What You Learn Producing Your Own Shows

I am a pretty low key guy, so I like to leave the producing of shows to other people, but when I do, I have learned some things about it.

Venues Have Ridiculous Expectations: 

When a local comedian ask me what I would tell a venue that I want to do a show with I tell them do not make insane promises. Why would you do that when they already have insane ideas on what to expect. A lot of places want to see a certain return on their investment. That makes sense. The problem is comedy doesn’t sell like alcohol and pool tables. You have to do a little leg work. That means putting up flyers and posting to your social media pages (if they have one) to let people that frequent your establishment know that something different is going on. I have walked into places an hour before the show starts and they are pissed that no one is there. You look on their Facebook page and look around and not a sign around to suggest that anything was going to happen that night.

You Have to Babysit Comedians

One of the things I hate the most about putting on a show is having to hold the hands of grown ass adults. There are just a good amount of comedians out there that you just have to keep an eye on more than others. Now, I am not talking about the creepy stuff, I am talking about normal comedian stuff like sending you their promo kit, or promoting the show, or showing up to the show. I have had multiple comedians during my time just not show up. When I asked one dude he said, “I didn’t know I was on the show.” The show that for three months we promoted with a flyer with his big ass head on it.

It’s a Constant Fight

If you are producing a regular show, you know that it is a constant fight. You have to convince people that the thing you are putting on is better than the alternative activities they would do on that night. You have to keep interesting acts coming in, which can be hard when you have an out of the way show, and comedians can’t work other things to make it more profitable. You are constantly promoting shows which can have a numbing effect on your audience. It is a constant struggle to get asses in seats so you can stay running one more show, and all it take is one silly ass thing to fall through and you can have a ruined show or worse, a messed up reputation.

Producing your own shows isn’t for everyone. That is why that isn’t the angle I have taken in my comedy career. You have to be willing to walk into rooms with business people and explain to them why they should waste their resources on you and your show. You have to be willing to promote over and over because just telling people one time that a spot has comedy isn’t enough. There are people that do it successfully though and to those I salute you.

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Why We Don’t See More Women Comedians

This can be a touchy subject depending on who you talk with. I will try my best to treat this topic with care. I know plenty of female comedians and from what I have observed these are the most common reasons why we don’t see more of them working. Remember, women are over half of the population in the U.S. The majority of households with females in them are making the purchasing decisions. So why is it hard to get females on shows?

This topic came to me last week as I was talking to a booker about any local female comedians. I had to tell him no. Then it got me thinking…I see new male comedians come and go all the time, so why not the same for women. This is what I came up with

The Stereotypes

Women have to deal with stereotypes that even minority male comedians don’t have to bother with. We have all heard one of the more common ones: “Women aren’t funny!” That is such a bullshit answer to why we don’t see women comedians. There are tons of funny women! I think the problem is guys get uncomfortable about subjects important to women and so instead of saying, “When women talk about getting stalked or their vaginas, I get weird feelings in my chest.” They will just say they aren’t funny to dismiss what they are talking about on stage.

The Drama

The entertainment industry is full of drama. You think your office is petty? Try comedy. If it is this petty when there are no women around it gets even more so when there are ladies sprinkled in. Why? Because women have to deal with it from the men and their fellow ladies. I have seen it personally when a female comedian starts getting work, everyone starts going back and forth about why that is. It can’t be because she is funny and worked hard! It has to be because she is sleeping with everyone! Why would any woman want to go through all of that just for drink tokens? Never mind the fact that you should be able to sleep with anyone you want, but to use sex as the only way a women can get ahead in comedy is just low.

The Dangers

If you think the Louis C.K. thing was an isolated incident then you got another thing coming. He was the most famous case, but for every comedy scene you have predators in it looking to take advantage of everyone, especially ladies.

Usually when you are starting out, you want to get out on the road and perform in a crappy bar for people that would rather watch the hockey game. For a guy, getting taken advantage of could mean the predator will just make up a lie about not getting paid or something and not pay for gas. There is a whole different ball of wax for a female. Instead of their ride as a target, their sex is. Every female comedian I have talked to has had something like this happen. Where a guy wanted to have them work with them, but it was just to try and have sex with them. It’s not just other comedians! Bookers, club owners, and promoters have tried similar things, and that’s before you get in front of a bunch of horny, drunk audience members that think it’s alright to touch a woman. I can see why any women wouldn’t want to bank her living on this. Why deal with the already hellish grind that is comedy AND have to dodge sexual predators as well.

Society

Society doesn’t make it easy for women either. Think about when you were in grade school. Who was usually the class clown? A dude. It seems as though society suppresses the sense of humor out of women more. “It is not like a lady to tell jokes about their bodily functions!” I’m assuming an old geezer would say. Why? Women have the same observations that men do, why wouldn’t some of them turn that into something funny? We also don’t allow women to “relax” in maturity. That means when women grow they are usually not allowed to be silly or immature. “Boys will be boys” came about to tell you right away that boys are allowed to talk about masturbating and bodily functions, whereas women shouldn’t because they are mentally old enough to know better.

