Why Getting What You Are Worth Matters

It is always weird to me when I hear comedians talking about getting paid and they are so comfortable with just taking whatever they can get.  It may be due to their awkwardness in asking someone for money, but I think it is due to something much bigger:  not knowing what they are worth.  You can sit down with a comedian and tell them how much everyone else is getting, but if they don’t know why it matters it will go in one ear and out the other.  I will try to explain as best as I can.

Now, your worth as a comedian changes from place to place.  In the Midwest, the money comedians are getting is different than in the Northwest.  It can also vary depending on if it’s a one night performance in a bar or if you are at a comedy club.  It can also change depending on demand.  If you have a market that is flooded with comedians, it may be harder to get as much as say, someone who lives in Spokane, WA.  So, the very first thing you need to do if you are a working comedian (or trying to be one) is that you need to ask other comedians what is the going rates in your area.  That way you are not undercutting yourself out of ignorance.  It is important to know that, for example, if you are tasked with hosting a show at a bar, it usually pays a certain amount.

Okay, now that we took care of that, let’s look at why it is important to get paid what you are worth.  If you ask any comedian that has been doing it for 20-30 years, they will tell you that the pay hasn’t really increased since they started.  With the price of inflation, that $100 that was seen as great in 1990 is almost $200 in today’s dollars!  That means that the market has not kept up with inflation.  Why?  Because so many comedians are insecure and love comedy so much that they will take the $100 and be happy.  A lot of comedians think it is weird in the first place to get money for something that they enjoy, and that gives the people handing out the money an advantage in that they use this against you. They know that the average comedian will take that $100 bucks and if that one doesn’t then the next one will.  Because there is no union and for a lot of comedians, work so infrequent, they think it is better to get something rather than nothing.

This is all well and good until you think about all the other aspects of comedy other than just performing.  You have to get there.  That cost.  You have to eat.  That cost.  If you take that $100, after you have paid for gas and food you maybe down to $60.  Now, that means much more work on your part.  This is why there aren’t that many touring feature acts. You can’t afford to travel and perform.  If you are traveling and performing in comedy clubs, that may soften the blow because you don’t have to jump in your car each night, but a lot of clubs don’t give features hotel rooms, so that means you will either have to have a friend in that city, or get a hotel room and that eats into more of your pay.

Getting what you are worth is important because if you want to do it full time, you will have to maximize your pay while minimizing the cost.  So, if it cost you $150 to go perform, you may want to make sure you are getting enough that you are not constantly doing expensive open mics.  It is also important because it adds value to not only your comedy, but comedy as a whole.  Some of the worst crowds I have ever perform in front of are crowds that got in for free.  They see no value in it so they don’t care what they get out of it.  If a booker knows he can pay you $25 to feature, he is not thinking of your comedy as a valuable product.

People make fun of me because I am always trying to get more for my performance.  The reason I do that is because I feel like even though I am not a big comedian or famous, my time and my comedy are worth something, at least more than what others are getting.  I know I am not going to raise the amount everyone gets paid because it is only me looking for more pay, but it does add value to my comedy.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to make it seem like while others get $100 I get 400, but I try to make sure I am getting what I am comfortable with so that after I am done paying for expenses, I have money for silly shit like bills and drones.  That is also the reason I have kinda moved away from mostly bar stuff to corporate stuff.  I can get paid what I am comfortable with and I don’t have to drive all over the place.  Getting what you are worth is not greedy.  It’s just smart.

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Beware of Predatory Comedians

This world is filled with unscrupulous souls just waiting for unsuspecting people to get within their grasp so they can screw em.  Show business is no exception.  Lets discuss those uncaring bastards that call themselves comedians.

The thing about Predatory comedians is that they have a lot of potential victims because of just how weird comedy is.  Every couple of months or so, there are a couple of new comedians hungry for stage time and fame, and that is when these assholes strike.  It is just like any con game, they gain your trust and next thing you know you are traveling the state with a chainsmoker that isn’t paying you or buying gas just giving you “experience”.  Now, there is a lot to be said for experience.  That is the one thing you have to go out and get, but no matter what, there are less expensive ways to gain it. Lets go over some of the major traits of Predatory comedians.

