How to Survive a Comedy Competition

Comedy competitions are weird beasts.  You are asking people to evaluate you as a comedian on criteria that is totally subjective.  What one person thinks is a funny joke, another person may see as a stinker.  Competitions can be stressful and pit you against people you thought you liked.  It can also bring out the best…or worst in people.  I will help you survive this upcoming competition season.

I think it is important to know, going into a competition, that losing doesn’t mean you are not funny, or a comedian, it just means through the process of elimination, you were not good enough to defeat people who were also being judged subjectively. Another thing that you MUST NOT do, is walk into a competition already counting the money.  This is putting the cart before the horse!  You still have the actually competition to go through, and you have already put yourself in such a corner.  Don’t think about the money or the prizes just yet.  Think about your performance.

A lot of people think there are prime spots in the line up that can increase your chances of winning.  I am here to tell you that is false.  Going first is not a death sentence and going up last doesn’t mean you are perceived to be the headliner.  It all depends on the comedian.  In competitions I have participated in, I have gone first many times and I have won, and lost.  It has nothing to do with your order and how the audience or judges perceive your order in the show.  It has more to do with how the audience and judges are feeling.  Did the show start on time?  Did the host do a decent set? Is it hot or cold in the building?  These have more to do with how a judge will perceive you then the order in which you are.  If anything, going first would be a great advantage.  You are the first comedian so you set the tone.  If you come out and light a fire under the audiences’ ass, then that can play with the rest of the comedians’ heads.   Going up last can have the opposite!  What if all the other comedians have done really well and now you go last?  There is no way to tell, so don’t worry yourself about the order.

Competitions are graded in different areas.  Some just leave it up to who’s friends can yell the loudest.  Some just pick random audience members and then others like to use a panel to do the judging.  I have personally competed in all of these types and I will tell you that the one that is the least scientific (for lack of a better word) is the audience response.  It is hard to judge who got more noise slung after their name was read.  I have seen people so butt hurt over this and I can see being competitive, but it isn’t worth it.  Just bring more friends next time.  Random audience members come next and they are better than just yelling, but not by much.  You don’t know if the person that was given the task of judging has ever been to a comedy show before.  This type of judging can be most influenced by biases.  The best type of judging in my opinion is the panel.  These people have usually been briefed on how to judge and because they are there to do that, they have a tendency to take it seriously.  When you just leave it to any old audience member, they may have gone out to smoke, or they have a tiny bladder meaning they miss parts of the show.  There are variants of all of these. Like some competitions have all the audience members judge.  This is better because the odds are better that a comedian hasn’t filled the ENTIRE room with just their friends or family.

Comedy competitions should be fun!  There is money or work at stake, but you should be walking into it thinking of what it can teach you about yourself as a comedian.  Do you go over time a lot? Well, competitions will cure that right up! Do you have jokes with way too many words in them?  That will disappear soon!  Do you spend the first 30 seconds asking the audience how they are doing? You will see how redundant that is at a competition.  Some comedians are not built for competitions.  Do you tell big epic stories?  It is tougher for you because you’re stuck on one thing for the entire allotted time. Do you have a dryer sense of humor?  That is tough because it may take awhile to get them accustomed to your way of joke slinging. If you are a nervous Nancy (sorry Nancy) and it takes awhile to shed that when you are up there, then competitions will only magnify this.  These are just my opinions from what I have witness.  There are exceptions to everything.

I can not end an article (or blog post if you must) about comedy competitions and not talk about some things.  If you are thinking that the best way to advance your career is to do competitions, then you will soon see that it is not.  They can be expensive and time consuming, and there is only a payout to a select few.  I performed in both the Seattle and San Francisco comedy competitions, placing 6th and 7th respectively.  All told, I spent about three grand and received about two grand in prize money.  I was able to afford it, not everyone can. Don’t go broke thinking that winning a comedy competition will put you in a spot to make more money.  That is all up to you as a person.  Some of the best comedians in the world apply to these competitions, and you have to be aware that you may end up on the losing end more times than not.  That’s even if you get accepted.  Competitions are looking for the best, but they are also looking to create a great show for people to see.  If you have been doing it four years, understand that it is harder to get in than someone that has been doing it ten and has done other competitions, and has a lot of credits to their name.

