Author Archives: Rob Durham

About Rob Durham

With an English Degree, three years as a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone, over a decade of stand-up experience, and a recent certification in teaching high school English class, writing a book seemed like the next inevitable step for Rob Durham. The son of a coach, Rob has an excellent ability to teach and explain things in the easiest and most direct way possible. His (often labeled ridiculous) memory allows him to think of every possible situation that a new comic might face because at one point he was there too. Rob gives an inside look at comedy that doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges every performer faces. Without ego and the myth that “anyone can do it” Rob gives the reader a true feel of what living the so-called dream feels like, from preparing for that first open mic night to touring the country.

What if the heckler gets the crowd to laugh?

I’ve only written one or two entries on here about hecklers, but Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage gives plenty of tips. This week I had something rare happen though.  A heckler actually got a laugh from the crowd.  Uh oh!  Here’s what happened..

I was doing my sales pitch about my book and saying that I would sign them and the headliner would be signing autographs. I then mentioned that the previous night we had signed a girl’s boob.  An older man, stage right, who had been piping up here and there yelled out, “What was his name?”  The crowd laughed.  In retrospect I could’ve responded with something cheap and easy like, “I don’t know, what do you call your boy?” but didn’t have anything at the time.  It’s better to just let him get his laugh than to try and respond and fail miserably.  What if I stumbled or the comeback didn’t make sense?  This can happen, so like I said, I let his joke breathe.  After that died down I went into my own premeditated heckler material that I’ve used before.  It didn’t relate to his comment, but it got a lot of laughs and I had the audience back on my side.  Most importantly he shut up.

So what happens if you can’t think of anything to say? I’ve heard a few comics say, “It was your joke, but I still get credit for all laughs while I’m on stage,” or “Keep doing my job, but I’m the one who gets paid.”  Sure these don’t have the mean comeback pop you want to destroy a heckler with, but they will get laughs from the audience.  If the heckler continues you can cut him off with, “OK, shut it down… etc.”

By then hopefully a doorman or someone at the club has become aware of the situation. If it’s a one-nighter bar, you’ll have to defend yourself, but then again your limitations on what you can say are removed too.

For more tips on odd little situations like these as well as everything else you could possibly ask about comedy, order Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.


5 Things to bring to a one-nighter…

The best kind of one-nighter gigs are the ones you can drive home from after the show (anything within four hours is my rule).  The problem is that you don’t have to “pack” for this type of gig, so you may be likely to forget to bring something.

Here is a quick list of things you might forget to take to a one-nighter…

1.  An extra shirt that won’t wrinkle:  Eating in the car?  You’re going to spill on yourself.  Grab a shirt that will still match but won’t wrinkle.

2.  “Square Reader” and cash:  If you sell merch you should be using the Square App for those customers who don’t have cash.  Leaving this behind could cost you gas money for the whole trip.  Also, be sure to have small bills (fives) for change if you sell something for $15.  A few ones to tip should help too.

3.  Contact’s phone number:  In case you’re late or lost, you should always let them know.  This way you can avoid calling your booker and ruining your reputation.  Just call the bar and let them know so they don’t get nervous.

4.  Charger:  Sometimes in the middle of nowhere your phone dies much sooner than it normally would (you already knew that), so be sure you can keep it charged because you don’t want to lose merch sales because you can’t access your Square App.  I also use my phone as a timer in my pocket for while I’m on stage.

5.  Mic Stand:  This one is optional, but if you’re a guitar act or need both hands free for some reason, it would be a wise investment to keep one of these in your trunk.  Some bars just don’t have mic stands which makes for an awkward mic exchange with the emcee.  If you absolutely need one, buy and bring your own.

These are just a few of the many things you should remember.  Find the rest of them by reading Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.


What are the best day and night jobs you can have when you’re trying to make it in comedy?

It always cracks me up when people come to open mic and say they’re going to “try comedy out” since they hate their job or have been laid off.  From your first open mic to the time you can make enough money to survive will most likely be at least five years.  That’s minimum.  That’s assuming you’re really good, have some luck, and can survive on a poverty-type lifestyle.  Perhaps you’re still living at home or having your parents support you (but who would admit to that?).  Rent is usually the largest expense.

You’ll need very flexible jobs while you’re building your act and gaining stage experience.  The best job to have as a beginning comic is to work at the comedy club.  That’s where I got my start (I had no intention of ever taking the stage).  Seeing hundreds of shows teaches you so much.  When I started MCing I had all of the announcements memorized.  I saw the things that worked, the things that didn’t work, and the things that infuriated other comics and the staff.  It also led to a lot of gigs because I knew who was coming up on the schedule and could get my requests in early.

