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.

The #1 investment a comic has to make…

Reputations are established fairly early in a comic’s career.  Sometimes they don’t even have anything to do with how funny the comic is on stage.  It can be something else like drinking too much, always requesting a pay advance from a club, or chasing ass after a show.  One of the most important things is reliability.  Not making it to a gig can doom you in a booker’s mind for years.  If they hear more than one instance of this, you’re done getting work from that booker.

One of the biggest decisions a comic must make is whether or not they can finally quit their full-time job (or well-paying part-time job) to make comedy their only source of income.  Sure it’s important if you’re funny enough, but can you make it everywhere?  Do not attempt to become a road comic if you don’t have a reliable vehicle.  Needing a ride somewhere is crippling because once you’re known for that, comics will stop answering your calls.  (Yes, we bust the chops of one of our locals because he’s so young he doesn’t have a drivers license yet, but he’s getting there with his permit.)  If you’re asking favors of other comics, you’re now responsible for making it up to them.  What if they aren’t funny but they ask you for a recommendation to a booker?  “Yeah, I know you drove me to four gigs last years, but I’m not telling Eric Yoder you’re funny!”

In Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage I mention when I relied on my girlfriend at the time to drive me from Columbus to Dayton for a gig.  HUGE mistake.  She was over a half hour late and then got in an accident in Columbus rush hour.  We made my set by two minutes.  You cannot afford to put your career in someone else’s hands ever.

So if you have a goal date for quitting that job and making the plunge into even more poverty full-time comedy, bump it back to whenever you can afford a better car.  It could be another 6-9 months, but it’s worth it.

*This post inspired by the check engine light I was greeted with this morning.  I have to drive over 400 miles to Chattanooga in two days so my Civic is at the shop.  Please buy a book on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, or any other format so that I can pay for the repairs.  Thanks!

 


Something every comic should have…

Let’s say you had a really productive morning and wrote for almost three hours.  You rehearsed your new jokes/bits and feel like they’re ready for trying out at open mic tomorrow night.  You could write more, but three hours is quite a bit for one time and you only get five minutes so you’ll have no problem filling that.  Now what?

This week’s tip is to have at least one other creative outlet.  Some people believe in putting 100% of their lives into stand-up, but doing something else creative isn’t taking away from that 100%.  Find other means to use your creativity, otherwise you’re limiting yourself (and probably your income).  Here are some other ideas:

1. If you’re in the same boat with some other comic buddies, form an improv group.  I was in one for two years and though it’s hard to make money when you have to split it six ways, it helped me become a better comic.  You learn to act and get more comfortable on stage without having everything planned.  Being around other funny people always helps.

2. Start a web series.  You all have some form of camera.  It doesn’t have to be great but who knows–it could go viral and give you a nice jumpstart.  (Speaking of web series, check out this one my friend Maria Shehata is in)

3.  I hesitate to say this, but start a podcast.  We need more podcasts by comics.  We don’t actually, but it’s something to try at least.  Maybe yours can be unique.  Have a theme to at least set it apart from the millions of others.

4.  Blog.  I wrote on livejournal pretty consistently for five or six years before I started narrating my life one sentence at a time on Facebook.  It doesn’t have to be about comedy.  Find something unique (just like your podcast idea).  Sure half of my blog was about going to the store, but it really improved my writing skills so that I could…

5.  …Write a book.  Sorry, had to mention it.  In the two and a half years since Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage came out I’ve made more contacts and even scored a professional job.  Putting something in a binding is a sure way to get some level of respect from at least a few people.  I’ve also met dozens and dozens of people who are writing a book, but almost all of them fail to complete the process.  See the first link in this step for advice.

6.  Exercise and read.  This is just a tip on good ways to fill your afternoon without pot or video games.  They’ve both been shown to help creativity.

7.  Audition for commercials and industry videos.  Most cities have some sort of talent agency and yes, they’ll charge you for headshots but you probably need professional headshots done anyway.  Even if they only use you once or twice a year it’s still great money for the small amount of effort.  It’s weird how some people are so good at landing these things (I’m not but maybe you are).  Caution:  On average it’s takes 15-25 auditions before you land something.  18 for me.

It’s easy to get into the habit of wasting most of the daytime.  Looking ahead to a big show later on in the week is the worst thing you can do.  Find a way to be a productive comic now and get to work on it.  Put down the PS3 controller and do something.

