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.

 

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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.

Mic Etiquette

For 95% of comedians, the mic is the only tool we have on the stage (unless you’re a stool humper, you have two).   The thing that makes our voices carry over the drunk masses should be treated with respect and dignity.  Here’s a bunch of rules I made up.

Stuff about the Stand:  The stand holds the mic, but some comedians use it like a stress ball.  Some comedians don’t like to remove the mic from the stand.  Some fiddle with it and slam it around.  That is fine, but if you notice when you have the mic in the stand, that the noise is travelling to the mic, then you should leave it alone.  It is distracting to hear ever tap on the stand while you are trying to tell  jokes.

Get familiar with the stand:  Is it a normal stand with a base and a straight pole, or is it one of those musician nightmare machines with eight joints and a bunch of knobs?  Well, get there early and give it a look so you don’t look like a fool playing with it.  All you have to do is walk to the stage and look at it.

Mic holding: I am not about to tell you how to hold a damn mic…ok I am.  Hold it somewhere near your mouth.  That is why you are holding a voice amplification device.  If you have it down by your waist, you will not be heard.  Now, sometimes the mic is “hot” (turned up too high) and the sound guy, or bar tender, isn’t around to fix it, so you may have to keep it away from your face, but that is the only case.  Also, if you are holding the ball of the mic, covering most of it, then you will probably sound mumbled. Rappers do it to look cool.  The eight people at this open mic already know you are cool.

The mic is your friend, don’t hurt it!: I don’t know why this is a thing, but people beat the hell out of mics.  They slam em against their legs, they pound on em.  They throw em, and swing em around.  Don’t do that! Microphones, good microphones, like almost every comedy club has, is not cheap.  If you have a bit where you beat a microphone up, then just go to Amazon, and buy a three dollar mic to abuse.  The mic should not be an expense for the club.  This is extra true for bars and other places that may only pull out their mic but every once in awhile.  If you mess that one up, they may not have another one, and you are left with a dead mic.  Look, I get that you saw you favorite comedian beat a microphone up, but they can probably pay to get it replaced.  You probably can’t afford to do a mic drop, so don’t do it.  Mainly because you are not the only one that has to use it later.

It may seem like a silly thing to write about, but people have been asked not to come back to a spot because of how they beat up the mic.  That is like being a janitor and destroying the floor polisher.  Show the people running the place that you have respect for their equipment.  You don’t want that to be the reason you are out of future work.

 

What A Major Club Will Do For Your Local Scene

The Spokane Comedy Club (SCC) has been operating in town for almost a year, and in that year, it has transformed comedy in the area.

One of the biggest ways that SCC changed the area was just in the visibility of comedy.  Before SCC, a very small number knew about the clubs that came before it.  For years I would have people ask me where I perform, and when I told them that there was a comedy club in town, they would have a shocked look on their face, as if I told them that I am actually a little person standing on another little person’s shoulders.  It was frustrating because all of your attempts to get comedy in the area to be recognized seemed to be for naught.  The clubs before SCC just didn’t do a good job at advertising.  Just putting a sign up in front of a bar saying comedy doesn’t work as well as it did before.

Having a big club in town means you will have more people trying to become comedians.  People see the club, and then think this is their way to stardom. This is always a good thing because usually those are the more vocal people that will get word out that comedy is going on.  This leads to more packed open mic line ups, but it means they will get their family and friends and co workers to come see them.  This works out like a grass roots advertising campaign.

A weird thing happened to the scene about 9 months after the club came to town, a lot of the more seasoned comedians stopped coming around.  It was weird because, here we are with a club that is being packed, and the people that stuck it out in shady open mic dens are no longer to be found.  I hypothesized that it was because the talent level of what the new club wanted discouraged these comedians to a point that they no longer come out.  That is quite sad because this is what all those empty shows were all about!  You are about to be rewarded now, and you stop coming around.  It is heartbreaking.

If there is one negative to having a major club hit our scene, it has to be with independent shows.  Before the club came to be, there were a lot of independent shows around the town.  Eight months after the club?  80% of those shows disappeared.  I think what happened was all of these comedians that were putting on these shows thought that they would be working the club, when that didn’t happen for a lot of them, it left a hole in independent shows.  Don’t get me wrong, there are guys that were still producing shows when the bottom fell out, but not at the level that is was before the club came to town.

The club has given me, personally, a lot more exposure.  I get to perform a lot more private shows for a lot more money because people have seen me at the club.  I also get chances to perform with some really big names in comedy because of them and that increases my chances of working with them in the future. Having a club of this nature in the area did good things for me as a comedian, and I think for the whole of the Spokane area.  This area has so many people, and the fact that no one was serving them top notch comedy was almost a crime.  Now that the club is approaching one year, I think it will do better things for our scene.

When Submitting To Bookers

At some point in your comedy career, you will send an email or Facebook message to a show booker. That is how a lot of comedy gets booked.  I will try to help you as best as I can.