***However***  There is a point where you need to stop working at your home club.  That’s discussed in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Feel free to order a copy (paperback or ebook).

The second job I recommend is for the stage of your career when you’re starting to work the road a little.  Maybe you’re getting MC weeks around the state and taking uneconomical one-nighters 300 miles away for $100 to build your experience and learn what the road is like.  I know quite a few comics who started, but never finished college.  Well you’re in luck.  For states like here in Missouri, you only need 60 hours of college credit to substitute teach.  Subbing is the PERFECT job for a part-time touring comic for the following reasons:

–It’s usually at least $90 a day.

–You have to adapt to every situation (2nd graders are a tough crowd) and learn to improv while you’re uncomfortable.

–It forces you to get up early instead of wasting your 20s away sleeping in.

–It is validating most days.  You can have fun no matter what the assignment is.

–It’s 100% flexible.  Almost every school has an online booking system (some even have an app!) for getting subbing gigs.  It’s very easy to fill one to five days a week.  Five days pays at least $450 which is about the average feature pay for a week.

Do your research and find a good district nearby.  Pick your battles in the classroom and take it seriously.  It’s a good chance to put on your professional skin.

I could go on and on, as I subbed for six or seven years and am now teaching full time.  Google subbing tips or find me for more questions about the job.


What’s up with comedy cliques?

A lot of the hostility about various clubs and various comics has to do with the cliques that are formed.  Comics learn to hate other comics, club managers, and even give up on a club itself because they believe they’re excluded from some sort of clique.  The word clique sounds like some gang…only involved in the arts (really intimidating, huh?).  But yes, there are people at the comedy club who are in a circle of friends.  This is true at every club in America I imagine.  It can benefit them professionally, but it doesn’t mean that if you’re not in the clique you have no chance of ever working that club or becoming friends with the people in it.  This entry will break down the hopeless feel of being outside a clique and let you know how you can still work at a room that you may have given up on.

The reason there is  a clique is because it’s a circle of friends who have endured a lot of comedy together.  That means they’ve shared some late nights, some fights, maybe road trips to bad gigs, and a few other deeper experiences.  They entertain each other with ball busting, interesting stories, and more ball busting.

So why don’t they want to include you in a conversation like you’re the new kid at the lunch table at the happiest middle school in America?  Maybe it’s not always them.

1.  Age difference.  A lot of times a newer, younger comic might only be in his early to mid twenties.  Perhaps the clique is mid-30s and 40s.  Do you normally connect with someone that much older or younger than you?

2.  Your stories suck.  Road comics have the best stories of anyone in the world.  The bar is set very high because not only have they done some interesting things, they’re usually great storytellers to begin with.  Your story is long and boring and everyone is going to make fun of it once you walk away…or to your face if you’re making any progress with said clique.  Stop talking, shut up and listen, and enjoy the free entertainment.  If you have something to weigh in on, it better be interesting and/or funny…but keep it brief.  There is nothing worse than a long and boring story.  These are basic social skills, and are newer comics known for being great at social skills?  No, of course not.  It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, they just shouldn’t bore everyone with stories.  And I’ll admit, I haven’t told an interesting story (maybe ever).  I can weigh in on sports and a few road experiences, but for the most part I should sit back and listen to others.

3.  You’re drinking too much.  #2 tends to become even worse when you’re drinking.  Drinkers become socially unaware of reading people.  Their stories go on and on and the conversation skills disappear completely.

4.  You tout…It’s pretty easy to build a reputation as someone who’s always saying how great they are.  Again, be self-aware of what you’re saying.  If you’re having a conversation and the other person is only speaking in 10% of it, you’re doing it wrong.

5.  They don’t respect your act.  Maybe it gets laughs, but a comic’s act says a lot about him or her.  It’s hard to like or respect someone who’s really hacky, etc.