Have fun and be nice to all the competitors.  These guys are you competition today, but may be a booker tomorrow.

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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?

 

The Myth Of The Comedy Competition

There are tons of comedy competitions across the country, with tons of comedians all competing, with most thinking the same thing: “This is my chance to make it big!”  The problem is that, for the most part, it isn’t true.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but most likely you will get whatever the prize is and nothing more…hell, you may not get the prize money!

Now, we are not talking about the local comedy competitions that happen in almost every city with more than 20 comedians.  We are talking about the big comedy competitions, like the one in Seattle, San Francisco, and even Last Comic Standing.  All of these competitions have a prize of thousands of dollars and some like the World Series of Comedy even promise 50 weeks of paid work.  So, for the comedian with dreams of leaving their boring day job, this sounds like a sure fire way of doing it.  But, just like pancakes, or threesomes, it’s not as simple as it seems.

The first hurdle you have to make is of course getting into the competition.  Most of these competitions have a fee to enter which isn’t really a lot of money.  Last Comic Standing doesn’t have a fee (that I know of), but you do pay in standing in line for hours waiting to get seen, while people in sombreros and chicken suits do the same (I’d rather pay the entry fee).  These competitions are not just looking for the best entries, they are looking to create a great show.  So, if you are just a plain white dude talking about being single, you may not have as much of a chance as the large hispanic woman with the two nose rings.  Yes, it is a competition, but these organizers also have to put on a show that people want to see.  If the entire show is just white guys, that doesn’t seem like a unique show.

Ok, so you won the entire comedy competition!  Now what?  Are you gonna get on the phone and contact these comedy clubs and get your ass working or are you going to sit there and wait to be called?  Because if you are waiting to be called to fill that calendar of yours then you are truly mistaken. These bookers are not scanning the internet for people that have won comedy competitions.  They have a slew of comedians that are begging to get in.  You have to get up off your ass and make it happen.  So why did you do the competition?  Simple.  Credits.  Clubs today are looking for comics that they can easily sell to their audience.  If the audience sees that you won a big competition, it validates you.  Other people have found you funny, so it is safe for them to pay $12 bucks to see you.

You should not look at comedy competitions as a way of making it big.  If anything, you can look at it as an efficient way of making contacts.  I was in the Seattle and San Francisco competitions, I only made it to the semis in both of those, but the most valuable thing was making friends with comedians all over North America.  Now, I have connections all over the US and Canada.  That was worth the money I paid to get in the contest.  Comedy is about hard work and dedication and just preparing yourself for the opportunities that arise.  There are no “get big quick” schemes in comedy.  This is not to say that winning a competition won’t be that doorway to bigger things.  It can!  It’s just not going to do the work for you.  You have to write the jokes, and perfect your act, and be consistent, AND if you win be able to take advantage of your chance.  If you get into a competition this fall, get to know all the comedians and have fun!

Tips For Sucessfully Submitting To Festivals And Competitions

I get asked a lot how to properly submit to festivals and competitions.  Like most anti-social individuals, I am often learning this the long way because I am afraid of just asking someone.  So I have compiled a list of what is MORE LIKELY to work.  There is nothing that is for sure gonna work unless you know the people putting on the festival or competition.

Great head shots are a must!  Even in this day and age, I see people with headshot from their friend’s iphone or a compact camera and I just get sad inside.  Not because they didn’t come to me, but because it shows!  The people that put on festivals and competitions look at hundreds of head shots and they can tell which ones came from a person knowing how to do head shots and from someone that was too cheap to get someone to do it for them properly.  It gives off the impression that you are not serious about it, and if you are not taking it seriously, then why should they.  Depending on where you live, it can be expensive, but if you are serious about comedy, you need them done and done right.

