My Time in the 39th Seattle International Comedy Competition

I was one of 32 competitors in this year’s Seattle International Comedy Competition (SICC).  I will talk about a couple of things that I experienced during my second time competing in this competition.

For those that aren’t familiar with this, this is a multi week competition all around the Western part of Washington state.  The first two weeks of the competition are the preliminary rounds.  The top five for both of those weeks move on to the semi-finals and the top five move on to the finals.  There have been a lot of amazing comedians that have taken part in this competition.  Many people submit each year and it is quite an accomplishment to get to compete (at least in my opinion).

When I was selected to be one of the 32 competitors I chose to compete in the first round.  There were a lot of Seattle locals in this round so I was nervous because of home town advantage and all.  I had worked on a set that I thought would work well and I was ready.  Me and fellow Spokane comedian Michael Glatzmaier were late because like a lot of people we underestimated Seattle’s notoriously bad traffic.  That first night sets the tone for the rest of the week for a lot of people.  Those that are suited to move on will, and those that may have bitten off more than they can chew (always wanted to say that) can usually be found looking out into the world in confusion.  I placed first the first night with what I think was my best performance of the entire competition (which is bad because it was the first night of the entire thing).  I felt like my set was dialed in and I was confident it could get me to the semi-finals.  The rest of the week, I placed second in each show.  For the week I finished first and I was comfortably moving on to the finals.  There was only one other show in which I thought I did well enough to finish first, but when you get called second you kind of forget about all that.

The semi-finals was not as comfortable as the preliminary round (of course).  I had a week to lay about and think, and the five comedians from the second week were still sharp going in.  I hadn’t worked on a semi-finals set as much as I had liked so I was basically trying to cobble something together.  I took what I was doing during the prelims, and added another couple jokes onto it.  I won the first night and I was feeling really good.  Then things got pretty bumpy after that.  Took fourth the next night.  Didn’t place at all the third night.  The fourth night I placed second, but I was still worried because this competition is score based and so placement doesn’t mean as much if everyone else’s scores are really close. The last night was in this enormous theater and everyone brought the heat.  I finished third for that night and fourth for the week.  I was the only one from the first week to move on to the finals.

I knew I was in trouble because my plan of action didn’t take into account making it to the finals.  I have a lot of  material.  Two (or three if you count an earlier DVD I did) albums and an iPad full of jokes means that when you are in a competition, you have too much to chose from.  Do I go with the older material that works great, but I haven’t done in awhile, or do I go with the newer stuff that I have been doing more lately, but may not be “winning” material.  I went with going with the material I have been doing lately and slapping one of my closers on the end.  I was excited about making the finals with a group of amazing comedians.  I was there with my buddy Phil who finished first for the week in the semi-finals and that first night I was just up there having fun.  I finished fourth for the night.  I was happy and life was good.  After the second night though, I realized I maybe the only one just happy to be there.  I finished that night second, but I could see on the other comedian’s faces that they were trying to win.  That’s when I realized I should probably try better.  The next couple of nights were rough because no matter what I wasn’t finishing how I wanted.  On the last night, first was pretty much decided and second was pretty hard to get to.  I decided to do more of my more opinionated material because I was in the heart of Seattle and it didn’t really matter at that point.  I took a time penalty and ended up fifth for the night and fifth for the entire competition.

These competitions teach you what you are made of as a comedian.  Will you fold and just mail it in to get it over with, or will you keep pounding away until you reach the finish?  Do you have great material are you full of hot air?  Overall I am disappointed in my finish because I expect more from myself.  Yes, it is good to be there, but those couple of shows in which I was just “happy” to be present was my ultimate downfall.  I want more from myself because I have been doing this for so long.  I think I am also embarrassed.  I know it may seem silly, but I was embarrassed to be beaten.  Competitions are weird like that.

What you have to learn from these things is that not finishing first doesn’t mean you can no longer be a comedian.  Plenty of comedians never got out of the preliminary round and went on to make a name for themselves.  There is also so much work out there when you are around comedians from all over the planet.  I have booked so much work as of late all because of this competition.  I also have a couple things that could really be big in the new year.  So all in all, a pleasant experience.

Why Spokane is a Great Place to Start Your Comedy Career

I know Spokane is in the title, but it really stands that any city the size of Spokane can be a great place to start your comedy career and in some cases be a great place to maintain a career as well.  Let’s look at the reasons now.

