Why You Will Never See A Comedy Union

Every couple of years, a comedian will pop up in a local area and proclaim that comedians need to join together and form a union so pay can increase.  It rarely gets far (beside the one or two situations when it did), and that is for a lot of reasons.  I am not going to write about all of them, but just a few.

Since the 90’s, the pay scale for stand up comedians have roughly been the same.  (the following are one night show rates.  Rates differ in clubs and such) $200 for the headliner, $100 for the feature and various numbers for MC’s ($25-50).  Now, if you adjust for inflation that is 358.64 to headline and 179.32 to feature.  So why hasn’t the pay gone up, but everything surrounding comedy has?  The cost of a ticket has gone up.  The cost of food and beverages has gone up.  The price of gas, rent, utilities and the like have gone up.  So why hasn’t the pay?  Well, the first reason, and a big reason why a union would not work is because that is just what businesses say you are worth.  In the 90’s $200 for the headliner was good.  People were going out to bars and actually seeing comedy.  Not for the person telling the jokes, but because that was what you did.  There wasn’t Netflix and video games on your pocket phone.  Now, a bar looks at comedy a lot different.  They can throw any number of entertainment options that will be cheaper and keep the crowd in longer.  So, the price has stayed this way because (among other things we will discuss in a bit) that is how much a business owner thinks it’s worth.  I have gotten more than the usually amount listed above for shows at a bar, but eventually they start looking at what kind of business the shows are drawing and adjust accordingly.  Art, in my opinion, isn’t valued as higher because we have constant access to it, making the value in people’s eyes lower.

It’s not just bar owners not valuing your comedy, its other comedians.  There are way to many comedians for the amount of work out there so that means what you don’t snatch up, some other comedian will.  Say you are in a city with 100 comedians. Out of that 100, 40 get work frequently and the other 60 for whatever reason does not   You and the other 40 guys decide to unionize to get $250 a show for headliners.  That is all well, for the 40 of you, but the other 60 has no incentive to adhere to that.  Every comedian you meet, is a comedian looking to obtain the next level, that next brass ring, and if that means taking $200 or less for that same show then they will do it.  If you are a comedian that can’t get a paid show, anything is better than nothing. Even if it hurts the collective.  A union would actually be worse for the 60 that don’t get regular work because they have nothing to differentiate themselves from the 40 that do get work.  If there is no union they can at least undercut the other comedians, which drives prices down.  That is why comedians will go to a place one year and get X amount and then the next time they go there the pay has gone down.  Why?  Because who ever is putting the show together is just trying to get something greater than zero.

In a perfect world a union wouldn’t even be needed.  This is not the perfect world.  We may not be bargaining collectively, but we can do things to help each other out.  Knowing what the usual rates are is important.  That way you know what you “should” be getting.  Try to get connected with working headliners.  I work regularly with headliners that make sure I get paid decently and that is a great way to get the people cutting the checks educated on what quality live entertainment cost.  There is nothing wrong with saying “No” to an offer.  If they ask why tell them!  The only way to make more money is to set your own prices and sticking to them.  Comedians are like nomads and a union for comedians would not work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get what you think you are worth.

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Why Credits Don’t Suck

So if you go here ,  you will get to see why I think credits suck.  To balance it all out and not be too doom and gloom, I have decided to write another article explaining why credits don’t suck.  So without further ado…

Helps with recognition: If you have credits, it can help audience members place your face with other things you have been in.  If they liked that show you were on (however briefly) that increases their chances of coming to your show.

It can build trust in the audience:  When an audience member looks at your photo and sees a FOX logo or an NBC logo by your name, it can let the audience know that you are not just some snake oil salesman going from town to town telling silly dick jokes.  They trust shows from those networks so they may also trust you.

One of the few ways to determine if a comedian is funny: To go a little bit with the above, people looking at your credits will assume that since you have been on TV and won competitions, that you are actually funny.  They just don’t let anyone of TV… It also lets people know that this comedian has jumped through hoops to prove that he is funny.  Easier than just having someone just say “trust me they’re funny!” over and over.

Credits can lighten the advertising load:  If people know you from that thing, it can be easy for a promoter or club to promote.  Clubs have a hard time when the comedian is really good, but no one knows who they are because you don’t get to fill the room with people that know this comedian and then the average person that is just looking for something to do.  They don’t have to plow it into people’s minds that they need to see next weeks comedian, people will know who that is already.