Society also doesn’t like when different views are expressed. We can take it from a black, or Asian male because at least they are still men. Women on the other hand face opposition when their ideas run afoul of the norm. I don’t know how many shows I have seen where a white guy will rally his brothers about toilet paper going on the roll only one way, but when a lady tries to get her sisters united in their common hatred of Axe body spray there are crickets singing their song of contempt in the distance.

The thing is this is not just a man on women thing. The dirty little secret is that women will do this as well! When I was in the Seattle International Comedy Competition this past fall, no women made it to the semi finals. Everyone wanted to know why. Well, the truth is that there were women that were close to making it. It’s just that the women judges judged them lower than the men! Now, I didn’t get to see the numbers and be able to calculate them myself, but it holds true with some of my observations. Women are harder on other women then non douche bag men. I have yet to come up with an answer as to why this is the case, but I have seen it first hand and have heard about it.

I don’t want to close this article by being so negative. There are a lot of things out there that would push a women to stop doing comedy. In the past three years four of our best local women comedians just stopped. One of them just didn’t want to do it anymore. The other just saw it as wasted time she could be doing something more enjoyable, but one of them was really sad. She was a very funny comedian, but she kept getting harassed by men and women. She just got tired of being seen as the comedian that got work because she was cute. You may not think that is a big deal, but when you work on your craft you want to be known for your craft, not for how lovely you look.

I’m not saying we have to just cater to women. I’m saying there are a lot of barriers in this industry that make it difficult for a women to survive in it. What we should be doing as a collective is making it an environment where a woman that is funny can succeed as likely as anyone else. I do think the industry is moving in that direction. Bookers are constantly looking for women. So are festivals and comedy competitions. Headliners are also looking for women because it gives their show overall a nice bit of variety. The problem is it takes time to develop an act so it will take awhile to see this movement blossom.

We men also have to shape up. Take a female comedian under your wing without wanting to have sex with them. Encourage them like you would a male comedian. If we can make it an environment that funny women can excel in that just makes comedy better as a whole.

My Time in the 39th Seattle International Comedy Competition

I was one of 32 competitors in this year’s Seattle International Comedy Competition (SICC).  I will talk about a couple of things that I experienced during my second time competing in this competition.

For those that aren’t familiar with this, this is a multi week competition all around the Western part of Washington state.  The first two weeks of the competition are the preliminary rounds.  The top five for both of those weeks move on to the semi-finals and the top five move on to the finals.  There have been a lot of amazing comedians that have taken part in this competition.  Many people submit each year and it is quite an accomplishment to get to compete (at least in my opinion).

When I was selected to be one of the 32 competitors I chose to compete in the first round.  There were a lot of Seattle locals in this round so I was nervous because of home town advantage and all.  I had worked on a set that I thought would work well and I was ready.  Me and fellow Spokane comedian Michael Glatzmaier were late because like a lot of people we underestimated Seattle’s notoriously bad traffic.  That first night sets the tone for the rest of the week for a lot of people.  Those that are suited to move on will, and those that may have bitten off more than they can chew (always wanted to say that) can usually be found looking out into the world in confusion.  I placed first the first night with what I think was my best performance of the entire competition (which is bad because it was the first night of the entire thing).  I felt like my set was dialed in and I was confident it could get me to the semi-finals.  The rest of the week, I placed second in each show.  For the week I finished first and I was comfortably moving on to the finals.  There was only one other show in which I thought I did well enough to finish first, but when you get called second you kind of forget about all that.

The semi-finals was not as comfortable as the preliminary round (of course).  I had a week to lay about and think, and the five comedians from the second week were still sharp going in.  I hadn’t worked on a semi-finals set as much as I had liked so I was basically trying to cobble something together.  I took what I was doing during the prelims, and added another couple jokes onto it.  I won the first night and I was feeling really good.  Then things got pretty bumpy after that.  Took fourth the next night.  Didn’t place at all the third night.  The fourth night I placed second, but I was still worried because this competition is score based and so placement doesn’t mean as much if everyone else’s scores are really close. The last night was in this enormous theater and everyone brought the heat.  I finished third for that night and fourth for the week.  I was the only one from the first week to move on to the finals.

I knew I was in trouble because my plan of action didn’t take into account making it to the finals.  I have a lot of  material.  Two (or three if you count an earlier DVD I did) albums and an iPad full of jokes means that when you are in a competition, you have too much to chose from.  Do I go with the older material that works great, but I haven’t done in awhile, or do I go with the newer stuff that I have been doing more lately, but may not be “winning” material.  I went with going with the material I have been doing lately and slapping one of my closers on the end.  I was excited about making the finals with a group of amazing comedians.  I was there with my buddy Phil who finished first for the week in the semi-finals and that first night I was just up there having fun.  I finished fourth for the night.  I was happy and life was good.  After the second night though, I realized I maybe the only one just happy to be there.  I finished that night second, but I could see on the other comedian’s faces that they were trying to win.  That’s when I realized I should probably try better.  The next couple of nights were rough because no matter what I wasn’t finishing how I wanted.  On the last night, first was pretty much decided and second was pretty hard to get to.  I decided to do more of my more opinionated material because I was in the heart of Seattle and it didn’t really matter at that point.  I took a time penalty and ended up fifth for the night and fifth for the entire competition.

