Lets Just Talk

When I started this blog, the goal was simple:  Give people that are just starting out a guide so that they can be as successful as possible.  I can not tell you how to get on Conan or pitch a TV show because I have never done that.  I have spent over a decade in shady bars all over the country and I have dealt with the ups and downs of climbing the comedy ladder.  When I was starting out, there wasn’t anything online to help you.  You just walked on stage and made mistakes until you learned it.  This may seem like a good method, but what it does is make it extremely hard for some to even attempt comedy.  Not all of us can just collect ourselves and get up on stage.  Some need that confidence that something like this blog can provide.

I will never charge people to access what I have written.  I like to make money, but I want these tips available to those that are actually trying to find something to help them get to that next step.  One thing that has to be remembered though when reading this is that these are my observations and experiences.  Yours may differ.  With any amount of advice, you can take all, some, or none.  It wasn’t until I was doing it for a while that I had people that actually steered me in a direction that helped me get better and get more work.  Not everyone will have access to important mentors like this, so hopefully this will help at least a little.

Comedy has to be entered into with a passion and a persistence that is not like many things in this world.  Comedy is a long, painful, embarrassing, journey that many will just simply give up.  For those of us that continue to grind and persist, and struggle, it may seem at times to not even be worth it. That is where the passion comes in.  There are plenty of funny people out there, but there are not that many that can get on stage and articulate that humor to the masses.  It is also a business and if there is one thing I have learned its that many human don’t like to take chances when it comes to their money.  It is hard to get up on stage night after night to sculpt a joke that will work most of the time, but it is even harder to then go to someone and tell them to give you money for those well-crafted jokes.  A lot of people just can’t do it.  I have had to get part time jobs in between dry spells.  I have had to pawn almost everything in my house at one point to keep this alive.  The thing is, some people don’t want to go through that.  Does that mean they were not passionate about comedy?  No.  It means that comedy is a great way to see how far you are willing to go for something.  Before comedy rewards you, it will ask: What are you willing to give up?  Some give up their friends.  Some give up their marriages.  Some give up great jobs.  It will ask how hard are you willing to work.  Will you go to every mic in your town?  Will you spend three hours in a bar for three minutes on stage?  Will you drive across the state for dinner and gas money?  It will ask for more and more, and when you have given all you have to it, it may give you what you sought out.  You may be a working comedian, or a get commercial work, or appear in shows and movies, or you won’t.  Comedy will ask so much from you and still there is the chance that you will end up at the end of the road empty handed and broke.  Most passions are cruel that way.  Not every painter gets to live on just the sale of their paintings and not every singer gets paid for their songs, but we all pursued the thing that makes us feel alive and whole.  These things that we pursue are what gives this human experience meaning.  It makes a life worth living.

I knew when I was getting out of the military and pursuing comedy, that it may end up with me at the end broken and alone.  The thing is, I had nothing else to lose.  I was getting medically discharged from something that I was planning on making my career.  I was already spat out of something, and had no fear.  Would I have gone after comedy the way I had if under better circumstances?  I don’t think so.  I think I was looking for something to make me feel as though I wasn’t as broken as they told me I was.   I wanted to care about more than a paycheck.

I would not call myself a successful comedian, but I can call myself a working comedian.  It takes work and luck to make comedy something more than just pocket money, and I hope this blog does that at least a little bit.  I hope that even though I am not a successful comedian, you will look at what I have been through and help it guide you so you can achieve what it is you are looking for in comedy.  Comedy is hard, and that is why you need as much help as you can get along the way.

Advertisements

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.

 

The Pain Of Failure

Went to Colorado Springs to take part in the World Series of Comedy. I am always a nervous wreck when it comes to competitions.  I feel like I have good material and everything, but it never seems to hold up very well under scrutiny.  I do them anyway because it is the best way to get out there and network.

I was in the “wildcard” round.  If you place in the wildcard, you can then move on to the next competition. The 40 comics that were selected were all done so based on the video that was sent in.  So, the wildcard round is for those comics that had a pretty bad video, but not that bad. I was the ninth comic and I thought I did a good job.  I placed second and got to move on to the next round.

So I got to hang out Thursday and watch shows and got to see the sites of Colorado Springs.  I performed first show Friday and I was a nervous wreck.  I actually laid in my hotel bed, timing my material, so I could be sure not to go over time.  I never do this!  I just go up with a rough sketch of what I will do and I let the crowd take me the rest of the way.  Because I placed in the wildcard, I was the first comic to go up.  Comics call this the “bullet” spot or “taking the bullet”.  The reason being is because as the first comic, everyone else will be judge based on you.  You are the average, and being the average does not get you into the final night.  I did my thing, and I thought it was great.  As the first comic, you have to set the bar high.  You can’t mess up because then the bar is so low that the other comics can just walk over it.  They picked two comics to go on to the Saturday shows, and I was not one of them.

After the show, the guy that puts this all together told me I did a good job taking the bullet, and I only lost out by a point, but while I was listening to him, my brain was muddy.  Like he was talking to me while I was in a bowl of water.  All I could keep thinking was, “Not again.”.  I didn’t stay up that late because I had a flight back to Spokane, but I did stay to watch my buddy Phil Kopczynski take second during the next show.  The whole time though, I was sitting there wondering what I could have done differently.

