3 Offstage Actions to Take to Accelerate the Full-Time Comic Process…

There are a lot of comics eager to feature and make comedy their only career.  Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to do well within the first two to three years.  If you’re a bit older and have more life experience than the average 24-year-old, that helps.  If you’re simply gifted at comedy (which is very rare) that may allow you to become full-time even sooner.  You have to have the material and joke-writing ability and that can take years (at least five for me).

So what can you do in the mean time while you’re building your experience levels? (kinda like those Final Fantasy games)

1.  Break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend.  When you’re in love, it’s hard to put comedy first.  If you do, they’ll get even with you and you’ll end up getting hurt.  It’s best to be single so that it doesn’t matter how late you’re out.  I once turned down a gig so that I didn’t break a 3-month anniversary date with a girl.  I was dumb.  When you put sex love first, it’s going to cut into your career ambition.  Odds are it’s not going to go well and at some point it’s going to be an even bigger distraction and financial burden.  But won’t it make great material when we break up?  Art comes from pain, right?  Sure it will.  Do that now and then good luck coming up with an original punchline for the most overused setup in comedy.

And don’t you dare think about taking him/her on the road with you!  Those mishaps are covered in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  “What’s she going to do, Rob?  Wreck the car an hour before showtime?”  It happened.  Read all about it.

2.  Get a full-time job.  You need to be able to work gigs where you’re going to lose money.  I used to drive 5 hours to Topeka for a $100 gig.  That’s not very profitable.  By having less free time, you’ll find your work ethic and need to get better will be much improved.  Suddenly, those 3 hours of free time won’t be wasted on video games (kinda like those Final Fantasy games–ha, callback!).  There are challenges to working a day job, but if you can’t handle that, you can’t handle the road.  It takes self-discipline.  Build up your savings account, get a car that works, move back to your parents’ place or the cheapest rent you can find…and then all of a sudden…quit your day job.

3.  Make comedy your main source of income.  Some people can’t stand the thought of going into debt.  If comedy is your main income, I guarantee you won’t flake out on making the calls you need to make.  With nothing on your schedule, you’ll have plenty of time to send those avails out.  (By the way, send those out often–monthly at least.  Most club managers aren’t offended by that, especially if you’ve worked there before.)  These three steps are a multi-year process, but the most motivational thing you can do.  As your money runs out, pick up something part time again, but let the reality of poverty and the shittiness of a comic’s income sink in before you decide this is really what you want to do with your life.  What percentage are you willing to commit?

Treat every club like a new job hiring process.  You need to find their calendar and see who’s working there so they can help you get a guest set.  Find out who actually books each club that you’re trying to get into.  There’s no point driving four hours to perform in front of the assistant manager who has no say in booking (I’ve done that too). The bills won’t stop and that’s usually enough motivation to take the necessary risks.  There’s plenty to do in the other 23 hours.

So basically:  dump, work, quit, scramble/hustle.

And yes, I linked a lot of previous posts in here; read those too.

Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage is available on Amazon, iTunes, Kindle, Nook, KOBO, etc.  I recommend paperback on Amazon for an easy reference guide.


The 4 most common mistakes first-time comics make…

Since Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage was published, I’ve had a lot of comics tell me one of two things:

1.  I’m glad I read your book before I went up for the first time.

2.  I wish I would’ve read your book before I went up the first time.

Almost every time a new comic begins his or her career at the St. Louis Funnybone open mic, the back of the room gets a good chuckle at the same basic rookie mistakes.  So here they are…don’t do them.

1.  Leaving the mic stand in front of you after taking the microphone out–It looks bad, don’t do it.  I wrote pages and pages about what else not to do on stage.

2.  Attempting shock humor–Joke-writing and delivery is an acquired skill, but as rookies we all think we have something brilliant to say that will blow everyone away and instantly gain the respect of our new peers.  Don’t think this way, you’ll hurt yourself.  If you hear laughter from the back of the room, it’s for the wrong reason.

3.  Going over your time–Four minutes means four minutes.  “I didn’t see the light,” is not an effective excuse.  This isn’t your homework in grade school, this is a professional show.  Get off close to a minute before your limit.  You don’t need to share all of your “comedy gold” in the first week.

4.  Excessive language–Similar to number two, cussing on stage must be done with some tact instead of a nervous habit.  Last month a guy said fuck over fifty times in under four minutes (at least he stuck to his time).

Yes, of course I want you to buy my book because it makes money, but honestly, we all cringe when these same four mistakes are made every week (actually my favorite reaction is when Andi Smith just mutters, “Uh-oh,” over and over).  So excuse me as I write this sentence hoping to make it google-search friendly for first time stand-up comics looking for tips for their first time doing stand-up comedy at open mic aaaaand that ought to do it.  Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage is available on Kindle, iTunes, and of course in paperback.

*And thank you to everyone who writes!