These competitions teach you what you are made of as a comedian.  Will you fold and just mail it in to get it over with, or will you keep pounding away until you reach the finish?  Do you have great material are you full of hot air?  Overall I am disappointed in my finish because I expect more from myself.  Yes, it is good to be there, but those couple of shows in which I was just “happy” to be present was my ultimate downfall.  I want more from myself because I have been doing this for so long.  I think I am also embarrassed.  I know it may seem silly, but I was embarrassed to be beaten.  Competitions are weird like that.

What you have to learn from these things is that not finishing first doesn’t mean you can no longer be a comedian.  Plenty of comedians never got out of the preliminary round and went on to make a name for themselves.  There is also so much work out there when you are around comedians from all over the planet.  I have booked so much work as of late all because of this competition.  I also have a couple things that could really be big in the new year.  So all in all, a pleasant experience.

The Grind Never Stops

There is no end when it comes to comedy.  The road narrows more and more.  You are either chasing the next great joke or chasing the next big payday.  Every conversation I have had with a comedian that I see in an enviable position is looking to get out of it.  They are always looking for that position that will bring them either more fame or more money.  It is hard to explain these things to those that just have to show up and work to get that steady paycheck.  Comedy is full of ups and downs, and every comedian is trying to achieve less downs and more ups.

No level of stand-up comic is immune to the grind.  If you are first starting out, you are looking for more stage time and jokes that work more often then not.  When you get a suitable amount of time, now you are looking for places that will pay you something, anything.  Once you get a couple bucks here and there for performing, you want to see if you can make it more of a full time endeavor.  You contact your comedians friends you’ve met along the way and try to set up enough shows to pay the rent.  You drive countless hours for little pay in hopes that these are the dues that are paid, and you will, by the end of this, be paid handsomely.  You perform in dimly lit bars and wine cellars and comedy clubs where the only requirement was that you had reliable transportation.  You sleep on floors and live out of a suitcase that is precisely 25 lbs.  You send hundreds of emails and receive two replies both saying they don’t have any use for you.  When you to start performing in more clubs, the only thing you want is to be the headliner so you can afford dental.  Then you start headlining and now you look to be a “special event”.  Maybe you want to be in movies, TV, have a successful podcast.  The grind never stops.

You wonder why that narrow road has so few people traveling it?  Because the grind can cause people to lose hope.  The grind of constantly swimming upstream can cause some of us to drown.  I don’t see it as a weakness, but a resolve that the heartache of the extracurricular of comedy outweighs the comedy itself.  Not everyone can take rejection email after rejected festival invite.  Just maintaining a career is a grind.  I don’t want to seem as though I am complaining, most of life is a grind, I just wanted to illustrate why even though you think you are going to be great when you achieve that goal, there is always another one just a little further down the road.

Having to Prove Your Worth

Comedians are always out trying to get work and that means proving to the promoter/client why you are worth what you are worth.  I have written articles on why its important to get what you think you are worth in every instance in which you can.  This article is a little different (and a little late, blame World of Warcraft).  I will tell you how you can look someone in the eyes and tell them why you are asking for that amount.

Think of it as a full time job:  I never understand why comedians are never thinking of comedy as a job.  Almost everyone I talk to would like to do nothing, but comedy but how can you when you don’t think of it as something that can replace the money you make during your day job.

What niches do you fill:  You have to be able to know what demographic you attract.  Do you bring in the younger crowd?  Do you bring in the wine drinkers? Maybe the type of comedy you do attracts a certain person.  My friend Michael Glatzmaier, plays the guitar and improvs songs.  That is an incredible niche that can fit in a variety of situations.  Comedy is not just bars and clubs anymore.  There are retirement communities out there that are looking for entertainment, and if you work clean (at least PG-13), you can book those shows during the weekday and still have the weekend available.  If you know what niche you fill, you can express that to whoever is looking to hire you.

Sicker than the average:  I had someone email me from a place and wanted to know what I charge.  Once I told them, they asked me why I would charge that much when they could get someone for half that.  This happens a lot during the holiday booking season (this was one of those shows).  This is when you have to hype yourself up a little.  I am not that good at doing this, but in order to justify why I charge what I charge, I will state some information for them.

The first thing I let them know is how long I have been doing it.  This should express to them that I have been in enough situations to perform a show that the majority of people in the room will enjoy.  Then I let them know that for what they are looking for, (which makes it important to know the talent pool in the area) there are not that many that can do it.  This is why it is so important to be able to perform clean (when need be).

Hopefully this can help those of you out there that have been having trouble justifiying what you want to charge.  It is hard to stick to these tips when you know there are people out there that will take less for the same show.  I try to look at it like this:  I am asking for an amount equal to the annoyance of performing when the suns out (or in a living room or dance floor etc.). So don’t fold and you will see the benefits!

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!