Moving to a Larger Comedy Market

Spokane is rarely the last destination for a comedian.  Historically, comedians discovered that they love comedy here and then go somewhere else to actually try to make a go at it.  Recently, we have had an exodus of sorts, and it got me thinking about things that comedians need to take note of before moving to a larger market.  This is not to discourage anyone.  This is to try to help those that are in smaller markets make the right choice so they can succeed in their new cities.

Can you find a job?: This seems like something of a no-brainer, but I have seen comedians leave the place they started comedy, get to the new city and realize they can’t find a job.  If you can’t get the basics covered, how are you going to pursue your comedy career.  This may be easier for those that have a profession, or a degree in a certain field, but if you don’t you may want to make sure you can get a job.

Do you have money?: I have read articles where they say have three months of savings just in case you can’t find a job that fast.  I will say, you may need 4-6 months if you are going from a lower cost of living area to a higher cost of living area.  If you saved based on Spokane’s rent market, but you are moving to LA, that three months savings is now only about a month and a half.  The cost of living in some of these cities are one of the reasons a lot of people abandon comedy.  It is hard to pursue comedy, when you have to work all the time.

Got a place to stay?: You may want to check and make sure your married high school buddy (and their partner) are cool with you sleeping on the floor of their nursery for a bit.  You don’t want to get to a new city and learn that your living arrangements went from “house” to “not a house”.  If you are moving in with roommates, try to see if they are not going to be moving out anytime soon.  That way you do not get to a new city and now you have to find new roommates so you can afford to stay in that place.

Are you a piece of shit?:  If you are lazy in your smaller market, you are not all of a sudden gonna work hard to make comedy work.  Comedians are rarely realistic about what they are willing to put into stuff.  It’s easy to fall into that trap as well.  If you live in a small town it may just be easier to be on shows because there are not that many comedians to begin with.  You can not take that approach when moving to a larger area.  Take LA for example.  You can’t throw an old timey mic without hitting a comedian.  If you are not writing, and showing up and networking, you will not see any success.  If you are a piece of shit.  You will not become a saint all of a sudden!  This is the internet age.  Your baggage goes with you.  If a booker in a new city wants to know about you, they probably know someone that knows someone that knows you.

Moving to a new place is exciting and can open all sorts of doors, but only if you are prepared and willing to fight for it.  The best will always surface, and a larger city helps those surface sooner.  Just make sure you are ready when your time comes to shine.

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Are You A Comedian?

Yes.  Yes you are.

 

 

 

Damn.  You want more than just that…alright.  I already told you all you needed to know, but if we must.

I suspect every scene in the country, if not the world, has to deal with this question from time to time.  What makes a person a comedian?  How many open mic nights must you attend to be designated a comedian?  Is it when you get paid for comedy?  Is it when you get paid more than once?  Is it at a certain amount earned a year?  You see how silly this can get, right?  The reason it is so silly is because there is no education or class needed to make people laugh. The title of comedian doesn’t hold the same weight as calling yourself doctor or lawyer, or hell even plumber.  Those people have to take classes and train.  All a person has to do to call themselves a comedian is…well…nothing really.  I haven’t seen too many people just calling themselves comedians because they make people laugh at the monthly meeting, but there is really nothing stopping anyone from calling themselves a comedian, and I think that is what bothers a lot of people.

Think about it.  If you sit down and write jokes and try to work on them, it may seem unfair that someone that comes signs up for a couple of open mics are now calling themselves a comedian.  I don’t know why anyone would be bothered, but people get really upset about it.  That is why some will start placing people in this order so they can classify folk.  You will hear open micer said a lot, usually not in a great way, to describe someone that is mainly doing open mics and not really getting paid work.  Then there are things like MC, feature, headliner, that may be used as positions in a show, but can also be used to place you on a comedian totem pole.  Why do people do this?  Because it places class structure on people in a situation where class doesn’t really exist.  It can be used to separate, and belittle people.  You know, all of the already terrible stuff we are doing everywhere else.  That is why a lot of people get hung up on the notion of what is a comedian.  We want to get recognition for what we do, and we do not want others to claim the same recognition if they have not done as much as us (even if what we do isn’t much).

