put their penis in you.  Again, if you want to that is your thing.  Just be careful, and have a fun.

No-No’s For The Brand New Comic

This was an idea given to me by Mika Lahman.  Check out her Facebook page to check out show dates.

I love brand new comics.  They have all that hopeful glee, like people starting their first day as a social worker. There are just things that annoy other comedians and can get them to turn on you.  This is not what any new comic wants because getting in with the right comics can get you stage time and other opportunities.  Now before I go any further, I am not saying be a follower.  I am saying you can tone it down and be a normal human. Ok, let’s talk about some of the biggest don’ts.

Running material in casual conversation:  Nothing will get other comics to stop talking to you faster than trying to run your brand new material by them while you are just talking to them.  We will hear your material when you do it on stage.  If you need critiquing, then ask someone after the fact, they will be much more willing to provide you with advice then.  Not while you are outside smoking.

Giving other new comics advice:  When talking to comics that have been doing this for years, this is one of the biggest annoyances. I can see why.  If you have just been doing it long enough for other comics to finally know your name, and now you are giving out sage advice like you are a cornerstone in the community, it comes across as arrogant.

Being an encyclopedia of comedy: If you want to piss off a comic just tell them that the joke they have been doing is someone else’s bit.  Are you sure it is the same, or is it the same topic? Maybe they have been doing it for five years and the comic you saw on Comedy Central has been doing it for three. These are things that will get you punched in the face.  No one wants to be called a thief.  If you think they are performing a joke similar to another comic, it may be best to approach them and ask questions.

The brand-new, career comic:  You are excited.  You just got on stage for the first time.  You want everyone to know that you are now doing comedy.  You go on Facebook, and change your job description.  You are no longer “Electronics specialist” at Fred Meyers, you are now a comedian!  Don’t do that.  You may go up the next five times and bomb and realize you may not be enjoying it as much as you did the first time.  I understand.  You want to do this forever, but give it time.  See if you enjoy it first.  This is the same as going on a date with someone and changing your Facebook status to: “In a relationship”.

The brand new show booker: More open mics get started by brand new comedians that want to start something they can call their own.  The problem is, most of the time, they have no context.  Comics just starting out look at the holes in a comedy scene and just assume that the holes are there because the other comics are lazy or they didn’t realize the opportunity.  They don’t know that the reason their isn’t comedy there is because that place didn’t want to pay for comedy, or that five comics where stabbed their three years ago.  I have seen this time and time again.  Some comic, that has been doing it for all of three months, wants to start an open mic where they can be the leader.  They do it in a place that isn’t really compatible with good comedy and they assume that it didn’t work  because other comics in the scene didn’t want it to work.  Instead of looking at it as maybe it didn’t work because it didn’t work the first four times it was tried.

Already ready for work:  If you want to piss a professional comic off, have a brand new comic walk up to them and start asking about how much they should start charging.  Don’t look at other comics as a guide to when you should be getting paid work.  Everyone is different.  Some comics get work after three months, and others have been doing it for three years and still haven’t gotten a red cent.  You need material, good material.  Work hard, write hard, and seize your opportunities.  Don’t look at comedy as get money quick scheme.  You could be going too soon and hurt any chance of making more money in the future.

Comedy is not like other professions.  You are not the rookie QB that will be winning games after your first start.  Calm down!  Get in the scene and observe what works and what doesn’t.  Find what works for you and go for it.  I hope the best for you.  Remember me when you are booking theaters all across the country.