Why Spokane May Not be the Best Place to Start Your Comedy Career

Last week, I wrote a post about how Spokane (or similarly sized city) would make a great place to start your comedy career.  As I said from that post, I would write a post about why it would not be a great place to begin your comedy career.  Lets do it!

Limited Audience: A city like Spokane has about 250,000 people living in it (almost twice as much if you count the metropolitan populace).  Out of that amount you have to start counting out certain groups, like people who don’t like stand-up or people to young to attend shows.  That leaves you with an even smaller group of people in which to apply your trade.  On a Saturday night, for example, only about 300-400 people are attending a comedy show in the area.  Cities like New York or Chicago are seeing multiple times that many people.

Talent Pool: Spokane bleeds talent every year.  Comedians get to a point where they feel as though they are stalling in their career and make the move to a larger city.  This is one of the downsides to living in a town of this size.  Just when the amount of talent in the city reaches a level where attention is drawn to it, enough people leave that it starts to effect shows.  When your best comedians leave for greener pastures, the only comedians left may not be ready to get paid, but you have no choice sometimes but to put them up.

Small chance to make it BIG:  Let’s face it.  Spokane is not a destination for any of the late shows.  No talent agent is going to Chan’s to look for a comedian to give a Netflix special to.  That is why people go to NYC and LA and Chicago.  You have a higher chance of being spotted or connecting with the right people and changing your life from just comedian on the side to full time comedian.  No matter how cheap the rent is in Spokane, the possibility of making it trumps that every time.

Trapped in local material:  There is a saying (one which I will be writing an article about soon) that goes: Local jokes get local work.  Because Spokane and the surrounding area can be a comedy island, people tend to cater a little to much to the townsfolk and before you know it, you have a set that is basically all about Spokane and towns around it.  That may work here, but once you go somewhere else, no one cares about how methed out Ritzville looks.

So, there you have it, some reasons why Spokane may not be the best place to start your career.  I always like to give both sides to an argument, and I hope you will see both the good and the bad to being a comedian in Spokane.  Remember, if you have the persistence and the talent, you can be a great comedian anywhere.

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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.

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!

 

 

Pushing Through No

People are always trying to find out what the difference is between them and their favorite comedians.  I hear it a lot when talking to comedians and they wonder why they have been doing it for five years and still hosting, but some guy they saw on TV has been doing it just as long and…well, they are on TV.  I have written before about the ways these guys are different.  Today I am going to write about one way that stops many people, including me at times, and that is “no”.

See, what separates us from most of the comedians, actors, and singers you see is that they don’t take no as a final answer.  No is more of a stop gap than anything.  If you are a comedian reading this, think of the times you have been told no (in one way or another).  The local booker doesn’t reply to your emails.  Clubs don’t want you for anything other than hosting.  Your family thinks its a phase.  Instead of just letting that get to them and keep them from progressing, these people are pushing.  Why?  Because they know that no isn’t the end all be all!  That is just one person, controlling a small bubble of the comedy landscape.  So instead of letting it eat them alive, they push on past that person and go to another, and another, and another, until they get to the next step in their career.

It is not easy to do this.  If it was, I wouldn’t be at an open mic right now writing this.  When I first started trying to branch out, hearing no from someone would obliterate my self-esteem.  Now, it is just part of the process.  This is the way this industry runs.  Is it fair?  No, but the way I see it is like this:  Everyone is trying to either maintain or make more money and gain prestige.  If they just allowed anyone in that could hurt that without making absolutely sure they could at least keep the status quo, then that means loosing a room, or a valuable client.

Ok.  So you’ve read all that and you think that you are one yes from being Tom Segura.  Wait.  Not letting “no” stop you is just one part of a whole.  You still have to write you ass off and get on stages and maintain relationships with people.  Every comedian out there has another comedian or booker or someone believe in them and help them and you need that as well, just don’t let disappointments get you down.

Moving to a Larger Comedy Market

Spokane is rarely the last destination for a comedian.  Historically, comedians discovered that they love comedy here and then go somewhere else to actually try to make a go at it.  Recently, we have had an exodus of sorts, and it got me thinking about things that comedians need to take note of before moving to a larger market.  This is not to discourage anyone.  This is to try to help those that are in smaller markets make the right choice so they can succeed in their new cities.

Can you find a job?: This seems like something of a no-brainer, but I have seen comedians leave the place they started comedy, get to the new city and realize they can’t find a job.  If you can’t get the basics covered, how are you going to pursue your comedy career.  This may be easier for those that have a profession, or a degree in a certain field, but if you don’t you may want to make sure you can get a job.

Do you have money?: I have read articles where they say have three months of savings just in case you can’t find a job that fast.  I will say, you may need 4-6 months if you are going from a lower cost of living area to a higher cost of living area.  If you saved based on Spokane’s rent market, but you are moving to LA, that three months savings is now only about a month and a half.  The cost of living in some of these cities are one of the reasons a lot of people abandon comedy.  It is hard to pursue comedy, when you have to work all the time.