Praise:  Have you been doing comedy all of three months and someone is already coming up to you telling you that you are the best thing since slice bread?  It could be it’s true!  It could also be that they are just softening you up so they can use and abuse you later.  This is usually the first step.  They get you alone so none of the other comedians in the scene (who have seen them run their bull on others) can hear them talk you up.  Be honest with yourself.  If they are piling on the compliments when before they didn’t even talk to you, it could be that they are gearing up for the next step in their plan.

Promises they can’t keep: People are always working on stuff that just falls through.  I do it all the time.  The problem with these guys is that they make it too unbelievable.  Have you been doing it a short time and now they say they can give you 500 bucks for one show somewhere way out into the future?  Then what they are actually doing is setting your mind up to allow them to freeload off of you for a bit because you think you are getting a windfall in a couple of months.  People do this all the time in more classic scams like the Nigerian Prince scam that we all know about by now.  The old saying, “Too good to be true.” holds here.

Asking for favors really soon after meeting them: So you talked to the scumbag on Monday and on Thursday they are asking you to drive them out of town for a show and they promise stage time?  That may be really cool…unless they are not splitting expenses with you.  If anyone wants to mentor you that is cool, but don’t let someone take advantage of you with the promise of stage time in a bar somewhere.  Besides going out on the road may do you more harm than good.  You don’t want your mind destroyed at a bar show in the middle of nowhere only to then have to drive back home and pay for gas.

My best advice is to have your head about you.   Understand that there is no “get famous quick” scheme in comedy.  Those comedians that you see on TV have been doing it for years before they got to that point so you have to accept that your road may wind like others.  Now, there is nothing wrong with going out on the road and gaining experience with cool comedians.  It’s just that a normal, none douchebag comedian won’t make you pay for the gas and food just so you can do five minutes somewhere you didn’t even know existed.  Women have to be extra careful because there are some pervs in the industry that will make it seem like all they want to do is nourish your comedy, when actually what they want to do is put their penis in you.  Again, if you want to that is your thing.  Just be careful, and have a fun.

The Pain Of Failure

Went to Colorado Springs to take part in the World Series of Comedy. I am always a nervous wreck when it comes to competitions.  I feel like I have good material and everything, but it never seems to hold up very well under scrutiny.  I do them anyway because it is the best way to get out there and network.

I was in the “wildcard” round.  If you place in the wildcard, you can then move on to the next competition. The 40 comics that were selected were all done so based on the video that was sent in.  So, the wildcard round is for those comics that had a pretty bad video, but not that bad. I was the ninth comic and I thought I did a good job.  I placed second and got to move on to the next round.

So I got to hang out Thursday and watch shows and got to see the sites of Colorado Springs.  I performed first show Friday and I was a nervous wreck.  I actually laid in my hotel bed, timing my material, so I could be sure not to go over time.  I never do this!  I just go up with a rough sketch of what I will do and I let the crowd take me the rest of the way.  Because I placed in the wildcard, I was the first comic to go up.  Comics call this the “bullet” spot or “taking the bullet”.  The reason being is because as the first comic, everyone else will be judge based on you.  You are the average, and being the average does not get you into the final night.  I did my thing, and I thought it was great.  As the first comic, you have to set the bar high.  You can’t mess up because then the bar is so low that the other comics can just walk over it.  They picked two comics to go on to the Saturday shows, and I was not one of them.

After the show, the guy that puts this all together told me I did a good job taking the bullet, and I only lost out by a point, but while I was listening to him, my brain was muddy.  Like he was talking to me while I was in a bowl of water.  All I could keep thinking was, “Not again.”.  I didn’t stay up that late because I had a flight back to Spokane, but I did stay to watch my buddy Phil Kopczynski take second during the next show.  The whole time though, I was sitting there wondering what I could have done differently.

This is my third of these types of competitions, and I always seem to do well, until I talk myself into failing.  I lay there at night just running through all the times I ran into hardship, or I just tell myself that I am not supposed to be a great comic.  I think about all the other failures in my life and think why would this be any different.  That sort of thinking will eat away at your soul.  I try not to let the negative thoughts get to me, but it is hard in a business where failure comes in bunches and the victories are so small, but seem so big because you don’t know what it feels like.  Comics in Spokane assume that I am doing all this stuff, but what they fail to see are the emails (or lack there of) from casting directors and club bookers turning me down.