I said all that and yet I do believe that you have to do something to be considered a comedian.  Yeah, you can set up a Facebook page, and call yourself a comedian without stepping foot on a stage, but that would make you seem like a weirdo.  I don’t care if after one open mic and nothing else, you want to think of yourself as a comedian.  It has no bearing on me and my life and the comedy dreams that I pursue.  I don’t want to get hung up worrying about who is and isn’t a comedian because I still have a dream that I am chasing and do not have time (other than writing this) to consider these things.  I say worry about your goals and leave questions that divide people alone.

Why It’s Hard To Break Into Comedy Clubs (For Some)

I hope everyone had a happy New Years.  Now it is time to get back at it.  With this one let’s talk about the difficulties of getting booked into comedy clubs.

If you think about it, comedy clubs are very unique.  Comedy is the one of the few performing arts that basically has its own space.  There is not a ballet bar, or a poem emporium.  This obviously means that if you want to ply your trade in stand-up this is one of the first places you would look. You would think it would be as simple as emailing the person who books talent at the club and if they see a use for you, then you are good to go.  Well, it is not that easy.  Let us talk about the simple fact that there is only so many comedy clubs in the country.  Sure some cities like Chicago and New York City have several, but a lot of places may have just one club, and that one club has between 48 to 52 weekends (depending on things like when holidays fall and such) in which to fill.  Most comedy shows have a MC, feature, and headliner.  So at most, a club needs three comedians a weekend.  Now I hope you see that there are a ton of people that have the capacity to fill these spots, so that makes comedy clubs sort of a gate keeper.  If they want to have people return, they want to put on the best show they can afford.  That means they have to be a little more picky then say the sardine factory that just needs to fill five canning positions.

Now the above tries to explain why its hard to get booked into comedy clubs on just a numbers aspect.  The thing is you have another hurdle, the booker.  There are men and women all across this country that book these shows and because they are human and have particular tastes, they will make decisions for a variety of reasons.  I have heard them all.  From just not that funny to you live too far away and we don’t want to house you.  Also because they are human, they are not immune from just grabbing what is nearby.  Why book a comedian for a show in Atlanta when they live in Portland?  Why not just look in your immediate vicinity.  Especially for features because there are a ton of people that can perform between 20-30 minutes of comedy.  It is less stress to know that most of your talent is in town.  That is why it is really hard to get booked as a MC or feature the farther away you look.  They can just grab a local comedian to MC and save money and hassle.  They don’t have to worry about comics changing their minds at the last minute because they can’t afford to come perform.  You also have to think about the booker and the amount of inquiries they receive on a day to day basis.  I can only imagine all the emails and packages they get from comedians that want to work their club.  They can’t possibly get to it all.  If you receive 200 emails a day, it will get to a point where you will ignore a ton of emails and base your decisions on what your peers are telling you.  Then there is just plain ole biases.  They may not like musical comedians, or comedians that wear hats on stage.  They won’t tell you this outright, but it could keep your from getting work from them.

Here is another thing.  Comedy clubs are businesses.  They are not non profits that are putting on comedy shows for the good of the community.  They are trying to get the audience to buy food and alcohol, and your quips about Tupperware is what is keeping them there.  These clubs are looking for people that can put asses in seats.  It is not so much how funny you can be, but an as of now undiscovered equation between funny and popular.  Why do you think your local club has that former porn star coming to town next week?  Because they are popular enough, and sometimes funny enough, to put asses in seats and make the club some money.  If you can’t offer them that, then it is hard to break in.  This is not so much a concern of MCs and feature acts because they are seen as younger, less experienced comedians, but headliners have to worry about this a lot.

