Making Those Summer Moves

Summer is approaching and that means the kids will be getting out of school, bathing suits come out of the closet, and you…will not be getting much work.  It happens.  There is this thought that no one wants to see a comedy show because the weather is so good.  I talked about how it is pretty much a myth here, but if you think it is a thing and have to keep the money coming in so you can feed your slurpee diet, then I will tell you things that I have seen that work pretty well.

If you don’t have any shows lined up during the summer months and you want them, then you may have to line them up yourself!  The summer is a great time to plan a tour.  The weather is good, so you can drive to the snowy parts of the country, and because people are usually looking for spectacles during the warmer months (movies, concerts, monster rising from the ocean to devour a famous landmark), you can go and make a nice little chunk of money.  Here is the thing though, you can’t aim for the big cities.  You have to look toward the smaller towns in the country.  Why?  Because everyone ignores them.  While all the bigger comedians are playing a show in a big theater in some fancy city with their fancy motor cars, you can be in a bar in a small town making a nice little bit of money because when the sun goes down, people still want to do stuff, so that means being there with your notebook full of cat jokes.

You can also try to diversify yourself, and target niche markets that you never thought of going after before.   I have a number of shows during the summer that would be considered corporate gigs.  I looked at retreats and ceremonies that may be happening and I put myself out there and I got a few bites from people that are looking to spice up that boring ass summer team building meeting you always see signs for in hotels when you are there to bang in the swimming pool.  They pay pretty well, and depending where you have to go for the gig, they may be willing to pay for travel expenses (YAY!!).  It’s not all bubble gum and hover boards though, you will have to be working in the PG or PG-13 area of content.  Remember, these are stuffy suits, not cool ass trend setters like you, so if you want this work you might have to lay off the taint talk for a bit.

Both of the above methods of keeping money in your pocket this summer involve a lot of prior planning.  I didn’t plan the stuff I got, it just worked out with the first couple then I started to move when I saw that it was a thing.  Another method, that may not require as much work is starting up a show in your area.  Try to make it a big deal.  The old club here in town would close during the summer, but once or twice a month would put on a show and a lot of people would turn up and money was flowing like Pepsi through the streets. You can do the same thing.  Do you have a comedy club nearby?  Ask them if you can promote a show on one of there off nights.  You may have to rent the room, but if you try to sell it as a great event, and an awesome way to get out of the sun for a bit, you may see a nice turnout.  It beats having a bar give you a set amount because you may make enough money that those one nighters seem silly (for now at least).

If your area is having an event, then you could piggyback off that and produce a show.  In Spokane, WA, there are a couple of events during the summer:  Bloomsday and Hoopfest. Both of these days brings in a lot of people and when they are done running and breaking things on their body, they will want to be entertained.  That is where you can slide in and help them.  The amount of promoting will change because if you do a little footwork (maybe flyers where the event is going to take place) then you can have a nice turnout which means cold hard cash in your pockets.

I hope this helps you out.  I had to suffer many summers before I got information and started seeing what other comedians were doing.  If you are not a name where you can just go anywhere this summer and keep the lights on, give it a try and let me know how you do.

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Following Your Dreams Is Not Enough

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

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

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

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

How To Stand Out In Your Comedy Scene

A lot of comedians think that the best way to stand out is to just be funny.  All you have to do is write material, work it out week after week, and someday…you will be able to host!  Here is the thing that a lot of comedians just can’t understand: That is not the way to stand out in your scene.  I will tell you what does and why?

You may be saying, “Well, Harry, handsome mofo you, why isn’t being funny the best way to stand out?  That is my job, right?” Your job is to be funny, but being funny is just a part of being a comedian.  You have to think about all the stuff that a comedian does before and after they get on a stage and be funny.  You have to get to the show, on time.  You have to perform your time, not going over or under.  If you are gonna be on stage, you should probably not be up there so high that you forget your material, or go after people in the audience.  When you are off stage, it is probably not a good idea to touch the wait staff (unless they consent of course).

If you want to stand out, you have to do what the others around you are not willing to do.  For example, in Spokane, we have a major comedy club and some independent shows.  If you show up to the open mics and show yourself not be a douchebag, it is not that hard to rise to the top of the scene and start working at the club, where you can be sharing the stage with some huge names.  Because in almost every scene I have witness, there are the same groups of people.  You have the entitled people that think that they should get work because they have stuck it out. You have the comedy fans that are more into the idea of comedy then actually creating and performing their own stuff.  Then you have just lazy comedians that will not show up to open mics, and when they do they are still performing the same jokes.  It is not that hard to rise above these guys.  While they are sitting around wondering why no one is booking them, you are making face time with all the other comedians that are trying their best to, just like you, stand out and be noticed by the people that are booking shows.

People always look at me and assume I get work because I make people laugh.  That is so far from the truth.  At first it was because I was available, and that I could go to places at a moments notice.  Later, bookers turned to me because I was dependable. I got to the venue on time and was nice to the staff.  When the manager of the room sees that, they will book you again.  Now, if you suck, you will get some work, but after awhile it will be harder, but the idea here is to get your foot in the door with a lot of these bookers and promoters by being dependable.  Bookers need people to fill time.  Yeah they want a great show, but if the funniest person on the planet only shows up 50% of the time, then there is no show.