So how can you break into this clique?  Or better yet, not sell your soul, but at least be accepted enough to know they don’t all hate you and make you feel like you’re blacklisted…

No one’s going to invite you into it.  Just sit there at the bar and listen.  Don’t say much at all.  Let people get to know you over time.  Yes, you’ll probably be a whipping boy at some point, but at least you’re being acknowledged.  Learn the inside jokes.  Learn what’s off limits.  Listen and learn what others are doing wrong.  Yes, cliques are going to badmouth other people behind their backs (that’s showbiz life, get over it).  It’s a comedy club not a church group.  Build some trust at least and don’t go blabbing your mouth.  If your club doesn’t have a bar then just hang out with “the group” after the show.  Have a drink and briefly ask the manager, “Can I hang out and finish this?”  If you have a clean record/reputation and haven’t already annoyed the hell out of everyone, they’ll allow it.  You don’t have to be a meek little child, just be polite.  Club managers want new blood.  A club manager is probably tired of everyone’s act in that whole clique.  New people are good on and off stage.  Think of yourself like that character who comes in season two of a good show.

It’s really not that hard to be a socially normal person.  You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of any clique to make it in comedy (I’ve never been in one and I do fine).  Look at some of the people who are in cliques.  They’re often terribly annoying and they’re still tolerated.  That just goes to show it’s not impossible.

I understand that there will be many readers who say, “F comedy club cliques!  I’m not playing that game!”  That’s fine.  Some people just don’t get along.  Just keep your thoughts to yourself if you want booked at that club.  If you can’t hide your feelings towards others it will limit a lot of your money-making opportunities…and according to the subtitle of this blog, making money is the main purpose you’re reading this.

The bottom line is this:  Be a respectful person and even if you feel left out of a group, you’ll still be liked enough to be booked.  As my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage mentions…You need to be respected by the crowds, other comics, and club managers to make it in this business.


What if my old classmates are going to be at my show?

Some of us are comedians partly because of our not-so-great high school experiences and the issues our classmates provided.  Most of us weren’t even close to being the class clown (Birbiglia covered that difference in his first album).  Eventually, word will get out that you’re “doin’ comedy” and they’ll show up.  Maybe you’ve even invited them.  Some people are fine with their classmates showing up because they were friends and they still keep in touch.  But in some situations it can be an extra dose of nerves.  Most of us have at least one type of audience member that would throw us off whether it be exes, parents, family, or the focus of this example, classmates.

First of all, realize they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.  They probably think you wrote your act about them and that they’re going to get made fun of.  Here’s what to do:  If possible, stay aloof before the show.  Keep them wondering.  If you haven’t seen them in awhile let your new first impression be from the stage.

If they’re like a few of my classmates, they’re probably hammered well before the show even starts.  No need to say your hellos that loudly in front of the rest of the crowd.  This is hard to do in a small venue, but find a reason to excuse yourself and get away from them because if they realize it’s okay to talk to you before the show, then they may think that rule applies during the show.

Establish that this is your job.  They’ll either respect it, or mock it out of jealousy because you’re doing something you enjoy.  Sure they can afford more beer than you because they’ve been working for their dad for over a decade, but in a lot of cases they would trade lives to experience the set you just had just once.  (Inspiring, huh)    If they hold the illusion that you’re successful and “living the dream” that’s even better.  See you at the reunion with namedropping stories.

There are all kinds of odd crowd situations you’ll face over the years.  I figured them out through experience and asking others, but if you’d like a better shot at doing it right the first time, they’re covered in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Click that link to find it on Amazon, ebook, or signed copy.


How to decide who goes in what order…

I have an upcoming one-nighter where I’m co-headlining with a comic I’ve never met or worked with.  We’re both doing the same amount of time and both making the same amount of money.  So who goes first?  She’s a female comic four years younger than me, but I’m going to offer to go first because I don’t have an ego.  What does it matter what the middle of Illinois thinks (no offense middle of Illinois) because they’ve never heard of either of us, and probably won’t hear of us again.  If the other comic tells me she would prefer me to go last, then that will work to.  Here’s what ultimately will decide it…Who works cleaner?

The cleaner comic should work earlier in the show because once you take an audience (down?) to a certain level, it’s really tough to bring them back up.  That’s how you should approach your set as well.  Save your dirtier stuff until the end.  If she works clean then I’ll have no problem with her going first, but if not, I’d prefer the opening spot. 

This can apply for other shows as well with more comics.  You should have a pretty good idea the amount of “blue” in each comic’s act and can loosely arrange your show from that.  Again, do this with your act as well. 

