Worst Pieces of Comedy Advice I Ever Received

As an entertainer, you will be given advice from damn near everyone. Other comedians, singers, DJs, your mom, your uncle, the local methhead, they all think they have the advice to get you going. The problem is, not all advice is good. It may seem good, until you think about it for more than a minute. Here is some of the advice I have received and why I think it is terrible.

Always have a street joke ready to tell (in case you lose the audience etc.)

No. I don’t (intentionally) tell street jokes. Why? Because any comedian can memorize a street joke. The audience is there for my take on familiar topics, not to hear a joke that their dad can tell during a barbecue. I think this sprung up from the early days of comedy when there was just a bucket of jokes out there, and comedians would just pull from that bucket and tell those jokes. Nowadays, no one wants that. Even if the crowd is about to decapitate me, I would rather get them back by telling jokes I wrote then by a worn out joke that most comedy fans have heard.

You should get on “Name of TV competition”.

That sounds like a great idea! How did I never think of that? I mean I was telling jokes in this bar with hopes that a drunk TV exec would see me and give me a million dollars and my own TV show. EVERY comedian has thought about getting on ‘Last Comic Standing’ or ‘America’s Got Talent’ to jump start their careers. That’s the problem though, EVERY comedian is trying to get on those shows, so it is not just a case of walking up to the set and getting a moneycheck. TV producers know this so they have lots of measures to make sure only the people that make good TV get seen. So, you either have to be unique in say background (first female lesbian brown bear) or have an agent that can arrange to get you on these shows. If you are just a white guy that tells funny jokes about the internet, it will be really hard to get on these types of shows because white guys are everywhere. If you are other than white, it is still difficult because you are now competing for a limited number of spots. I did a showcase this month for Just For Laughs. There are only so many spots for no names like me and they auditioned a couple thousand comedians. This isn’t even advice, it’s just a statement. It’s like saying, “you should fly like superman” or “You should buy a castle.”

Don’t tell the audience sad stuff

There is a limit to the amount of sad shit you want to hear from a comedian, but there is something to telling an audience something so personal about yourself and being able to make light of it. When I was in the military, I had to take all these test to see if I had some kind of cancer. It turned out to be lupus, but the result of that was about five minutes of material about the experience. I did it one night at a show and it received a lukewarm response. Later a veteran comedian came up to me and told me this piece of advice. It wasn’t that audiences didn’t want to hear my misfortune. The best jokes ever told on stage are about mishaps. I just wasn’t skilled enough to make it palatable for a bunch of strangers on a Sunday night. Audiences will more than likely ride with you on almost anything if the payoff is worth it. 60% of my last album was me talking about my heart attack and the struggles afterward. It can be done if you know how to approach it.

I think that is enough of me banging at this keyboard, I may do another one of these if this one gets the clicks. Hit me up on my website harryjriley.com or on all the social media stuff. I can be found under KingPeppersnake damn near everywhere.

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Why are There so Many Sociopaths in Entertainment

I have spent the past couple of days watching the documentaries on the Fry Festival and all the terrible things that surround that. One thing that I noticed about both (other than the Hulu one was much better than the Netflix one) was how easy Billy McFarland, the head of this bullshit snake, was able to scam people out of millions upon millions of dollars. Then I got thinking about my own experiences and realized that there are a lot of sociopaths in the entertainment industry.

As a comedian, I have my ass in all other sorts of creative endeavors and there is almost always a person there pulling the strings, and sucking the life out of others. They are almost always failures in whatever it is they decided to do. I have been around music promoters, comedy promoters, and producers that are so good at suckering in people.

But why? Why are there so many sociopaths (a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience. – google search) in the entertainment industry? Well, the biggest reason is because there is normally not a barrier to entry. All you have to do is say you are a comedy booker and you can operate as such until everything crumbles around you. You don’t have to know how to play a single note to put together a show, as long as you can get the person that has the building you plan on having this show agree to let you enter.

