The Grind Never Stops

There is no end when it comes to comedy.  The road narrows more and more.  You are either chasing the next great joke or chasing the next big payday.  Every conversation I have had with a comedian that I see in an enviable position is looking to get out of it.  They are always looking for that position that will bring them either more fame or more money.  It is hard to explain these things to those that just have to show up and work to get that steady paycheck.  Comedy is full of ups and downs, and every comedian is trying to achieve less downs and more ups.

No level of stand-up comic is immune to the grind.  If you are first starting out, you are looking for more stage time and jokes that work more often then not.  When you get a suitable amount of time, now you are looking for places that will pay you something, anything.  Once you get a couple bucks here and there for performing, you want to see if you can make it more of a full time endeavor.  You contact your comedians friends you’ve met along the way and try to set up enough shows to pay the rent.  You drive countless hours for little pay in hopes that these are the dues that are paid, and you will, by the end of this, be paid handsomely.  You perform in dimly lit bars and wine cellars and comedy clubs where the only requirement was that you had reliable transportation.  You sleep on floors and live out of a suitcase that is precisely 25 lbs.  You send hundreds of emails and receive two replies both saying they don’t have any use for you.  When you to start performing in more clubs, the only thing you want is to be the headliner so you can afford dental.  Then you start headlining and now you look to be a “special event”.  Maybe you want to be in movies, TV, have a successful podcast.  The grind never stops.

You wonder why that narrow road has so few people traveling it?  Because the grind can cause people to lose hope.  The grind of constantly swimming upstream can cause some of us to drown.  I don’t see it as a weakness, but a resolve that the heartache of the extracurricular of comedy outweighs the comedy itself.  Not everyone can take rejection email after rejected festival invite.  Just maintaining a career is a grind.  I don’t want to seem as though I am complaining, most of life is a grind, I just wanted to illustrate why even though you think you are going to be great when you achieve that goal, there is always another one just a little further down the road.

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Having to Prove Your Worth

Comedians are always out trying to get work and that means proving to the promoter/client why you are worth what you are worth.  I have written articles on why its important to get what you think you are worth in every instance in which you can.  This article is a little different (and a little late, blame World of Warcraft).  I will tell you how you can look someone in the eyes and tell them why you are asking for that amount.

Think of it as a full time job:  I never understand why comedians are never thinking of comedy as a job.  Almost everyone I talk to would like to do nothing, but comedy but how can you when you don’t think of it as something that can replace the money you make during your day job.

What niches do you fill:  You have to be able to know what demographic you attract.  Do you bring in the younger crowd?  Do you bring in the wine drinkers? Maybe the type of comedy you do attracts a certain person.  My friend Michael Glatzmaier, plays the guitar and improvs songs.  That is an incredible niche that can fit in a variety of situations.  Comedy is not just bars and clubs anymore.  There are retirement communities out there that are looking for entertainment, and if you work clean (at least PG-13), you can book those shows during the weekday and still have the weekend available.  If you know what niche you fill, you can express that to whoever is looking to hire you.

Sicker than the average:  I had someone email me from a place and wanted to know what I charge.  Once I told them, they asked me why I would charge that much when they could get someone for half that.  This happens a lot during the holiday booking season (this was one of those shows).  This is when you have to hype yourself up a little.  I am not that good at doing this, but in order to justify why I charge what I charge, I will state some information for them.

The first thing I let them know is how long I have been doing it.  This should express to them that I have been in enough situations to perform a show that the majority of people in the room will enjoy.  Then I let them know that for what they are looking for, (which makes it important to know the talent pool in the area) there are not that many that can do it.  This is why it is so important to be able to perform clean (when need be).

Hopefully this can help those of you out there that have been having trouble justifiying what you want to charge.  It is hard to stick to these tips when you know there are people out there that will take less for the same show.  I try to look at it like this:  I am asking for an amount equal to the annoyance of performing when the suns out (or in a living room or dance floor etc.). So don’t fold and you will see the benefits!

