The Myth of the Golden Age of Comedy

I love myths.  I love legends.  I love urban legends.  I also love getting to the grit of the situation and seeing why we believe what we do.  The myth that I am tackling today?  The myth that we are in another golden age of comedy!

We have already had a golden age of comedy.  Depending on who you speak to, they will say that the first golden age of comedy was in the 70’s and some will say the late 80’s through the mid 90’s. This was during what many would consider the height of SNL and other sketch comedy shows, some of the greatest comedy movies of all time, and some of the best stand up specials ever.  This was also the era of Live, local, stand up comedy, when people went out to see live comedy and everyone was doing well.  This all changed by the turn of the millennium.  Comedy clubs started shutting down and it was much harder for an MC or feature to make it.  I came along in the mid 2000’s and I was able to see the trend in real time.

Now with companies like Netflix and HBO shelling out big bucks for comedy specials, and the arrival of entire platforms to deliver comedy (Seeso, Laugh or Die, etc.), many are saying this is the second golden age of comedy.  I do not believe that.  There are many factors for this perception in the rise of comedy, one of them is that viewers are moving from the television and cable box, to the internet. That means that you can consume as much as you want, as long as it is out there. All you have to do is type in “comedy” into YouTube and you are able to watch tons of clips. Comedy specials are a great thing for content companies to invest in.  They typically have low budgets, they are a one off, so you don’t have to be invested in a story line, and a lot of the time, you will watch it multiple times. This means that the amount invested goes a long way! It also doesn’t hurt that with the advent of the internet, it is much easier to find and follow your favorite comedian, and it could seem as though we are seeing an uptick when in actuality its access to comedy content.

In the 90’s comedy was everywhere.  All you have to do is sit down with an older comedian and they will tell you about all the places in the area that had professional comedy.  I think that is why we think comedy took a dip.  It wasn’t that comedy was no longer popular, it was because comedy having such a low bar of entry, anyone could call themselves a comedian and start selling comedy to folks that just wanted to go out and have a good time.  Consumers started to wise up and that is how you get our current situation.  It’s much harder now to sell just generic comedy.  What I mean by that is, people are much more reluctant to just watch comedy, especially if there are better things to do.  That is why the industry is such a credit drawn industry.  People want to know if you are good, and the only way to see that is if they know you have done some things.  So, for the middle guys like me, comedy has actually shrunk.  Those bars and seedy hotel parlors are gone, so it is much harder to be on the road as just a feature act.  More money is going to comedians, but only the top 1%.  Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock are making 40 and 50 million for specials that will be on Netflix, but if you are hosting at clubs you will not see much difference.

This is not to bag on anyone or any system.  I am just stating that it is not a rise in popularity, but a rise in the availability of stuff that people always wanted.  Ten years ago, if you wanted to watch that new special, you had to either have HBO or Showtime, or you bought the DVD.  Now, you can go to a myriad of places to find great, funny content.  Add to that stars that you have seen on TV now coming to comedy clubs, and it could seem as though everyone is back into comedy.  People have always loved comedy.  Who doesn’t want to laugh? The problem is that there are a lot of things that can hinder a person wanting to go see stand up.  Is it in my area?  How much is it?  When is it over?  Will they make fun of my head?  These things keep people away from comedy.  Now, if you see that funny guy from that funny thing is coming to town, then you may forgo all those negatives and check it out.  So, instead of saying comedy is in another golden age, it would be more accurate to say that the lay person is more willing to come out and see the popular people.

So no, comedy is not going through a second golden age.  Like everything it ebbs and flows, but it has always been a popular form of entertainment.  There are many factors for the perception that comedy is gaining in popularity again.  Mainly, the internet.  There may be more money being handed out, but it is only to the top percent of comedians, and that is because that is what people want to see.  I am not saying that if you are a feature or a MC, to hang up your mic.  If anything that means keep pushing so you can work with these kinds of acts!  What if they are looking for someone to feature or MC for them all the time?  If you have your shit together, you could be that person and you could benefit from their ability to get into more clubs, which means more money in your pocket.

