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.

 

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Comedian Pet Peeves: The Third One

If you haven’t read the first one, or the second, you should check those out to see if I hit something that bothers you as a comedian.  Here are some more of not just my pet peeves, but a lot of comedians I have talked to over the years.

The Attention Whore:  We are talking about audience members with this first one.  This is the person that can’t stand that their friends are enjoying someone other than them.  They always thought they were the life of the party, but are too chicken shit to get on stage.  They will do any and everything to get inserted into the show even if it means making an ass of themselves.  They don’t care that they are embarrassing their friends because fuck their friends who suddenly paid money to hear this person tell jokes!

The No Notice Cancellation:  This sucks donkey balls.  This usually happens with bar shows where they either don’t give a damn about the entertainment, or the establishment caught the manager embezzling money and they are so busy with that they forgot to tell you they don’t have money to pay you.  It sucks more if you are trying to connect shows together so you don’t have to sleep in your car or call up that one night stand from three years ago, and beg to sleep in their garage.

Over Promisers: That may not be a word, but this is a thing.  Usually involves a promoter that has never promoted anything before.  They want you on their show because you are one of three comedians they know.  They say you will get a meal and a ton of money and a BJ, and 400 people said they were gonna show up.  You get there and there and only his family shows up, you get a lukewarm redbull as a meal and the BJ he promised was from is asthmatic aunt.  You have to blame yourself a little bit for this. You got suckered in by the promise of sexual favors and now you have to drive four hours back home.  At leas the redbull will keep you up.

The Promise Of Exposure: Can’t pay your rent or car payment with it, but people love to try to pay you with that.  I am not getting exposure from a bar in the remotes of South Dakota.  A talent scout isn’t coming to Medford Oregon. Some times it is a real possibility that something else will happen if you do the show, but mostly it won’t. People who ask you to work for exposure must have the largest assholes.  Only someone with that much shit in their lives can possibly think that exposure is this thing that artist eat up like Ramen noodles, which is what you will be eating a lot of if you keep doing all this work for exposure.

 

 

How Your Mind Can Sabotage Your Stand-up

Comedians are a curious bunch of people.  They stand on stage, usually by themselves, and say things that you would think they are totally confident in.  This can’t be further from the truth!  While a comedian is on stage, their minds take several fallacies to convince them that what they are doing, or want to do, is not worth it.

Let’s start at the beginning.  It takes a lot for comedians to just convince themselves that they are funny enough to get on stage.  A lot of us have to build up courage and talk ourselves into doing it.  That is why so many times you see drunk people on stage their first time.  They are trying to calm their nerves, but even more so, they are trying to drown the mind.  This is not the best way to go about it because you may end up thinking that is the only way you can get on stage, and that will lead to other issues.

Comedians love to go with what works.  So, if they find material that is getting laughs they may never want to put it away.  There are comedians out there still doing jokes that they wrote in the 90’s!  Why is that?  They have convinced themselves that there is nothing new that they can write that will get them laughs like what they are already doing.  This can become a big problem when their livelihood depends on it.  If you are not performing new material, bookers may see you as a stalled comedian and just stop booking you.

Sometimes we have to deal with what we want to do on stage.  Sometimes the jokes we wrote seem good, but we decide not to do it because we are sure that the people that are in the audience will not laugh at it.  I see this a lot with comedians that haven’t been doing it that long.  They have ten good minutes, but are sure that the audience doesn’t want to hear their new stuff.  This is when you have to be a performer and decide to take some risks.  The problem is that even then, subconsciously, we will wreck the joke by not selling it, or not doing the act outs, just so we can later say that we gave it a try and it isn’t working.  That is why I usually give myself a couple of times to perform a joke.  That way I can account for maybe not feeling well on stage, or me trying to sabotage myself.

Next week I will get into how we will mentally sabotage our careers.

 

Successfully Running Your Own Show

I have been involved in the running of shows in the Spokane area for about six months and from my experiences with that and my observations with other independently ran shows, I have seen what works and what doesn’t.  Here are some of those observations.

Everyone needs to be on board: If you are running a theme show or just a normal comedy show, everyone that is participating needs to on board with what you are trying to do.  If you are doing a show where you tell jokes and then dress like a dinosaur and then tell more jokes, you need everyone to be comfortable with putting on a dinosaur outfit.

Promotion: If people don’t know you are doing a show about telling jokes dressed as a dinosaur, how are they gonna pay you to see you tell jokes in a dinosaur outfit.  This goes with the first point:  Get people on your show that are excited to do the show.  That way, they will want to let their fans know about it.  This also means that you as the show runner need to be on top of things.  That means getting flyers ready and the events made.  Comedy is filled with folks that just want to get up on stage in front of a sold out crowd, and not do the little things to ensure there is a sold out crowd.  Don’t book those people!  Book people that will work with you to make sure it is a success.  I don’t know how many times I have worked with someone that did no promotion for the show, but then sat there and wondered why the pay was low.  This does not apply to out of town comics because they may know less people in that area than comedians that work in that town.

