Don’t Go “Cheap” With Your Comedy Career

A lot of us are not making bank with our comedy careers.  That does not mean, however, that you shouldn’t seek out quality when you are getting promotional materials made.  Technology has made it that we can do a lot of stuff ourselves.  We can design posters, shoot head shots and film and edit videos for submission.  Well, I am here to tell you that going cheap will make you look cheap in the eyes of those that are booking you.

Lets talk about posters first.  It may seem like all you need is Photoshop and pictures of who is going to be on the show, and BAM! Poster.  Designing posters is an art form in itself!  Do you know the techniques it takes to make an appealing poster?  Are you just making a wall of text with a couple of tiny, blurred photos?  These are things to take into account!  I like to make my own posters, but not because I am cheap, but because I like to do stuff like that.  The problem is that I am not that good at designing something appealing to people that are jaded with advertising as it is.  So, if it is an important show, I like to make sure someone that is well versed in creating posters creates mine so it looks as good as possible.

Comedians just starting out don’t realize how important head shots are.  They are the first thing bookers, promoters, and your potential audience will see of your face.  What people fail to understand is that there is a difference between a head shot and other types of photos of your head and neck.  If you are on stage performing when the photo was taken then that is considered more of a candid photo.  You may not want to lead with that for many reasons.  The light may not have been the best so you look like you have a triple chin.  One of your eyes were slightly closed when the photo was taken so you look like a knock off Pop-eye.  You should be getting your head shot as soon as you think you want to make money doing comedy.  It doesn’t have to be in a studio, but you do want it to be a structured environment so the photographer can get the best version of you on the sensor that they can.  You also want to get them redone every couple of years or when you change something significant about your face (beard, no beard nose ring, face tattoo).  I take head shots so whenever I talk about this I have to make sure that I say I don’t care who you go to for your head shots.  I care that you take good head shots because bookers get tons of emails with a ton of promotional material and the last thing you want is for them to ignore you because you had your friend take a photo of your head with their iphone.

A lot of comedians just starting out also tend to forget another important part of your promotional materials and that is the video.  I have a couple of articles that you can read about why video is important.  I have seen comedians ask if anyone has a camera to film their set.  If you are using it to send to bookers (as opposed to just uploading it to YouTube), then you should be asking more questions.  Do they have a decent camera?  You want something that can take good video in low light.  Do they have a lens that can record you cleanly on stage?  If they are in the back of the room with a 35mm lens or an iphone, you will look tiny and promoters don’t want to see a bunch of silhouettes and your tiny ass up on stage.  You want someone that can get you from roughly the waist up.  Do they have the ability to get good sound?  Do they have a way to either get the sound from the soundboard or are they using just the camera’s mic?  If they are just using the mic on the camera, then you are gonna get everything AND your set.  That is distracting!  Are they gonna color correct the video or just give you what came off the card?  This is where it pays to pay someone some money to film you! If you look like a smurf because the white balance was off that tells the booker that you most likely just sat a camera in the back of the room and hit record, so you aren’t really trying that hard to get work.

Here is the thing.  I learned all these lessons the hard way.  My first head shots were taken by my girlfriend at the time.  She didn’t know anything about photography.  We just took them around Eastern Washington University and sent them to bookers.  I would set my camcorder up in the back of the room and send that video to comedy clubs.  It would be all dark and I was so far away that you could tell I just sat it and forgot it.  I didn’t get a lot of work because I was trying to go as cheap as possible.  Now, it is worth it to me to pay someone to design a poster or my t-shirt.  I charge comedians to record their sets and take their head shots. The thing is, I did not go to school for this stuff, so I encourage them to seek out someone else if they are not happy with the results I provide.  If you want to make a go at comedy, give it a good go, and don’t go cheap!



Why Stage Time is Important

I see this a lot.  A comedian will get their 20-25 minutes or maybe they will get a solid 45 minute set, and then you never see them unless they are getting paid to perform.  Then, more often then not, you watch them struggle on stage and they blame everything, but the most obvious:  You are lacking stage time! Stage time is more then just getting up on stage and working towards new material or sharpening old stuff.  I look at stage time like athletes look at practice.  You go over the stuff you plan to do so when you are in a real situation it comes out more natural.