Credits impress: I have hosted for people and as soon as I say their credits, you can see the faces in the audience change.  If they recognize that thing you are talking about, it impresses the audience and can give you a boost.  Humans like to be part of a collective and if you tell them that a lot of people found this person funny enough to put them in all these things then they have a tendency to also enjoy it (for the most part, I have seen it work the other way, but this article is about why credits don’t suck).  Credits also impress people you are trying to work for.  Just like a resume, if they see you have been on some stuff, they are more likely to hire you.

There you have it.  These are some reasons why credits don’t suck. If you need to read why they do suck just click here.  Credits are not the end all be all of getting booked, networking is still really important, but this is just a more simple way of showing your accomplishments.

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.

Controlling an Audience

Controlling an audience is one of the key things a comedian has to do in able to be successful on stage.  Controlling, in the way we are going to be using the word, means to get and maintain the attention of the audience.  You would think this is very simple, but it is a skill that many comedians do not pick up. The best comedians on earth all possess this ability to more or less keep every audience member transfixed on them.  We will talk about a couple of ways comedians keep the audience listening.

I am of the belief that you, as the performer, should not have to tell the audience to pay attention.  You are the performer, not a grade school teacher.  On the other hand, I think it is up to bar staff and especially the MC to set a list of guidelines before the show starts.  The MC should be making sure that they have wrangled any rowdy tables and has gotten the entire room on the same page.  That is why you have the MC!  They go up and deal with the headaches and put out the fires so the show can go smoothly once she steps off stage.  Now, that isn’t to say every MC is good at doing this.  I have performed with Hosts that will invite talking, but never tell the audience that the rest of the comedians may not be into that.

So, you are now on stage.  How do you control the crowd?  Well, it seems simple, but you would be surprised by how many comedians can not get an audience that paid to see them quiet.  Some comedians have never really done loud and hostile environments like sports bars or a room that is just generally disinterested, so when the audience isn’t paying attention or into what they are doing, they tend to strike out at the audience and things only get worse from there.  A tried and true technique is to tell the audience to give it up for the host or the previous comedian.  The audience will start clapping and that gives you enough time to do a couple of things (if you weren’t paying attention earlier).  First, you can scout real quick and see the tables or places in the room that are being disruptive to the show.  If they are in the back of the room, sometimes it is best to let them be if you can’t pull them in with the people that are paying attention.  Why?  Because if you focus your time on them then you are ignoring the people that are paying attention and that can lead to a room of folks not liking you.  Second, if you don’t have a planned first joke, it gives you time to throw out something that will instantly get the crowd on your side.  I have seen everything from a quick one-liner to a quick call back to a previous joke.  This is to get them focused on your performance.

Another method is to just get up and with your voice get the room’s attention.  Nothing says you are now performing like getting the mic really close to your face and filling the room with your voice.  This may not work for you though if the rest of your set is you being meek up on stage.  You can also start with a strong joke that will immediately get the crowd listening to what else you have to say.  It could also be that your mere presence makes the audience want to hear what you are talking about.   If you are a white person in a room filled with people of color, they may just listen long enough to see if you are going to make them laugh.  This will be your chance to get them on your side.  If you are a comedian of color, and the room is mostly white, getting on stage and immediately saying the n-word may not be a good thing.  I am not saying don’t do your act, but if you are trying to make sure the room is paying attention you want them to be on your side long enough for them to follow you down any nook and cranny you wish.

Some comedians are just gifted.  They can get on stage and within twenty seconds have the audience eating out the palm of their hands.  Not all of us have that ability, so I hope the tips above will give you a little bit of an edge the next time you are trying to get the room under control.  Make sure you are not screaming at the audience to shut up and things of that nature.  That isn’t your job.  Get the staff or security to handle that.  If you have to keep everyone in check then you should be getting paid for comedy as well as security.  If nothing else is working just find that one table or group that is paying attention and play to them.  Guess what?  Most of the time, if you get a group paying attention to you they will tell the rest of the room to shut up and listen!  I think next time we will talk about when we as comedians should be the bad guy on stage.

Don’t Go “Cheap” With Your Comedy Career

A lot of us are not making bank with our comedy careers.  That does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t seek out quality when you are getting promotional materials made.  Technology has made it that we can do a lot of stuff ourselves.  We can design posters, shoot head shots and film and edit videos for submission.  Well, I am here to tell you that going cheap will make you look cheap in the eyes of those that are booking you.

Lets talk about posters first.  It may seem like all you need is Photoshop and pictures of who is going to be on the show, and BAM! Poster.  Designing posters is an art form in itself!  Do you know the techniques it takes to make an appealing poster?  Are you just making a wall of text with a couple of tiny, blurred photos?  These are things to take into account!  I like to make my own posters, but not because I am cheap, but because I like to do stuff like that.  The problem is that I am not that good at designing something appealing to people that are jaded with advertising as it is.  So, if it is an important show, I like to make sure someone that is well versed in creating posters creates mine so it looks as good as possible.