It hurts to work at something and not see it pan out.  That is comedy though.  That is show business.  It tears away at you and you mull over all the ways you could have turned it around.  Maybe I should have done this, or maybe I should have said that?  That always pops up in my mind after the fact.  It also doesn’t help that I get approached after the show and told how close I was to success.  It just plants another seed in my mind that I should not strive for a better position, that the space I take up now in comedy is the one I am best suited.  That may be right.  It doesn’t hurt to keep trying though.

Even though I fail in a lot of my pursuits, my YouTube channel, my photography business, my podcast, this blog, it doesn’t mean that the passion to do those things die along with it.  Every Monday, I still have a desire to type out these words even though a small number of people will read them.  I still take photos and offer my services.  I still write short stories and audition for commercials and movies.  I do these things because when I look at my life without those things, I don’t see me existing.  These are the things that make my heart race, that make me feel like I am adding to the positivity of the human condition, and so I will still perform comedy, and write and take photos, even though I will run into a lot more hardships. This defines me, and I can’t walk away from it.

The Problem With Local Shows

I am a regional comic.  What that means is that I make the majority of my money in about 4-5 states.  This means that local shows that are put on are a big source of income for me.  The thing about doing shows locally (I live in Spokane WA on the east side of Washington state) is that it is HARD to get people in those seats.  Now, I have had conversations at length about why this is so.  Theories abound!  Everything from people don’t know about comedy in the area all the way to it’s too expensive (if 5 bucks is too much then you have other issues).  I have my own theories.

We live in a post comedy boom.  Back in the 80’s and 90’s comedy clubs were as plentiful as zits on Kim Kardashian’s ass.  With every boom though there is a burst of the bubble and by the mid to late 90’s most of the good will stand up comedy garnered was wasted.  Why?  Because human nature that’s why!  Instead of establishing itself as a viable form of entertainment, comedy became more seedy as people who wanted to run shows, but didn’t have the capital to open a new club (especially after they ruined a couple already) just threw them up in bars and basements around america.  Think about it like this:  When is the last time you have been to a comedy club that wasn’t also a restaurant or a bar or a strip mall?  This is one of the reasons people turned away from live comedy.  No one wants to go to a comedy club when it is in the seedy side of town and you have to bring your own cups.

Then let’s not forget the actual people putting on these shows.  They were either wannabe comics who failed miserably to make it in a time when anyone with a hook could make money or they were shady businessmen that saw a quick buck (sounds a lot like the housing and internet bubbles).  These people would charge money and threw anyone on stage that said they were a comic.  Since there were so many comedy clubs and not enough quality acts to fill them, people got burned one too many times and the clubs just dried up.

The comics actually performing back then didn’t help either.  These guys were snake oil salesmen.  They would flash a grin and show a comedy booker a bag full of trinkets that they were gonna make fun of on stage and they got a lot of work.  The problem is they were not that good.  Look at all the stereotypes of comedians.  Its always a guy telling terrible jokes that have been driving into the ground (see last week’s article on hack).  He always looks like a used car salesman.  This was even worse in smaller parts of the country because quality acts were in the big cities and comedy clubs needed acts it was easy for these people to go from small town to small town for years before they either got one too many DUIs or they opened up a subway that is connected to a conoco.

What does that have to do with comedy in Spokane (and probably your little neck of the woods).  Well, Spokane is one of those cities where these exact things happened! People started doing comedy in any place that would let them.  Comedy clubs were doing great in the area.  Then the people running the bars noticed that the same 5 acts were coming back over and over again.  The audiences noticed that they were paying more to get in and more for drinks and getting a guy that was telling all of Eddie Murphy’s old material, but in a british accent.

So what happened?  Well, the bar owners kicked the bookers out and refused to pay that much money for an inferior product.  Audience members decided to spend their money on known quality (that is why clubs all across America will not put you on unless you have TV credits, that is to let the people coming to the show know that you have been vested already and deemed funny) and just stopped coming to comedy clubs unless they could prove they could consistently bring in funny people.

So, comedy in Spokane has stagnated for about 6 years with one club and a lot of one nighters that pop up from time to time.  I am a believer that it is because of the (perceived) quality of comedy in the area and the lack of promotion that is making local shows suffer.  Even when you get out on local TV and advertise your event you may get a lukewarm response and that is because people have been burned before and people remember the bad experiences more than the no so bad experiences.