So, how can you increase your chances you may ask.  Well, the thing you have to remember is persistence. You have to be able to accept that you will get turned down a lot and keep trying to get in contact with these clubs.  You will send out hundreds of emails and you may get one response back.  It’s important to know that you can not guess what is going on on the other side of email.  The booker may be ignoring emails.  They may be seeing it and not responding because you do not fit their place.  I will say this, if you got a response and they say no, then you should not keep sending them emails.  Accept the no and when you have a new headshot or new video for them to take a look at, then you should probably give it another try.  If they say contact again in six months, then do that. I have an spreadsheet (I know!) where I can check off who I have contacted and if they responded to me.  I don’t use it as much as I should, but it is helpful in keeping track.  You can also hit up the club’s open mic.  This is a great way of getting in front of people that can get your booked.  Don’t see it as a guarantee that the booker will be there though.  If I can get there, I like to do that because networking and getting to know bookers and what they are looking for is a great way to improve your chances of getting work in the future.  You can also try booking independent shows in clubs during off nights.  Some clubs will let you rent their spot on a night where they are not doing a proper show and you can show them that you have enough pull in the area to be brought back for a weekend.  You can also try this with a specialty show.  We have a show in Spokane called Drink N Debate, and it is put on at the Spokane Comedy Club every month.  The bookers get to see a lot of comedians and can evaluate them for potential work.

The key is being persistent and remembering that it is an uphill battle, but one you will have to go through if you are trying to get into comedy clubs.

 

Those Who Have Inspired Me (2017)

As the year winds down, I have been thinking of those that have made me want to work harder at what I do.  I will leave links to their social media or websites so maybe you can gain some inspiration from them as well.

Dan Cummins:  Dan has always been an inspiration for any comedian coming up in the Spokane area.  He is typically seen as the one that “made it”.  He has a Comedy Central special and a very popular podcast.  His drive is what inspires me so much.  I think what keeps me from working even 50% as hard is my bouts of depressions (A very lame excuse).  He is also a really nice person and someone worthy of admiration.  Check out his podcast, Timesuck, when you get a chance.  It is really good.

Dave Chappelle:  I am not going to add his site because you know who this is.  I watched both of his specials and the amount of writing and culling he must do amazes me.  I write a lot but not at that level.

Anthony Jeselnik:  Another known guy if you are into comedy, I saw his show live and I could not get over how he basically did an hour show with one liners.  They were not obtuse in nature either.  His punchlines usually end in something terrible, but he is able to keep an audience enthralled the entire time.  Almost every comedian has a one liner or so, but to have so many, in a unique voice was a sight to behold.

Phillip Kopczynski: This is a local guy that I admire as much as all of the guys above.  Why?  Because I can see the gears moving.  I can see the things he is doing in real time, so it keeps me wanting to do the same.  He has developed a show that he can sell.  He books it himself.  He is not just waiting around to get work.  He makes his chances and that is awesome to see.  Too many of us spend our time emailing clubs and getting no where with that.  What Phil is doing is putting himself out there and doing the heavy lifting himself.  He has the balls to invest in himself, and it has been an inspiration.

Lance Paullin: He has been a buddy of mine since I started comedy.  We would film sketches together, but he left for LA. He has since done the things that I knew he could do.  He is a talented guy and he inspires me that if I take a leap that I too may land on my feet.

 

 

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.

Comedic Styles: Current Events

I didn’t know what to title this article.  Is it a philosophy or voice? I have no clue.  I will be doing a series on styles of comedians.  This week we talking about the comedian that slings current events.  I don’t know the proper term, if there is one, I just know that this is an distinct style from other forms of comedy.  With all of these articles, we will go over the pros and cons.  Lets get to it!

The style of slinging jokes about current events is usually in the realm of late night TV.  So think of all the late shows and late late shows and you have a good idea.  Some of the best in this style are mainly late night guys, guys that are telling jokes almost every night.

Pros:

This style revolves around being able to write jokes about current events (duh).  So comedians that use this style are always writing and usually can get better, faster than the comedian that have a set that really never changes over time.