Getting up on stage regularly helps “knock the cobwebs” off of material.  Sometimes you have a joke that you are really comfortable with, and so you stop performing it at open mics.  Then, you get on a stage during a show and try it out and you lose your place and forget where certain parts go into the joke as a whole, this can be diminished with trying that joke every so often.  Here is something I do:  Every so often, when I’m at an open mic, I will just do material that I haven’t done in a while, but I really want to keep in my set.  That keeps it fresh in my mind so when I do want to use that material in a show, I am not lost.

Stage time also keeps that “comedic edge” about you.  Comedic edge is the ability to make the funny seem natural.  The best comedians in the world keep their comedic edge easier because they work more often then comedians that only get a couple shows a month.  They are able to control the room because they are so confident in the material and where it is going.  This is important for all comedians, especially those of us that play in bars a lot.  You need that edge to keep the crowd on your side.  If you are fumbling around, how are you gonna convince the audience to keep listening to you?

I get it.  Comedy can be a drain sometimes.  You are out at open mics for hours for three minutes of time.  If you get a guest set, you have to drive down to a club and pay for parking and all of that, but if comedy is important to you as an art form and as a means of income, then you owe it not only to yourself, but also the audience that paid to see you.  Don’t you want to be the best comedian you can?


Dealing with Depression As a Comedian

I have been dealing with depression since my military days, and it has taken me many years and many ups and downs, to come to terms with it and live with it effectively.  My strategies and experiences will differ from many of course.  All I am trying to do is give insight into how I deal with this and how it has, and continues to affect, my comedy.

What some people get wrong about depression is that they think that the only way to feel depressed is to have either a rotten life or something bad happen.  Most of the time, for me at least, it just hits.  I will be doing well, and then all of a sudden a curtain comes down and I don’t feel as well as I did.  Sometimes I will go to bed happy as hell, and I will wake up feeling miserable and not wanting to get out of bed.  Things that I had planned I just sort of push to the side and even things that I like to do (like photography and video games) I will forgo so I can just curl up.  Its not just feelings though.  Sometimes I will be more tired than I usually am.  I will go to bed earlier and stay in bed later.  As you can see this can have an effect on a comedian.

Don’t get me wrong, depression can make any profession tough to pursue, but comedy is a crazy one because everything else is always moving.  Here is an analogy:  If you have been to an airport, they have those conveyor belt like things on the floor that will just take you down the walkway.  Well, that is most comedians.  They are doing shows, and networking and pushing to get more shows and get more recognition.  Then you have the people that are just walking normally.  Those are the hobbyist or the slackers.  They are moving, just much slower.  Then you have the person curled up in the middle of all this.  Using their luggage as a really uncomfortable pillow.  That is how I feel.  Depression can creep into every aspect of your comedy career.  It makes you not want to chase the club spots because your mind is flooded with thoughts of what’s the use.  It makes you not keep up with opportunities that most people would gobble up.  Projects get delayed or outright canned.  And that is before you have written a joke!  Depression can affect your comedy on stage in a variety of ways.  It may sap your confidence to try that new joke.  It can keep you from really selling a joke to make sure it works, or it can keep you from even getting out to work on your material all together.

Over the years, I have come up with ways (with help from professionals of course) to deal with my depression.  One of the biggest things I try to do is when that cloud finally lifts, I make sure I get as much done as possible.  I do this because I know that cloud will come back and hold back my progress, and since I don’t know when it will hit again, I have to make sure I get stuff taken care of.  That means once I feel better I hit up all these bookers and promoters and I contact people that are doing stuff and I try to book myself up.  That way I don’t fall into an even deeper depression when I am down and on top of that, I have no shows on the calendar because of it.  I try to keep things consistent in my life.  So, I try to hit a couple of open mics a week and stick to it, so when I am down it is such a habit I can barely break from it (I do more often leave earlier when I am depressed then when I am not though).  I try to talk to, and hang out with, people that bring positive vibes in my life.  So, my kid and my girlfriend, and a couple comedians that always make me laugh (I don’t want to say their names because the ones that don’t will probably feel bad). When I am depressed and I have a show, I try to stick with jokes that even depression can’t convince me isn’t funny.  I had a show this past week and just getting up on stage kind of pumped me with enough feel good juice that I forgot about everything for an hour.  That maybe why I have stuck with comedy for as long as I have because when I am feeling down, I can get on stage and turn my thoughts into jokes and it gets the adrenaline pumping (because I don’t know if it will work or not) to the point that I feel a bit better.