How I almost lost hundreds of dollars…

A few weeks ago I got a call from a booking agency.  A friend who works for them gave them my name because he wasn’t able to work a gig.  The woman on the phone described the gig to me and explained that they only needed about twenty clean minutes during an afternoon.  It was for some IT guys at a local business.

I figured, twenty minutes, it’s probably not going to go over that well since they’re IT guys (I’m not wrong here in my stereotyping), hmm, it’s a weekday and actually an afternoon gig (it’s REALLY not going to go well), how about 200 bucks.

“Okay, that’ll work,” she says.  At this point I’m already kicking myself because if they agree to your first offer you could’ve gotten more.  Then she crushed me with her next statement.  “It should be for about 600 people. They work for Monsanto.”

Jackass.

If you think about the budget for this large corporate party, feeding 600 people is thousands of dollars…so how much would they be willing to spend on entertainment?  MORE THAN $200.  Hell, the agency could’ve tacked on another grand and they would not have blinked.

So I’ve been kicking myself for the past three weeks knowing that I could’ve paid for the $938 replacement to my car’s air compressor in 20 minutes of work.  But this is titled, “How I almost lost hundreds of dollars…” isn’t it?

Yesterday I got an email from the agency saying the company canceled the outing.  So honestly, I’m a lot less upset about losing a $200 gig than an $800 gig.

So the tip is:  If you’re unsure about how much to charge, you can calculate by how many people will be there.  If it’s only thirty or forty people, you can feel okay about only charging a couple hundred bucks.  If it’s hundreds of people from a lucrative corporation, the sky is the limit!  You don’t have to declare a price during that call.  Tell the booker, you need to calculate a few things and you’ll get back to them shortly.  Then, ask other comics in your area for an estimate of what they would charge.  Call them back with your first offer and don’t make the stupid mistake I made on a whim.  $200 to us comics is a lot of money, but to these companies it’s absolutely nothing.  The tougher the gig, the more you should charge.

Speaking of affordable, (and bad transitions), check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage for more tips on how to make money and wise decisions in comedy.


A new way to watch your own clips…

Recently I recorded a Youtube clip from an open mic set.  It’s a good idea to have a recent clip of a few minutes to send to bookers or people thinking about hiring you for a gig.  If you can do a clean set, be sure your sample is clean as well.  I’ve mentioned many times how many more opportunities that will give you to make good money.

If you’re like me, you cringe the entire time you watch or hear yourself.  I’ll admit, if I would’ve recorded and listened to a fraction of my shows as diligently as I should have, I’d be a much better comic right now.  Today I found a loophole and thought of this week’s tip: Watch your clip with the sound off.  This is the easiest way to identify your ticks and incorrect body language.  If you stand there with your arms crossed too often, it will be blatantly obvious with the sound off.  If you focus too much on one side of the room, it will stand out.  Pretty much every bad habit will be much easier to spot if you turn the sound off and focus on your body language.

For other comedy advice read my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s available on Kindle, iTunes, Nook, or by paperback.

At the risk of obvious jokes like “I’d cringe too” and “You should always turn the sound off” here’s me at this week’s open mic doing my demo set:


When to be invisible…

When I show up at a one-nighter in the middle of the sticks (which was the bulk of my schedule some years), the people at the door could always tell I was the comic.  It’s a cool feeling because they can make you feel like a star in their little town where the bar you’re at is the only thing open past 8:00.  Sometimes they can even get a little star-struck because they don’t know any better.  “It’s the dude from the poster that’s been hanging above the urinal for the last month!”  In other words, it’s a big deal the first time they see you.  However, you should try to minimize any contact with the crowd ahead of time, because as Jimmy Pardo says, “It needs to be a magic trick.”  If you can help it, let them see you for the first time on stage.  It’s often impossible, but you need to at least stay away from attention before you go on.  Here’s why…

A lot of our jokes are simply embellished stories, or quite simply, lies.  Even though we’re not all cut-and-dry “characters” on stage, in a way we are and we usually have a different cadence.  So first, you don’t want to ruin the illusion of your jokes or your comic voice by breaking character.  As an extreme example, imagine Dan Whitney coming into a bar and talking without an accent about intelligent topics…and then going on stage as Larry the Cable Guy and performing his usual set.  It doesn’t work as well.

I had this problem a few years ago in front of a crowd filled with people who knew me.  Even though it was the first time they had heard a lot of my jokes, they didn’t seem to be buying into them because they knew too well that they were just lies.  (Granted, there are a few people whose voices are so true to their everyday voice that they can get away with this but a lot of us can’t.  If you’re one of these comics, congratulations.)

A lot of venues don’t have a green room so it’s tough to stay aloof sometimes.  Try to remain unnoticed at the corner of the bar, or else just hang out in the back while the lighting is still up.  This also avoids people judging you before you even get a chance to talk.  If they know you’re the comic, they might follow your every move until the show starts, or even worse…want to talk.  Post-show chats are often annoying enough, pre-show can be even worse.  Talking to them before, might make them think it’s okay for them to talk to you during the show.  Avoid this!

