Truths Most Comedians Don’t Want to Hear (Including me)

We all live in bubbles. Some of our bubbles are really small. A comedian’s bubble is usually just around themselves. We tend to develop and form opinions about our industry in our heads and then we get corrected by those that know along the way. That means there are some things that a lot of comedians out there haven’t heard, or really don’t want to hear. That includes me.

No Matter How Much You Rewrite That Joke it Just isn’t Funny

Not every thing we puke up onto a pad is gold, or silver, sometimes it is just a thing that will not generate a laugh. It may have been funny for a fleeting moment, but maybe that moment is gone and now you have to come to terms with the fact that every once in a while, you write bullshit.

WRITE!

So many comedians are rocking the same act from years ago and wonder why your family and friends don’t want to see you anymore. Write. If you don’t have time, make time. If you deem it important then you will make time.

You Can’t Get Booked if You Are Not Around

For years, I have had many people come to me and ask why so and so and why this or that entity isn’t booking them. I usually say a bunch of shite that just boils down to: YOU HAVE TO BE AROUND! If you are sitting at home instead of beating the pavement and letting people see that you should be paid for your craft, then no one is gonna just knock your door down, put pants on you, and drag you to their stage.

Comedy Clubs Are Not Your Friends

I have a great relationship with the local club. The thing is, I understand that the club does not equal the people that run the club. The club has to make money. It is not there for me to pull my penis out on stage to make a statement. Personally the people that run the club may like you, but you may not be a fit for what they are trying to do. You may think you should get a headline weekend, but you don’t do near the numbers that someone else can do. Don’t take it personal.

You Are Not Funny Enough For That

I have tried getting into to many festivals, I have tried out for America’s Got Talent. I have participated in the San Francisco and Seattle comedy competitions. I have auditioned for many movies and television shows. I don’t get 90% of the stuff I am trying to do. What I have learned is to not look around myself and point fingers, but to search within and find out what I need to do to get so good that AGT can’t deny me or I win a comedy competition. It is hard, and it makes me doubt myself, but I think it is better than the alternative.

If You Don’t Act Like A Pro, Don’t Expect to Get Paid Like One

You show up late. Treat staff like shit. Never promote your shows. You do the bare minimum to be called a comedian, but yet you want to be taken seriously like one. It doesn’t work like that (most of the time). The people who are out there doing it all and doing it all professionally will have a better chance of getting where you want to be. Why? Because it looks like they have their stuff together.

The Takeaway…

These are just some of the things that most comedians will not even think about seriously because it means that they are not where they’re at because the system is broken (which it is) or that people got it out for them (they may), but because they are not doing enough.

All of these are things I try to ignore as well. I will see my friends out there and wonder why I am not doing that room or on that show. After awhile, I started to look at myself and try to fix those problems. It is not something that can usually be fixed overnight. You don’t go from avoiding communications with people to being a networking wizard over night. It takes work, but the first step is in knowing what needs to be fixed to reach your goals.

Sometimes, You Have to Bet on Yourself

I wish I could tell you that there was an easy way to comedy stardom ( or at least the ability to pay your rent with it). Just show up, blow up, and glow up. That isn’t the case though. Everyone’s career has a different path. No two people will achieve their comedy goals the same way. There is one thing I can tell you though…sometimes you have to believe in yourself enough to put your money behind it.

Don’t Depend On Others For Your Living

Depending on clubs to accept you, or waiting for someone with a bunch of bar shows to put you on is not a good way of making comedy work for you. I know this because that is what I have done. If no one was calling me for a weekend at their club or a couple of bar dates then I just didn’t do comedy for money that month. It left me feeling hopeless and that I had no chance to succeed at this. You should never wait for people to pay you. Pay yourself, but to do that you have to put money out there.

Ways To Make It Work

If you are someone that is mostly doing bar shows or one nighters, then you should be selling merchandise. I have a whole article on selling merchandise, but I will say it again. SELL SOMETHING! Bands do it. You can do it. T-shirts, stickers, coasters, hats, lighters, socks, just sell something! Now, you are not just dependent on the money you are getting from the show, and that can go towards paying bills.