Look comedy is still hard, if you have read any of this blog you know that, the thing is to make sure that you are setting yourself up for success, and that means getting out and being seen and not being a horrible garbage person.

It All Seems So Simple…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading The Crowd

We love to talk about stage presence and material as important aspects of a great comedian, but one aspect that is overlooked is the ability to read the crowd.  Reading the crowd, is a comics ability to see how the audience is responding to certain material.  When a comic reads the crowd correctly, they can taylor their material in such a way that they can get the best reaction possible.

One of the easiest methods of reading the crowd is by just listening to what the comics before you are doing.  That is why most shows have a host or MC.  While the host is up there warming up the crowd, the comedians on the show should be able to hear what topics are really working and what topics are dead on arrival.  If you are listening, you should have no surprises when you get up.  That is unless all of your material is about a subject that the crowd is hating with the MC (for the most part).

What if you are a host yourself?  No one is going up before you, so how are you supposed to be able to read the crowd.  That is when the demographics are the audience comes into play.  Are they a younger crowd?  Then they may not want to hear about how your hip hurts.  Are they older?  Then they may not react well to you saying that you are too old at 24. Now, this is not a concrete thing.  You are basically guessing for a bit as to where you can take your audience.

For years, I  have used jokes that I could throw up quickly to see if the audience will be into what I plan on doing.  I also have two sets that I can use incase I guessed wrong.  One show I was performing and I assumed by looking at them that I should do my family friendly material.  They were not reacting to it. They wanted to go in the gutter, so I whipped out some of my more “blue” material and they were hooked in after that.  The thing is, I don’t expect everyone to have that much material to pull from, so if you have material that can go a couple of ways this is a good time to pull it out.  This way you have a safety valve in case you go up and they are not feeling it.

Reading the crowd to see where you can take them material wise is often overlooked, I think, because most comedians have a set list that they can not budge to far from, so if it isn’t working then they are stuck doing that material no matter what.  That is why it is important to keep writing and performing. You can get really good at seeing what a crowd wants with experience.  Have you ever seen a comic go up after someone crapped the bed and see them kill.  They read the crowd and could see that the comedian before didn’t get the collective humor of the audience, and was able to kick ass.  Start paying attention and you can do the same.

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.

Why Are You A Comedian

I wonder if people ask themselves this question from time to time?  I think it is the most important question a performer can ask themselves.  Why comedy?  Is it more accessible than say, acting?  Is it more mainstream than being a mime?  I am constantly trying to figure out why comedy appeals to me so much and not something a little more lucrative like hedge fund manager.

I grew up in a small town in South Carolina called St.  Matthews.  It was so small that the big event in my childhood was when we got a Hardee’s (Carl’s Jr). I was always a shy kid, so making people laugh was my way of connecting to them.  I think it still is.  A way to talk to people without engaging in actual conversation.  I had a stutter when I was younger.  So bad, that I had to go to a speech therapist provided by the school.  That made it difficult to just converse with people normally, so maybe a sense of humor formed from there.

When I was in high school, I had the reputation of being the funny, quiet kid.  I had great friends who allowed me to be me.  They didn’t disapprove of the things I said, to the contrary, they said sillier things.  I was the guy that wanted to be different.  I didn’t want to do what others did, and I think because of the speech impediment it made it easier to do whatever I wanted because I was already a little weird in other’s eyes.

That carried over to the military.  I was enlisted, but that didn’t mean I was going to just be an airman and that’s it.  It is hard to crack jokes and not be serious all the time in an environment that wanted to be serious all the time.  That was when I started writing a blog and getting the silly out there.  I also got in trouble a bit for not being dead serious at times.

When I left the military, I was lost.  That was my purpose and now it was gone.  A friend suggested I go to an open mic one night and it just clicked.  Everything just seemed like training to get me to this point in my life.  It’s like meeting the person of your dreams.  I loved getting up on stage and saying all these silly things to make people laugh.  I loved watching what made other comics different.  How they got away with things others could not.  Facial expressions, tone of voice, cadence, the deliberate time of joke delivery, all these things fascinated me, and made me want to venture off and do nothing but perform.

It wasn’t until someone asked me if I would perform for them and they would pay me that I had given any hard thought to comedy as a career.  That was when I shifted and started looking at it as a way to support myself financially instead of just mentally.  This is basically where I am now, I perform all over the country and I use that money to pay bills, and put large shoes on my kid.  I love doing it as a career.  I love to travel and going to new places and seeing new things.  I love trying to solve the puzzle every comedian is faced with:  How will I make these people laugh?  About the only thing I wish I could change about my career is the amount of work I get.

Why are you a comedian?  Have you asked yourself that and actually tried to answer it truthfully?  Is it a way to get attention? Are you looking for the fame?  Did you have “get on stage” on your to-do list? Whatever your reasons, I hope you understand it so you can achieve your goals.  Thanks for reading and I hope you return next week.