This is my third of these types of competitions, and I always seem to do well, until I talk myself into failing.  I lay there at night just running through all the times I ran into hardship, or I just tell myself that I am not supposed to be a great comic.  I think about all the other failures in my life and think why would this be any different.  That sort of thinking will eat away at your soul.  I try not to let the negative thoughts get to me, but it is hard in a business where failure comes in bunches and the victories are so small, but seem so big because you don’t know what it feels like.  Comics in Spokane assume that I am doing all this stuff, but what they fail to see are the emails (or lack there of) from casting directors and club bookers turning me down.

It hurts to work at something and not see it pan out.  That is comedy though.  That is show business.  It tears away at you and you mull over all the ways you could have turned it around.  Maybe I should have done this, or maybe I should have said that?  That always pops up in my mind after the fact.  It also doesn’t help that I get approached after the show and told how close I was to success.  It just plants another seed in my mind that I should not strive for a better position, that the space I take up now in comedy is the one I am best suited.  That may be right.  It doesn’t hurt to keep trying though.

Even though I fail in a lot of my pursuits, my YouTube channel, my photography business, my podcast, this blog, it doesn’t mean that the passion to do those things die along with it.  Every Monday, I still have a desire to type out these words even though a small number of people will read them.  I still take photos and offer my services.  I still write short stories and audition for commercials and movies.  I do these things because when I look at my life without those things, I don’t see me existing.  These are the things that make my heart race, that make me feel like I am adding to the positivity of the human condition, and so I will still perform comedy, and write and take photos, even though I will run into a lot more hardships. This defines me, and I can’t walk away from it.

They Won’t Get You

Following you passions can be a lonely road.  It doesn’t matter what it is you do, if it isn’t get a “normal” job, then there will always be doubters ready to tell you that you are wasting your time.  What is even harder is that there are more people out there that haven’t done it then there are people that have.  It doesn’t matter if you are a comedian, actor, writer, MMA fighter, or lion tamer, you have to understand one key thing:  They won’t get you.

Your friends and family will never understand the lengths you will go to pursue your passion.  They don’t understand why you will drive for hours for a minimum sum of money.  Why you write.  Why you perform. They can’t understand that in order to do what you love, you have to devote a lot of time to it for little return, with hopes that one day it will all be worth it.  They don’t understand that your worst fear is doing what they are doing, working a 9 to 5 for someone else, just to keep paying rent and having health insurance.  They don’t understand why someone would pursue something so feverishly.  Like I said, they won’t get you.

While I have been pursuing stand-up as a profession, I have had two girlfriends, and countless friends ask me why I am doing it.  Why don’t you use that degree?  Why don’t you work here?  Why don’t you work there? What someone that isn’t like me (or you) will never understand is how soul crushing your everyday job can be. My mind is not suited for sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day, only to shower and do it again the next day.  I have tried it, especially when there were bills pilling up, but once I got the bills taken care of, I went back to my passions.  Some military friends, before one show, told me how silly it was to do this after getting my degree and everything else I did in my life.  I just walked away knowing that they didn’t get me.

All people have a passion, it’s just that most of them decide to play it safe, only to regret it when they are on their deathbeds.  For those of you that took that chance to follow your dreams, just know that there are others just like you.  Others that decided to take the chance at true and pure happiness. The kind of happiness that comes from baring all and creating something that others can take part in and enjoy.  Even if everyone else doesn’t, we get you.

Keeping Your Head Up When All Seems Lost

This thing we do is hard sometimes.  There are a lot of lonely nights, of self doubt, where you can only see the darkness.  Standing up and bearing your soul to the world is a painful thing to do, and to complicate matters you also have to put up with the rest of the world when you step off stage.  Relationships, relatives, jobs, all of the hardships others have to deal with.  What makes it even worse is that you are one of the few that notices it. That is what makes a comic a comic.  They have the ability to see the nuances of the world that other people just ignore.  That can tire you and make you look at the world negatively.

With that going on for years and years it will eventually get to the point where you see no other way out. Your non comedian friends just don’t understand what propels a person to drive 3 hours for 100 bucks. They don’t know how it feels to notice the world the way you do.  So, you hang out with like minded people. The problem is that those people also tend to be in the dumps as well because this is the albatross we carry to be able to do this.

How can you keep on going when it seems the world doesn’t understand you and you feel as though you are falling down a jagged cliff?  I have no idea.  I am in the same boat as you.  I can tell you what deadens the pain. I find the things I like to do and I do them a lot.  That is easy for me to say however, my favorite things don’t include ingesting drugs and/or alcohol, which could make matters worse.  I read, play video games, and go to the pawn shop, and hang out with my loved ones.  I try to stay around positive people. Those people tend to be comics, but more often then not they make me feel good to be around them.  I also try to keep as busy as possible. The way my mind works (and the mind of most depressed people) is that if it is left idle, to just rummage around through the blank spaces in my mind, then negativity will arise from that.  That is why I decided to start photography and videography and podcast and anything else to stay out of that place that brings me down.

It’s hard.  You don’t know if this thing you love will be loved by others to the point where you can earn a living from it.  The grind of being a comedian can get you down.  I just hope that while you are pursuing your dreams that you stay positive and make sure you are doing the things that make you happy, not the things that you think will make others around you happy.

 

This blog post is dedicated to Meredith Flanders.  She was a not only a great comedian, but also a great person.

meredith

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.