Why are There so Many Sociopaths in Entertainment

I have spent the past couple of days watching the documentaries on the Fry Festival and all the terrible things that surround that. One thing that I noticed about both (other than the Hulu one was much better than the Netflix one) was how easy Billy McFarland, the head of this bullshit snake, was able to scam people out of millions upon millions of dollars. Then I got thinking about my own experiences and realized that there are a lot of sociopaths in the entertainment industry.

As a comedian, I have my ass in all other sorts of creative endeavors and there is almost always a person there pulling the strings, and sucking the life out of others. They are almost always failures in whatever it is they decided to do. I have been around music promoters, comedy promoters, and producers that are so good at suckering in people.

But why? Why are there so many sociopaths (a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience. – google search) in the entertainment industry? Well, the biggest reason is because there is normally not a barrier to entry. All you have to do is say you are a comedy booker and you can operate as such until everything crumbles around you. You don’t have to know how to play a single note to put together a show, as long as you can get the person that has the building you plan on having this show agree to let you enter.

You also get to deal with damn near the perfect victims. A lot of people in the entertainment industry are on the outer parts of it. Like me, for example, I get paid to perform comedy, but I am not a known entity. I am the type of person that a sociopath loves because they can feed on my want to get higher on the comedy totem pole. These guys will tell you anything you need to hear in order for you to go with them on their bullshit. Sociopaths have this ability to lie so easily that even the hardest people will fall for it. It’s even easier because those of us on the outer edges of entertainment want any route to get to the next level.

So you have an easy industry to enter and victims that want to believe everything you have to say. I have been a victim many times from people that want you to believe that they are that next big promoter or the next booker people will bend over backwards to please. You also don’t have to deal to much with your victims. If a show goes bad and no one got paid? Oh well. Next time it will work out. Then after the fourth show, when people finally realize that they are dealing with a con man, they have made money to make it seem worth it. Then they just either move to a new city or lay low until it is time to do it again.

My advice to all up and comers in entertainment is to take almost everything with a grain of salt. Just remember the old saying: “if it seems to good to be true, it usually is.” Don’t fall for the traps that many do. Don’t pay for stage time. Don’t sling tickets if that is the only way you can get on stage. Don’t perform before you find out what you are getting as compensation. Thanks.

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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.

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.