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.

Why It’s Hard To Break Into Comedy Clubs (For Some)

I hope everyone had a happy New Years.  Now it is time to get back at it.  With this one let’s talk about the difficulties of getting booked into comedy clubs.

If you think about it, comedy clubs are very unique.  Comedy is the one of the few performing arts that basically has its own space.  There is not a ballet bar, or a poem emporium.  This obviously means that if you want to ply your trade in stand-up this is one of the first places you would look. You would think it would be as simple as emailing the person who books talent at the club and if they see a use for you, then you are good to go.  Well, it is not that easy.  Let us talk about the simple fact that there is only so many comedy clubs in the country.  Sure some cities like Chicago and New York City have several, but a lot of places may have just one club, and that one club has between 48 to 52 weekends (depending on things like when holidays fall and such) in which to fill.  Most comedy shows have a MC, feature, and headliner.  So at most, a club needs three comedians a weekend.  Now I hope you see that there are a ton of people that have the capacity to fill these spots, so that makes comedy clubs sort of a gate keeper.  If they want to have people return, they want to put on the best show they can afford.  That means they have to be a little more picky then say the sardine factory that just needs to fill five canning positions.

Now the above tries to explain why its hard to get booked into comedy clubs on just a numbers aspect.  The thing is you have another hurdle, the booker.  There are men and women all across this country that book these shows and because they are human and have particular tastes, they will make decisions for a variety of reasons.  I have heard them all.  From just not that funny to you live too far away and we don’t want to house you.  Also because they are human, they are not immune from just grabbing what is nearby.  Why book a comedian for a show in Atlanta when they live in Portland?  Why not just look in your immediate vicinity.  Especially for features because there are a ton of people that can perform between 20-30 minutes of comedy.  It is less stress to know that most of your talent is in town.  That is why it is really hard to get booked as a MC or feature the farther away you look.  They can just grab a local comedian to MC and save money and hassle.  They don’t have to worry about comics changing their minds at the last minute because they can’t afford to come perform.  You also have to think about the booker and the amount of inquiries they receive on a day to day basis.  I can only imagine all the emails and packages they get from comedians that want to work their club.  They can’t possibly get to it all.  If you receive 200 emails a day, it will get to a point where you will ignore a ton of emails and base your decisions on what your peers are telling you.  Then there is just plain ole biases.  They may not like musical comedians, or comedians that wear hats on stage.  They won’t tell you this outright, but it could keep your from getting work from them.

Here is another thing.  Comedy clubs are businesses.  They are not non profits that are putting on comedy shows for the good of the community.  They are trying to get the audience to buy food and alcohol, and your quips about Tupperware is what is keeping them there.  These clubs are looking for people that can put asses in seats.  It is not so much how funny you can be, but an as of now undiscovered equation between funny and popular.  Why do you think your local club has that former porn star coming to town next week?  Because they are popular enough, and sometimes funny enough, to put asses in seats and make the club some money.  If you can’t offer them that, then it is hard to break in.  This is not so much a concern of MCs and feature acts because they are seen as younger, less experienced comedians, but headliners have to worry about this a lot.

So, how can you increase your chances you may ask.  Well, the thing you have to remember is persistence. You have to be able to accept that you will get turned down a lot and keep trying to get in contact with these clubs.  You will send out hundreds of emails and you may get one response back.  It’s important to know that you can not guess what is going on on the other side of email.  The booker may be ignoring emails.  They may be seeing it and not responding because you do not fit their place.  I will say this, if you got a response and they say no, then you should not keep sending them emails.  Accept the no and when you have a new headshot or new video for them to take a look at, then you should probably give it another try.  If they say contact again in six months, then do that. I have an spreadsheet (I know!) where I can check off who I have contacted and if they responded to me.  I don’t use it as much as I should, but it is helpful in keeping track.  You can also hit up the club’s open mic.  This is a great way of getting in front of people that can get your booked.  Don’t see it as a guarantee that the booker will be there though.  If I can get there, I like to do that because networking and getting to know bookers and what they are looking for is a great way to improve your chances of getting work in the future.  You can also try booking independent shows in clubs during off nights.  Some clubs will let you rent their spot on a night where they are not doing a proper show and you can show them that you have enough pull in the area to be brought back for a weekend.  You can also try this with a specialty show.  We have a show in Spokane called Drink N Debate, and it is put on at the Spokane Comedy Club every month.  The bookers get to see a lot of comedians and can evaluate them for potential work.

The key is being persistent and remembering that it is an uphill battle, but one you will have to go through if you are trying to get into comedy clubs.


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.


Stand-up Comedy May Not Be For You…And That’s Alright

I love stand-up comedy.  I love watching it and I love performing it.  I love pouring over my jokes trying to come up with a set that will appease a group of people that paid a nominal fee to see it.  There are hundreds of people out there just like me.  That may not be you, and that’s alright.

Stand-up comedy, I would argue, is probably one of the hardest ways to entertain people.  Most of the time, you are the writer and the actor.  You do not have a cast of people to blame for any mishaps, if you messed up YOU messed up.  No best boy or gaffer to point at and accuse of trying to ruin your career.  If the jokes don’t work then it means, most of the time, that you are not writing good jokes. There is more to stand-up than just writing jokes and then getting paid.  You have to sit at open mics and develop your material three to four minutes at a time.  You are sitting somewhere a lot looking over your jokes like they are a Rubik’s cube, but instead of colors, there all the other things you could be doing instead of trying to make a room full of people that don’t know you laugh. Let’s not forget that if you are trying to make a living at it all the obstacles in your way!

