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.

Advertisements

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!!

Moonshine And Other Things That Shouldn’t Be Stored Near Furnances

Paint thinner.  Milk.  The Declaration of Independence…see, and you thought it was just a random title.

Had a show this past weekend and it was one of those shows that remind you that you are living in an area where people would rather be out near water than be inside a hot as bar.  The show didn’t start until almost 10 and by that time I gave no fucks.  If an orphan came by wanting just a smidgen of fuck I would have to tell that that I am all out of fucks, but I do have some spare damns.  A local comic, Steven Tye, started the show and although he said he was feeling pretty good off the wacky juice, he sure didn’t show it.  The whole time I was sitting there thinking how am I gonna make them think I am suppose to be the headliner.  It worked out though.  I did funny things and I received pay.  We left around 11, but all in all a great show.

So I started filming for the documentary on the Spokane comedy scene and…it was pretty bad.  No crowds and the stuff I got I would not want to put out there.  It was not any of the comics’ best work.  I wanted to show two things with this short doc.  That we have great comedians in the area and that we also get audiences that care.  The problem is the past couple of days have been the hottest of the year. No one wants to come inside when the entire day was 90 plus degrees.  I just picked a wrong time to start.  Maybe September will be a better month.

I like seeing my kid do stuff that I would have never tried at her age.  She was in a talent show today and it always makes me proud, but at the same time I can feel a little bit of Joe Jackson (Michael Jackson’s dad) coming over me.  I want her to be the best that she can be, but I don’t want to mess her head up.  I want her to discover this stuff on her own.  I wished my parents would have given half a shit about me doing stuff.  Maybe I would have finished my erotic poetry novella.

I have been sending out booking availabilities to as many clubs as I can.  That is all you can do.  One of the best things I have heard is “The worst they can say is no.”  That is true.  No one wants to fail, but that is what makes life worth living, right?  Please say I am right, or I have made a lot of bad decisions.

Getting Your Mind Right

This past week has been a weird one for me.  I think this is something that we all go through.  We feel like change is needed or something comes into our lives that make us want to make a change.  I have been filled with these thoughts, as my trip to New York City showed me that I if I wanted, I could do better things in this world then what I have been doing.  I don’t know if I want to be sitting in Spokane any longer, but with finances the way they are I can’t just get up and go.

I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll be sitting there at an open mic or a show and I just feel alone. Like not even the comics would understand what is going on.  I feel like an outsider even among those that I call my friends.  It’s as though their lives and my life only intersect at comedy.  I also think it may be because their goals at this point in their careers are much different then mine.  I don’t want to get 15 solid minutes or host at the local dive bar.  I want to be out in the comedy clubs or the conference rooms or cruise ships, anywhere I can feel comfortable.  It’s almost a duality going on inside.  I don’t like the person that I am.  I am not outgoing or charismatic.  When I am on stage, I feel great.  My self doubt is replaced with a brilliant confidence that captures a room.  I have tried to bottle that in my day to day, but it is never really the same.  I am an awkward, loathsome person that doesn’t know how to talk to anyone and when I do I second guess the things that come out of my mouth.  I second guess other’s intents, paranoid is the word that would best describe it.

I think I may need a change of scenery. I am awaiting the decision from the VA to see if I will have any money to go to other places this summer.  I have a list of places already, none of which are back to South Carolina.  San Diego and L.A. are the two top places.  Not even for comedy, but to see if that area is something I can do.  Spokane just gets me down.  The weather, the enthusiasm for comedy, my history with the area, all play a role in how I feel about the place.

We have been filming more sketches for this show on the 1st and I am astonished by how good everything has turned out.  This is the bright spot in the in an otherwise down time for me.  I like all aspects of filmmaking…well maybe not the standing.  My feet were killing me after standing up last night!

I think one thing I need to change is just accepting slack ass behavior.  I used to be the guy that would get everywhere early, but what started happening was because I am dealing with comics and theater people they get everywhere late and then a culture of just being slack took a hold of me.  I need to stop doing that.  If they are going to be late then it wasn’t a priority for them.  I try to take people’s time into consideration.  I feel like comedians for the most part do not.

Other than these blogs, I haven’t been writing that much and I need to change that.  I want to write a couple of things to put up on Amazon.  I don’t want to give them away, but I think the ideas are good and the way I want to write them would be great for those that want their stories in sections rather than these huge chunks that takes weeks (or for some people days) to finish.  It might not be a brand new idea, but it is an idea nonetheless.

 

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.

Comedy Bookers

Comedy bookers are the gatekeepers to a lot of paid work in the comedy profession.  Bookers are the people that are tasked with finding, and providing talent for those that want comedy entertainment.  Just like with everything there are varying levels and we will discuss them all (or the ones I can think of).

There are two broad types of bookers.  There are those that book comedy shows and other forms of entertainment as a profession and then there are those that are seen as more like part time bookers.  They book shows, but also have a career that they are trying to keep track of as well.  Professional bookers are usually the ones that have access to clubs and rooms that book comedy regularly (I should have warned you that I am going to be using some form of book a lot in this blog post), as part time bookers usually line up a lot of one off shows.  There are pros and cons to each though that we should go through.