A few weeks ago a first-timer did a joke a piece about Jesus and (insert the worst thing you can do to Jesus) towards the end of his set.  It was epically awful, but then he followed it with a bit about “Why does cotton advertise?”  The funniest part was following the Jesus bit with a simple observation piece about cotton (If you’re that comic and reading this know that a few people pointed out that someone’s already done that cotton bit…also, drop the Jesus bit)

So again, ignore your ego and remember that it’s easier to follow clean than dirty.  On a Bob & Tom Tour a few years ago a lot of comics all decided to let April Macie close that show out.  Though they were bigger names and more successful, no one could follow how dirty she was.  Everyone was happier once they made this adjustment.

For more tips on comedy order a paperback or ebook of Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon or by any of the other methods listed here.


Update on the schedule

So as anticipated we aren’t getting through all of Act I today, no worries.  We’ll finish it Monday and then have the quiz on Tuesday of next week.  Tomorrow you will still have the Shakespeare Quiz so be ready as mentioned. 

As we get through a few more scenes in Act I we learn that Juliet’s mother and the nurse think she should marry County Paris, but she’s too young.  The nurse makes a dirty joke about her falling.

The guys (Romeo and co.) are busy trying to sneak into the party.  Romeo is being all whiny because of his love for Rosaline (who isn’t interested because she’s joining the clergy).  Soon our two lovers will meet and Rosaline will be ancient history.

So again…Friday the 21st–Quiz on Shakespeare

Tuesday the 25th–Quiz on Act I. 

My hope is to be starting Act III by the end of next week.  We’re on a good pace and our readers are doing well.  Remember, I’ll be rotating parts after each Act so everyone gets a chance. 


You can’t please everyone…

Comics are traditionally pessimistic people as it is, and sometimes that negativity can sprout up even on a good night.  Sometimes we have one of our best sets in a long time, but what do we remember about it?  The lady in the front row who sat stone-faced the entire time.  Didn’t she see and hear everyone else laughing and applauding?

It’s extremely hard not to acknowledge her on the spot.  She’s wrong for not laughing, right?  You’re having a killer set and feel the need to change her mind.  Don’t.  The first reason is that it might interrupt your momentum.  The crowd likes you and you might say something mean and change their mind.  The second hazard is discovering what’s really wrong.  She might answer, “My father died on Wednesday.”  Good luck getting out of that one.  Maybe she’s deaf (you’d be amazed at the number of deaf people who come to comedy shows).  Maybe she’s laughing on the inside and doesn’t express it well, or perhaps she’s on the worst date of her life.  Ignore her frown and finish your set.

If it’s bothering you that much, just give her a simple smile with some eye contact.  The natural human instinct is to return that.  She could snap out of it.  You should be doing that to random people in the first rows anyway.

The bottom line is that you’re not going to please everyone all of the time so just get over it.  As an artist it’s just something you have to get used to (I’m still learning).  It’s tough because it goes against our attitude.  I had a girl not even face me from the front row a few months ago.  She ended up walking out and then lied to my face at the bar and said good job.  Even there I could’ve gotten into it with her, but what’s the point of arguing with someone who represents <1% of the crowd?  An hour later she was doing shots and making a jackass of herself.  Is that someone really worth convincing you’re funny?

The flip side of this is to not cut yourself too much slack and say, “Well the crowds this week just don’t get me.”  If the number of stone-faced people is higher, it’s probably you.

Going back to the original point…Forget the individuals who don’t care for you.  Even Seinfeld has them.  Imagine how ridiculous you’ll sound complaining about one person after a great set.  It’s the equivalent of the hot girl pinching an inch on her stomach and telling everyone she’s fat in a selfie.

Speaking of stuff that a small minority still has a problem with, order a copy of Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage from one of these many options.


The saddest thing you can do from stage…

Someone asked me what the biggest difference between being a musician and being a comic was.  I joked that guitar players don’t go home alone after the show…comics do.  And I’ll admit a lot of us at one point in our career have hoped to land someone after a show.  A single guy in his 20s who normally doesn’t get much attention, especially in bars/dance clubs, jumps at the chance to have everyone (tables of women) in a room listen to him.  Here’s his chance to let everyone know he’s available.

The above situation and attitude hampers a set because the material’s first goal isn’t to be funny–it’s to get laid.  The sad thing is that everyone in the room can tell.  I’m not the first person to advise about this (Don’t Try to Have Sex from Stage as a sequel?), but it’s worth repeating.  In fact, guys, if you’re going to try and score from stage then go ahead and lie.  Women aren’t turned on by your tales of loneliness.  Pretend you have a significant other because the whores you’re going to sleep with don’t care if you’re single or not.  The most aggressive a woman’s been with me was after a set where I talked about my wife half the time (Union, MO if you were wondering).  So I guess this week’s bonus advice is this:  If you insist on trying to get laid from stage, then lie about having someone you can cheat on.

