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.

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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.

 

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.

 

Invest in Your Comedy Career

I usually start off an article talking about my thoughts and then I end it with my experiences.  I am going to do the opposite this time.

When I first started performing comedy for pay, I was trying to cut as many corners as possible.  I had just gotten out of the military, so money was really low.  So, every chance I could, I went cheap. No business cards, head shots done by my girlfriend at the time, and I had no website.  I would go from show to show and I realized that people would come up to me and ask me if I had a business card. I would direct them to my Facebook page, and would hear nothing from them again.  As I got more work, and saw that this could be a career, I realized that I needed to do things to help me look professional and get more bookings so I didn’t have to have a second job!

I think this is common for a lot of comedians to assume that you don’t need to really put much into your career because you don’t really need much!  95% of us only need an amplified mic. So, we go in thinking there isn’t much to enhance our careers other than better jokes.  I really wish that was the case!  There are a lot of comedians out there that have a great act, but because they haven’t done anything to make themselves look more professional and ready to work, they don’t get the gigs that they deserve.  On the other hand, there are plenty of comedians that have invested in their careers and they are working every weekend!

As soon as you know you are going to start performing for pay, you need to get some head shots.  I don’t mean getting your friend to take photos of you with their iPhones.  No dig against camera phones, but if you want photos that will look great no matter what promoters and bookers are doing to them.  Find someone in your local area that take head shots professionally.  I must add this disclaimer that I have taken head shots of comedians, actors, and other artist.  I am not trying to tell you to hire me (it would be nice, my prices are really reasonable), what I am saying is when bookers open your email you don’t want them to ignore your promo package (I have an article on that, but I am too lazy to find it…I have written a lot of these things!) because your photo can’t be used on promotional material. Depending on where you live, you may be spending some coin, but it is one of the first things people see attached to your name!  You want people to see you as a professional comedian, it will pay for itself in a matter of time.

It may seem dated, but a business card is a great way for people to remember you.  I know it may seem cooler to tell people to go to your facebook page or website (more on that later), but just being able to hand them a card that has EVERYTHING on it is great!  That way when they are not within eyesight of you, they can look down at your card and see how you spell your last name.  Business cards are a great thing to hand to promoters as well. The great thing about this is that it doesn’t cost that much, so you can buy some and have them on your just in case.

A website!  A dedicated Facebook page is one thing, but if you have a website, it kind of elevates you in the minds of people looking you up to see if you are a good enough comedian to blow 15 bucks on.  There are many places to get a domain name, and hosting.  You can also have someone build it for your from scratch.  There is a lot more flexibility in having someone build it (as opposed to just templates that do it yourself sites may have), but it will cost more.  If you want someone that is looking you up to at least have a passing impression that you may be worth the price of admission a website is key.

Investing in your comedy also means finding ways to get more money out of the shows you do get.  Maybe join a site like Gigmasters or Gigsalad.  These sites are a like a database for entertainment. Say someone needs a comedian for a private event.  They go to one of those sites and find you. Gigmasters is free to join, but you will only be able to get seen from people up to ten miles away.  For $269 bucks, you will be able to be seen by anyone in the country looking for a comedian.  I have gotten a lot of work from this site and I haven’t even paid a nickel to them (except for the booking fee that they both charge if you take a gig from their site).  $269 is not that much if you can get booked a couple of times.

There are also other smaller things you can invest in to help you along your comedy career.  Acting classes can help you a bunch, especially if you want to get work as an actor as well as perform stand-up.  Getting a fuel efficient car can cut down on  fuel expenses. Getting a camcorder or voice recorder to help you sharpen your act.  I am sure I am forgetting some, but you understand what I am getting at.  If you want this to be your career, you have to do more than just convincing people that you want to take this seriously.  You have to actually do the little things that shows people you are.

The Myth of the Golden Age of Comedy

I love myths.  I love legends.  I love urban legends.  I also love getting to the grit of the situation and seeing why we believe what we do.  The myth that I am tackling today?  The myth that we are in another golden age of comedy!

We have already had a golden age of comedy.  Depending on who you speak to, they will say that the first golden age of comedy was in the 70’s and some will say the late 80’s through the mid 90’s. This was during what many would consider the height of SNL and other sketch comedy shows, some of the greatest comedy movies of all time, and some of the best stand up specials ever.  This was also the era of Live, local, stand up comedy, when people went out to see live comedy and everyone was doing well.  This all changed by the turn of the millennium.  Comedy clubs started shutting down and it was much harder for an MC or feature to make it.  I came along in the mid 2000’s and I was able to see the trend in real time.

Now with companies like Netflix and HBO shelling out big bucks for comedy specials, and the arrival of entire platforms to deliver comedy (Seeso, Laugh or Die, etc.), many are saying this is the second golden age of comedy.  I do not believe that.  There are many factors for this perception in the rise of comedy, one of them is that viewers are moving from the television and cable box, to the internet. That means that you can consume as much as you want, as long as it is out there. All you have to do is type in “comedy” into YouTube and you are able to watch tons of clips. Comedy specials are a great thing for content companies to invest in.  They typically have low budgets, they are a one off, so you don’t have to be invested in a story line, and a lot of the time, you will watch it multiple times. This means that the amount invested goes a long way! It also doesn’t hurt that with the advent of the internet, it is much easier to find and follow your favorite comedian, and it could seem as though we are seeing an uptick when in actuality its access to comedy content.

