The Uniqueness Of The Spokane Comedy Scene

I live in Spokane Washington.  Here it is on a map:

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Spokane’s location is unique.  It is the biggest city this side of the state and every other large city (Seattle, Portland, Boise) is at least 4-6 hours away.  Spokane is basically on a comedy island, a comedy Galapagos, where comedians grow a bit differently then in other cities.  For instance, because there are at most 25 performing comedians at a given time, there is time to be had at open mics.  This is different than other areas such as a Seattle or Portland where there could be hundreds of comedians trying to get on a limited amount of open mics in the city.

An open mic in Spokane can net you 5-7 minutes, whereas in Seattle 2-3 is the norm. What makes this unique is that comedians with a a lot of material can filter through it much faster than in an area where you get less time.  There are even some open mics in Spokane where you can get 10-15!  This stage time is important for those comedians trying to find their voice.  It also means that comics growing here can be “game ready” sooner.

Because of the small number of comedians, all the comics know each other.  This can be good or bad depending on how you see it.  I think it is a good thing because constructive criticism from someone you know doesn’t seem as bad as from someone that doesn’t know you as well.  There is a camaraderie amongst the comedians in Spokane that is unique.  Any drama is pretty contained to about 1 or 2 people.  As in Seattle or Portland there can be lots of different sects because of the size of the city and the number of comedians in the scene all competing for those limited spots.  The bad though is that because you know all the comedians you can get too comfortable and not as willing to point out things they could fix in their act.

Spokane has a reputation as being a hillbilly area and all the comedians might as well be wearing cowboy boots and spitting tobacco juice all over the stage.  Because Spokane is so far away, it is hard for a lot of comedians to get over to Seattle and Portland, so comics over there are just left with their imaginations.  It also doesn’t help that when those comedians come to Spokane or look at doing shows over here, that there aren’t many shows going on all the time.  That may be Spokane’s biggest fault.  Because of the amount of comics and the more conservative nature of the region, that there just aren’t as many shows going on at a given time.  That can give the illusion that there isn’t comedy going on or that the comedians over here aren’t as serious about it as those in larger cities.

Spokane is a unique area with it’s own comedy eco system that continues to grow.  The comedians here are as good as any you can find in a Seattle or a Portland.  To get your start in Spokane is a great opportunity to grow much quicker than other places.  You may also meet some great friends as well.

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Breaking Into The Comedy Club Scene

Here is the truth about most (80% I would say) comedy clubs.  It is hard to get into their rotation.  Think about it like this, club owners are like most people in that they like stable and they like what works.  So, if they have a solid lineup of comics that come in and do their thing, then they have no need to add new people.  What a lot of comics forget is that these guys are running a business and so if they can get someone they know will come in and give a decent performance and keep people buying stuff, then they will go with that.  Comedy club owners are not in the business of making YOUR career.  They sell drinks and chicken strips.  There are ways to break into these comedy clubs if you are willing to do it.

One of the tried and true methods for getting into a comedy club is going with someone that is already established.  The club runner already knows that guy and if you can come in for a guest or better yet a feature, you can maybe parlay that into more work in that room later.  This works great if you are a feature act because most clubs will cull local talent instead of bringing in outside features.  It’s just economics.  It cost less to get a local comic that doesn’t need a hotel room, and (probably) will take less money.

If you don’t know any headliners that you can go with, you can always get a recommendation from a comic that has worked there before.  Now, this is always weird because there are comics are out there that won’t want to put their name behind you.  So that is why you have to ask someone that thinks you are a good comic! Don’t ask the comic that came through town last week and you added them on facebook just to ask them to vouch for you.  If you have been doing it long enough to think you are ready to work comedy clubs across the country, then you should know enough people in comedy that are comfortable enough with telling the club runner or booker that you are a good fit for the club.

This is the long route, but I think it is a good one if you just started out.  If you live near a comedy club, then you should be in there getting face time.  That means hitting their open mics and trying to get guest sets.  This is much harder to do in large cities, so if you live in New York or something, don’t think you can just show up and get a guest set at The Cellar.  By doing their open mics you are less likely to see the club runner because they may not be there every week, but the club staff will notice you and your name can build.  Getting guest sets increases your chance of getting seen by the club owner, so get that if you can.  This can also bite you in the ass because if you bomb, they will remember that as well. To go with this, just keep in contact with these guys, and maybe if they have a fall out in the schedule you can snap it up.  This is random so you can’t depend on it (you maybe number 97 on the list), but if you have tried everything else it is worth a shot.

