Why The Feature Act is So Underrated

When an audience goes to a more tradition comedy show, they will usually see an MC or host, the feature act or middle, and the headliner. Out of all those spots, I believe the feature act is the most underrated part of the show. Now, let me explain why.

The “Middle Child” Effect

I am coining this term today! The middle child effect works like this. When the MC gets up, everyone is trained to expect that they are just introducing stuff. They are gonna talk about the drink specials and the comment cards and tell you who is on the show. They are not expecting much from the guy that just told them to turn their phones off.

A comedy club rarely puts a more seasoned person in this spot because of how the pay for host usually work. So, they get someone that hasn’t been doing it long, but shows promise to fill that spot. People can usually tell that this is a comedian’s first couple times on stage in front of that many people so their expectations drop a little bit knowing that the comedian may stumble a little bit and be a tad awkward.

The crowd expects a lot from the headliner. I mean, his face is on the poster, but because he is last there is the expectation that he knows what he is doing. He is usually a seasoned person that travels the world performing and so, for the most part, an audience is expecting to laugh.

The feature on the other hand has the tough job of going up after someone that may not even be a comedian. I have gone up as a feature after the cook has come up to the stage, grabbed the mic and cursed the guy who was supposed to be introducing me, and then mess my name up. When I used to do more shows in Montana, audiences were trained to not show up until thirty minutes after the show started because they figured the feature was bad. The “middle one” is never expected to do much, but people put a lot of pressure on them because they are the official start of the comedy show.

The Pay Makes it Hard to Stay a Feature

Most clubs pay feature acts enough to break even on a gig. You are not going to keep the comedians that are great features because no one can make a living as one. Everyone wants to be a headliner, but the problem is a lot of people have a great fifteen or twenty and the quality suffers after that, but instead of staying a feature act they have to write that next twenty minutes so they can actually make money when they go out.

Because clubs don’t pay enough for a feature to travel to them, that means they have to find features from the area. That is a good thing when you have a club in a larger city because you are sure to have features who can perform and you don’t have to worry about the cost of putting them up somewhere. The issues arise when you are in a medium to small area and the talent pool isn’t as large. Now you either have to have the “good” features perform a lot, or you have to promote comedians to feature when they should be hosting longer.

So because of the pay to feature and the audience’s expectations of the “second guy”, it is really hard to be a feature act. I seriously think most comedy clubs do not hold feature acts in much regard. Think of it from the business aspect though: They are not putting any asses in seats. They don’t serve a more central purpose like the host, and they don’t have the clout of a headliner who has TV credits and name recognition, so the feature is where a lot of leeway is afforded if you are booking shows.

This is how I see it though: (Remember, I am a feature is 90% of the clubs in the country so you can take this however you see it.) A show is only as good as the assembled pieces. If one of those pieces has been skimped on, it does the paying customer a disservice. Features are important because they lay the groundwork to make the headliner’s job that much easier. A feature that can hold their own is so valuable that a lot of bigger headliners just bring their own.

How do you fix this? The answer is simple. Venues need to make it so a feature can actually make money when they perform. That will keep a lot of good talent from leaking out to other places just because they want to get paid enough that they aren’t losing money when they perform. Maybe try putting them up in a hotel or condo (Clubs do this a lot, but some don’t). That keeps the cost of doing business way down (for the feature not the club). It will cost more money, but how much? Will it be offset by the fact that audiences will talk about how the entire show was awesome and not just “the last one”? This is a question only a person writing the checks can answer. All I can do is offer this suggestion as a way of making shows more entertaining.

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What You Learn Producing Your Own Shows

I am a pretty low key guy, so I like to leave the producing of shows to other people, but when I do, I have learned some things about it.

Venues Have Ridiculous Expectations: 

When a local comedian ask me what I would tell a venue that I want to do a show with I tell them do not make insane promises. Why would you do that when they already have insane ideas on what to expect. A lot of places want to see a certain return on their investment. That makes sense. The problem is comedy doesn’t sell like alcohol and pool tables. You have to do a little leg work. That means putting up flyers and posting to your social media pages (if they have one) to let people that frequent your establishment know that something different is going on. I have walked into places an hour before the show starts and they are pissed that no one is there. You look on their Facebook page and look around and not a sign around to suggest that anything was going to happen that night.