You may ask yourself, “why would anyone that doesn’t want to do stand-up go through all of that?”.  There are many answers to that.  One is that it is simply the lowest entry point into entertainment.  If you want to act, you have to find a theater and try out.  If you want to perform comedy, all you have to do is find a place that is already letting people do that.  There are no auditions, or test, or pokes and prods.  So, this allows people who want to entertain, but don’t yet know what they are good at try something out.  More rare are those that assume that stand-up is the easiest way for truly talented people to get noticed, so they go into it thinking that their immense talent will over shadow all the talent-less grubs fighting for $25, and they will soon be whisked away to Hollywood, or Vancouver, or wherever they film things now.

Then reality sets in.  They realize that because stand-up has a lower bar, it means it takes longer to prove you are capable of consistently making people laugh.  They talk to the grizzled vets, that have, “stand-up is hell!” tattooed on their foreheads, and find out that most of these performers have been doing it for years!  Still searching for that one joke that will catapult them into the next rung of the stand-up hierarchy, where they will have to fight tooth and nail to maintain what they worked so hard to obtain.  This can shock many an aspiring entertainer who thought they would stand out in a sea of plebs.

It hits a lot of people that looked at this as maybe an easier way to their end goal, or as a way to achieve fame hard.  Going out multiple times a week for a little sliver of stage time can wear on you. Not to mention dealing with the many different personalities that you meet while performing (great article topic by the way), and a lot of people can see it as just not worth it.  So, they stop coming out as much, and anyone who goes to the gym a lot and stopped for whatever reason, can tell you:  It is so much easier to not do stuff than to do stuff.  Next thing you know, you haven’t been out to comedy for six weeks and you feel like a failure.

There is nothing wrong with finding out this isn’t the route you want to take to get to your end goal.  If your end goal isn’t: Stand-up comedian, then doing stand-up is not a great way to venture into other things.  Some people find out that stand-up isn’t for them after the first couple of times getting up there.  They notice that they get a little too nervous when they are on stage, or they have to drink a lot of calm their nerves, and that bothers them.  Nothing wrong with finding a different way of getting your creative soul out there.  Maybe you just want to write, or you want to perform sketch comedy.  There are many ways to be funny without getting up on stage by yourself.  If you thought that stand-up was the best way to advance because you believe in yourself so much, maybe just try auditioning at your local theater, or try improv.  Those things may be more of what you are looking for.  However you go about it, just try to get that creativity out because those who don’t end up being the Unabomber.

How to Take Advice/Constructive Criticism

Comedians get and give advice all the time.  It is constantly a learning process, and not one person knows everything about comedy.  How you take advice and/or criticism is important if you want to grow.

Advice can come in many forms, but no matter how you get it make sure you understand the source.  I am not saying that only famous people can give advice because a lot of the time it was just blind luck that got them famous!  You have to weight what advice from a certain sources means to you.  I am nowhere near famous, and I have dispensed advice on this blog for three years now.  You reading this are the only ones that will know if what I say applies to you and your career.  If you are headlining clubs every weekend you have no business here.  I will add hardly anything to your overall understanding of the comedy industry.  If you’re an open mic comedian, that is trying to move up the ladder, then maybe you can get something from all of these scribbles.  There is also nothing saying you can’t take bits and pieces of advice and make it something that can help you grow.  If someone tells you, “You need to get on stage more and face the crowd.”, but the persona you are building on stage is one that is stand offish to the audience, then maybe just take “You need to get on stage more.” and leave the rest to the winds.

Criticism is hard for any entertainer.  Who wants to know that you are not making 100% of people laugh? I have been doing this for twelve years, and I still get down whenever I hear someone tell me that.  I will tell you the same thing I told you in the paragraph above:  understand the source! Criticism coming from a drunk person may not be the same as it is coming from your buddy.  Is this person just trying to hurt your feelings?  That is something else to take into account.  I am not saying that anyone that has a criticism about you is a hater, but listen to the criticism.  Is it constructive?  Does it give you a starting point in which you can improve, or is it just tearing you down just for the sake of it? Constructive criticism is almost always trying to negate negativity by instilling a positive aspect. Here is an example:  Someone comes to you after a performance, and says, “I think you should shed some details in your stories.  The end is funny, but it takes to long to get there.” They are telling you that the stories you are telling on stage are too long, but they are giving you a way to change it.  If they approached you and just said, “Your stories suck.” you just have the negative and no way of changing anything for the better.  You also have to understand that there is no way 100% of people are going to find what you do funny.  You are not looking for 100% anyway.  You are looking for enough people that will fill up a room.  I am not saying don’t try to make the person that doesn’t like you laugh, but don’t kill yourself trying to do it.

It is important to note that not all advice and not all criticism is good.  I once had someone after a show tell me, “What you need to do is get on Comedy Central!”  That is advice, but I can not do anything with that!  I had someone just a couple of hours ago say they have never liked my material (the inspiration for this post), until recently.  That’s all they said.  That is criticism, but since they gave me nothing else to go off of, there is nothing I can do to see if it is something I can fix.  There is nothing wrong with going head first with our vision of what you want to do on stage.  The thing is, we are trying to entertain others, and if we are not trying to do the best we can to do that, then we are just amusing our need to be the center of attention when we are on stage.