Another issue that is fairly recent is that comics (me included) have gotten lazy with promotion.  We will make a flyer and put it up at the venue and then post it online and then call it good.  Just because you have 500 friends on facebook does not mean you will get 500 people to your show.  For every 100 people you have to assume that only 1 of those people will be persuaded by your advertisement.  If you put on shows then try this experiment.  Send out an invite to your next show.  See how many people say they will or might come.  Then check the amount of audience members you get.  You will see that a lot of the time the number of people that saw the ad and then said they were coming is much larger than the amount of people that actually showed up.  I mean you can post it a lot and get people used to the fact that a show will be going on.  That is the only way I have seen it consistently work.  But the numbers will almost always be lower than what you planned.

I think in this area, the biggest problem is that people don’t think of Spokane as an area where good comedy can come from.  I think the reason for that is that Seattle and Portland are not that far away and people’s perception is that it makes no sense to do comedy here unless you are not good enough to cut it on the west side.  That is why shows do really well here when they are being performed in theaters like the Bing Crosby Theater or the Fox Theater.  People will come see those because again, they believe that those people on that stage have been vested and they believe they are getting a quality product.

I have gone about my career here the long way. I just try to put on the best show possible and gain enough of a following that when I do perform I can have a number of people come to that show.  It is not the cool route because at times there are a lot of empty seats in the crowd, but it is one that allows the people paying to get in a chance to trust that you will take care of their entertainment needs.  Now, I would love to get a TV credit and make it easier to get asses in chairs, but that is a process.  If you have read my blog, you will notice that is a ongoing theme.  Process to success.

I think the Spokane comedy scene would serve itself well to see a little deeper into why people are not showing up then just “its warm outside” and see that what people want now are what they have wanted forever.  A consistently funny show in an area where they don’t feel they will have to fight a bum to get to their automobile.

Dirty Vs. Clean Material

This is a much more contentious topic then a lot of people realize because there is a pretty great divide between people who write “clean” comedy to people who write “dirty” comedy.  There are misconceptions to both and there are best uses for both.  I think we should look at all of that.

When someone says they are a “clean” comic (I will stop with the “”s now), what they mean can be different depending on who the audience is.  Clean and working a show for a religious group is different from clean and working on TV.  What a lot of people mean though when they say they write clean material or are a clean comic is that they write and perform comedy that doesn’t have curse words and does not go into topics like sex and drugs.  A common misconception that a lot of people think about these types of comics is that they are not funny.  I have worked with many comics that perform without cursing and stuff and they are some of the funniest people on the planet.  Kermit Apio is a prime example of a comic that does clean material, and is one of the best comics touring the nation today (this is the first time I have put a comic’s name in my blog and I am nervous about it).  Another misconception that is usually held with comics is that if you are a clean comic you will not be able to do well in a rowdy atmosphere.  I think that is wrong.  I think that if a crowd wants comedy, the subject matter should not be a concern, but rather how funny the joke is.

Dirty comics are the opposite.  They will perform with curse words in their act and they will joke about sex and drugs and any other topic that may rub people the wrong way.  The biggest misconception of the dirty comic is that people believe it is easier to write dirty than it is to write clean.  This is a misconception due, in my view, to the fact that a lot of comics that start out will have a lot of cursing in their material. I think this has more to do with how people are in real life.  Personally, I curse a lot more when I am nervous.  I think it is a verbal crutch, like say ummm a lot.  Writing funny jokes is hard no matter if you put a bunch of fucks in it or not.  A lot of comics also think that if they curse and talk about subjects that are a little off putting (like abortion) that that can be a replacement for a punchline.  That is not.  There are shock comics out there and in my observations, a lot of them kind of sink or swim from performance to performance.

Which one is best?  Both of them!  If you want to be a successful comedian, you should be able to do more than just one thing.  Now, if in real life you don’t curse and talk about banging and stuff then it would be a bad idea to start doing that in your act.  What you want is the audience to see the real you so they build a better connection to you and make the comedy experience an even deeper one.  If you write nothing, but dick jokes and that is you, then by all means go for it, but be warned that you will not be getting booked at the local bingo parlor.  Now, I will admit that a clean comedy will get you in a lot more places.  That is natural. You have to be aware that a lot of comedy shows are taking place in establishments that want to sell stuff to the people that walk in the door.  They don’t want your dead baby jokes turning people off from buying another bud light.  Personally, I write what comes to me, and I perform what is appropriate for that occasion.  If they don’t care how dirty I get I can get there (which a lot of people still think isn’t that bad), and when I am needed to be clean I can be that.  That is how you maximize the amount of shows you can get booked for.  If you are wanting to be a paid comedian, then this is something you should be striving for more than some point.  If you want to curse it up then do that.  Just know what you are getting into.  And if you want to be squeaky clean, just know that you may not get a great response everywhere.  If you are in a rowdy bar that wants dick and pussy jokes and you are talking about road trips, they may turn on you.  That is why my best advice is to write what comes to you and be prepared with having two sets.  One that can be told when you have no restrictions and one that can be told when you have to curtail a lot of subjects and words.