You Have to Babysit Comedians

One of the things I hate the most about putting on a show is having to hold the hands of grown ass adults. There are just a good amount of comedians out there that you just have to keep an eye on more than others. Now, I am not talking about the creepy stuff, I am talking about normal comedian stuff like sending you their promo kit, or promoting the show, or showing up to the show. I have had multiple comedians during my time just not show up. When I asked one dude he said, “I didn’t know I was on the show.” The show that for three months we promoted with a flyer with his big ass head on it.

It’s a Constant Fight

If you are producing a regular show, you know that it is a constant fight. You have to convince people that the thing you are putting on is better than the alternative activities they would do on that night. You have to keep interesting acts coming in, which can be hard when you have an out of the way show, and comedians can’t work other things to make it more profitable. You are constantly promoting shows which can have a numbing effect on your audience. It is a constant struggle to get asses in seats so you can stay running one more show, and all it take is one silly ass thing to fall through and you can have a ruined show or worse, a messed up reputation.

Producing your own shows isn’t for everyone. That is why that isn’t the angle I have taken in my comedy career. You have to be willing to walk into rooms with business people and explain to them why they should waste their resources on you and your show. You have to be willing to promote over and over because just telling people one time that a spot has comedy isn’t enough. There are people that do it successfully though and to those I salute you.

Why We Don’t See More Women Comedians

This can be a touchy subject depending on who you talk with. I will try my best to treat this topic with care. I know plenty of female comedians and from what I have observed these are the most common reasons why we don’t see more of them working. Remember, women are over half of the population in the U.S. The majority of households with females in them are making the purchasing decisions. So why is it hard to get females on shows?

This topic came to me last week as I was talking to a booker about any local female comedians. I had to tell him no. Then it got me thinking…I see new male comedians come and go all the time, so why not the same for women. This is what I came up with

The Stereotypes

Women have to deal with stereotypes that even minority male comedians don’t have to bother with. We have all heard one of the more common ones: “Women aren’t funny!” That is such a bullshit answer to why we don’t see women comedians. There are tons of funny women! I think the problem is guys get uncomfortable about subjects important to women and so instead of saying, “When women talk about getting stalked or their vaginas, I get weird feelings in my chest.” They will just say they aren’t funny to dismiss what they are talking about on stage.

The Drama

The entertainment industry is full of drama. You think your office is petty? Try comedy. If it is this petty when there are no women around it gets even more so when there are ladies sprinkled in. Why? Because women have to deal with it from the men and their fellow ladies. I have seen it personally when a female comedian starts getting work, everyone starts going back and forth about why that is. It can’t be because she is funny and worked hard! It has to be because she is sleeping with everyone! Why would any woman want to go through all of that just for drink tokens? Never mind the fact that you should be able to sleep with anyone you want, but to use sex as the only way a women can get ahead in comedy is just low.

The Dangers

If you think the Louis C.K. thing was an isolated incident then you got another thing coming. He was the most famous case, but for every comedy scene you have predators in it looking to take advantage of everyone, especially ladies.

Usually when you are starting out, you want to get out on the road and perform in a crappy bar for people that would rather watch the hockey game. For a guy, getting taken advantage of could mean the predator will just make up a lie about not getting paid or something and not pay for gas. There is a whole different ball of wax for a female. Instead of their ride as a target, their sex is. Every female comedian I have talked to has had something like this happen. Where a guy wanted to have them work with them, but it was just to try and have sex with them. It’s not just other comedians! Bookers, club owners, and promoters have tried similar things, and that’s before you get in front of a bunch of horny, drunk audience members that think it’s alright to touch a woman. I can see why any women wouldn’t want to bank her living on this. Why deal with the already hellish grind that is comedy AND have to dodge sexual predators as well.

Society

Society doesn’t make it easy for women either. Think about when you were in grade school. Who was usually the class clown? A dude. It seems as though society suppresses the sense of humor out of women more. “It is not like a lady to tell jokes about their bodily functions!” I’m assuming an old geezer would say. Why? Women have the same observations that men do, why wouldn’t some of them turn that into something funny? We also don’t allow women to “relax” in maturity. That means when women grow they are usually not allowed to be silly or immature. “Boys will be boys” came about to tell you right away that boys are allowed to talk about masturbating and bodily functions, whereas women shouldn’t because they are mentally old enough to know better.

Society also doesn’t like when different views are expressed. We can take it from a black, or Asian male because at least they are still men. Women on the other hand face opposition when their ideas run afoul of the norm. I don’t know how many shows I have seen where a white guy will rally his brothers about toilet paper going on the roll only one way, but when a lady tries to get her sisters united in their common hatred of Axe body spray there are crickets singing their song of contempt in the distance.