You also get to deal with damn near the perfect victims. A lot of people in the entertainment industry are on the outer parts of it. Like me, for example, I get paid to perform comedy, but I am not a known entity. I am the type of person that a sociopath loves because they can feed on my want to get higher on the comedy totem pole. These guys will tell you anything you need to hear in order for you to go with them on their bullshit. Sociopaths have this ability to lie so easily that even the hardest people will fall for it. It’s even easier because those of us on the outer edges of entertainment want any route to get to the next level.

So you have an easy industry to enter and victims that want to believe everything you have to say. I have been a victim many times from people that want you to believe that they are that next big promoter or the next booker people will bend over backwards to please. You also don’t have to deal to much with your victims. If a show goes bad and no one got paid? Oh well. Next time it will work out. Then after the fourth show, when people finally realize that they are dealing with a con man, they have made money to make it seem worth it. Then they just either move to a new city or lay low until it is time to do it again.

My advice to all up and comers in entertainment is to take almost everything with a grain of salt. Just remember the old saying: “if it seems to good to be true, it usually is.” Don’t fall for the traps that many do. Don’t pay for stage time. Don’t sling tickets if that is the only way you can get on stage. Don’t perform before you find out what you are getting as compensation. Thanks.

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.

Ways to Conquer Your Stage Fright

Public speaking is a fear a lot of people have, even extremely funny ones.  With this article, I will try to help you get over your fear and at least try your hand at comedy.  I myself had a tremendous fear of getting up in front of people.  I hated being called on in class (it didn’t help that I stuttered until the fourth grade), and when I was in the military, it was actually comedy that helped me deliver my presentations in front of my peers.  When I started performing, it was debilitating.  Once I was opening for this guy at Oregon State University, and when I looked out at this sea of people, I seriously thought about giving it up.  I was about to go outside and call the promoter and tell him I was done with comedy, but something told me to do it and I did.

Memorize your material- This is important.  Remembering what you want to talk about can calm your nerves.  We are afraid of the things we don’t know and what we can not control.  The one thing that you can control is knowing your material.  That way you won’t have to fumble with papers or your phone.  When you have the confidence that you at least know what you are going to talk about, it can steady you before you get on stage.

Give it time- If you have your material in your head ready to go, then when your name is called take a deep breath and when you are on that stage, give yourself a second or two to take in your new environment.  That couple of seconds can give your mind the time to see that it isn’t that bad!  Take those couple of seconds to take a couple of breaths and get ready to perform.  Most crowds want you to be funny, they don’t want to have wasted their evening listening to terrible comedy, so you have that advantage.  Now that you are centered and you have let the room in, start crushing.

Use more of the stage-  Pacing can help you redirect those nerves somewhere else.  When you get on stage and you need your notes, put them somewhere that you have to go to.  For instance:  put them on the bar stool and make sure the bar stool is a couple of steps so you can pace and keep your notes within reading range.  Now you can pace and work off the nerves that are built up and your notes are there in case you need them.  If you have your material memorized then use the stage as the nerves hit to keep it from messing with what you are trying to do on stage.

Eyes and hands-  Comics that are afraid will sometime grab the mic stand as an anchor.  That mic stand works as like an antenna and it can alert the entire audience to your predicament.  Comics who are comfortable on stage and are using it as more of a cane have a different posture than someone that is wringing the hell out of it because they are scared out of their minds.  I would suggest against keeping the mic in the stand unless it helps you use both of your hands. Noise can travel through the mic stand so if you are holding on to it for dear life, everyone in the room can hear it.  Put that other hand in your pocket or talk with it.  It’s a bit harder to see your nerves if you have your hand in your pocket or you are using it to add flourishes to your performance.  What I used to do for years to help with my nerves was I would not look at anyone in the audience.  I had my material memorized and I went up and reacted to the laughs.  I would look at empty seats or look right past people. It really helped me get a hold of what I was doing on stage.