In the 90’s comedy was everywhere.  All you have to do is sit down with an older comedian and they will tell you about all the places in the area that had professional comedy.  I think that is why we think comedy took a dip.  It wasn’t that comedy was no longer popular, it was because comedy having such a low bar of entry, anyone could call themselves a comedian and start selling comedy to folks that just wanted to go out and have a good time.  Consumers started to wise up and that is how you get our current situation.  It’s much harder now to sell just generic comedy.  What I mean by that is, people are much more reluctant to just watch comedy, especially if there are better things to do.  That is why the industry is such a credit drawn industry.  People want to know if you are good, and the only way to see that is if they know you have done some things.  So, for the middle guys like me, comedy has actually shrunk.  Those bars and seedy hotel parlors are gone, so it is much harder to be on the road as just a feature act.  More money is going to comedians, but only the top 1%.  Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock are making 40 and 50 million for specials that will be on Netflix, but if you are hosting at clubs you will not see much difference.

This is not to bag on anyone or any system.  I am just stating that it is not a rise in popularity, but a rise in the availability of stuff that people always wanted.  Ten years ago, if you wanted to watch that new special, you had to either have HBO or Showtime, or you bought the DVD.  Now, you can go to a myriad of places to find great, funny content.  Add to that stars that you have seen on TV now coming to comedy clubs, and it could seem as though everyone is back into comedy.  People have always loved comedy.  Who doesn’t want to laugh? The problem is that there are a lot of things that can hinder a person wanting to go see stand up.  Is it in my area?  How much is it?  When is it over?  Will they make fun of my head?  These things keep people away from comedy.  Now, if you see that funny guy from that funny thing is coming to town, then you may forgo all those negatives and check it out.  So, instead of saying comedy is in another golden age, it would be more accurate to say that the lay person is more willing to come out and see the popular people.

So no, comedy is not going through a second golden age.  Like everything it ebbs and flows, but it has always been a popular form of entertainment.  There are many factors for the perception that comedy is gaining in popularity again.  Mainly, the internet.  There may be more money being handed out, but it is only to the top percent of comedians, and that is because that is what people want to see.  I am not saying that if you are a feature or a MC, to hang up your mic.  If anything that means keep pushing so you can work with these kinds of acts!  What if they are looking for someone to feature or MC for them all the time?  If you have your shit together, you could be that person and you could benefit from their ability to get into more clubs, which means more money in your pocket.

Why Being A Great Show Producer Is Important

It may seem easy to just throw a couple of your funny friends on stage and rack in the millions, but it is much more difficult than that.  If you are going to put on shows there are some things you have to be aware of.

You would think that being a comedy show producer is all about gathering talent and making a flyer, but that isn’t the case.  At the very start, the producer has to make sure that the place they are performing is suitable for what they envision the show to be.  Are you looking for intimacy? Then doing it in a large theater is not going to work.  Are you planning on bringing a person that has a following?  Then you will be be served to not pick your uncle’s bar and try to charge people $25 bucks.  The venue is very important to how people perceive the product before they even get to actually witness the product.  It’s important that the producer see the venue.  That is hard to do if you are several states away, but if you are producing a local show, it is pretty simple to just walk into the place and see if it has functioning lights, or if the stage has dark spots (places left unlit on stage). Does the audience sit far away from the stage?  That is important to who you bring in.  Does the venue even have a stage, or are you just huddled in the corner of a dark ass bar?

When it comes to talent on the show I have always been of the mind set of leaving them wanting more.  There is no need to have 10 comedians on a stage if three or four will do. When you load a show with talent, it does several things to the audience.  It can wear them down because they are seeing comedian after comedian, and it makes it seem as though this is the only way this show could have been pulled off is with a bunch of comedians doing five to ten minutes of material.  You want to make the audience want to see your next show, not wish the current show is over.  Make sure you know the talent getting on stage.  Don’t give someone you have never seen before enough time to tie a noose around their neck.  Don’t pad the show with a bunch of open mic comedians thinking that it adds value to the show because it doesn’t (not ragging on open mic comedians, but they tend to be less experienced and thus should be dealt with carefully).

If you are going to do advertising, please ensure you proofread!  I know this blog has mistakes in it all the time, so I am not saying I don’t do it, but when you are making something that is supposed to attract people to your event, you have to make sure that the venue’s name is spelled right at the very least!  Do you have everyone’s name spelled right on the flyer?  Does it have the date and time?  These are things that separate the  professional from the unprofessional.

Let’s talk about the show itself.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine, but START THE SHOW ON TIME!  If you say 8pm and you don’t start until 8:30, you now have an uneasy audience that has probably been drinking for those thirty minutes and by the time the last comedian gets up, people have been waiting to leave.  Don’t do your audience like that!  They made it to the show.  The least you can do is give them the show in a timely matter.

I think the last thing to discuss is compensating the comedians.  There are a myriad of ways to go about paying comedians, but one thing is for sure: Pay the comedians!  Nothing will shorten your comedy producing career faster than not paying comedians.  That is why it is important to tell them up front what they are going to get.  Do they get a couple of drinks or a meal?  Let them know beforehand.  You are the producer it is your job to make sure the talent feels like their time was valued.  We had an incident here where there was bad communication between us, the show producers, and the talent.  They thought that a guest set pays, and they were upset that we did not pay them.  I offered to pay the person because they do not live nearby, so they may not have wanted to do it if they knew they would not get anything like gas covered.  I also let them know for future reference what a guest set meant.  These are things you have to do because nothing spreads faster than negative news.  You want to make sure you have a good reputation with comedians so sometimes you may have to take a bullet, but it is better than being the type of person that is screwing over the talent.