Advertisements

The “Summer Slowdown” Myth

I have tackled a lot of myths comedians believe, on this blog.  The one that even I upheld, however is the myth that shows during the summer have a bad turnout.  I want to challenge this myth.

With almost every myth there is a grain or two of truth to it.  I think this one has as well.  You can actually measure the attendance of shows from season to season and see that there are differences in the number of people.  The problem with this is that you can not assume that because of A, B happens. It’s just not logical to say that because it is summer people don’t go to comedy shows.

The prevailing argument has always been that it is because people will be out barbecuing and canoeing, instead of staying inside to see comedy.  That would make sense if not for the fact that summer time is a big time for movies.  It seems that movies have no problem getting people to put down the pulled pork and head to a darken theater for a few hours.  You may be saying, “Well, that is different!” It is…but movies come out year round just like comedy is had year round, so saying that comedy suffers because of the summer months doesn’t hold much water.

Then there is the fact that this summer alone, the local club has had many sold out nights, even when the sun is still in the sky, something that older comedians always said was a killer of shows during the summer.  As if audiences were like a flock of gulls waiting for the sun to descend the horizon before raiding garbage cans.  This club has had numerous sold out nights when most comedy in the area would have packed it in until September.

Ok, after all of that set up here is my argument:  There is no summer slowdown, but a promotion problem.  People still want to come out to shows…if you tell them about it!  The weather does have a slight affect on attendance, but not more than say, a monster truck rally happening on the same date as your show.

Here is the thing about the summer time, there are a lot of things going on at once!  There are car shows and festivals and parades and cool movies with robots all going on in roughly the same time.  So the same amount of promotion that would have gotten out to your audience in say, April, will have to fight through more noise in July.  Comedians are like water, in that we like to take the path of least resistance. If putting up a flyer on Facebook gets a great turnout, we will attempt the same thing over and over. The problem occurs when the weather gets warmer and people’s attention is pulled in not just two or three directions, but ten!  Remember, your audience only has so much time and money so they will have to make a hard choice.  Go to the movie that is only going to be in theaters for a couple of weeks, or go to the comedy show that will probably happen again.

Comedians are under the assumption that the audience that they had in the winter has rejected them for the lakes and rivers that are no longer freezing cold. I don’t think it is in such huge numbers as we assumed.  Yes, people will be out tubing and fishing and hiking, but after a day of that, they want to turn in and be entertained just like anyone else, and this is where we go back to failure to gain these people’s attention.  Just putting a flyer up at the bar you will  be performing isn’t enough during the summer months because those people are out at the lake and may not see it until it is too late.

Another assumption is that people will not have the money to attend a show so they don’t go during the summer.  Why would that be any different than say, the fall, when kids are going back to school, and there are sporting events happening every weekend, or the winter, during the holidays, when people have to save for presents?  There isn’t a difference.  If anything, there should be more money because kids are not in school and there are no holidays for gifts!

So, this whole argument that people don’t want to sit down and watch comedy during the summer months is not about the summer, but about grabbing the attention of a person that may have kids and limited time and resources and may not be able to devote their time to sitting in a bar where their kids may not be able to come.  You may be thinking at this point, “Well, how do we fix it?”.  Good thing you asked because I have answers!  Good promotion goes a long way!  It also doesn’t help if you have a big name comedian on the bill.  You have to go at promoting your show knowing that you have to fight with all the other activities that a person could be doing, most of them for free.  If you know a place that has a budget go to them and use that budget during the summer months!  That way you may be able to bring in a bigger comic or have a show that is free to attend.  The establishment may make it’s money back in sales (food and beverage) and you didn’t have to deal with the money issue that a person has when deciding what to do.  You could promote the show to make it a huge deal.  Most times when a comedy show is promoted, there are just pictures of the comedians with information about time and place.  Well, you have to promote like this is a once in a lifetime show.  Record a video, and use all forms of social media to reach out to people to make it seem as though it is a BIG deal to get to this show.