The thing is this is not just a man on women thing. The dirty little secret is that women will do this as well! When I was in the Seattle International Comedy Competition this past fall, no women made it to the semi finals. Everyone wanted to know why. Well, the truth is that there were women that were close to making it. It’s just that the women judges judged them lower than the men! Now, I didn’t get to see the numbers and be able to calculate them myself, but it holds true with some of my observations. Women are harder on other women then non douche bag men. I have yet to come up with an answer as to why this is the case, but I have seen it first hand and have heard about it.

I don’t want to close this article by being so negative. There are a lot of things out there that would push a women to stop doing comedy. In the past three years four of our best local women comedians just stopped. One of them just didn’t want to do it anymore. The other just saw it as wasted time she could be doing something more enjoyable, but one of them was really sad. She was a very funny comedian, but she kept getting harassed by men and women. She just got tired of being seen as the comedian that got work because she was cute. You may not think that is a big deal, but when you work on your craft you want to be known for your craft, not for how lovely you look.

I’m not saying we have to just cater to women. I’m saying there are a lot of barriers in this industry that make it difficult for a women to survive in it. What we should be doing as a collective is making it an environment where a woman that is funny can succeed as likely as anyone else. I do think the industry is moving in that direction. Bookers are constantly looking for women. So are festivals and comedy competitions. Headliners are also looking for women because it gives their show overall a nice bit of variety. The problem is it takes time to develop an act so it will take awhile to see this movement blossom.

We men also have to shape up. Take a female comedian under your wing without wanting to have sex with them. Encourage them like you would a male comedian. If we can make it an environment that funny women can excel in that just makes comedy better as a whole.

Gift Ideas for the Comedian in Your Life (2018 edition)

We have done this three times now, so why not do it again!  These are just some of the top gifts a comedian would love to get.  I have these broken down by level of comedian, but that doesn’t mean if someone is just starting out they wouldn’t like a new phone.  It’s based on price mainly.  So let’s get into this!

Open Micer:

Comedians love pens, man!  Get them these and they will thank you all year round.  They need pens to sign up for open mics and most importantly, for writing the material that will one day get them out of the basement of a hotel and onto the stage of a fancy comedy club.

Hook em up with some notebooks.  Comedians go through tons of these damn things.  So you might as well get them some nice ones so they can look back at all the dick jokes they wrote.

If the comedian in your life is serious about their performance, then they should be recording it to see if the laughs are coming when they want them and to pick up on any bad habits they have on stage.  This is a cheap option if you are not going to use an app on your phone.

Get em a lyft gift card.  I don’t have a link, so you will just have to type it into your pocket computer.  Driving to all these spots will waste a lot of gas.  Hook em up with an adult (that is usually not drunk) that will drive them around.

 

Feature:

Update the sound coming out of your phone, so you can hear yourself even better than a voice recorder that will get all the noise in the room (really bad if you are doing a show in a bar).  Grab this mic from Rode that will enhance your sound as well as video if you want to record video with your smartphone.

I am always looking for ways to record myself performing.  I can see my mannerisms and check on act outs and adjust them if I am going to crazy.   You can also use a good recording to send to bookers if you are in a pinch (I would use a camera and not my smartphone).  That is why getting a tripod for you smartphone is great! This one is a good option.  It comes with a remote so you can start the recording as soon as your name is called.

Get your love one the gift of spotify!  I rock Apple Music, but I know not everyone is into Apple Music as much as they are into Spotify.  This will help them calm down before a set, or help them not loose their mind while driving to a gig, or set the mood while they are getting some action after a show.  I don’t know what they are into, but the gift of music is normally a great one.

Headliner:

Wanna blow a comedian’s mind? Get them this!  This is one of the best laptops you can get and the only way they wouldn’t like this is if they like Macs (like me). This laptop will have enough power to help them make up posters, record and edit podcast and play all those sexual documentaries comedians love.

If you know me in real life (and not just from my crappy writing) then you know I love my iPad.  Well, I personally now have an iPad Pro and it is one of the best tablets available.  You can get a surface, but I feel the speed and portability of the iPad can not be beat.  I edit photos and videos on this bad boy.  I write my jokes into it, and I watch netflix on it when I am in a hotel room far from home.  My electronic companion.

Comedians need a good phone so they can take all those calls from people wanting them on their shows.  Now you can grab an iPhone, but they are pricey (especially the new XS ones).  How about the baddest Samsung has to offer.  The S9 has great big screen and a nice camera so you can get selfies with all those stars they are hanging out with.