Comedians using this style always seem in the thick of things because they are always talking about things that recently happened.  This gives the audience a sense that the jokes that are being told are fresh.

Cons:

One of the biggest issues with this style, is that some comedians who want to tell jokes like this may not know the time limit on what is current.  I think about it like this:  If it is a national story that is ongoing then you can keep going with it.  If it is a weird news story that no one has heard of, then it is best to walk away from it.

If you are not writing up new material often, your set can seem stale.  If you are talking about a thing that happened years ago, it looks as though that is when you stopped writing jokes.

This may not be a viable style for comedians that write a lot, but don’t get to perform the jokes often.  The reason for this is limited feedback to see if the way you are writing is connecting with the audience.

Conclusion: This style always seems hip, until you see someone pulling out old ass stories.  The best way to circumvent this is by writing it in a way that it does seem like it was ripped from the headlines.  Don’t use opening lines like, “I was reading the news the other day.” or “Have you heard this story?”  Those trigger the audience to assume this is something that you just came up with.

Successfully Running Your Own Show

I have been involved in the running of shows in the Spokane area for about six months and from my experiences with that and my observations with other independently ran shows, I have seen what works and what doesn’t.  Here are some of those observations.

Everyone needs to be on board: If you are running a theme show or just a normal comedy show, everyone that is participating needs to on board with what you are trying to do.  If you are doing a show where you tell jokes and then dress like a dinosaur and then tell more jokes, you need everyone to be comfortable with putting on a dinosaur outfit.

Promotion: If people don’t know you are doing a show about telling jokes dressed as a dinosaur, how are they gonna pay you to see you tell jokes in a dinosaur outfit.  This goes with the first point:  Get people on your show that are excited to do the show.  That way, they will want to let their fans know about it.  This also means that you as the show runner need to be on top of things.  That means getting flyers ready and the events made.  Comedy is filled with folks that just want to get up on stage in front of a sold out crowd, and not do the little things to ensure there is a sold out crowd.  Don’t book those people!  Book people that will work with you to make sure it is a success.  I don’t know how many times I have worked with someone that did no promotion for the show, but then sat there and wondered why the pay was low.  This does not apply to out of town comics because they may know less people in that area than comedians that work in that town.

Properly review the venue: I have helped put on shows that were not suited for the venue we had access too.  If you have hints that your show involving dressing like a dinosaur and telling jokes is gonna be a small event, then putting it in a 600 seat theater is not good.  You loose money and you give off the impression that it is not a success.  If you would have just locked up a nice place that had 70 seats and you sold 50, you look better, and you don’t have the extra cost involved with renting a large venue.  Make sure that the venue has a competent staff.  The last thing you want is to have a great show, but the bar didn’t make money because the staff was too slow.  Can they handle an influx of people?  If they can’t then you might have to look elsewhere.

Keep your promises:  If you promise to pay everyone a certain amount, then you better have the money to pay them!  Nothing kills your rep faster than telling people one thing and then doing another. Not ever will be in it just for the dinosaur suits. I would rather leave the show with no money in my pocket then to short change the performers and have them tell people that I can’t give them what we agreed upon.  The reason this is an issue is because most people that are putting on shows like this have high hopes that it will sell out and they can pay people well.  What I have learned is to expect the worse and be surprise if it turns out different.

Make it an event: Make it seem like this is the show that you want to see.  Make it seem as though those are the only dinosaur costumes in the state and they will be set ablaze after the show.  You have to SELL the show!  If you are not excited about it, then why should someone that has to pay five bucks to get in?  Sometimes you have to put your modesty to bed and pull out your inner cheerleader and pom pom the shit out of your show.  The best promoters make their monthly shows seem like events that will rock the town to its core.  That is what you want.

I hope this helps.  I am not an expert promoter at all.  I just observe and see what works best and what doesn’t.  The biggest take away is that if you want to run your own shows you have to treat it like if you don’t make it a success, they will take your kidney.