You not getting booked enough? Then you do the booking. Call up your favorite bar and ask them to let you do something. You may get a “no”, but you may also get a “yes”. Don’t want to perform for the bar crowd? Find a venue that you can perform in. A lot of times a venue will charge you to rent it. Save up and buy the place for the night and push it.

I have friends that have set up months of work by just calling and seeing if they can perform in a venue. They work out the details so they can make some money and they are out performing, but they usually pay for the rental of the place or clean up after the show, and they usually do all their own advertising. They put money in, betting that they can make a return on their investment. They did that because the investment was in themselves.

Why A Lot Of Us Don’t Do This

There are many reasons to not do this. You could lose your shirt if you bet too big (don’t rent a thousand seat theater if you are just a no name like me). That’s the thing though, believing in yourself has to go with a little bit of foresight and reality. If you have been performing for a month and think you have enough time to headline your own show, you may come crashing down to reality.

If you are one of those that sit around, emailing clubs, and messaging your buddies that book one nighters to see if they have anything for you, this could work for you. It is all about taking that step. Take a couple hundred dollars and get some shirts or something made for selling after a show. Book a venue and advertise it and see if you can make some money. It seems daunting because it is. We all want to be able to have our talent equally judged, but that isn’t the case. Not every club booker or every hole in the wall promoter will see you the same. These people don’t care that you put in hours a day writing and you line up at the open mics and you do your two to three minutes and you rewrite and you drive hours and you sleep in crappy motels where you stay awake to listen if anyone smashes your car window. The only one that cares about that is you, and if you care then you should care enough to want to get to the places you think you should.

Why Do I Tell You This

I tell you this because the first twelves years of comedy I did this. I would send email after email to clubs and bookers just hoping that they would enjoy my video and headshot enough to see that I was serious and I was funny enough to pay. I would sit here in this chair wondering what was wrong with me and my act. Is my headshot blurry? Is my video submission not loud enough? Not sharp enough? Did I curse in it? I never took that effort I spent worrying and using it to look for places that I could book myself and making money when I wasn’t doing something for someone else. I didn’t look into the adjacent things I could be doing like submitting to commercials and TV shows. I just sulked.

Then one day I stopped. I got tired of the “We can’t use you” email replies and I took some money and invested in some merchandise and getting myself booked at more private events. Then my attitude started to change. I wasn’t so saddened when a club told me they were booked up because that meant that was a weekend to book a private event. When a bar show fell through I was not going to miss paying my phone bill because I sold enough shirts from the last show to pay it early. I’m not saying it is all sunshine booty rubs. Sometimes I don’t get that private event or I don’t sell any shirts, but that is just how it goes.

I can’t tell you what you should do, but what I can offer you is this. When it is all said and done, do you want to say that you wasted your time chasing after clubs and bookers that had no time for you or do you want to say you gave it your best shot and you bet on yourself. Only you can answer that.

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.

The Problem With Local Shows

I am a regional comic.  What that means is that I make the majority of my money in about 4-5 states.  This means that local shows that are put on are a big source of income for me.  The thing about doing shows locally (I live in Spokane WA on the east side of Washington state) is that it is HARD to get people in those seats.  Now, I have had conversations at length about why this is so.  Theories abound!  Everything from people don’t know about comedy in the area all the way to it’s too expensive (if 5 bucks is too much then you have other issues).  I have my own theories.

We live in a post comedy boom.  Back in the 80’s and 90’s comedy clubs were as plentiful as zits on Kim Kardashian’s ass.  With every boom though there is a burst of the bubble and by the mid to late 90’s most of the good will stand up comedy garnered was wasted.  Why?  Because human nature that’s why!  Instead of establishing itself as a viable form of entertainment, comedy became more seedy as people who wanted to run shows, but didn’t have the capital to open a new club (especially after they ruined a couple already) just threw them up in bars and basements around america.  Think about it like this:  When is the last time you have been to a comedy club that wasn’t also a restaurant or a bar or a strip mall?  This is one of the reasons people turned away from live comedy.  No one wants to go to a comedy club when it is in the seedy side of town and you have to bring your own cups.

