Comedic Styles: The Clean Comedian

We will continue our series on comedic styles with the clean comedian.  Some would probably say this isn’t a style, but I think it is.  Being a clean comedian or telling “clean” material is about more than just not cursing.  A lot of people associate this type of comedy (or they used to) with the boring comedian that tells jokes in front of a conference room full of people.  That stigma has changed in recent years because of comedians like Brain Regan and the fact that writing clean comedy is the fastest way to get on network TV, which leads to possibly getting booked in comedy clubs. So without further ado… let’s get into it!

Pros:

The ability to perform anywhere.  No one has ever kicked a “clean” comedian off the lineup (unless they are just not good).  You have the ability to perform in all group settings, so if there is a mixed aged audience (like with children) you will not worry anyone with your presence.

The ability to quickly advance.  If you are a clean comedian, you have that ability to work as a host much sooner because you won’t turn the crowd as quickly as someone that may be little more coarse. This is great if you are trying to get into clubs.

The ability to make more money as a corporate comedian or maybe on cruise ships.  There is so much money out there for a comedian that works clean!  If you can show promoters that you have quality clean material, you can book these gigs that my not be on the radar of people looking to get into clubs, but pays way better.

Cons:

Bar shows can be hard.  A rowdy bar may not pay attention to the clean guy if he doesn’t have a couple of jokes that can get their faces out of their beer.

Depending on you joke writing talent, writing clean material can be harder.  Not saying that curse words or dicks are essential to making a joke, you may not be digging deep enough into you mind to find material that can work out as clean.

I think every comedian should have a clean set.  Whether that means pulling curses and the more lewd details out of your existing jokes, or writing an entirely new set of jokes just for those cases, I think if you are trying to get work as a comedian, you should be as flexible as possible when it comes to your content.  When I am booking a corporate show, it is much harder to suggest comedians that I know are funny, but can’t do solid clean time.  If you don’t care about paying your rent with comedy then that is cool.  I don’t want you to sacrifice your beliefs just for money, but isn’t it cool to be able to get paid doing something you love?

Finding Your Niche In The Market

If you are just starting out on your comedy journey, then you may be trying to find ways to target the people that will enjoy your comedy.  This is why I am here.  I will try my best to help you.  I am using demographic and niche kind of interchangeably, please don’t get too butt hurt.

Here is the thing you have to learn first of all.  When you are just starting out.  You will usually have no clue the demographic that will enjoy your material.  This is completely normal. Don’t sweat this too much.  The more you write and the more you perform, the more you will get a grasp on who in the audience is enjoying your material.  Another thing to take into account is that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE falls into some sort of niche or category and sometimes you will be able to operate in multiple niches.  Even someone like Kevin Hart, arguably the hottest comedian on earth right now, falls into a niche.  His niche seems to be very large, but it is still a niche.

Some people have an idea of where their material is taken them.  There is a comedian I know that has a large chunk of “drug material”, when he is getting booked for shows, he is usually getting booked on shows where drug use is the theme or in places that are a little more “loose”.  This is not his only niche however, because he is a talented comedian, he can do other stuff.  This is important when you do not have a large fan base because it allows you the ability to work more often.  If he could only tell jokes about drug use, then he would be extremely limited, especially in an area of the country that is a little more conservative, and frowns upon that sort of stuff.

Some comedians don’t have no clue who will like their comedy so they bounce around until the hole in the market opens allowing them to fill it.  This is what happened to me about six years ago, when there were a lot of corporate comedy going on and they wanted comedians that could perform relatively clean.  It was something I didn’t want to do because I enjoy cursing and doing what I want on stage.  The thing that got me doing it was because of all the benefits of doing these sorts of shows.  You usually did one show and they feed you and paid for travel expenses and the pay was really good.  I figured since all I had to do was not curse that much, I could do it since there weren’t that many comedians in the area that could.  It helped me earn a good deal of money and because the market is still in need of that type of comedian in Eastern Washington I can get a lot of work.