Goldilocks Effect  Spokane is damn near the perfect size when starting out your career.  It isn’t as large as LA or NYC where you will be spending more time traveling to open mics than actually performing, but it isn’t so small that there is only one or two stages to get better.  Spokane has a stage almost every night of the week in which to perform, and unlike larger cities, you do not run the chance of getting bumped after making the commute to get there.  Spokane also has one of the premier clubs in the country with the Spokane Comedy Club.  That means you get to see and hopefully perform with bigger acts and get seen by more people and that can lead to more work down the line.

The Others In Spokane right now are about 40-50 comedians.  That is way less than most cities, but what than means is a close knit community.  From my observations, the larger the city, the more segregated the comedians.  The hip comedians are over here and the alt-comedians are over there and the comedians with puppets are on the roof for some reason. Most comedians in Spokane know each other which leads to a, mostly, equal distribution of work. With the amount of comedians in the area, there are enough for solid competition, but not enough to have the feuds that you see in other scenes.

Location, Location, Location! Spokane is is a four hour drive to Seattle, a six hour drive to Portland, and about the same amount of time to Boise.  That means you are pretty close to some large cities in which to further your career.  Say you have a day job and you have a show in Seattle.  It will be a challenge of course, but it is an early morning drive, and a late night drive and you are back at work, a little more drowsy, but it can be done.  You can maintain relationships with promoters in those cities and still benefit from Spokane’s lower cost of living.

There you go, some reasons why Spokane is a great place to start performing.  Of course I could list a couple more, but I liked the three that are listed above.  Next week, I will tell you guys why Spokane isn’t the best place to start your comedy career.  See, I can milk both sides for content!

 

Why Credits Suck

If you are in the comedy industry, then you know how important credits are.  They can be the difference between hosting, featuring, or getting the chance to headline a club.  Credits are a huge driving force to a lot of things comedians do nowadays and I think I will try my best to explain why they suck.  I will also do an article on why they don’t suck, which you will be able to find here.  So without further ado…

 

Credits don’t show skill: Just because you were a finalist of such and such competition, or you were on whatever late night show, doesn’t tell anyone looking at your credits anything.  It may tell the lay person something, but all it says is that you have about five minutes of great material.  What does that matter if you are sending promo packages to clubs asking to headline?  I’ve seen comedians that have credits for being a writer for some website, but that didn’t translate to being good on stage.

Credits are a lazy way to promote:  It is harder than ever to get people out to your shows, so credits are supposed to be there to let people know that you are worth spending money on.  The problem is some bookers and club owners will assume that slapping an NBC logo on a poster is all they need to get the seats filled.  Having a credit is not the top way to get people in the door.  It isn’t even in the top five in my opinion. There are tried and true ways to get the word out that the comedian you have coming in is funny.

No one reads about your credits:  So a comedian says he was on last comic standing, it is probably a good idea to know what they mean when they say that.  Were they a finalist or were they in a commercial for a half a second?   I was on the TV show Z-Nation that is on SYFY.  I was shot within two minutes of being on and you will not know that was me unless you know me.  That credit does nothing to show I am worth the price of admission.

Most Credits are Meaningless:  What is so weird about this is that almost everyone knows it, but we still do it.  Why?  Some agent told a group of comedians that credits will land you all over the place, and we ran with it.  What soon happened was people started exploiting this fact from top to bottom.  Comedians know that most credits are meaningless so they stack them up just to overwhelm anyone looking at them.  That is why so many comedy festivals have popped up.  You can have a ton of comedians come out and get that credit, which they need to get considered more, and if you are lucky you get to run a festival and hopefully make a little money. The average person has never heard of “small metro city comedy festival”, but it helps pad the credits.  Bookers and agents know they are meaningless, so they ask their comedians to go out and do more stuff.  Ever noticed how almost every comedian has a podcast?  Even if no one listens to the thing, you will at least have something for the host to tell the audience about.  Club owners know they are meaningless, but still depend on them so they can pull in people that may recognize the name.  That is why clubs all across the country will have “late night sketch show” star headline for a weekend.  They bring in people!  So, clubs that can’t afford that will try to bring in a guy with a ton of credits as well, but just not the name recognition so you will see logos for things you are familiar (NBC, FOX, Pandora) with and just assume that means a quality act.

 

Comedy is a tough business and with credits, it was thought that this would be a great way to balance everything out.  Get the credits and then move up the comedy ladder.  Comedians are resourceful if anything else and have learned how to turn this system into something damn near ridiculous.  Check out why they can actually be a good thing here!

 

 

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.

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.