All I can do is tell you what I do to combat depression in my life.  One thing I don’t do is use alcohol and drugs, so I can’t tell you what that will do, but I do have friends that it has negatively affected.  Look into anti-depressants and try to have a network of people that give a shit about you.  Comedy is my drug, and even depression can keep me from pursuing that fully.  It has affected my career.  It has kept me from traveling and networking as much as I should.  It keeps me from applying to things that could help my career.  Only when I am feeling better do I look and see the opportunities missed because of it. This blog has been affected by depression (that is why sometimes you will see a surge in articles from time to time).  I have to live with this as best as I can, and at the same time be the best comedian I can be.  It is hard, but with the right tools anyone can get through it.

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 Survive a Comedy Competition

Comedy competitions are weird beasts.  You are asking people to evaluate you as a comedian on criteria that is totally subjective.  What one person thinks is a funny joke, another person may see as a stinker.  Competitions can be stressful and pit you against people you thought you liked.  It can also bring out the best…or worst in people.  I will help you survive this upcoming competition season.

I think it is important to know, going into a competition, that losing doesn’t mean you are not funny, or a comedian, it just means through the process of elimination, you were not good enough to defeat people who were also being judged subjectively. Another thing that you MUST NOT do, is walk into a competition already counting the money.  This is putting the cart before the horse!  You still have the actually competition to go through, and you have already put yourself in such a corner.  Don’t think about the money or the prizes just yet.  Think about your performance.

A lot of people think there are prime spots in the line up that can increase your chances of winning.  I am here to tell you that is false.  Going first is not a death sentence and going up last doesn’t mean you are perceived to be the headliner.  It all depends on the comedian.  In competitions I have participated in, I have gone first many times and I have won, and lost.  It has nothing to do with your order and how the audience or judges perceive your order in the show.  It has more to do with how the audience and judges are feeling.  Did the show start on time?  Did the host do a decent set? Is it hot or cold in the building?  These have more to do with how a judge will perceive you then the order in which you are.  If anything, going first would be a great advantage.  You are the first comedian so you set the tone.  If you come out and light a fire under the audiences’ ass, then that can play with the rest of the comedians’ heads.   Going up last can have the opposite!  What if all the other comedians have done really well and now you go last?  There is no way to tell, so don’t worry yourself about the order.

Competitions are graded in different areas.  Some just leave it up to who’s friends can yell the loudest.  Some just pick random audience members and then others like to use a panel to do the judging.  I have personally competed in all of these types and I will tell you that the one that is the least scientific (for lack of a better word) is the audience response.  It is hard to judge who got more noise slung after their name was read.  I have seen people so butt hurt over this and I can see being competitive, but it isn’t worth it.  Just bring more friends next time.  Random audience members come next and they are better than just yelling, but not by much.  You don’t know if the person that was given the task of judging has ever been to a comedy show before.  This type of judging can be most influenced by biases.  The best type of judging in my opinion is the panel.  These people have usually been briefed on how to judge and because they are there to do that, they have a tendency to take it seriously.  When you just leave it to any old audience member, they may have gone out to smoke, or they have a tiny bladder meaning they miss parts of the show.  There are variants of all of these. Like some competitions have all the audience members judge.  This is better because the odds are better that a comedian hasn’t filled the ENTIRE room with just their friends or family.

Comedy competitions should be fun!  There is money or work at stake, but you should be walking into it thinking of what it can teach you about yourself as a comedian.  Do you go over time a lot? Well, competitions will cure that right up! Do you have jokes with way too many words in them?  That will disappear soon!  Do you spend the first 30 seconds asking the audience how they are doing? You will see how redundant that is at a competition.  Some comedians are not built for competitions.  Do you tell big epic stories?  It is tougher for you because you’re stuck on one thing for the entire allotted time. Do you have a dryer sense of humor?  That is tough because it may take awhile to get them accustomed to your way of joke slinging. If you are a nervous Nancy (sorry Nancy) and it takes awhile to shed that when you are up there, then competitions will only magnify this.  These are just my opinions from what I have witness.  There are exceptions to everything.