Comedians just starting out don’t realize how important head shots are.  They are the first thing bookers, promoters, and your potential audience will see of your face.  What people fail to understand is that there is a difference between a head shot and other types of photos of your head and neck.  If you are on stage performing when the photo was taken then that is considered more of a candid photo.  You may not want to lead with that for many reasons.  The light may not have been the best so you look like you have a triple chin.  One of your eyes were slightly closed when the photo was taken so you look like a knock off Pop-eye.  You should be getting your head shot as soon as you think you want to make money doing comedy.  It doesn’t have to be in a studio, but you do want it to be a structured environment so the photographer can get the best version of you on the sensor that they can.  You also want to get them redone every couple of years or when you change something significant about your face (beard, no beard nose ring, face tattoo).  I take head shots so whenever I talk about this I have to make sure that I say I don’t care who you go to for your head shots.  I care that you take good head shots because bookers get tons of emails with a ton of promotional material and the last thing you want is for them to ignore you because you had your friend take a photo of your head with their iphone.

A lot of comedians just starting out also tend to forget another important part of your promotional materials and that is the video.  I have a couple of articles that you can read about why video is important.  I have seen comedians ask if anyone has a camera to film their set.  If you are using it to send to bookers (as opposed to just uploading it to YouTube), then you should be asking more questions.  Do they have a decent camera?  You want something that can take good video in low light.  Do they have a lens that can record you cleanly on stage?  If they are in the back of the room with a 35mm lens or an iphone, you will look tiny and promoters don’t want to see a bunch of silhouettes and your tiny ass up on stage.  You want someone that can get you from roughly the waist up.  Do they have the ability to get good sound?  Do they have a way to either get the sound from the soundboard or are they using just the camera’s mic?  If they are just using the mic on the camera, then you are gonna get everything AND your set.  That is distracting!  Are they gonna color correct the video or just give you what came off the card?  This is where it pays to pay someone some money to film you! If you look like a smurf because the white balance was off that tells the booker that you most likely just sat a camera in the back of the room and hit record, so you aren’t really trying that hard to get work.

Here is the thing.  I learned all these lessons the hard way.  My first head shots were taken by my girlfriend at the time.  She didn’t know anything about photography.  We just took them around Eastern Washington University and sent them to bookers.  I would set my camcorder up in the back of the room and send that video to comedy clubs.  It would be all dark and I was so far away that you could tell I just sat it and forgot it.  I didn’t get a lot of work because I was trying to go as cheap as possible.  Now, it is worth it to me to pay someone to design a poster or my t-shirt.  I charge comedians to record their sets and take their head shots. The thing is, I did not go to school for this stuff, so I encourage them to seek out someone else if they are not happy with the results I provide.  If you want to make a go at comedy, give it a good go, and don’t go cheap!

 

Why Stage Time is Important

I see this a lot.  A comedian will get their 20-25 minutes or maybe they will get a solid 45 minute set, and then you never see them unless they are getting paid to perform.  Then, more often then not, you watch them struggle on stage and they blame everything, but the most obvious:  You are lacking stage time! Stage time is more then just getting up on stage and working towards new material or sharpening old stuff.  I look at stage time like athletes look at practice.  You go over the stuff you plan to do so when you are in a real situation it comes out more natural.

Getting up on stage regularly helps “knock the cobwebs” off of material.  Sometimes you have a joke that you are really comfortable with, and so you stop performing it at open mics.  Then, you get on a stage during a show and try it out and you lose your place and forget where certain parts go into the joke as a whole, this can be diminished with trying that joke every so often.  Here is something I do:  Every so often, when I’m at an open mic, I will just do material that I haven’t done in a while, but I really want to keep in my set.  That keeps it fresh in my mind so when I do want to use that material in a show, I am not lost.

Stage time also keeps that “comedic edge” about you.  Comedic edge is the ability to make the funny seem natural.  The best comedians in the world keep their comedic edge easier because they work more often then comedians that only get a couple shows a month.  They are able to control the room because they are so confident in the material and where it is going.  This is important for all comedians, especially those of us that play in bars a lot.  You need that edge to keep the crowd on your side.  If you are fumbling around, how are you gonna convince the audience to keep listening to you?

I get it.  Comedy can be a drain sometimes.  You are out at open mics for hours for three minutes of time.  If you get a guest set, you have to drive down to a club and pay for parking and all of that, but if comedy is important to you as an art form and as a means of income, then you owe it not only to yourself, but also the audience that paid to see you.  Don’t you want to be the best comedian you can?

 

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.