 

If you want a dedicated camera to record sets for submission or even just to look at get this bad boy! This is a great camera, and I have seen the video from this camera with my own eyes and several comedians have this.

 

There you have it.  Some gift ideas for that comedian in your life.  Give the gift of consumer electronics to fill that hole in their life.  I am sure that any of these gift would be great to give to almost anyone, but comedians will find extra use from them.

Big Idea Comedy Vs. Small Idea Comedy

For lack of better terms, I tend to look at comedy in two very broad terms, that can be elaborated on later.  Big ideas and small ideas.

Big idea comedy, at least in the way that I think of it, are premises that try to tackle the big issues in our society.  Poverty, inequality, women’s issues, race, are what I would call Big ideas.  These are things that people have an idea about, but may not have thought of them in a comedic way.  I think a lot of comedians start out writing material with these ideas in mind. Why?  Because it can be easier to grasp for both the comedian and the audience.  We have been confronted with most of these ideas, so there is not much set up required.  As soon as you start going into the bit, everyone more or less has an understanding of the topic at hand.  This does not mean it is easy. On the contrary, big idea comedy writing is usually the hardest to write effectively.  There is a reason they are ideas that still linger in our society, and there are many different ways to fail an idea you are trying to get out to the audience.  I have sat at hundreds of open mics where the person wants to say something witty about these issues, but instead comes off as offensive or tone deaf.  If that is the idea then, to make it seem as though you have no idea what is going on, then exaggeration is your friend.

Newer comedians tend to want to go  after these topics for another reason, they have seen their favorite comedians knock these topics out of the park.  The problem is that we tend to not see the work that is involved with crafting a joke so it seems easy when in actuality it is quite difficult.  So, how would I advise a new comedian to go after these big ideas?  I wouldn’t.  I would tell them to go after things that others can’t duplicate (this is where small idea comedy comes in).  If they really want to though, I would tell them that saying the same thing that every comedian in the world is already saying is not a good way to differentiate yourself from the masses.  That is why blue collar comedy is what it is.  It says something completely different from what hundreds of other comedians are saying.

Small idea comedy may sound like the opposite, and you would be partly right.  Small ideas, as I am writing them, are things that are happening to you directly.  It is not as big as race relations, but it can be, just as long as it is happening to you.  This seems to be how a lot of comedians progress as they get more comfortable with the way they write. They start off talking about really heavy ideas, and then they look within their own lives to find humor.  To a lot of newer comedians, this seems daunting.  You may be young and thing the things that are happening to you directly would not be funny, but have you sat down and thought about it?  Have you taken time to assess situations in your life that could be funny?  When you start thinking about comedy differently, you start to realize that you can find a lot of good material in smaller ideas.  How does going out in public make you feel?  Do you hate your in-laws?  These are things that do not affect the lives of many, but can still be funny.

How can you get to these small ideas and write effective material about them?  First, think about the things that bother you.  The things that make you laugh.  These are things that a lot of other people may find weird enough to laugh at.  Some of the greatest comedians ever made their names from looking within and being able to articulate it in ways that made others laugh.  What is great about this material is because it is more personal, it is harder for others to duplicate.  This is the material that audiences will remember you for.  Do you have funny stories?  That is small idea comedy!

I hope I was able to get these idea across in an effective manner.  If not please let me know in the comments.  While you are at it, go here to pick up the new book from my friend Andrew Oullette.  Thanks!

You Are Not Owed Anything

This may seem harsh, but I will keep it short so it stings a little less:  You are not owed anything in comedy.  There.  If that surprised you, or got your heart rate up, that means you are the perfect person for this blog post.

I think what happens is we take what we know from other industries, and assume it should work that way in comedy.  Longevity does not equal experience.  Experience does not equal ability.  Ability does not equal employ-ability… None of these things mean you are a shoe in for certain things.  This isn’t like working down at the docks, where if you were there for five years you get promoted.  You don’t get promoted in comedy just because you have been going to open mics steadily for five years.  If that were the case a lot of people would have HBO specials.  When someone tells me that they have been doing comedy for x number of years, it means nothing because you can get on stage once, never get on again for 10 years, and still call yourself a comedian.  Have you been writing?  Have you been performing?  These are the things that I think are more important than just how many years you have called yourself a comedian.