I can not end an article (or blog post if you must) about comedy competitions and not talk about some things.  If you are thinking that the best way to advance your career is to do competitions, then you will soon see that it is not.  They can be expensive and time consuming, and there is only a payout to a select few.  I performed in both the Seattle and San Francisco comedy competitions, placing 6th and 7th respectively.  All told, I spent about three grand and received about two grand in prize money.  I was able to afford it, not everyone can. Don’t go broke thinking that winning a comedy competition will put you in a spot to make more money.  That is all up to you as a person.  Some of the best comedians in the world apply to these competitions, and you have to be aware that you may end up on the losing end more times than not.  That’s even if you get accepted.  Competitions are looking for the best, but they are also looking to create a great show for people to see.  If you have been doing it four years, understand that it is harder to get in than someone that has been doing it ten and has done other competitions, and has a lot of credits to their name.

Have fun and be nice to all the competitors.  These guys are you competition today, but may be a booker tomorrow.

Invest in Your Comedy Career

I usually start off an article talking about my thoughts and then I end it with my experiences.  I am going to do the opposite this time.

When I first started performing comedy for pay, I was trying to cut as many corners as possible.  I had just gotten out of the military, so money was really low.  So, every chance I could, I went cheap. No business cards, head shots done by my girlfriend at the time, and I had no website.  I would go from show to show and I realized that people would come up to me and ask me if I had a business card. I would direct them to my Facebook page, and would hear nothing from them again.  As I got more work, and saw that this could be a career, I realized that I needed to do things to help me look professional and get more bookings so I didn’t have to have a second job!

I think this is common for a lot of comedians to assume that you don’t need to really put much into your career because you don’t really need much!  95% of us only need an amplified mic. So, we go in thinking there isn’t much to enhance our careers other than better jokes.  I really wish that was the case!  There are a lot of comedians out there that have a great act, but because they haven’t done anything to make themselves look more professional and ready to work, they don’t get the gigs that they deserve.  On the other hand, there are plenty of comedians that have invested in their careers and they are working every weekend!

As soon as you know you are going to start performing for pay, you need to get some head shots.  I don’t mean getting your friend to take photos of you with their iPhones.  No dig against camera phones, but if you want photos that will look great no matter what promoters and bookers are doing to them.  Find someone in your local area that take head shots professionally.  I must add this disclaimer that I have taken head shots of comedians, actors, and other artist.  I am not trying to tell you to hire me (it would be nice, my prices are really reasonable), what I am saying is when bookers open your email you don’t want them to ignore your promo package (I have an article on that, but I am too lazy to find it…I have written a lot of these things!) because your photo can’t be used on promotional material. Depending on where you live, you may be spending some coin, but it is one of the first things people see attached to your name!  You want people to see you as a professional comedian, it will pay for itself in a matter of time.

It may seem dated, but a business card is a great way for people to remember you.  I know it may seem cooler to tell people to go to your facebook page or website (more on that later), but just being able to hand them a card that has EVERYTHING on it is great!  That way when they are not within eyesight of you, they can look down at your card and see how you spell your last name.  Business cards are a great thing to hand to promoters as well. The great thing about this is that it doesn’t cost that much, so you can buy some and have them on your just in case.

A website!  A dedicated Facebook page is one thing, but if you have a website, it kind of elevates you in the minds of people looking you up to see if you are a good enough comedian to blow 15 bucks on.  There are many places to get a domain name, and hosting.  You can also have someone build it for your from scratch.  There is a lot more flexibility in having someone build it (as opposed to just templates that do it yourself sites may have), but it will cost more.  If you want someone that is looking you up to at least have a passing impression that you may be worth the price of admission a website is key.

Investing in your comedy also means finding ways to get more money out of the shows you do get.  Maybe join a site like Gigmasters or Gigsalad.  These sites are a like a database for entertainment. Say someone needs a comedian for a private event.  They go to one of those sites and find you. Gigmasters is free to join, but you will only be able to get seen from people up to ten miles away.  For $269 bucks, you will be able to be seen by anyone in the country looking for a comedian.  I have gotten a lot of work from this site and I haven’t even paid a nickel to them (except for the booking fee that they both charge if you take a gig from their site).  $269 is not that much if you can get booked a couple of times.

There are also other smaller things you can invest in to help you along your comedy career.  Acting classes can help you a bunch, especially if you want to get work as an actor as well as perform stand-up.  Getting a fuel efficient car can cut down on  fuel expenses. Getting a camcorder or voice recorder to help you sharpen your act.  I am sure I am forgetting some, but you understand what I am getting at.  If you want this to be your career, you have to do more than just convincing people that you want to take this seriously.  You have to actually do the little things that shows people you are.