Properly review the venue: I have helped put on shows that were not suited for the venue we had access too.  If you have hints that your show involving dressing like a dinosaur and telling jokes is gonna be a small event, then putting it in a 600 seat theater is not good.  You loose money and you give off the impression that it is not a success.  If you would have just locked up a nice place that had 70 seats and you sold 50, you look better, and you don’t have the extra cost involved with renting a large venue.  Make sure that the venue has a competent staff.  The last thing you want is to have a great show, but the bar didn’t make money because the staff was too slow.  Can they handle an influx of people?  If they can’t then you might have to look elsewhere.

Keep your promises:  If you promise to pay everyone a certain amount, then you better have the money to pay them!  Nothing kills your rep faster than telling people one thing and then doing another. Not ever will be in it just for the dinosaur suits. I would rather leave the show with no money in my pocket then to short change the performers and have them tell people that I can’t give them what we agreed upon.  The reason this is an issue is because most people that are putting on shows like this have high hopes that it will sell out and they can pay people well.  What I have learned is to expect the worse and be surprise if it turns out different.

Make it an event: Make it seem like this is the show that you want to see.  Make it seem as though those are the only dinosaur costumes in the state and they will be set ablaze after the show.  You have to SELL the show!  If you are not excited about it, then why should someone that has to pay five bucks to get in?  Sometimes you have to put your modesty to bed and pull out your inner cheerleader and pom pom the shit out of your show.  The best promoters make their monthly shows seem like events that will rock the town to its core.  That is what you want.

I hope this helps.  I am not an expert promoter at all.  I just observe and see what works best and what doesn’t.  The biggest take away is that if you want to run your own shows you have to treat it like if you don’t make it a success, they will take your kidney.

 

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!!

When Submitting To Bookers

At some point in your comedy career, you will send an email or Facebook message to a show booker. That is how a lot of comedy gets booked.  I will try to help you as best as I can.

Now, I have separate articles about head shots and videos and writing up a bio, but I haven’t done an article on how to submit your info to bookers.  The first thing, and this is a no-brainer for some: Show some professionalism.  They may be someone you met at the strip club, but when sending them your package, make sure you are as professional as possible.  The old saying: “Fake it til you make it” applies here.  Make it seem like this isn’t the first time you have contacted someone about work.

There are many ways to start your email.  What I do is just let them know who the email is from.  Yes, they may see it when they open it, but that doesn’t matter, you have never met this person before (and if you have still act as though you haven’t).  I leave out where I am from, why?  Because I don’t want to be judged before they have seen my material.  If they don’t like it, then that’s fine, but I don’t want to not get work based on a bias that someone has about a city or part of the country. I tend to keep it simple, and I think that is the best way to go.  The body of the email is usually 4-5 sentences.  Just letting them know who I am and what positions I can fill.  I headline in bars and smaller clubs, but telling them you can do anything can get you in the door easier.  Once you have that going for you, you can headline if that is a possibility.

If you have been referred to them by another comic, then make sure you tell them that.  You may get work before they even see your video!  Bookers will trust a good comics’ word more than almost anything else.  If you know someone that has worked that club, see if you can add their name to your email.  I try not to add people as references if I have not talked to them before hand, or I have a good working relationship with them. Some comedians might not like to be emailed by a booker asking about a comic they didn’t even know they were vouching for.  I have been messaged liked this and I don’t care, but at the same time, I don’t have much leeway with any bookers I work with to the point that they are hinging working with a comedian on my word.

Now that the email is all typed up, you can now start adding the stuff that will sell you to the booker. Make sure you have a bio, a head shot and a video.  The bio should not be too long, just long enough for them to add to your photo for promotional purposes.  You can add who you have worked with, but make sure you don’t make stuff up!  Will they go out and fact check?  Probably not, but do you want to start lying to someone you JUST started working with.  If you don’t have much then that is fine, it is better than making stuff up.

You need a head shot.  A good one.  A great one.  So many comics forgo this because it usually means they will have to spend money.  Your headshot is more important than your video because this is the photo that people coming to a show you are booked on will see.  If it is all grainy because you took it with your iphone, or it looks like your friend took it with his mom’s DSLR, then you will not be taken seriously.  If you are in a large city like a Seattle or Portland, then there is no excuse to not having a professional looking headshot.  You don’t have to spend a grand to get them done!  There are people that are offering good prices (ahem…) so try them out.  What you need to remember is that you should have the photo at 300 dpi.  That will make it look nice and sharp when it is printed out or enlarged.

People fret about the video and for good reason. Your video is going to sell you to the booker, and it is important to get some things right.  You need good looking video!  Yes, your phone can record video, and most new phones now can do 4k, but if you are all blown out or the video is really dark no one is watching it.  Make sure the resolution is good enough to be watched on a computer screen.  1080p is great and can be enlarged in a browser window without it looking like old porn.  You need to have good audio.  This is important!  No one is gonna sit through your video if they can’t hear it.  I have an article all about getting microphones for your phone, but I will state it here because I am too lazy to go looking through all those articles.  Rode makes the video micro that will attach to your phone and is way better than the crappy mic that is on your phone.  Try to get an app like FiLMiC Pro or ProCam (iOS, I don’t know about android) so that you can adjust things like exposure so you can battle with the lights in most clubs.  You can make the video however long you want because they will only watch as much as they need to make their decision.  I have a five and ten minute video, and I usually send out the five minute video because that is about all they will watch and if they want to watch more, I have that ready to go.

