Keys to Being a Great "Club" Comedian

We have talked about what makes a comedian great for certain work in the comedy industry. We will go over our last (I think), the club comic.

All Things to Some People

Out of all the comedians we have talked about during this little series of posts, the club comic is the most varied of all these comedians. Why? Because the quality of club and the type of people in each changes. When you are at a show in a bar you know the type of people that would go to such a thing. A comedian performing at a college knows that not too many 50 year old people will be in the audience. In a club, however, you have a mix of people all coming together to laugh at your childhood.

Another thing that makes this a varied group is the fact that not all comedy clubs are created equal. For every Improv or Spokane Comedy Club, you have Jerry’s Laugh Shack. So that invites a different group of people. We used to have a lower level club in town before SCC opened up and the demographics were a lot older and you could see that played a factor in a lot of acts that went through those doors.

A club comedian has to walk in the building knowing that their jokes are gonna hit with the people in front of him. That could mean anything from not talking about stuff that is local to the comedian or not bringing up the controversy that is going on in the city they are performing in.

A Joke and a Smile

What I have noticed with a large number of great club comedians is their ability to immediately grab the attention of the audience in as little time as possible. They don’t really get into pleasantries unless a joke is coming right after. A quick smile and straight to business is the way a great club comic works and it is amazing to see an awesome comedian just play with the audience averting expectations and guiding them through a show that doesn’t even seem practiced.

Out of all these types of comedians, I strive to be a club comedian the most. They don’t get paid (usually) as well as college or corporate comedians, but there is usually little to know limit on what can be said at clubs. You have the freedom to say what you want at most bar shows, but the pay sucks.

Club comedy is the hardest to break into because of how the vetting system works for most clubs so that is why a lot of people just opt for other options. I enjoy meeting people outside of a more “constricted” environment and getting their genuine emotions to material you perform.

I guess that does it for this little series. I mean I could do more of these keys, but I didn’t want to talk about anything I didn’t have a little bit of firsthand knowledge about. Thanks for reading.

Why The Feature Act is So Underrated

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

The “Middle Child” Effect

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

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

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

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

The Pay Makes it Hard to Stay a Feature

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

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

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

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

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

How The Economics of Comedy Clubs Make Stormy Daniels Possible

There are some comedians in the industry that are up in arms after exotic dancer and business woman, Stormy Daniels announced that she was going on a comedy club tour. There are many opinions on why it is wrong and many on why its no big deal. I can see both sides of this argument, and I will present to you why her doing this is even possible.

People like spectacle

I think it is obvious, but humans have been attracted to the odd and scandalous forever. So there is always a market for people on the “fringes” to make money if they know where to find people willing to see it. This is no different. She had sex with the President of the United States. People would pay to hear her talk about just that alone. Comedians need to understand that spectacle will put more asses in seats then a great, non famous joke teller.

Comedy clubs are the new vaudeville stages

For those that don’t know, vaudeville was like a travelling stage show for variety acts. They would play in theaters and you could see everything from comedians to singers to a guy that set his beard on fire (I made the last one up, but it could be true). Vaudeville disappeared roughly the same time comedy clubs started taking off. Comedians had a legit place to perform! Except that left a lot of other acts out in the cold. Vaudeville shows would have famous people that would basically sit on stage and talk about their life. So when those stages disappeared these people had to find a place to go, and that is when comedy clubs became that place. Most comedy clubs have comedy from Thursday to Saturday. What about those days when they don’t have comedy? That is a great time to bring in a popular person that may not be a comedian, but can put asses in seats.

When you combine the two…

So, you have people wanting to see certain individuals and a place with a stage that is empty sometimes three nights a week…that makes it pretty simple to see why a comedy club would bring in someone like this. Go to your local club’s website and I am sure you can find one date on their calendar that isn’t considered comedy in the tradition sense. Mike Foley, Jake the snake Roberts, male reviews, a podcast recording, all these things bring people into a club at times when no one would be there otherwise.

