Why Spokane May Not be the Best Place to Start Your Comedy Career

Last week, I wrote a post about how Spokane (or similarly sized city) would make a great place to start your comedy career.  As I said from that post, I would write a post about why it would not be a great place to begin your comedy career.  Lets do it!

Limited Audience: A city like Spokane has about 250,000 people living in it (almost twice as much if you count the metropolitan populace).  Out of that amount you have to start counting out certain groups, like people who don’t like stand-up or people to young to attend shows.  That leaves you with an even smaller group of people in which to apply your trade.  On a Saturday night, for example, only about 300-400 people are attending a comedy show in the area.  Cities like New York or Chicago are seeing multiple times that many people.

Talent Pool: Spokane bleeds talent every year.  Comedians get to a point where they feel as though they are stalling in their career and make the move to a larger city.  This is one of the downsides to living in a town of this size.  Just when the amount of talent in the city reaches a level where attention is drawn to it, enough people leave that it starts to effect shows.  When your best comedians leave for greener pastures, the only comedians left may not be ready to get paid, but you have no choice sometimes but to put them up.

Small chance to make it BIG:  Let’s face it.  Spokane is not a destination for any of the late shows.  No talent agent is going to Chan’s to look for a comedian to give a Netflix special to.  That is why people go to NYC and LA and Chicago.  You have a higher chance of being spotted or connecting with the right people and changing your life from just comedian on the side to full time comedian.  No matter how cheap the rent is in Spokane, the possibility of making it trumps that every time.

Trapped in local material:  There is a saying (one which I will be writing an article about soon) that goes: Local jokes get local work.  Because Spokane and the surrounding area can be a comedy island, people tend to cater a little to much to the townsfolk and before you know it, you have a set that is basically all about Spokane and towns around it.  That may work here, but once you go somewhere else, no one cares about how methed out Ritzville looks.

So, there you have it, some reasons why Spokane may not be the best place to start your career.  I always like to give both sides to an argument, and I hope you will see both the good and the bad to being a comedian in Spokane.  Remember, if you have the persistence and the talent, you can be a great comedian anywhere.

Why Spokane is a Great Place to Start Your Comedy Career

I know Spokane is in the title, but it really stands that any city the size of Spokane can be a great place to start your comedy career and in some cases be a great place to maintain a career as well.  Let’s look at the reasons now.

Goldilocks Effect  Spokane is damn near the perfect size when starting out your career.  It isn’t as large as LA or NYC where you will be spending more time traveling to open mics than actually performing, but it isn’t so small that there is only one or two stages to get better.  Spokane has a stage almost every night of the week in which to perform, and unlike larger cities, you do not run the chance of getting bumped after making the commute to get there.  Spokane also has one of the premier clubs in the country with the Spokane Comedy Club.  That means you get to see and hopefully perform with bigger acts and get seen by more people and that can lead to more work down the line.

The Others In Spokane right now are about 40-50 comedians.  That is way less than most cities, but what than means is a close knit community.  From my observations, the larger the city, the more segregated the comedians.  The hip comedians are over here and the alt-comedians are over there and the comedians with puppets are on the roof for some reason. Most comedians in Spokane know each other which leads to a, mostly, equal distribution of work. With the amount of comedians in the area, there are enough for solid competition, but not enough to have the feuds that you see in other scenes.

Location, Location, Location! Spokane is is a four hour drive to Seattle, a six hour drive to Portland, and about the same amount of time to Boise.  That means you are pretty close to some large cities in which to further your career.  Say you have a day job and you have a show in Seattle.  It will be a challenge of course, but it is an early morning drive, and a late night drive and you are back at work, a little more drowsy, but it can be done.  You can maintain relationships with promoters in those cities and still benefit from Spokane’s lower cost of living.

There you go, some reasons why Spokane is a great place to start performing.  Of course I could list a couple more, but I liked the three that are listed above.  Next week, I will tell you guys why Spokane isn’t the best place to start your comedy career.  See, I can milk both sides for content!

 

The Uniqueness Of The Spokane Comedy Scene

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

800px-Map_of_Washington_highlighting_Spokane_County.svg

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.

Fear And Loathing In Spokane

I live in Spokane Washington.  Spokane is the second largest city in Washington state, yet because of it’s location (about an hour from Idaho) it is more conservative city then other large cities in this area.  I say that because a career in comedy is tough in a town where the arts are an after thought and most of the business owners in town consist of people that inherited 75k from their “nana” and decided to open a bar.

Whenever I talk to a fellow comedian in town, it always comes to why I am still in Spokane.  Spokane isn’t where you blow up your comedy career.  Spokane is where you find out if you love comedy or not and then you move somewhere else.  When they ask me why I am still here and they tell me I am good enough to be somewhere else I get a small anxiety attack.  First, from the thought that another comic thinks that highly of me and second because that has been a daily battle for me for the past five years.

Comedy is what defines me.  That isn’t a bad thing, if you are in an area that values that sort of thing.  In Spokane, that does nothing to the masses.  It’s like telling someone you are a professional hula hooper, or a forklift racer.  It seem more odd than anything to the layman that a comedian would be here.  Spokane does that to people.

My kid lives here.  That is about the only reason I have for being here.  I don’t want to leave my kid and only get to see here every couple of months or once a year.  I like having daily interactions with my child.  This is what tears at me.  Follow my dream to the ends of the earth or be a decent dad?  Distance isn’t a factor in determining if you are a good dad, but I feel as one of the only black adults she knows, I have to help her navigate life.  That’s my duty and I take it seriously.

With rumors that the only comedy club in town will be closing down, I feel like one of the longest performing comics in town, I should be setting up a place that can fill in.  The problem is Spokane is on an entertainment island.  Boise is 6 hours.  Portland is 6.  Seattle is a day and a half by buggy (my preferred method of travel).  People rather go to those towns to do comedy than Spokane.  Can that be reversed?  Yes.  But how long would that take.

I like to tell the other comics how I got where I am.  Which isn’t very far.  I have brute forced my career so to say.  I haven’t attached myself to a niche in the market or used a savvy media presence to gain more attention.  I have gain more shows from just going to where I am supposed to go and just performing.  I don’t think I am good at the other methods.  I don’t think I could work a niche for too long before I just decide to go crazy.  I half ass my social network stuff.  So for my skill set, I think I am in the place I am supposed to be.  I think in 3-5 years I will be doing more nationally, but this is the result of lots of driving and getting in front of the right people.

I am honestly scared of not doing more.  Not for the money or fame, but of the people that would see me as an example that they can make it work in Spokane.  It scares the gas out of me.