Make sure the video is just you.  Not the host talking for 30 seconds.  Just you.  Make sure the video is tightly cropped on your upper half.  Whenever I am filming someone I try to get right at the sternum area, unless I know they will roll around on the stage or something then I go a little wider.  The reason you want to have it tight is so there are no distractions going on off the stage to get the bookers attention, and they can see your face better.  Try to dress like you will if you are going to work one of their shows.  Don’t be in a tux in your video, when you usually work in a shirt and jeans.  Refrain from having alcohol on stage with you.  A lot of bookers see it as not being professional.  Now, that you have your video, put it up on a place like YouTube.  Don’t send people a big ole file that they have to download and try to play on their computer.  If they have to do that they will just delete your email.

You have everything you need to send out to bookers and club runners.  How long do you wait for a response?  I usually give it a week or two.  You have to remember that these people are getting emails from hundreds, maybe thousands of people, so you have to be persistent if you want to get a response. I wouldn’t send them more than one email a week though because you don’t want to be known as the person that is sending too many emails.  You also have to know the reality of trying to get work this way.  A lot of bookers already are up to there neck in comedians that can fill spots for them.  That is why the contents of your email have to look so professional.  For every slacker that is sending them crappy photos and even crappier video, there are people out there that are serious and want to succeed and are doing everything they can to make it look as though they are worth the booker’s time.  You are competing with all the people that are working for them now, as well as other people trying to get in with them.  I hope this helps you get the work you want.  Have a great week.

 

** The photo is of wrestler Booker T.  Get it?  You didn’t get it did you?

 

Let’s Just Chat

This blog has had it’s ups and downs.  It started out very weakly, until a friend told me to keep at it.  I made it a mission to write something about my experiences with comedy.  My experience is that of an 11 year comedian that lives in Spokane, WA and makes barely enough from comedy to be considered poor.  I have not been on The Last Comic Standing or have been on any late night talk shows.  I am the average comedian just trying to get more work and support what I love very much.  That is why this blog doesn’t cover things like forming your late night set and working at The Laugh Factory.  I’ve never done that.  I have performed in a club in the woods of Northern Idaho.  I have performed in bars where a fight broke out before and after the comedy show.  I have performed in front of 900 people and I have performed in front of two people. I have driving through deserts and I have driving through snow storms.  I struggle to get the email addresses of bookers, and I am afraid of asking my comedic friends for favors.  That is what this blog is about.  The struggles of the comedian that just wants to do what they love for a living.

A lot of things I do are not truly popular.  I have a podcast, a photography business, and comedy and they would all be considered…meh.  This blog gets about 100-200 readers a month.  I book about 1-2 photography appointments every couple of months and my podcast is listened to about 40 people a month. I get booked about 2-3 times a month.  Most people would consider that an utter failure.  I don’t consider it that because it is what makes me get out of bed in the morning.  I like to write (even though I should write more so I can get better at it) I like to do my podcast, and I like to get on stages and make people laugh.  I may not be making 60k a year from comedy, but I enjoy this more than sitting at a desk. That is not to knock people who have normal jobs, that is just to say that I personally could not do it knowing that what I really love to do, what drives me, is right there.

I started writing this blog because I would get newer guys asking me how to do things that no one ever told me how to do.  No one told me how to write a bio.  I had to write it up and see that it was terrible and then read about it and then work from there.  No one told me how to get in contact with bookers.  I was giving an address and I mailed my stuff to them (what I thought they would need).  No one told me what I needed to do to make sure my feature set was something that wouldn’t get me booed off the stage.  I had to go through the stares and sad looks myself.  I’m not saying I did this all on my own. People gave me advice, but I had to ask for it.  So, I decided to just start a blog that people could turn toward and get that info.

If I am an expert in anything it is how it feels to fail.  I have failed a lot.  In love, marriage, parenting, finances, military career, I have sat with my head in my hands, trying to find a way to keep pushing when I was pinned to the ground.  I have given up a lot.  I have, for some reason, gotten back up more. That is life though, not just comedy.  Life is just a series of kicks to the nuts, and it is up to us to decide if we will let it or if we will keep going.  The only reason I have kept going at comedy, and writing, and acting, is because it is one of the few things that brings joy to me.  I can not run away from the things that make me who I am and you shouldn’t either.  I may never be the comedian that I want to be.  I may forever stay booked 2-3 times a month to sparsely attended bar shows, and I may forever be “random guy #2” in a straight to Netflix movie, but those are the things that make me feel alive, and if I turn away from that what would that mean for me?  What do I do when I give up on the things that I love?  This blog does not have all the answers.  It can’t ensure you that one day you will be in a movie with Kevin Hart.  All it can do is help you out and inspire you to keep pushing.  Happy 4th to everyone and have a great week.