Rewrite your bio.  You know that bio that you sent to that one booker?  Well, if you are submitting to a festival or competition I suggest you either write another, or you just truncate the one you currently have. Just get it to the point.  They are usually looking for the cool stuff you have done, so throw that on there.  You placed in a competition somewhere?  Great!  Throw it on there!  You opened for Elvis during Christmas…ok…throw it on there!  If you are like me, and your bio isn’t as flowery as others, it can be a little hard to get people to want to give up a prime spot just to you, but if you wow em with what you did, that may help over come that.

Submit sooner rather than later.  Now, I don’t have numbers, so this is just my opinion, but I feel the sooner you submit, the greater your chances of getting selected.  This may be because of several reasons, maybe the later the submission timeframe the more they think you don’t want to do it.  Maybe just because of human nature, but the majority of the submissions are coming in so they ignore most of the later ones.  Or, I could just be wrong, but with my own examples (again not meant to be seen as absolute), when I submitted early I got in and when I waited until the last couple of weeks I didn’t.

Have a good video.  Make sure the video is one in which you can be heard more than the wait staff.  Make sure that you are not blown out.  A great video makes it look as though you know what you are doing.  Like I said earlier, you have to look like you are a comic and not just some weirdo wasting everyone’s time.  Make sure the link works before you send it.  Put it up on YouTube, you can have it unlisted if you just want to submit it and not have other’s watching it, and then just copy the link and paste it into the submission form.

Here is a very important thing to understand about festivals and competitions.  They by themselves will not make or break your career.  If you are depending on a competition to get you all the work you need then you are thinking about it all wrong.  If you submit and send in your stuff and you didn’t get selected, don’t get mad at the organizers, look within.  Did you send everything they asked for?  Did you not have your video link right? Did you forget to pay the submission fee? Did you not submit at all and just thought they should know you wanted to do it? If all of that was done, then it could just mean that they had everyone they needed or that your submission wasn’t as strong as the others that submitted. This doesn’t mean you are a terrible comic or anything, it just means that you will have to try again next year.

How Festivals Have Changed Comedy

Comedy festivals have been popping up all over the country in the past several years.  They are great ways to get a lot of comics in one area, and they are great for business savvy people who can make it turn a profit (or at the least not lose money from them).  Let’s talk about how they have changed comedy, for better or worse (you can be the judge of that).

Comedy festivals are great for comics in that if you can get into one you can use that as a bullet point in your bio to attract more gigs, but I think more important than that is the amount of working comics you are able to network with.  Remember, comedy is like any other industry, if you get to know the right people you will get more work.  Especially if you are not an ass hole.  This reason alone is the biggest reason to try to get into as many festivals as you can.  The time spent being face to face with comics that may have that one booker to help you fill out dates is worth the price of admission.  Here is my tip though:  Don’t try to sell yourself to other comics, they hate that.  Just be a normal person and not a billboard.  They will get that you are funny or you have done stuff, let your sets do the selling.

Comedy festivals can be great for a booker or promoter to make a little extra money on the side.  Don’t get me wrong, they work for whatever they get to take home, but if ran right, it can lead to extra income.  Now, just telling people to hand you 30 dollars and you MIGHT get back to them isn’t how the nice festivals in the country are ran.  They have more than just a couple of bars in which to perform. You can tell that the organizers have thought about the festival as a whole.  I am no expert in how these things are put together, but from just eyeballing it, it seems as though the money is spent on ads and feature performers. Not everyone can get Bill Burr to their festival, so you may have to pony up some dough.  This is why many festivals don’t make huge profits, but I think it is worth it.