Thank you very much for checking out my blog, I truly appreciate it.

The Will

For this weeks blog, I didn’t know what to call it.  I don’t think “The Will” is a good representation of what I wanted to talk about, but by the end it may turn out like that so let’s see where this takes us.

I started with my video blog which can be found on YouTube. This is the first video and it is just the start of something that I hope will prosper and last a long time.  Comedy, like life, involves stepping out of your comfort zone all the time and exposing yourself to the randomness of life.  You may think that because a lot of comedy is scripted, that there would not be any room for a variable.  Different audiences, different nights, difference pants can change a show for good or bad.  With doing this video blog, I am exposing myself to a new audience and I am doing something where there are more parts.  I have to make the video and sound look good and I have to edit the video and I have to keep it fresh with topics that people will want to watch.

I have read and watched enough YouTube personalities to know that this will not be an over night success.  Hell, I may not even be a success at all.  But that is the risk you take not only in comedy, but in life.  Sometimes I get on stage with an idea and the idea falls flat.  It just sinks.  The key is you have to have the will (AHA!) to push through it and not let it get to you or knock you off your horse.  I’m sure I am not the only one that has had bumps in the road where you thought it should all just end.  Like when I got diagnosed with Lupus, or when I got a divorce, or when I got out of school and couldn’t find a job, or all the acting role rejections, or the comedy clubs that turn me away constantly.  If we stopped at the obstacle, would anything ever get done?

I have realistic expectations for everything, but I never stop dreaming.  I dream of doing shows 49 weeks out of the year and releasing more albums and entertaining more people.  If it doesn’t happen that doesn’t mean my life was wasted.  My life would be wasted if I took an office job and never even tried to chase my dreams.  And that’s where the will comes in.  You have to have the will to talk yourself off the ledge sometimes.  We can’t help but get down sometimes when things don’t go our way, but that is the perfect time to look inside yourself and tell yourself that it is worth all the pain.

I keep working on ways to entertain more people, while doing the things that make me happy. Like writing this blog and doing the show on YouTube.  It is gonna be rocky for awhile.  No one may watch it, but that doesn’t mean I just stop because I feel bad about myself.  I keep going until I catch an audience (which I think I can do) and make something out of it.  You don’t fail until you stop trying, and that is where will comes in.  The will to keep pushing until you can reach your goals.  No matter if it’s comedy or working at a call center, if you have a goal you must have the willpower to see it through.  I knew I would get my title in there.

That Loving Feeling

Every morning I wake up two things come to mind:  What is my daughter doing and then I start thinking about comedy.  Depending on my attitude at the time, I am either optimistic and want to go out there and get it or I am pessimistic and just want to leave it be.

Comedy is not like another profession because so much subjective stuff goes into it.  It is not just showing up to a work place and do jokes.  You are not dealing with just an industry you are dealing with an industry that has many parts to it.  You are not just going to Kansas to do a corporate gig.  You are doing a corporate show, then one in the midwest, then one for whatever group hired you.  There are so many things that someone looking at your video can just say no to that it is no wonder comedy is a hard nut to crack.

Personally I get to a point where I would rather die then give up comedy.  Then I get a temp job that is paying well and the next thing you know I am thinking if I can give it up.  That is a problem.  That is when you have to realize that that loving feeling is starting to fade.  The high you got from pursuing comedy is getting replaced with sadness and hatred then it is not something you should be doing.

Don’t get me wrong.  This has nothing to do with people.  This has to do with me. This has to do with the fact that I have not been able to get the attention of bookers.  I sit at open mics and I just want to go home.  I don’t even look forward to getting on stage.  Maybe it is a phase, or maybe I am wrong.  Maybe I can get over this in due time.  Until then I will pick up a little job and keep myself busy.