I have been doing comedy for more than 10 years now and I have done a handful of full time comedy clubs. They are great because you don’t have to drive all over the place everyday.  You can make more money though in other areas of comedy if you are willing to take the risk.  If you have a good promotional head about you, then you should not be thinking about comedy clubs and instead try to get into small theaters and the like.  There is a possibility of making more money, which means not having to work as hard to get as much as someone that is only doing comedy clubs.

There are clubs in Seattle and Portland that I have been trying to break into for about 6 years now.  It is a little harder for someone that lives so far away because you are not getting that face time that can lead to work in these clubs and there is that stigma that Spokane has on it.  I don’t worry about all that, and you shouldn’t either.  Just make you material tack sharp and keep what I said above in mind.  If you can get super famous as well that would be great.

How To Stay Positive In A Negative Environment

Look, comedians are a cynical bunch.  We watch the world and point out it’s flaws. So, if you are trying to become a comedian, it is common to have to hang out with a lot of these cynical comedians, and it is easy to fall into a hole of negativity.  Comedy can be very depressing.  You get up and have to work out these jokes that may not hit like you think they will. You can feel pressure from your family that think pursuing comedy is not a good way to spend your life.  Not to mention the fact that almost every comic wants to be on TV and they will look at who they see on TV and compare themselves to them.  I think we should talk about ways to stay positive.

I have visited small comedy scenes and large comedy scenes and for the most part there is the same level of negativity.  Now the negativity can come from many different angles.  From badmouthing to actual sabotage.  Here is an example:  There is a twitter feed that is operated by a guy in Seattle that does nothing but badmouth a couple of comedians.  This does nothing to help their career and it makes the scene look petty.

The easiest way to stay positive in these kind of negative environments is to just ensure you are surrounding yourself with positive people.  I try to hang out with people that have the same goals as me. It would not help me to be around people that don’t get off their ass to get what they want.  I want to be around people that are always working to write a better joke and they want to work their way to a point where they can do this for a living.  I also try to stay away from too much of the badmouthing and gossip. It is hard because sometimes you want to know who is banging who, or who stole a Carlos Mencia joke.  The thing is that that type of behavior invites you to add to it.

It is hard to stay positive, I will admit.  Sometimes I look at my calendar and I don’t see a show for long stretches of time and I get frustrated.  Sometimes I don’t feel as though I have done enough to get to where I want to be at this point in my career.  The thing is that I would rather internalize that instead of spreading it out so everyone else is as miserable as I am.  What I try to do is honestly evaluate myself to see if it is me that is causing the problems.  The thing is that if you have positive people around you they will help you see that easier.  Merry Christmas and thanks for reading!

Keeping Your Head Up When All Seems Lost

This thing we do is hard sometimes.  There are a lot of lonely nights, of self doubt, where you can only see the darkness.  Standing up and bearing your soul to the world is a painful thing to do, and to complicate matters you also have to put up with the rest of the world when you step off stage.  Relationships, relatives, jobs, all of the hardships others have to deal with.  What makes it even worse is that you are one of the few that notices it. That is what makes a comic a comic.  They have the ability to see the nuances of the world that other people just ignore.  That can tire you and make you look at the world negatively.

With that going on for years and years it will eventually get to the point where you see no other way out. Your non comedian friends just don’t understand what propels a person to drive 3 hours for 100 bucks. They don’t know how it feels to notice the world the way you do.  So, you hang out with like minded people. The problem is that those people also tend to be in the dumps as well because this is the albatross we carry to be able to do this.

How can you keep on going when it seems the world doesn’t understand you and you feel as though you are falling down a jagged cliff?  I have no idea.  I am in the same boat as you.  I can tell you what deadens the pain. I find the things I like to do and I do them a lot.  That is easy for me to say however, my favorite things don’t include ingesting drugs and/or alcohol, which could make matters worse.  I read, play video games, and go to the pawn shop, and hang out with my loved ones.  I try to stay around positive people. Those people tend to be comics, but more often then not they make me feel good to be around them.  I also try to keep as busy as possible. The way my mind works (and the mind of most depressed people) is that if it is left idle, to just rummage around through the blank spaces in my mind, then negativity will arise from that.  That is why I decided to start photography and videography and podcast and anything else to stay out of that place that brings me down.

It’s hard.  You don’t know if this thing you love will be loved by others to the point where you can earn a living from it.  The grind of being a comedian can get you down.  I just hope that while you are pursuing your dreams that you stay positive and make sure you are doing the things that make you happy, not the things that you think will make others around you happy.

 

This blog post is dedicated to Meredith Flanders.  She was a not only a great comedian, but also a great person.

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How To Succeed In A Small Town

Comics believe that if you want to “make it” you have to be in a big city.  Now, being in a large city will give you more chances to get up every night and you have more chances to succeed.  There is no reason however, that you can’t do well in a smaller town.  You will have to work a little bit and be willing to drive, but it is possible.

