Why Merchandise Is Important

If you read last week’s article, then you know that it is already very hard to make a living as a stand up comedian.  One way to balance the low pay is to sell stuff.  I have been doing this for awhile now and I will tell you want I have learned doing this.

When I first started going out on the road, I had nothing but jokes.  I was in Montana working with a comedian, and he told me simply:  You need to sell stuff!  As time went on, I went from CDs I would burn hours before the show to having them professionally produced.  Now, I let other comedians (especially feature acts) know how important it is to have something to sell.  Not only does it add to your base income, but it allows you to engage audiences and form a following.

At first I never had anything to sell, just like any other comedian out there, I was just happy getting paid.  It then became clear that the money I was getting from the performance itself, was not going to pay the bills.  So, I produced a DVD of a performance I recorded in a dimly lit room.  I drew the artwork myself and begun to sell it.  The thing was I would be standing there with other comedians, trying to sell my stuff and they had shrink wrapped, professional looking CDs and I had a walking etsy store.  That is the first thing you need to know about selling merch:  Make it look nice.  Just because you are in the basement of a Holiday Inn, doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the presentation.  I learned that spending a couple of bucks to make things look professional and nice paid off because it showed that I was really a comedian and not a guy just trying to take your money and move on to the next town.

Why did I pick a DVD at first?  It was the thing I had.  I later took just the audio and sold that because I figured that I was not important enough for someone to sit in front of their TV for 50 minutes, but they may listen to me while on a road trip.  The sound quality sucked so I had to get a real recording of my act.  I had a friend (shout out to Will Gilman) produce and edit my first real recording.  It sounded great and I had better cover art, so I did not feel weird selling the stuff.  It sold really well but I learned a couple of things from having a real product to sell.  First, I had to get over selling things to people.  Not everyone will enjoy your material enough to want to take it home, but they will not buy it if you are not telling them about it.  I had to ensure I was setting stuff up and at least presenting my product.  Second, A lot of people just wanted to talk after the show and if I was posted somewhere they could come by say hello, and most of the time they would buy something!  It was odd to see people who didn’t have money out all of a sudden laughing with me and now they are buying multiple CDs!

Now, just because you have a product to sell, doesn’t mean you will all of a sudden start making all this extra money.  I have been selling merch for awhile now, and I have no idea from show to show who is going to buy something and who isn’t.  I’ve had shows where I thought they really liked me and not sell anything, and then shows where I thought I was not my best and leave selling stuff.  The only way to be increase your odds of selling stuff is to have more stuff for sale.  That is why I made a t-shirt (not the whole shirt just the stuff on the front).  CDs are a hard sell nowadays.  I have a CD player in my car, but I haven’t used it!  That is why I also have download cards that they can get instead of just the CD. T-shirts sell well because it is something you have to wear anyway, so might as well have something funny on it!  I have seen comedians make thousands in a weekend from just their t-shirt sales.

Maybe you don’t want to sell a t-shirt or a CD (maybe you don’t have an hour of material).  Well, you can go with just about anything!  The idea is to sell things that are easy to carry around, and that will make people think of you.  I have seen everything from buttons to baby onsies!  What is important is having something that when someone looks at it they say, “Damn, I want that!”.  Now, instead of paying for things like gas and meals with the money I am getting for the show, the merchandise I sold can pay for it.  I am not saying just slap your name on a shirt and then you can lease a cigar boat, but when it comes to road comedy, every little bit helps!

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.

Gift Ideas For The Comedian In Your Life 2016

I thought I would update this article to give those out there more ideas on what to get that special someone in their life that also happens to deal in the funny arts.  They will be in three categories: Stocking Stuffers, Mid range (sorry I couldn’t come up with s cooler category), and then Loaded.  I hope this guide will help you find a great gift for the comedian in your life.

 

STOCKING STUFFERS

These are great for the comedian that is hard to shop for

61rs9mvnyl-_sl1319_

Pens: Comedians need a writing utensil when an idea hits their head meat, so you might as well keep them well stocked in pens.  I like gel pens.  I don’t know why, but I tend to gravitate to them.  Get them a box of pens and whenever they are thinking of the perfect butthole joke, they will think of you.

visa-gift-card

Gift Card:  A lot of people think gift cards are lazy gifts.  I don’t!  I love them.  Instead of someone getting me something I will never use, I get to go out and pick what I will leave in my closet forever.  This is a great idea for the comedian that is so hard to shop for that you are losing sleep because of it.

netflixandroid

Netflix:  If they are a road comic, they will love you for getting them a subscription to a service like Netflix. While they are in a hotel room or on the side of the road trying to get some much needed rest, they can watch their favorite comedy special.