I would not say this is the only niche I can fill though.  People want to put me on shows because I am black, or because I am a veteran.  Sometimes you have to use your life experiences to your advantage. I know of former teachers turned comedians that are now performing at corporate events for teachers.  Former drug addicts that go around and perform for others to put a lighter spin on a serious issue.  There are many niches in the market that can be filled if you know that it exist and that you can target it appropriately.

How do you find these niches in the market.  Well, if you are a comedian then go to Facebook and find a area page for comedians.  Every area has one.  Join it, and see what bookers and comedians are looking for.  If you fill that need then go after it and network seeing if it is a market that you can use further down the line.  Another way is going to a site like GigMaster or GigSalad and signing up (you can sign up for free, but they usually want your money), you can then observe the types of shows people are putting, and then you can hopefully go on to fill.  I do a lot of private shows during the fall and winter and it is because of sites like these that I know about them.

If there is one more piece of advice I can give you it is this:  Don’t pin yourself into one corner!  Just because you like video games, doesn’t mean that everyone on the planet will want to listen to that.  Write what you like, but keep yourself open until you gain a following and can afford to do what you want.

Treating Comedy Like A Full Time Job

If you are looking at a career in stand-up comedy, you have to realize that there is more than just writing and getting on stage.  Those are the fun parts!  The tedious parts, the parts that separate the successful comedians from the ones that never get it together are not fun at all, and can be down right embarrassing at times.

Unless you lucked out and got picked up by a touring act after your second open mic, you will learn that being a full time comedian means talking to lots of people.  Bar owners, promoters, bookers, event organizers, you will be talking to all of them.  Most comedy is booked because you have a relationship somehow with the people putting on the show. You meet them at a festival or competition.  They saw you perform and wanted to add you to their roster.  80% of my work comes from people that know me and my work before hand.  20% is generated by me without any prior knowledge of the other party.  That can be private shows, or special events.  It can be a spot that I contacted about comedy and they thought it was a good idea.  No matter what, you will be answering emails and taking calls.  I usually prefer emails to calls because then you have all conversations in writing. Trust me, this can save your butt.  This is at least 3-4 hours a day of me returning emails, or sending emails and playing phone tag with folks.  This is a big part of comedy for the non agent, non sought after comedian.  You have to generate the work.  It doesn’t come to you.

Then there is the driving.  All the driving.  Unless you live in a congested area, you will probably have to travel to a lot of shows.  I am not a big time comedian getting big time money so there are not that many plane rides in my budget.  The longest I have driven in a day was 13 hours, and it was during a snow storm.  It has gotten to the point now that a two hour drive is a plenty little Sunday stroll.  This adds a lot of time to your “work week”.

And with all of the above, you still have to keep writing new jokes and staying relevant.  The last thing you want to do is start getting your career going, but the one thing that is feeding you slowly starts getting more and more dated.  I feel it is important to remember why you wanted to be a professional comedian.  You wanted to be one because you liked to tell jokes.  If you liked to drive or answer emails for a living, then you would have gotten you CDL or kept your day job.  It is important to keep these things in mind because it is a tough road from getting booked every other month to trying to pay your bills with the money you get from performing.  I am lucky in that I can barely get by on the money I make from comedy, but that comes from a lot of work, and I have much to do if I want to feel good about my comedy career.

Following Your Dreams Is Not Enough

You hear it all the time:  “Follow your dreams!”  “Do what you love!”.  It is such an empty statement.  Following your dreams isn’t enough, and if that is all you are doing then you will most likely never achieve them.

We will look at this saying from a comedy stand point of course, this is a blog about comedy (and photos sometimes).  I see it all the time where someone wants to be a comedian, but then there are a lot of stipulations to when they want to be a comedian.  They come out to an open mic once and now they plaster their social media accounts with the label: comedian.  That isn’t enough if you REALLY want to be a comedian.  What people learn quickly is that there are a lot of funny people at the bottom and a lot of not as funny people at the top.  Comedy is not an empirical discipline where the funniest get the great stuff and the not funny remain at the bottom.  That means that if you want to be a comedian, it takes more than just the thought of being a comedian, and it frustrates me when I see comedians that are “following” their dreams when instead they should be fighting for them.