Now, I have separate articles about head shots and videos and writing up a bio, but I haven’t done an article on how to submit your info to bookers.  The first thing, and this is a no-brainer for some: Show some professionalism.  They may be someone you met at the strip club, but when sending them your package, make sure you are as professional as possible.  The old saying: “Fake it til you make it” applies here.  Make it seem like this isn’t the first time you have contacted someone about work.

There are many ways to start your email.  What I do is just let them know who the email is from.  Yes, they may see it when they open it, but that doesn’t matter, you have never met this person before (and if you have still act as though you haven’t).  I leave out where I am from, why?  Because I don’t want to be judged before they have seen my material.  If they don’t like it, then that’s fine, but I don’t want to not get work based on a bias that someone has about a city or part of the country. I tend to keep it simple, and I think that is the best way to go.  The body of the email is usually 4-5 sentences.  Just letting them know who I am and what positions I can fill.  I headline in bars and smaller clubs, but telling them you can do anything can get you in the door easier.  Once you have that going for you, you can headline if that is a possibility.

If you have been referred to them by another comic, then make sure you tell them that.  You may get work before they even see your video!  Bookers will trust a good comics’ word more than almost anything else.  If you know someone that has worked that club, see if you can add their name to your email.  I try not to add people as references if I have not talked to them before hand, or I have a good working relationship with them. Some comedians might not like to be emailed by a booker asking about a comic they didn’t even know they were vouching for.  I have been messaged liked this and I don’t care, but at the same time, I don’t have much leeway with any bookers I work with to the point that they are hinging working with a comedian on my word.

Now that the email is all typed up, you can now start adding the stuff that will sell you to the booker. Make sure you have a bio, a head shot and a video.  The bio should not be too long, just long enough for them to add to your photo for promotional purposes.  You can add who you have worked with, but make sure you don’t make stuff up!  Will they go out and fact check?  Probably not, but do you want to start lying to someone you JUST started working with.  If you don’t have much then that is fine, it is better than making stuff up.

You need a head shot.  A good one.  A great one.  So many comics forgo this because it usually means they will have to spend money.  Your headshot is more important than your video because this is the photo that people coming to a show you are booked on will see.  If it is all grainy because you took it with your iphone, or it looks like your friend took it with his mom’s DSLR, then you will not be taken seriously.  If you are in a large city like a Seattle or Portland, then there is no excuse to not having a professional looking headshot.  You don’t have to spend a grand to get them done!  There are people that are offering good prices (ahem…) so try them out.  What you need to remember is that you should have the photo at 300 dpi.  That will make it look nice and sharp when it is printed out or enlarged.

People fret about the video and for good reason. Your video is going to sell you to the booker, and it is important to get some things right.  You need good looking video!  Yes, your phone can record video, and most new phones now can do 4k, but if you are all blown out or the video is really dark no one is watching it.  Make sure the resolution is good enough to be watched on a computer screen.  1080p is great and can be enlarged in a browser window without it looking like old porn.  You need to have good audio.  This is important!  No one is gonna sit through your video if they can’t hear it.  I have an article all about getting microphones for your phone, but I will state it here because I am too lazy to go looking through all those articles.  Rode makes the video micro that will attach to your phone and is way better than the crappy mic that is on your phone.  Try to get an app like FiLMiC Pro or ProCam (iOS, I don’t know about android) so that you can adjust things like exposure so you can battle with the lights in most clubs.  You can make the video however long you want because they will only watch as much as they need to make their decision.  I have a five and ten minute video, and I usually send out the five minute video because that is about all they will watch and if they want to watch more, I have that ready to go.

Make sure the video is just you.  Not the host talking for 30 seconds.  Just you.  Make sure the video is tightly cropped on your upper half.  Whenever I am filming someone I try to get right at the sternum area, unless I know they will roll around on the stage or something then I go a little wider.  The reason you want to have it tight is so there are no distractions going on off the stage to get the bookers attention, and they can see your face better.  Try to dress like you will if you are going to work one of their shows.  Don’t be in a tux in your video, when you usually work in a shirt and jeans.  Refrain from having alcohol on stage with you.  A lot of bookers see it as not being professional.  Now, that you have your video, put it up on a place like YouTube.  Don’t send people a big ole file that they have to download and try to play on their computer.  If they have to do that they will just delete your email.

You have everything you need to send out to bookers and club runners.  How long do you wait for a response?  I usually give it a week or two.  You have to remember that these people are getting emails from hundreds, maybe thousands of people, so you have to be persistent if you want to get a response. I wouldn’t send them more than one email a week though because you don’t want to be known as the person that is sending too many emails.  You also have to know the reality of trying to get work this way.  A lot of bookers already are up to there neck in comedians that can fill spots for them.  That is why the contents of your email have to look so professional.  For every slacker that is sending them crappy photos and even crappier video, there are people out there that are serious and want to succeed and are doing everything they can to make it look as though they are worth the booker’s time.  You are competing with all the people that are working for them now, as well as other people trying to get in with them.  I hope this helps you get the work you want.  Have a great week.

 

** The photo is of wrestler Booker T.  Get it?  You didn’t get it did you?