Got a place to stay?: You may want to check and make sure your married high school buddy (and their partner) are cool with you sleeping on the floor of their nursery for a bit.  You don’t want to get to a new city and learn that your living arrangements went from “house” to “not a house”.  If you are moving in with roommates, try to see if they are not going to be moving out anytime soon.  That way you do not get to a new city and now you have to find new roommates so you can afford to stay in that place.

Are you a piece of shit?:  If you are lazy in your smaller market, you are not all of a sudden gonna work hard to make comedy work.  Comedians are rarely realistic about what they are willing to put into stuff.  It’s easy to fall into that trap as well.  If you live in a small town it may just be easier to be on shows because there are not that many comedians to begin with.  You can not take that approach when moving to a larger area.  Take LA for example.  You can’t throw an old timey mic without hitting a comedian.  If you are not writing, and showing up and networking, you will not see any success.  If you are a piece of shit.  You will not become a saint all of a sudden!  This is the internet age.  Your baggage goes with you.  If a booker in a new city wants to know about you, they probably know someone that knows someone that knows you.

Moving to a new place is exciting and can open all sorts of doors, but only if you are prepared and willing to fight for it.  The best will always surface, and a larger city helps those surface sooner.  Just make sure you are ready when your time comes to shine.

Why Stage Time is Important

I see this a lot.  A comedian will get their 20-25 minutes or maybe they will get a solid 45 minute set, and then you never see them unless they are getting paid to perform.  Then, more often then not, you watch them struggle on stage and they blame everything, but the most obvious:  You are lacking stage time! Stage time is more then just getting up on stage and working towards new material or sharpening old stuff.  I look at stage time like athletes look at practice.  You go over the stuff you plan to do so when you are in a real situation it comes out more natural.

Getting up on stage regularly helps “knock the cobwebs” off of material.  Sometimes you have a joke that you are really comfortable with, and so you stop performing it at open mics.  Then, you get on a stage during a show and try it out and you lose your place and forget where certain parts go into the joke as a whole, this can be diminished with trying that joke every so often.  Here is something I do:  Every so often, when I’m at an open mic, I will just do material that I haven’t done in a while, but I really want to keep in my set.  That keeps it fresh in my mind so when I do want to use that material in a show, I am not lost.

Stage time also keeps that “comedic edge” about you.  Comedic edge is the ability to make the funny seem natural.  The best comedians in the world keep their comedic edge easier because they work more often then comedians that only get a couple shows a month.  They are able to control the room because they are so confident in the material and where it is going.  This is important for all comedians, especially those of us that play in bars a lot.  You need that edge to keep the crowd on your side.  If you are fumbling around, how are you gonna convince the audience to keep listening to you?

I get it.  Comedy can be a drain sometimes.  You are out at open mics for hours for three minutes of time.  If you get a guest set, you have to drive down to a club and pay for parking and all of that, but if comedy is important to you as an art form and as a means of income, then you owe it not only to yourself, but also the audience that paid to see you.  Don’t you want to be the best comedian you can?

 

So, You Want to Produce Your Own Show…

So, you have been beating your head against the wall trying to get into your local club (other than at their open mic nights), and now you think you should produce your own shows.  Not so fast power ranger!  There are a lot to take in before you start performing in the corner of your friend’s bar.

The Proposal:  You can’t just walk into a bar and say, “Give me 9,000 to perform here!”.  You have to be prepared to answer questions and dampen expectations.  You have to understand the business in which you will be intruding upon.  They will look at it like this:  Will I get a return on my investment?  These are businesses, not charities.  If you are charging an amount they can’t possibly make back then they will not want to do it.  How many people can the bar hold…comfortably.  If you want the show to be a success, you have to ensure that everyone can enjoy it.  If you have 30 people standing, that is the area in the room that is gonna get loud and cause a distraction to all the other audience members.  When you speak to the manager or owner of the place, you have to make sure they understand that just because you put a show on in their establishment doesn’t mean they will get a new customer base.  The people that come into their place of business will be there for between one and half and three hours and that is when they have to sell their product to them.  After that those people may never come back there again.  Don’t tell them that they are going to make X amount of money.  You can’t guarantee that and that will make it seem like you lied to them if they don’t.  Let them know your job is to keep them there and their job is to sell their product.

Comedians: If you are planning a long term comedy spot, then you have to have a stable of comedians.  If you live in a place with a small comedian pool, it may do you well to reach out and see if you can wrangle comedians that may be passing through, or looking to pick up extra work.  The last thing you want to do is have the same comedians come through time after time.  I have seen so many comedy spots rot and die away because the producer had such a small group of comedians to choose from that people were no longer interested.

Other Tidbits: Start on time!  Don’t have people waiting for that imaginary audience.  When you are talking price, make sure it is enough to attract people to the gig.  If you charge too little, only the people in the immediate area will be able to do it, leading to your running out of comedians quickly.  Try to get enough money to invest in advertising.  That extra money could mean a couple more butts in seats. And finally, always remember to have fun!  You are performing and getting paid!  Enjoy it!