A lot of comics in small towns are comfortable being there and they understand that an exec from NBC isn’t coming to their neck of the woods looking for talent.  There are some that do not understand, that if you are in a smaller comedy market, you have to do more to get the same amount of work that someone in a larger market is getting.  That seems logical, but a lot of people don’t really get that.  You have to be willing to drive to the cities where the comedy is happening and get noticed.  That means going to open mics and independent pro shows and mingling with the other comics.  The reason I said independent shows is because if you go to a comedy club, you may not meet the person that can get you in that room.

If you do have aspirations of doing comedy for a living, then you already know how important it is to work on your material.  In a smaller city, you may not even have an open mic.  That is when you create one yourself!  It isn’t that hard really.  A lot of bars are looking for cheap entertainment and there is nothing cheaper than free comedy.  The only issue with this is that you have to have people willing to come out to the open mic.  If you are not sure how many other comedians are living where you do you could try going to open mics that are not comedy related.  There is always a poetry open mic or a mic where there are a mix of things going on. Give it a try.

If you do have open mics in the area, you will be best serve to make sure you hit them all as much as possible.  I am a proponent of going to open mics.  I think it is the best way to get comfortable being on stage in front of people, which is what you want to do…right?  I get it, if you are in a small town and comedy isn’t a big thing people like to do, that it can be frustrating to always play in front of nobody, but if you want to get better than this is an important step, I believe.

I live in Spokane, WA.  I like the area, but it is not a haven for comics.  With that being said, I have to use the resources that are in the area to then be able to branch out and make money in other areas.  So, I will do the open mics in town and work on my material, and then I will go to Seattle and Portland and other larger areas, and I talk and interact with other comics that live there.  Comics are human, so if you are cool with them and are funny, they will help you as much as possible.  Also because I do not live in these areas, I can get on open mics easier and that will attract people who think I am funny.  All of this helps me make money even though I live in a city where I only do about 5% of my shows.

I hope this will help those living in smaller areas, to not get discouraged and to keep on keeping on.  If you just work a little bit harder at making sure you are not forgotten, you can make waves, and a little cash, in comedy no matter where you reside.

 

The Myth Of The Big Break

Comedians are always looking for that opportunity to get to the next level.  Some call it their “big break”. I believe that there is no such thing.

First, I don’t think there is such a thing as a big break.  I believe it is akin to steps.  What I mean is, there are little processes that lead you to the place you want to be.  What some comedians believe is that it isn’t steps but more like a leap, or jumping into an airborne aircraft.  You don’t go: first night, open mic and then second night, Starring in your own movie.  Doesn’t work like that.  There are a lot of chances to get you where you are going.

I don’t know how many comedians I have known over the years that thought that all they had to do was get on stage and a producer from NBC or Comedy Central would scoop them up and hand them a million dollars. It is the same thinking as a poor person waiting on the lottery to solve all of their problems.  Some comedians will point to a person that is red hot right now as an example of overnight success.  Here is the biggest issue with that thinking:  If you are not prepared then what are you going to do when you do get that chance?  If you aren’t out there performing and getting better, even if an opportunity hit you in the face you wouldn’t know what to do with it.  Every example that I hear of, the person that was doing it for two years and now they are in movies or the guy that went to an open mic and got blown by an executive from Comedy Central is missing a couple of key points.  First, it could have been a fluke.  That isn’t how it is normally so you should not expect it to work out that way for you.  Second, and what this paragraph has been trying to get at from the first word, they must have been prepared enough.  If just getting there is the goal then they succeeded.  If it was to stay there then they still have work to do.

I had been doing comedy for about 4 years when in the span of like 3 months I opened for a couple of big acts.  Like national big.  I thought it was my big chance to get up to the opening these big acts.  It didn’t pan out.  I think what was important was that I didn’t let that be my one and only chance!  The same thing happened when I went to Seattle to be in their international comedy competition.  I thought this was my big chance and I think I put way to much on just a competition.  Because even if I had won the whole thing, that doesn’t mean I could just lay back and rest on that little resume enhancer.  I would still have to kick butt everywhere I went.

I think it is a product of what YouTube has done to fame and fortune.  YouTube has made it that you can be an overnight success.  I think as humans though we are bad with these sorts of things.  We tend to believe that if it can work for that one guy then it has to work for us.  Those people are outliers, anomalies, freaks. The average comedian will spend years honing their craft to the point that it is as sharp as can be before they get opportunities.  That’s what you should be striving for, being a better comedian, not being a flash in the pan…unless that is what you want.