Why Spokane May Not be the Best Place to Start Your Comedy Career

Last week, I wrote a post about how Spokane (or similarly sized city) would make a great place to start your comedy career.  As I said from that post, I would write a post about why it would not be a great place to begin your comedy career.  Lets do it!

Limited Audience: A city like Spokane has about 250,000 people living in it (almost twice as much if you count the metropolitan populace).  Out of that amount you have to start counting out certain groups, like people who don’t like stand-up or people to young to attend shows.  That leaves you with an even smaller group of people in which to apply your trade.  On a Saturday night, for example, only about 300-400 people are attending a comedy show in the area.  Cities like New York or Chicago are seeing multiple times that many people.

Talent Pool: Spokane bleeds talent every year.  Comedians get to a point where they feel as though they are stalling in their career and make the move to a larger city.  This is one of the downsides to living in a town of this size.  Just when the amount of talent in the city reaches a level where attention is drawn to it, enough people leave that it starts to effect shows.  When your best comedians leave for greener pastures, the only comedians left may not be ready to get paid, but you have no choice sometimes but to put them up.

Small chance to make it BIG:  Let’s face it.  Spokane is not a destination for any of the late shows.  No talent agent is going to Chan’s to look for a comedian to give a Netflix special to.  That is why people go to NYC and LA and Chicago.  You have a higher chance of being spotted or connecting with the right people and changing your life from just comedian on the side to full time comedian.  No matter how cheap the rent is in Spokane, the possibility of making it trumps that every time.

Trapped in local material:  There is a saying (one which I will be writing an article about soon) that goes: Local jokes get local work.  Because Spokane and the surrounding area can be a comedy island, people tend to cater a little to much to the townsfolk and before you know it, you have a set that is basically all about Spokane and towns around it.  That may work here, but once you go somewhere else, no one cares about how methed out Ritzville looks.

So, there you have it, some reasons why Spokane may not be the best place to start your career.  I always like to give both sides to an argument, and I hope you will see both the good and the bad to being a comedian in Spokane.  Remember, if you have the persistence and the talent, you can be a great comedian anywhere.

Why Spokane is a Great Place to Start Your Comedy Career

I know Spokane is in the title, but it really stands that any city the size of Spokane can be a great place to start your comedy career and in some cases be a great place to maintain a career as well.  Let’s look at the reasons now.

Goldilocks Effect  Spokane is damn near the perfect size when starting out your career.  It isn’t as large as LA or NYC where you will be spending more time traveling to open mics than actually performing, but it isn’t so small that there is only one or two stages to get better.  Spokane has a stage almost every night of the week in which to perform, and unlike larger cities, you do not run the chance of getting bumped after making the commute to get there.  Spokane also has one of the premier clubs in the country with the Spokane Comedy Club.  That means you get to see and hopefully perform with bigger acts and get seen by more people and that can lead to more work down the line.

The Others In Spokane right now are about 40-50 comedians.  That is way less than most cities, but what than means is a close knit community.  From my observations, the larger the city, the more segregated the comedians.  The hip comedians are over here and the alt-comedians are over there and the comedians with puppets are on the roof for some reason. Most comedians in Spokane know each other which leads to a, mostly, equal distribution of work. With the amount of comedians in the area, there are enough for solid competition, but not enough to have the feuds that you see in other scenes.

Location, Location, Location! Spokane is is a four hour drive to Seattle, a six hour drive to Portland, and about the same amount of time to Boise.  That means you are pretty close to some large cities in which to further your career.  Say you have a day job and you have a show in Seattle.  It will be a challenge of course, but it is an early morning drive, and a late night drive and you are back at work, a little more drowsy, but it can be done.  You can maintain relationships with promoters in those cities and still benefit from Spokane’s lower cost of living.

There you go, some reasons why Spokane is a great place to start performing.  Of course I could list a couple more, but I liked the three that are listed above.  Next week, I will tell you guys why Spokane isn’t the best place to start your comedy career.  See, I can milk both sides for content!

 

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.

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.