Now, let’s talk about the bad.  On the comics side, I feel as though some may see festivals as their “get famous quick” plan.  It doesn’t work like that.  All the other things that make comics better still apply. Getting out and working the stage, and writing, are still preferable then just applying to festivals thinking you will get noticed.  On the festival organizers side, there is still a lot of uncertainty about whether or not they are put together unbiasedly.  What I mean is, are the people putting the line ups together looking for great talent or just getting their friends trips to their city off the backs of people wanting to be in a festival? I am always suspicious when I see repeat comics on the festival bill year after year, but I am a paranoid guy.

My thoughts and ideas on festivals have changed, and I think that is because I have seen what they can do for comics that are great, but just needed more eyes on them.  I also like the ones that are well ran, like the ones we have here in the Northwest.  If you are planning on submitting to a festival remember that you should have a great video and a professional headshot. Let them see that you mean business.

 

 

Heartbreak Motel

I came in 7th in the 2015 San Francisco Comedy Competition.  I tried my best, I think.  I left the state of California with a check and a broken heart.  The last time I felt this way was when I didn’t get into the finals of the Spokane Comedy Competition all those years ago.  Personally, I thought I was good enough to be in the top five, but the judges thought otherwise.

When you get your ass handed to you like this, you start to wonder if your head is to big, or you think more highly of your abilities than you should.  The second to last night I put on a performance that I thought was worthy of placing.  I felt good about it and the crowd buzzed.  I can’t explain it, but you could feel the energy coming off the audience.  I didn’t place that night, and I was just a zombie driving back to the hotel room.  I couldn’t believe it.  I kept questioning the things in my head.  Did they not believe I had a heart attack?  Did they not like the description of child birth?  Do I look too stupid?  All these thoughts popped in my head, I was just heartbroken, like a love had just left me.

I wanted to make the finals so the comics in Spokane could be proud of me honestly.  A lot will tell me I did alright to my face, but when they are with others, they will let the truth be known.

I won a prize for my photography at the fair!  It wasn’t for placing it was like a consideration award.  My photos were posted for all to see.  That is what I really liked.  My eye basically shown to the rest of Spokane. It was a great feeling.

I got accepted into Idaho Laughfest down in Boise Idaho.  I am excited.  Why?  Because it is a festival and not a competition!  I can just go there and do my thing and not worry about scores and stuff.  I can also hang out with the comics without that layer of competitiveness seeping through.

I am for real for real gonna start the podcast….soon.

Things You Learn From Failure

People say you learn more from the failures than the successes.  Well, since I am writing this from the airport in San Francisco instead of a cozy hotel room, I can tell you that that is partially true.  You CAN learn from your failures and your defeats.  Even if it is something as simple as “The world is not a pretty place”, you will learn something.

The past two weeks I have been competing in the San Francisco International Comedy Competition.  I did not advance to the finals.  Unlike most shows you do, at the end of the competition you are given a graph that charts how you scored.  That can help you if you want to know why you didn’t advance.  I got to see how I scored in the categories in which they were judging.  This is an easy example.  Sometimes you have to dig deeper to find meaning in why you failed.

Say you are doing a show and you bombed.  You may think it is easier to look outward to find the cause of the disappointment, but 99% of the time it is within where the problems lie.  Did you not sell your material? Did you curse like a sailor and the show was in a retirement home?  Did you start off wrong and couldn’t right the ship?  These are things you can think about the next time things don’t go as planned.  Since these are things you can change they are also the easiest.

What did I learn from the competition?  I learned that I may not be the best at short format sets.  I learned that I need to work on my material (who doesn’t), and I learned that I can hang around, but there are just intangibles that the audience (or in this case the judges) don’t see in me.  Now I can try to fix the first two things.  I can write stuff to help in shorter sets, I can rewrite stuff, but the intangible part is something I can only change through stuff like appearance where I can give the perception that I have traits that I may not posses.

The biggest lesson I think every comic can take from failing is that this is life, and life is hard.  Sometimes things don’t go your way no matter how badly you want them too.  The best way to correct this is to get back up and keep moving forward.  I know it is easy to say, but for me, sometimes very hard to do.