Start easy-  An almost sure fire way to settle those nerves is to get the room laughing when you get up.  Start off with a nice, even keeled joke to get the crowd on your side.  If you start by antagonizing the audience it will not help get those nerves down because you know the crowd isn’t hoping you make them laugh anymore.  This is especially true at open mics where the audience doesn’t care as much about your well being.  They just want to laugh.

I hope these steps help you.  They may not work for everyone but there is something there for at least someone.  I would advise against drinking or drugs to calm your nerves.  Now, taking a shot may help calm your nerves, but too much could make you more sloppy on stage.  I knew a guy that could not go on stage without at least a buzz going.  The problem is he didn’t have it down to a science so sometimes he would be drunk as hell when he got up there!  He would antagonize the audience and they hated him.  He would get sober and then feel bad about his sets.  Once he stopped doing that (as much), you could see the real comedian come out of him.  I would also advise against bringing a whole group of friends and family because that is like a drug in itself.  Your family will laugh at anything you say because they want the best for you (unless your family is terrible).  That will give you an inflated sense of what you can do on stage and as soon as they stop coming out (because they will eventually) all it will take is one bad show to strip away that confidence you had built up.  It is best to develop that stage confidence slowly to the point where a bad show won’t cause you to stop doing comedy.  I hope these tips helped.  Thanks for reading!

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.

Are You A Comedian?

Yes.  Yes you are.

 

 

 

Damn.  You want more than just that…alright.  I already told you all you needed to know, but if we must.

I suspect every scene in the country, if not the world, has to deal with this question from time to time.  What makes a person a comedian?  How many open mic nights must you attend to be designated a comedian?  Is it when you get paid for comedy?  Is it when you get paid more than once?  Is it at a certain amount earned a year?  You see how silly this can get, right?  The reason it is so silly is because there is no education or class needed to make people laugh. The title of comedian doesn’t hold the same weight as calling yourself doctor or lawyer, or hell even plumber.  Those people have to take classes and train.  All a person has to do to call themselves a comedian is…well…nothing really.  I haven’t seen too many people just calling themselves comedians because they make people laugh at the monthly meeting, but there is really nothing stopping anyone from calling themselves a comedian, and I think that is what bothers a lot of people.

Think about it.  If you sit down and write jokes and try to work on them, it may seem unfair that someone that comes signs up for a couple of open mics are now calling themselves a comedian.  I don’t know why anyone would be bothered, but people get really upset about it.  That is why some will start placing people in this order so they can classify folk.  You will hear open micer said a lot, usually not in a great way, to describe someone that is mainly doing open mics and not really getting paid work.  Then there are things like MC, feature, headliner, that may be used as positions in a show, but can also be used to place you on a comedian totem pole.  Why do people do this?  Because it places class structure on people in a situation where class doesn’t really exist.  It can be used to separate, and belittle people.  You know, all of the already terrible stuff we are doing everywhere else.  That is why a lot of people get hung up on the notion of what is a comedian.  We want to get recognition for what we do, and we do not want others to claim the same recognition if they have not done as much as us (even if what we do isn’t much).

I said all that and yet I do believe that you have to do something to be considered a comedian.  Yeah, you can set up a Facebook page, and call yourself a comedian without stepping foot on a stage, but that would make you seem like a weirdo.  I don’t care if after one open mic and nothing else, you want to think of yourself as a comedian.  It has no bearing on me and my life and the comedy dreams that I pursue.  I don’t want to get hung up worrying about who is and isn’t a comedian because I still have a dream that I am chasing and do not have time (other than writing this) to consider these things.  I say worry about your goals and leave questions that divide people alone.

Why It’s Hard To Break Into Comedy Clubs (For Some)

I hope everyone had a happy New Years.  Now it is time to get back at it.  With this one let’s talk about the difficulties of getting booked into comedy clubs.