I remember when I was a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone from 2000-02.  It always amazed me how a good headliner was able to transform themselves from the smalltalk we had in the back hallway to their stage personality.  They became actors up there.  Until you’re that good, save yourself the trouble and stay invisible before you take the stage.

For more advice on the often-forgotten subtle rules of comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  (Available on Nook, Kindle, iTunes, and Amazon)


Stop saying you “killed it” on Facebook

Every Saturday night my Facebook feed goes from a stream of non-comic friends posting their dinner pics to a late-night stream of comics letting the rest of the world know that they did a show (which is fine, show people you’re working).  However, a select number of comics always accompany their gig pictures with news of how they killed, slayed, or whatever ridiculous verb they can come up with.  Stop doing that.  No one believes you.  Bookers aren’t scrolling through their Facebook feed searching for your own Yelp review of your show.  Ever see any of the headliners you look up to post about killing it?  No.  (If so, stop looking up to them.)

If you’re at a club and the manager asks how your set went, be honest.  If it wasn’t your best show, it’s best to let them know you’re aware that you didn’t do well.  The thing is, they already know how you did, they’re seeing what you consider good enough.  If they hear you lie about it, they’ll either think you’re delusional or have set the bar too low for what is acceptable.  Raise the bar on yourself.

It’s okay to admit when you have a bad set.  Last week I wrote about not meshing well with the headliner’s crowd.  Most of you understand that yes, there are bad bookings.  However, one Facebook thread went on and on about how “it sounds like this happens to this guy a lot.  It’s never the crowd’s fault!”  Yes, new readers… I wrote last week’s blog to share with the world how much trouble I always seem to have.  Ignore the 100+ blog entries where you learn from my mistakes in 14 years of experience.  Instead, take away from it that I’m not a good enough comic.  I had to revisit my entry about ignoring negative crap.

For other tips on how to gain respect from other comics as well as the bookers who’ll make sure you have a career, read my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage. (Available on Kindle, iTunes, Nook, and Amazon)

 

 


Why does this headliner’s crowd hate me?

In 2013 I had a week at a club that I didn’t feel went very well.  The crowds were large enough, but instead of getting the usual response on certain jokes, I got groans or silence.  To make matters worse, the headliner got a standing ovation during the show I considered to be my worst.  So why does this happen?

When a headliner comes back to a club year after year, he or she builds a solid following of people who come out every time they’re in town (otherwise they often get replaced by someone who does).  If a headliner has a certain kind of style that doesn’t mesh well with yours, as an MC or feature, it can be pretty tough.  If a big trademark part of the headliner’s act is something that varies from standard basic stand-up comedy (such as puppets, magic, singing, costume changes, or maybe they’re just a famous actor), you can expect to have a more challenging week.  I’m not saying they’re bad comics, but if their style is completely different from yours and the crowd is there to see them and that (whatever it is from above), it’s going to be harder on you.  A lot of times these headliners just come from the previous generation of comics (which means respect them no matter what you think of their act).

I’m getting better at telling if this is the case ahead of time.  Again, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these headliners, just that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if their crowds don’t dig you as much.  Here are some clues that this might be the case:

1.  They have a stage name (though I cringe when they introduce themselves to me using their stage name).

2.  There’s stuff all over the stage (sound boards, props, instruments, etc.).

3.  They have to put their wardrobe back on in the green room after every show because of all the costume changes.

4.  They talk a lot about performing in Vegas.

5.  They often get standing ovations.

So what do you do if this is the case?

1.  Hopefully the club’s manager realizes the situation and doesn’t think you’re bombing.  You could subtly mention that the headliner has a lot of fans.

2. Clean it up!  A lot of these fans aren’t regulars at the club so anything edgy might still shock them.  Do a more corporate sounding set that won’t make them nervous to laugh if they’re sitting by the table of minorities you just did a joke about.

3.  Stick to your time.  Often these headliners do longer sets so maybe you get trimmed back to fifteen or twenty minutes–cool, less work!

4.  Focus on the rare, positive feedback.  There could even be a table who likes your style better and wasn’t there specifically to see the headliner.  They’ll walk out early sometimes and tell you they liked your set much better.  Thank them graciously and hope that they filled out a comment card.  Focus on their praise instead of the mediocre sets you’re having.

OR

5. Don’t care. If you’ve worked the club enough times and don’t feel like they’ll never have you back, don’t let it bother you. Don’t apologize during your set if you do offend his/her “fans.” Show them you enjoy your jokes whether they do or not by standing firm.

The overall lesson is that yes, sometimes it is the crowd and as openers we’re not always strong enough to adapt to every situation yet.  There are great musicians who get ignored at concerts while they open for popular headlining bands.  It just comes with the territoy.

For other tips from preparing for your first open mic night to surviving the road, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  (Available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Nook, etc.)


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