Then let’s not forget the actual people putting on these shows.  They were either wannabe comics who failed miserably to make it in a time when anyone with a hook could make money or they were shady businessmen that saw a quick buck (sounds a lot like the housing and internet bubbles).  These people would charge money and threw anyone on stage that said they were a comic.  Since there were so many comedy clubs and not enough quality acts to fill them, people got burned one too many times and the clubs just dried up.

The comics actually performing back then didn’t help either.  These guys were snake oil salesmen.  They would flash a grin and show a comedy booker a bag full of trinkets that they were gonna make fun of on stage and they got a lot of work.  The problem is they were not that good.  Look at all the stereotypes of comedians.  Its always a guy telling terrible jokes that have been driving into the ground (see last week’s article on hack).  He always looks like a used car salesman.  This was even worse in smaller parts of the country because quality acts were in the big cities and comedy clubs needed acts it was easy for these people to go from small town to small town for years before they either got one too many DUIs or they opened up a subway that is connected to a conoco.

What does that have to do with comedy in Spokane (and probably your little neck of the woods).  Well, Spokane is one of those cities where these exact things happened! People started doing comedy in any place that would let them.  Comedy clubs were doing great in the area.  Then the people running the bars noticed that the same 5 acts were coming back over and over again.  The audiences noticed that they were paying more to get in and more for drinks and getting a guy that was telling all of Eddie Murphy’s old material, but in a british accent.

So what happened?  Well, the bar owners kicked the bookers out and refused to pay that much money for an inferior product.  Audience members decided to spend their money on known quality (that is why clubs all across America will not put you on unless you have TV credits, that is to let the people coming to the show know that you have been vested already and deemed funny) and just stopped coming to comedy clubs unless they could prove they could consistently bring in funny people.

So, comedy in Spokane has stagnated for about 6 years with one club and a lot of one nighters that pop up from time to time.  I am a believer that it is because of the (perceived) quality of comedy in the area and the lack of promotion that is making local shows suffer.  Even when you get out on local TV and advertise your event you may get a lukewarm response and that is because people have been burned before and people remember the bad experiences more than the no so bad experiences.

Another issue that is fairly recent is that comics (me included) have gotten lazy with promotion.  We will make a flyer and put it up at the venue and then post it online and then call it good.  Just because you have 500 friends on facebook does not mean you will get 500 people to your show.  For every 100 people you have to assume that only 1 of those people will be persuaded by your advertisement.  If you put on shows then try this experiment.  Send out an invite to your next show.  See how many people say they will or might come.  Then check the amount of audience members you get.  You will see that a lot of the time the number of people that saw the ad and then said they were coming is much larger than the amount of people that actually showed up.  I mean you can post it a lot and get people used to the fact that a show will be going on.  That is the only way I have seen it consistently work.  But the numbers will almost always be lower than what you planned.

I think in this area, the biggest problem is that people don’t think of Spokane as an area where good comedy can come from.  I think the reason for that is that Seattle and Portland are not that far away and people’s perception is that it makes no sense to do comedy here unless you are not good enough to cut it on the west side.  That is why shows do really well here when they are being performed in theaters like the Bing Crosby Theater or the Fox Theater.  People will come see those because again, they believe that those people on that stage have been vested and they believe they are getting a quality product.

I have gone about my career here the long way. I just try to put on the best show possible and gain enough of a following that when I do perform I can have a number of people come to that show.  It is not the cool route because at times there are a lot of empty seats in the crowd, but it is one that allows the people paying to get in a chance to trust that you will take care of their entertainment needs.  Now, I would love to get a TV credit and make it easier to get asses in chairs, but that is a process.  If you have read my blog, you will notice that is a ongoing theme.  Process to success.

I think the Spokane comedy scene would serve itself well to see a little deeper into why people are not showing up then just “its warm outside” and see that what people want now are what they have wanted forever.  A consistently funny show in an area where they don’t feel they will have to fight a bum to get to their automobile.