 

MID-RANGE

This is for the comedians that you want to spend a little bit more on.

moleskine

Moleskine Smart Writing Set:  Comedians love to write, but they are also afraid of losing their notebook or once the notebook is full, and they have to write in a new one, all of their previously written jokes are not with them.  No longer!  With this bad boy, they can still write like they are Ernest Hemingway, yet keep all of their writings with them through the smart writing app.  They also have notebooks for evernote and livescribe, so if they use one of those services it will save right there!

8900628106_9e09c9d363_z

Squarespace:  Every serious comedian (and even the not so serious ones) have a website.  You need something to send folks to other than you Facebook page (that is so 2012).  With a squarespace subscription, they will have a great place to set up a site that looks really good.  I am not a website builder, but harryjriley.com looks pretty good.  The price is low, but the quality is high.

gopro

GoPro: Watching yourself on stage is a good way to see what you need to change.  Pictured is the gopro 5, but they have a cheaper gopro session 5 that is good as well.  You can mount these bad boys anywhere and with the included app, they can see their shot without having to keep readjusting it if it is in a hard to reach spot (like over an audience member’s head).  They also have editing software that will help them clean the video up and have it ready for potential bookers.

 

LOADED!

This category is for those with deep pockets or you really, really love that comedian.

sony_fdr_ax33_4k_handycam_2

Camcorder: Getting good video of your sets is really important when you are trying to get into competitions and get booked.  Hook your comedian up with a baller camcorder like this Sony FDR-AX33. It records in 4k, so when that comedy festival organizer sees every crease in their slacks they are a shoe in to be picked!

iphone-7-plus-colors

A New Phone: Phones.  Where would we be without them?  Probably not in the bathroom playing candy crush.  Smartphones are like swiss army knives of tech.  A comedian can record their shows, and then edit them and then send them to YouTube for the world to see within minutes.  Pictured is the iphone 7 plus, but it doesn’t have to be Apple (make sure you know what operating system they like before getting them a new phone) Android has several great phones like the Google Pixel and then there is the OnePlus 3.

surface-pro-4-1024x576

Surface Pro 4: Nothing says you love someone like a new laptop, tablet thingy.  The surface pro 4 is everything a world traveling comedian could want in a device.  It has the power of a laptop, but the portability of a tablet.  They can sketch out their poster ideas right there on the touch screen and when they want to edit their script they can with type cover that can be had later.

I hope this gives you some ideas on what to get that special comedian in your life.

Special thanks to Michael Glatzmeir, Ryan McComb, and Missy Narrance, for the help with this article!

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter To The Heckler

Dear Heckler,

 

I kinda get it.  I kinda know why you do what you do, but I am here to tell you that all the reasons you have piled in your head are wrong.

You may think you are helping the comedian.  You are not.  Being a comedian usually involves writing and rewriting and performing and rewriting and crying and rewriting a joke until it is nice and shiny. That comedian that you paid between nothing and $20 to see has been working on that material for so long that they know it front to back.  The last thing they need is someone yelling in between the joke. Why?  Because it throws off their timing.  Timing is important to comedians because it helps then know when they should do things like continue with the material or wait for the thunderous applause to end (one can hope). You screaming things does not help the comedian.  You hurt them.

You are also not making the show better.  There is a reason you are not on the bill.  You are not a comedian.  You may think you are funny, but that is the alcohol and ego talking.  You don’t know what it takes to get up on stage and tell really personal things about your penis or vagina.  These comedians have given their lives to try to make a room full (hopefully) of people laugh.  You have not.  As a matter of fact, you are actually making the show worse.  To you left and right, are people that paid between nothing and $20 to see a comedian.  They did not come to hear you yell at a comedian from the shadows.  They want what the comedian has to offer, not you musings.

Like I said earlier I kinda get it.  You are usually called the funny person at the shop or office, but you don’t have the balls to get on stage and give it a try, so when you get a couple in you, you feel a need to give it a try now.  Maybe that isn’t you.  Maybe you are the cool guy in the group and now the group is laughing at the comedian instead of commenting on the crease in your slacks.  Maybe you are the lady that has never had people not stare at them and now they are staring at the comedian and that bothers you.  Maybe you are just a loud drunk.  No matter where you fall, you are not needed or wanted at a comedy show. These comedians have gone through enough.  Let them entertain you. That is why you paid between nothing and $20 bucks.  Thanks.

 

Not really sincerely,

Harry J. Riley IV

P.S.  We also don’t want to hear your racist jokes after the show.

Comedic Styles: The One Liner Comedian

Let’s continue our look into different comedic styles (I finally found a title that works!). This week, we will look at the one liner comedian.  A style that is very old, and very hard to master.  Some of the great one liner comedians are Mitch Hedberg and Steven Wright.