Just because you have been on showcases a bunch of times doesn’t mean you should be featuring at a club.  I see it time and time again.  Someone has been getting spots on shows, and now they think they are ready to feature.  Getting on stage is good experience, but that doesn’t mean you have the ability to perform for 20-30 minutes.  Ask a comedian that has been doing it for about six months to a year how much time they have, and most will overestimate.  Why?  Because open mics and such may give them  the impression that they have a lot of material that works.  That is not the case.  Once you get in front of a paying, attentive crowd, they are not going to let things slide because “everyone is just working on stuff”.  Get honest with yourself.  Do you have 20 quality minutes, or 10 decent minutes and 10 minutes of bonus ramblings.  Getting honest with yourself will help you not burn yourself when you are trying to get work.

So, you have been doing it for a while and have the chops.  You feel you have what it takes to start working.  What’s this though?  No one wants to work with you?  You can’t get booked anywhere even though you are funnier than all the other comedians that get booked?  Have you ever thought that maybe you’re an asshole?  Close you eyes (later, not now), and think of all your interactions with other comedians. Is it you and a bunch of probably skinny white dudes running through a meadow?  Or, is it a bunch of arguments and Facebook post telling comedians to eat a dick?  If it’s the latter, than that is your answer to why you are not getting booked.  You can not expect to be a piece of shit, AND be booked.  It may seem like the world of comedy is this large expansive network, but it is much smaller than that.  There are only so many comedy bookers and the odds that they have dealt with someone that has dealt with you is probable at the least.  If you have a great set, a set that makes bras fall off and guys get tramp stamps, but you can’t be worked with than people will just leave you off of shows.  There is a limit to this though.  If you are in the upper levels of comedy, like the Tom Seguras, and Phillip Kopczynskis  of the world, then you may be able to get away with not being the coolest person to work with, because you are putting asses in seats.  If, however, you are trying to get booked on your local show, and you are a total asshat, then why would anyone put up with that, no matter how funny you are.

Just remember that just because someone was doing it for 6 years and got on SNL doesn’t mean that is the trajectory for you.  Things happen to people differently.  I know comedians that started after me and are all over the country.  That doesn’t mean I deserve to be there as well.  That means that they may have had more connections, or were more personable to people, so they could network easier.  Maybe their material isn’t 80% dick jokes.  You have to be honest and look within when things are not going the way they should.

 

Don’t Get Comfortable!

In twelve years of stand-up comedy, I have seen comedians on every level just peter out and get complacent.  It is actually really sad to see someone who may have the potential to grow into something more, just stall out.  This will not be for those of you who consider comedy a hobby.  If comedy is something you do because you want to work out some issues or because you thought it would be fun and then you did it a couple of times there is nothing wrong with that.  This is strictly for those that aim for bigger things, but just stopped growing along the way.  Ok.  Here we go.

Why some people get stuck in one spot in their career and never seem to go anywhere else?  Many reasons.  The biggest I have seen is they don’t write!  I don’t know how many comedians I see while performing that are still doing jokes that you know they wrote about 20 years ago.  Bill Clinton impression?  Monica Lewinsky?  Really?  They get work still in bars and lower level rooms because those people just want comedy, not anything to move the needle.  They don’t get work at bigger rooms because they haven’t changed their act since the Clinton administration.  I don’t feel bad for these people at all!  You have one job, make people laugh!  If you can’t update your material to make the most amount of people in the room laugh then you can’t be helped.

Some people get comfortable because they can’t physically get any further because they get in their own way.  The comic that drinks or abuses drugs and can’t get much work because they are a liability. This is sad as hell.  I have seen some great comedians get destroyed by alcohol and drugs.  They write, and can perform great…when they are not wasted.  I can’t speak much on this because I do not drink or use any drugs.  I have just observed comedians that were on top of their game be reduced to hosting bar shows forever because it gets them enough money to buy a burger and a free tab.

If you don’t fall into those above categories then there may still be hope!  One of the best ways to combat just falling into a rut is to write and perform. Writing isn’t enough because that is only one step in the process of stand-up comedy.  I see comedians that I have worked with for years that have sworn off open mics for whatever reason, and yet they are still doing the same material from years ago. We should always strive to write the best material we can, and there is no end to that!  You may think that the material you have now is perfect, but I guarantee you that if you keep writing you will come up with even better material.   I try to never stop writing because I feel that I have not broken the code on the joke that will never not work.  I am always looking for that joke, and then once I find it, I want to see if I can get enough of them to have a perfect performance. So, that means getting up and perfecting the jokes that come out of my mouth.  Only getting up can do that for me, hence why I am at open mics.

You should not think of your act as a painting.  You should think of it like a less murdery Frankenstein monster. You should always look to add and do more to create the biggest baddest abomination you can.

 

 

 

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