When Uncle D’s was open, he would close for the summer under this belief, but he would still put on shows once a month during the summer months.  With a moth of promoting the show and making it seem special, the turnouts were really good.  A couple of years ago he tried it and didn’t get the word out and the turnout was about what you would expect for an 8pm show in the summer with no notice that it was happening.  There are shows going on all over the country that are packed because the promoters know that they are not just competing with the normal weekend activities like movies and sports, but also things that are free like sitting in the backyard getting drunk.  I think what happened was the lazier comedians, trying to justify the low turnout, blamed the tilt of the earth’s axis for their problems when the show just wasn’t promoted well enough.

 

And yes, I know my photoshop skills are lacking!!

The Exposure Myth

If you have dealt in anything artistic, you have had someone come to you for services and in exchange, they have offered “exposure” in return.  Let’s talk about it and why it isn’t a good idea to take them up on this offer most of the time.

When someone comes to you and ask you to do a show for them and they offer you exposure, or the promise of more things down the road, most of the time they will say, “We don’t have anything to pay you, but there will be a lot of people there.” or “I can’t give you anything now, but in the future we can hook you up.”  Think about that.  If they are a business or organization, they are paying people. Staff, vendors, coke dealers, even non-profits pay people to run the non-profit.  What they actually mean is, “Hey, we see you are a gullible comedian so we will make money off you while we can.”

Exposure is a myth.  It is a thing that people say to not have to pay everyone involved.  I have seen it from both sides and have experienced it myself.  I have had people come to me, wanting me to do a show and they were not willing to give me anything even though they were making money off of the endeavor. They wouldn’t be able to get away with that with the beer vendors.  They couldn’t ask the electrician to wire up the place and they will tell everyone who did it.  So why do they use this exposure thing on performing artists?  The reason is simple:  we are dreamers, and dreamers can be suckered easily.  We dream of walking into a show and getting discovered and then being whisked away to hollywood to star in a buddy cop movie opposite John Cusack.  What will more likely happen is they will put on the show, not pay you, and then either never call you again, or try to do the same thing to you in the future.

Another reason why we get hit with exposure instead of money is because a lot of people just do not value the arts.  When they see a band, they do not see the hours it took to learn the instrument and the hours that was put into practicing those songs.  When a comic steps on stage they only see a guy up there telling dick and fart jokes.  They don’t see the open mics and writing and all the damn driving.  They think it is easy, or that since you are local you are not really worth it.  Well, you are.

With anything there are exceptions.  I perform at a couple of charities a year. I don’t expect to get paid a nickel. There are also shows like showcases that many clubs hold so they can see what talent they may bring in. Those are really the only exceptions I see, and honestly I wouldn’t do a showcase unless I knew the details beforehand. You may think that a club that is offering you to do time in front of a big time comic is awesome because you think that something will happen that will lead to more work, but in all honesty it won’t, so get what you are worth now instead of hoping that you will get work from all that extra exposure you are getting.

When I first started out, I would do shows where the booker or whatever would say I would get seen by a lot of people and that will lead to a lot of work. It didn’t happen, and they made money and the other comics, who were smarter, made money, but I didn’t get anything and they never called to book me for that paid show they promised.  I had to learn quickly to ask people what it was paying up front, and if they told me it wasn’t then I just told them I couldn’t do it.  Now, if you are just starting out, you will feel like you have to do it because that is how you get in the door.  That might be true, but then a booker or promoter knows that is messed up and would ask you to do a five minute quest set, not do your entire show for nothing.

With all of these articles about comedy, I try to give it to you from my perspective, which may not be a good perspective for those that are working consitently in comedy.  I am speaking from the view point of a comic that gets work, but not enough to get a new car or buy a plane ticket a week before I am suppose to go somewhere (damn they get expensive).  I hope these things help, and if you need a comic, and are gonna pay more than in exposure…get at ya boy.