Every successful comedian’s story is full of times they had to fight to keep doing what they love.  They didn’t sit at home because it was cold outside. They jumped on a greyhound to get to a show.  They sat around all night to get that three minutes at an open mic.  They kept getting on stage and proving to management that they were good enough for more than just last minute replacement comic.  They sat their asses down and wrote and wrote and wrote.  Then they got lucky enough to be seen by the right person, but that also meant sleeping on couches and in their car.   The thing is, when I say successful, I am not talking about just the ones you see on TV.  This is the story of all the guys you see come through your town to perform on a given weekend.  That is what it takes to do this.

It frustrates me when I am talking to local comedians and they will give me so many excuses to why they can’t come out.  They have class.  They have a job.  They have a child.  These are all things that I personally have had to deal with, and you have to make some sacrifices.  When I was in college, I would get my class work done and then I would get my ass to the local open mic.  It was harder to get work, so what I did was only take stuff where I could get back home the same day. I had a job after class as well.  It usually meant being tired some nights, but I kept doing it because it was something that I truly enjoyed.  When I started my kid was three, so that meant that if I could not find someone to take her I could not go, but I did sacrifice a lot of time with her to pursue comedy because I felt I could make a living at it and she would benefit. Before college, I spent a lot of time driving for hours for shit pay so I could one day be able to do the shows I want for the money I want. Not everyone has my exact situation.  I’m just giving an example of some of the things you have to do.  After all of this, no one knows who I am.  I am not a nationally touring headliner.  I don’t have TV credits.  This is what I had to do to get this far.  And this isn’t all of it.  There was homelessness and overdue bills and all that, but it is what I loved so I fought to keep doing it.  Look, if you just want to come out every once and a while and dabble in comedy, then go ahead and do that.  Nothing wrong with stand up as a hobby, but I am talking about those whose dream is to do this for a living.  If you are not fighting for those dreams, then you can not be shocked when they do not come true.

Comedic Styles: The Absurdist

I have written about the current event comedian, and the one-liner comedian.  Today, I will write about the Absurdist.  Now, this may be seen as a hybrid of different styles, but one thing is a given:  It will end up being ridiculous.  That is the cool part of the absurdist comedian.  Now, it may seem like I am talking about the anti-comic, but that is a different article for later.  What you have to understand about the absurdist comedian is that they are basically an acid trip live on stage.  They will put elements of fantasy into a joke that you thought was going to be a straight forward, based on reality bit.  Some of the popular absurdist comedians would be Emo Philips (which was mentioned in my one-liner article) and Steve Martin (see what I meant by hybrid).

Pros:

Their show will keep the audience on their toes.  The audience can never logically jump ahead of a joke because they never know where the comedian will take them.

Strong writers will benefit a lot from this style because of the nature of the jokes being used.  An understanding of how a joke is written will help you subvert those rules to trick the audience or do unconventional things with your jokes.

Cons:

It can be dangerous depending on the audience.  A less than open minded audience may not perceive the material as an audience that is ready for anything.

Writing is key to a style like this because just making a joke silly will not make the joke funny.  The “funny” that resides in a style like this is how the joke just became outrageous all of a sudden.

That’s it!  That is the absurdist.  A style that can be used sparingly to great effect, or can be your preferred method of telling jokes. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series so far!

Comedic Styles: The One Liner Comedian

Let’s continue our look into different comedic styles (I finally found a title that works!). This week, we will look at the one liner comedian.  A style that is very old, and very hard to master.  Some of the great one liner comedians are Mitch Hedberg and Steven Wright.

This style of comedy is very simple in that there are not a lot of moving parts.  It is called “one-liner” probably because most can be written on one line on a sheet of paper.  It is actually a joke that is broken down to it’s basic parts.  You have the setup and then the punch.  There are usually no extra bits of information to allow the audience to see why it was funny.  All of the information to make the punchline more effective is in the punch itself.  The audience makes the conclusion, usually at the end of the joke, why it was funny.