It’s okay to poke fun of yourself and your singleness, but don’t do it to gain sympathy and phone numbers; do it to be funny.  If it’s not worth the joke, drop it from your set.  Don’t sound too pathetic because half of the people in the crowd have a whiny friend just like you.  A lot of comics have found their significant other after a show, but not because they impressed someone by how lonely they were in all of their jokes.

This week marks my 14th comedy birthday.  I recall something in my very first set about getting a girl a Valentine’s Day card and her sending me one that may have been a restraining order (Get it?!  I was a loser!).  Nothing sentimental to write about how these past 14 years have been a blast and blah blah blah.  I’ll save that for next year.  How about a book plug instead?  Want more comedy advice?  Order it here!

***I’m aware it sounds like I’m endorsing the double-standard of casual sex and saying it’s okay for men and not women.  That is not my intention, I’m just generalizing because it’s a simple blog topic.  Men are whores too.  I’m also aware that this post has no benefit for female comics.  I haven’t encountered any female comics who have tried to get laid from the stage and I assume they know better.

 

 


What’s the difference between hack and stock?

Recently a comic buddy by the name of Gabe Kea posted something negative about using the line, “I’m also available for children’s parties…” which we’ve all heard hundreds of times.  The odd things is people in the audience still laugh at that line as if they’ve never heard it (they have though, right?).  Most comics trace that line back to Bill Hicks but it’s been said so many times it’s considered just a stock line that anyone can use.  Yes, anyone can use it, but should they?  (No)  So when is it okay to use a stock line, and what’s the difference between stock and hack?  There’s plenty to debate on this topic, but since it’s my blog we’ll go with my opinion as well as some other comics who I discussed it with while working together. 

We determined a stock line as a joke that also serves a second purpose depending on the situation.  For example, there are multiple stock lines for dealing with hecklers…”I don’t go to your workplace and knock the… out of your mouth”  There are stock lines for doing certain announcements, “Tip the wait staff, one of them is pregnant.”  (By the way, never say that.  It’s ignorant and disrespectful to make the people working hardest the butt of a joke.)  Sometimes comics use a stock line about a small town they’re performing in.  Because so many places are the same, they work virtually anywhere.  I used to say, “Christmas is over, take your decorations down…” and the small town would roar as if I had actually researched this and was soooo mad.

The difference between stock and all-out hack is if that line serves no other purpose than to get a laugh.  Going with the prior example of “Available for children’s parties…” there is no other purpose.  Sometimes a comic with an ethnicity other than white might say, “Damn, they finally let me out of the kitchen…” for a laugh.  Geoff Tate and I considered these hack because they serve no other purpose than to get a laugh, yet way too many comics have used them over the years.  There’s actually quite a few dealing with being a non-white comic.  I could understand mentioning race in a small-town gig because if it’s an all-white crowd/town then yes, the comic does need to mention that elephant in the room (sad, but that’s ‘merica).  However, there are more original ways to do it (especially when they know you don’t work there in the kitchen).  It’s not just comics of color, but other noticeable things, “Where my big girls at?” would be hacky pandering.  Too many sets open that way (although I might start opening mine that way just for the irony).

In a comedy club setting there is almost no excuse for needing a stock line other than delivering announcements as the MC.  In a smalltown gig in a bar where they didn’t know a show is going on, you may need a little stock to win them over early on in your career.  If you’re faced with reoccurring situations such as performing in small towns, dealing with hecklers or you’re a minority performing in front of a lot of white crowds, take the time to come up with your own lines to handle these things.  They don’t need to be breakthrough jokes that kill, but at least let them tackle the issue you’re having.  A lot of comics, including myself, need to do this for our merch pitches.

Here’s something I do for Sunday shows at my home club..  On Sunday nights at the St. Louis Funnybone we tend to get more African Americans in the audience.  With some of my racial material this makes white people nervous.  I have a joke about church that lets everyone know, especially the nervous white people, that I am aware and comfortable joking about race in my set very early on. 

If you’ve heard “your” stock lines done by a number of comics, they’re hack or too close to hack to be in your set.  This can lose you respect from the comics you’re working with and ultimately cost you gigs (money).  The number one way most of us judge each other as people is by our acts.  Very often it’s accurate. 

For more tips on the little details (as well as the larger ones) in comedy, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s available in paperback on Amazon as well as ebook format for Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.


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