This style of comedy is very simple in that there are not a lot of moving parts.  It is called “one-liner” probably because most can be written on one line on a sheet of paper.  It is actually a joke that is broken down to it’s basic parts.  You have the setup and then the punch.  There are usually no extra bits of information to allow the audience to see why it was funny.  All of the information to make the punchline more effective is in the punch itself.  The audience makes the conclusion, usually at the end of the joke, why it was funny.

Pros:

Comedians using this style can usually get more jokes into the same amount of time.  One liners are usually no more than about 4-5 seconds long.  So if you were doing a five minute set, just imagine how many jokes you can get in there (really imagine it because I am terrible at math).

Cons:

This style is writer intensive.  That means that you will have to write more than most comedians to effectively get the same amount of time out of your material.  Because the jokes are shorter, you will have to write more to get to say, a true feature length set.  It is also more writer intensive because unlike other types of jokes, because there are few moving parts, there is less to rewrite to make it work, so most of the time the joke gets thrown out.

It is hard to fill feature and headline time with one liners.  Even the great Steven Wright does other things in his act like play piano (while still telling jokes of course).  I just saw Emo Phillips.  One of the greatest comedians on the planet and he knew to break up his material with different aspects, while still delivering his material.

If this is how you mind works, then you have to understand what you will be required to do.  You will have to write a lot and you may want to find ways to keep the audience from sinking into a hole, especially if you are deadpanning your material.  I hope this helps.

 

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.

It All Seems So Simple…

Comedy seems like a simple endeavor.  You write material and you get stage time and eventually, you get paid lots of money to do it in front of lots of people.  The steps seem simple as well. You sit down, write all the stuff that you joke about with your friends, and you should be making a living in comedy by the end of the year.  It seems so simple.

You start by finding an open mic near you and this, this is where you start your career as a comedian. You have your material set up.  You get there, and you realize that you are not just one of a few, but one of many other comedians that are thinking the same thing.  Wanting that shot at fame and fortune. Because there are so many comedians, you have to curtail your material to the three minutes that you have.  You go up and what you thought were three minutes were four and you get the light before you could finish.  You didn’t even get to the big finish!

After a couple of months of stringing together material, you have a great 30 minutes.  Now you are ready to start touring the country, getting paid to make people laugh.  You start asking the seasoned comedians in the scene who you can get work from.  They look at you like you are silly, but they give you the email addresses of people and you try to get booked.  They ask for head shots and bios and videos, and now you have to scramble to get these things because you are this close to being a comedian. You have your friend take your photo and record one of your sets at a bar.  You send that all in and…nothing. Hours turn to days and days to to weeks.  You send another email and again nothing.

You have been doing it for six months now and you finally get to feature for someone!  You have your material memorized and ready to go.  You get to the bar and you realize that the eight people there did not know a show was going on so they keep talking while you go through your material. What you thought was 30 minutes of great material was actually 18 minutes of okay stuff.  No one laughs and you walk off the “stage” dejected.  The headliner goes up and gets the crowd into it and by the end of his time, everyone is having a blast.  This did not go as planned.

You finally get a show out of town!  You are excited.  You get to the casino and you get your free meal coupon and you finally feel like you are in the big time.  You get to your room and try to watch some Netflix, but the internet is so shaky that you go to the casino floor instead.  After losing 20 bucks, you go get a meal before the show.  Tonight you will be performing in front of 20 bitter gamblers and they do not enjoy your jokes about gophers.  You get your check for 100 bucks…in a week or two.

Comedy seems simple.  You can see the steps to success right there.  That isn’t how life works though. For every comedian that gets a Comedy Central special after performing for two years, there are hundreds of comedians in bars and casinos all over the country just trying to get by on whatever they can.  Comedy’s wash out rate is second only to the Navy Seals (an exaggeration of course), mainly because the steps seem simple, but when actually acted upon, it is soon discovered that the road to fame is tough. That is why so often you don’t often see full time comedians.  If you relied on just comedy to make it you would be homeless by the time you gain traction.

Comedy is hard.  I know it because I have done it for eleven years.  Terrible casino shows and late payments are the norm.  Driving all over just in the hopes that you can get more work from this booker later.  Hoping that the hotel smells less like butt and more like lavender.  The thing is, I never thought I would get this far.  I am thankful everyday that I get to do this.  I get to step on stage and try my best to get a room full of strangers to laugh.  That should be your first duty.  Funny.  After that, get better at the networking and the promotion, but get funny.  Because no one can turn away funny.  It is not simple, but not much is.