Pros:

Comedians using this style can usually get more jokes into the same amount of time.  One liners are usually no more than about 4-5 seconds long.  So if you were doing a five minute set, just imagine how many jokes you can get in there (really imagine it because I am terrible at math).

Cons:

This style is writer intensive.  That means that you will have to write more than most comedians to effectively get the same amount of time out of your material.  Because the jokes are shorter, you will have to write more to get to say, a true feature length set.  It is also more writer intensive because unlike other types of jokes, because there are few moving parts, there is less to rewrite to make it work, so most of the time the joke gets thrown out.

It is hard to fill feature and headline time with one liners.  Even the great Steven Wright does other things in his act like play piano (while still telling jokes of course).  I just saw Emo Phillips.  One of the greatest comedians on the planet and he knew to break up his material with different aspects, while still delivering his material.

If this is how you mind works, then you have to understand what you will be required to do.  You will have to write a lot and you may want to find ways to keep the audience from sinking into a hole, especially if you are deadpanning your material.  I hope this helps.

 

It All Seems So Simple…

Comedy seems like a simple endeavor.  You write material and you get stage time and eventually, you get paid lots of money to do it in front of lots of people.  The steps seem simple as well. You sit down, write all the stuff that you joke about with your friends, and you should be making a living in comedy by the end of the year.  It seems so simple.

You start by finding an open mic near you and this, this is where you start your career as a comedian. You have your material set up.  You get there, and you realize that you are not just one of a few, but one of many other comedians that are thinking the same thing.  Wanting that shot at fame and fortune. Because there are so many comedians, you have to curtail your material to the three minutes that you have.  You go up and what you thought were three minutes were four and you get the light before you could finish.  You didn’t even get to the big finish!

After a couple of months of stringing together material, you have a great 30 minutes.  Now you are ready to start touring the country, getting paid to make people laugh.  You start asking the seasoned comedians in the scene who you can get work from.  They look at you like you are silly, but they give you the email addresses of people and you try to get booked.  They ask for head shots and bios and videos, and now you have to scramble to get these things because you are this close to being a comedian. You have your friend take your photo and record one of your sets at a bar.  You send that all in and…nothing. Hours turn to days and days to to weeks.  You send another email and again nothing.

You have been doing it for six months now and you finally get to feature for someone!  You have your material memorized and ready to go.  You get to the bar and you realize that the eight people there did not know a show was going on so they keep talking while you go through your material. What you thought was 30 minutes of great material was actually 18 minutes of okay stuff.  No one laughs and you walk off the “stage” dejected.  The headliner goes up and gets the crowd into it and by the end of his time, everyone is having a blast.  This did not go as planned.

You finally get a show out of town!  You are excited.  You get to the casino and you get your free meal coupon and you finally feel like you are in the big time.  You get to your room and try to watch some Netflix, but the internet is so shaky that you go to the casino floor instead.  After losing 20 bucks, you go get a meal before the show.  Tonight you will be performing in front of 20 bitter gamblers and they do not enjoy your jokes about gophers.  You get your check for 100 bucks…in a week or two.

Comedy seems simple.  You can see the steps to success right there.  That isn’t how life works though. For every comedian that gets a Comedy Central special after performing for two years, there are hundreds of comedians in bars and casinos all over the country just trying to get by on whatever they can.  Comedy’s wash out rate is second only to the Navy Seals (an exaggeration of course), mainly because the steps seem simple, but when actually acted upon, it is soon discovered that the road to fame is tough. That is why so often you don’t often see full time comedians.  If you relied on just comedy to make it you would be homeless by the time you gain traction.

Comedy is hard.  I know it because I have done it for eleven years.  Terrible casino shows and late payments are the norm.  Driving all over just in the hopes that you can get more work from this booker later.  Hoping that the hotel smells less like butt and more like lavender.  The thing is, I never thought I would get this far.  I am thankful everyday that I get to do this.  I get to step on stage and try my best to get a room full of strangers to laugh.  That should be your first duty.  Funny.  After that, get better at the networking and the promotion, but get funny.  Because no one can turn away funny.  It is not simple, but not much is.