One pro of the Professional comedy booker is that you can find a lot of work with them if you are deemed “good”.  Since there is no empirical way of knowing you are good enough for them to use your services, you just have to send out your promo package and see if it lands (I should do a post on promo packages!).  If you get in you can get decent work if you are available.  Most of my dealings with bookers like this involve me doing last minute shows where someone dropped out and I can do it.  That will usually build up a reputation that I am reliable and can be depended upon.  After that I can usually get on their regular rotation.  What I mean by rotation is the schedule in which he/she sends out their comics.  They usually keep a certain number of comics that they use all the time and if you can get into that you can get work on the regular.  That leads to one of my biggest cons about the professional booker though.  Because they have a stable of comics it can be pretty hard to get into it.  Especially if they book full time comedy clubs.  Everyone wants to work in a comedy club (almost) because you are in one spot for a couple of days to a week and you can make more money, and these bookers know that, so they have a lot of leverage when it comes to that.  Another con is that a lot of these guys are so busy that they can not possibly look at all of the submissions they get a week from comics just like me that want to work for them.  That means that you may go weeks or months before hearing from them.  If you keep at it though you may get a response.  That is where having a great promo package comes in handy. Most of the time they may not even watch your whole video so you can send them a portion of you set where you are slow to ramp up because they will turn it off and go to the guy that juggles chickens.  Some people would call them slack, but I will call them busy because I can only imagine all the people from all across the country (and out of it!) that want to be booked in a room have.  Another con is that because they are professional bookers they are not always in the comedy scene so they do not really know of the up and coming comic that they can have added to their roster.  Because of this sometimes a booker’s rotation can be…lacking.  I have seen bookers put on guys that have not written a joke in 15 years and are just going through the motions, but because they knew them when they were “hot” they keep giving them work.

The part time booker’s biggest strength is that a lot of times they have seen the comics that they are booking first hand.  That means that they have a better grasp on the acts and can book them more appropriately.  They may not have as much work, but if you are on their good side you will get all the work they have!  They are also comics a lot of the time, so they know what it feels like to be screwed over on shows or pay.  This can be a pro or a con sometimes because since they know they could also try to mess you over because they know how much you get paid.  The con to these types of bookers is that since they are also comics they will not always be working on getting new rooms or maintaing the rooms that they do have.  A lot of times they have decided to book a room because they were not getting booked enough by more traditional bookers.  What this means is that they will usually work the room first and sometimes often.  That is another con.  Because a lot of people aren’t sending them promo packages, they do not have the biggest stable of comics they will usually pick from the surrounding area which means that it can at times be slim pickings.  Take Spokane for instance, we do not have the biggest pool of comics that are ready to get paid to do comedy.  That means that you will see the same faces a lot in some rooms.  That also means that the owners of the rooms know this so they will usually cut the cord on shows.  That can mean not having that work to depend on.

You don’t have to decide one or the other. You can work with both of them and be successful.  Just remember that they are people so that means you have to be patient.  Hopefully you understand more about bookers.

 

The Summer Doldrums

Summer is fast approaching and for a low tier comic not in a big city this is when all my shows dry up and I basically become a bum.  Spokane is not known for comedy in the first place, but once the sun starts batting away the cold wind and flurries, comedy clubs and bars become ghost towns for comedy.  Now, people will point out the obvious, that it is a correct response to be trapped in your house for 4 to 5 months.  In my eyes I don’t see it like that.  I think that more work is required to get people’s attention to other things than just sitting by the lake.

For the past two years I have been taking part in the local clubs summer comedy series.  That is just a fancy name for shows that happen when the comedy season is over.  The comedy season starts from September to about the end of April. Think of it like a network show.  Anyway, what I usually do is make a couple of flyers and advertise the hell out of it.  The first time I did it I got an almost packed house.  Last year was lower, but still impressive seeing as how the club itself could not get that many people in there.

So, you may ask what does a lower tier comic in a medium sized metro area do during these two or three months when no one wants him.  Well, I will tell you because I’m nice like that.  I usually try to do one off shows in a bar or in the club mentioned earlier.  Then I pick up the slack for bookers in bigger cities.  See here is the cool thing about show business, there are many people out there that are slackers, so I will come to the rescue of a booker or friend in need and do a show when they have a drop out.  That usually means I can’t plan anything because I may be gone at the last minute, but it is not that big of a deal anyway when your days consist of player video games and trying to book shows for the fall. Other than that though it is just a lot of sitting around working on things I didn’t have time to work on during the times I am heavily booked.  Like head shots and bios and stories for my short story book that I am writing.

Another thing I am going try this year is getting out to Seattle and Portland.  There you can met people who were also busy as hell during the fall and get more connections.  It’s alway work, but the cool thing is that I love it.

Shout out to Troy Kirby for kicking me in the ass and getting me back up on the horse.  With friends like this it will be a heart attack that takes me out and not alcoholism.