I wish it wasn’t true, but it is hard as hell to get people to just come see a comedian. I did two shows this past weekend, one in a legit theater, and the total number of people that attended these shows was probably 70 people. That is good for a person with no name, but a comedy club can not possibly sustain themselves on 70 people a weekend (depending on size of course). Comedy clubs are not like the Philharmonic, they are not just presenting art for artistic sake, they are trying to make money. They have payrolls and bills to pay just like anyone else, and if an exotic dancer can put asses in seats and get people to buy drinks then they will do that.

I don’t think most people care that she is an exotic dancer. At least I hope. I think there is a subset of comedians that think comedy clubs should only be for comedic acts and that isn’t the case. With the increase in other forms of entertainment, a club has to rely a lot more on food and drink to make it and so they have to open their stage to a larger variety of entertainment. It is cost effective to the act because they don’t have to rent a theater that will have you paying a bunch of money and not do much to promote your presence. It works for comedy clubs because they may not have anything going on that night and it only helps their bottom line to have someone with a following come stand on their stage. Since the person putting on the show may only get paid based on the amount of people paying to see them, it makes sense to have them if there is no risk to the club.

I hope this helped those that do not understand the issues at hand. I think comedians need to not worry about acts like this because they have no impact on comedy as a whole. I think the average adult is not thinking less of a comedy club because they had a male review there last night instead of some comedy act. The average person will only go to anything if they have an interest in that thing and no matter what you do, you will not be able to force them to see comedy for comedy’s sake. It doesn’t hurt women comedians because her presence doesn’t mean they will not hire another woman, it just means that date is no longer available to anyone.

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!

 

Moving to a Larger Comedy Market

Spokane is rarely the last destination for a comedian.  Historically, comedians discovered that they love comedy here and then go somewhere else to actually try to make a go at it.  Recently, we have had an exodus of sorts, and it got me thinking about things that comedians need to take note of before moving to a larger market.  This is not to discourage anyone.  This is to try to help those that are in smaller markets make the right choice so they can succeed in their new cities.

Can you find a job?: This seems like something of a no-brainer, but I have seen comedians leave the place they started comedy, get to the new city and realize they can’t find a job.  If you can’t get the basics covered, how are you going to pursue your comedy career.  This may be easier for those that have a profession, or a degree in a certain field, but if you don’t you may want to make sure you can get a job.

Do you have money?: I have read articles where they say have three months of savings just in case you can’t find a job that fast.  I will say, you may need 4-6 months if you are going from a lower cost of living area to a higher cost of living area.  If you saved based on Spokane’s rent market, but you are moving to LA, that three months savings is now only about a month and a half.  The cost of living in some of these cities are one of the reasons a lot of people abandon comedy.  It is hard to pursue comedy, when you have to work all the time.

Got a place to stay?: You may want to check and make sure your married high school buddy (and their partner) are cool with you sleeping on the floor of their nursery for a bit.  You don’t want to get to a new city and learn that your living arrangements went from “house” to “not a house”.  If you are moving in with roommates, try to see if they are not going to be moving out anytime soon.  That way you do not get to a new city and now you have to find new roommates so you can afford to stay in that place.

Are you a piece of shit?:  If you are lazy in your smaller market, you are not all of a sudden gonna work hard to make comedy work.  Comedians are rarely realistic about what they are willing to put into stuff.  It’s easy to fall into that trap as well.  If you live in a small town it may just be easier to be on shows because there are not that many comedians to begin with.  You can not take that approach when moving to a larger area.  Take LA for example.  You can’t throw an old timey mic without hitting a comedian.  If you are not writing, and showing up and networking, you will not see any success.  If you are a piece of shit.  You will not become a saint all of a sudden!  This is the internet age.  Your baggage goes with you.  If a booker in a new city wants to know about you, they probably know someone that knows someone that knows you.

Moving to a new place is exciting and can open all sorts of doors, but only if you are prepared and willing to fight for it.  The best will always surface, and a larger city helps those surface sooner.  Just make sure you are ready when your time comes to shine.

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 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.