If you think about it, comedy clubs are very unique.  Comedy is the one of the few performing arts that basically has its own space.  There is not a ballet bar, or a poem emporium.  This obviously means that if you want to ply your trade in stand-up this is one of the first places you would look. You would think it would be as simple as emailing the person who books talent at the club and if they see a use for you, then you are good to go.  Well, it is not that easy.  Let us talk about the simple fact that there is only so many comedy clubs in the country.  Sure some cities like Chicago and New York City have several, but a lot of places may have just one club, and that one club has between 48 to 52 weekends (depending on things like when holidays fall and such) in which to fill.  Most comedy shows have a MC, feature, and headliner.  So at most, a club needs three comedians a weekend.  Now I hope you see that there are a ton of people that have the capacity to fill these spots, so that makes comedy clubs sort of a gate keeper.  If they want to have people return, they want to put on the best show they can afford.  That means they have to be a little more picky then say the sardine factory that just needs to fill five canning positions.

Now the above tries to explain why its hard to get booked into comedy clubs on just a numbers aspect.  The thing is you have another hurdle, the booker.  There are men and women all across this country that book these shows and because they are human and have particular tastes, they will make decisions for a variety of reasons.  I have heard them all.  From just not that funny to you live too far away and we don’t want to house you.  Also because they are human, they are not immune from just grabbing what is nearby.  Why book a comedian for a show in Atlanta when they live in Portland?  Why not just look in your immediate vicinity.  Especially for features because there are a ton of people that can perform between 20-30 minutes of comedy.  It is less stress to know that most of your talent is in town.  That is why it is really hard to get booked as a MC or feature the farther away you look.  They can just grab a local comedian to MC and save money and hassle.  They don’t have to worry about comics changing their minds at the last minute because they can’t afford to come perform.  You also have to think about the booker and the amount of inquiries they receive on a day to day basis.  I can only imagine all the emails and packages they get from comedians that want to work their club.  They can’t possibly get to it all.  If you receive 200 emails a day, it will get to a point where you will ignore a ton of emails and base your decisions on what your peers are telling you.  Then there is just plain ole biases.  They may not like musical comedians, or comedians that wear hats on stage.  They won’t tell you this outright, but it could keep your from getting work from them.

Here is another thing.  Comedy clubs are businesses.  They are not non profits that are putting on comedy shows for the good of the community.  They are trying to get the audience to buy food and alcohol, and your quips about Tupperware is what is keeping them there.  These clubs are looking for people that can put asses in seats.  It is not so much how funny you can be, but an as of now undiscovered equation between funny and popular.  Why do you think your local club has that former porn star coming to town next week?  Because they are popular enough, and sometimes funny enough, to put asses in seats and make the club some money.  If you can’t offer them that, then it is hard to break in.  This is not so much a concern of MCs and feature acts because they are seen as younger, less experienced comedians, but headliners have to worry about this a lot.

So, how can you increase your chances you may ask.  Well, the thing you have to remember is persistence. You have to be able to accept that you will get turned down a lot and keep trying to get in contact with these clubs.  You will send out hundreds of emails and you may get one response back.  It’s important to know that you can not guess what is going on on the other side of email.  The booker may be ignoring emails.  They may be seeing it and not responding because you do not fit their place.  I will say this, if you got a response and they say no, then you should not keep sending them emails.  Accept the no and when you have a new headshot or new video for them to take a look at, then you should probably give it another try.  If they say contact again in six months, then do that. I have an spreadsheet (I know!) where I can check off who I have contacted and if they responded to me.  I don’t use it as much as I should, but it is helpful in keeping track.  You can also hit up the club’s open mic.  This is a great way of getting in front of people that can get your booked.  Don’t see it as a guarantee that the booker will be there though.  If I can get there, I like to do that because networking and getting to know bookers and what they are looking for is a great way to improve your chances of getting work in the future.  You can also try booking independent shows in clubs during off nights.  Some clubs will let you rent their spot on a night where they are not doing a proper show and you can show them that you have enough pull in the area to be brought back for a weekend.  You can also try this with a specialty show.  We have a show in Spokane called Drink N Debate, and it is put on at the Spokane Comedy Club every month.  The bookers get to see a lot of comedians and can evaluate them for potential work.

The key is being persistent and remembering that it is an uphill battle, but one you will have to go through if you are trying to get into comedy clubs.