 


Some random tips including great advice from Rik Roberts

It’s summer, my focus has been on new material and another book so I’ve asked permission to post some advice from Rik Roberts. You may have seen his post in a few comic groups but it’s worth repeating…  Rik and I first worked together in ’01 when he repeatedly BUIRED Pauly Shore.  He’s a clean act and can please any crowd.  Find him at www.rikroberts.com for more info.  Rik writes:

I’ve been at this 20 plus years and have had a great time. Anytime I got off track it was usually because I lost focus. I found I was often guilty of asking the wrong questions. Usually, I only need to start focusing on the right result to rephrase the question. I hope these help anyone who may be caught up in the same situation.

“Ask this … not this.” Some food for thought for hungry comics.

Ask this: What makes that comic so bookable and in demand?

Not this: How come no one is hiring me or booking me for gigs?

Ask this: Do I work hard even when no one is looking?

Not this: Why does everyone else get all the breaks?

Ask this: Am I willing to dedicate 3-5 years of my life getting on stage everywhere I can to get this thing going?

Not this: Where are the good open mics?

Ask this: What can I offer an established comedian in return for some of their time and experience?

Not this: What comics can hook me up with gigs?

Ask this: How can I rewrite this bit to make it work more consistently?

Not this: Why don’t people get my jokes?

Start each day with a goal to create, relate or update and move that ball a little further down towards the goal. Success is eventual not an event!

Hope that provides a little motivation.

 

Thanks again, Rik!  Those tips are very self-explanitory.

My other advice comes from my last three road gigs.  One was a 4-night gig 3 hours away, one was a one-nighter 7 1/2 hours away, and the other was a one-nighter  2 1/2 hours away.  You know what the most exciting story was from six nights on the road?  I almost ran out of gas in Tulsa.  In other words, the road isn’t that exciting and that’s fine.  If you’re squeezing every last drop of potential happy-party-good-time out of the road, you’re losing focus and energy from your act.  Maybe at 26 you can keep this up for a bit, but it will wear on you.  The most common thing I hear about most comics after not seeing them for awhile is, “Wow, he/she looks terrible.  What happened?”  Very rarely do we note physical/mental (attitude) improvements in each other.

The other thing that laying low on the road allows is you actually accumulate some money.  Clubs aren’t feeding us and giving us free drinks like they used to before ’08.  Don’t waste half your pay on a bar tab.  Yes, I may sound like your mother here, but odds are your broken relationship with her has something to do with why you’re a comic in the first place.

Yes, it’s okay to have fun on the road sometimes but don’t force it.  You have a responsibility to give just as much energy to the Sunday night crowd as you did for the crowd on Thursday.  Sleeping in until 3 p.m. isn’t what I’m suggesting either.

For other tricks and tips on how to survive the road…or just advice on how to get there, read Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.


A big tip for comics who can’t just sit down and come up with jokes…

I’m not a comic who can just sit down and write material. I’ve tried and it’s awful. My better material is stumbled upon at random times in the day. The problem is I don’t seem to be coming up with as much new stuff lately and I couldn’t figure out why.

Last night I was in a meeting dealing with book marketing and such and some of it was review so I caught myself daydreaming. All of a sudden a few new bit ideas came to me. This same thing happened on Easter Sunday while I was sitting at church. Again, flooded with potential bit ideas instead of listening. These little “creative floods” have become rare in the last two years and I had always blamed the fact that stand-up isn’t my top priority in life anymore. That wasn’t it. What did last night’s meeting and church have in common? I went more than five minutes without being on my phone. I got an iPhone a little over two years ago (shut up, I was poor), and since then I’ve grown the common addiction many of us have. I check it probably hundreds of times a day. I’m on Facebook, Wordfeud (I’m Robagain2, bring it on!), Ruzzle, Twitter, and even the weather app almost constantly. I don’t have time to daydream anymore.

This can’t be only me, right? Last night when I got home I fired up the citronella candle (that’s not a euphemism for pot, I’m 36)and just sat out on my deck for an hour and a half. I wrote out a few of the bits that I thought up during the meeting and eventually stumbled on one or two more ideas. Most of them won’t even make it to open mic night, but there’s potential for at least one to make it into my show set. So this week’s tip is to put your phone away once in awhile and be amazed at what it’s like to daydream again.

Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage is my how-to-do standup book, but it’s limited in how to write funny material. I don’t think you can teach funny (there are other books that try), but it will tell you what to do if you are funny. It definitely covers what kind of material and actions NOT to do on stage as well as the business side. Please check it out if you haven’t already.

 


What to do if there are kids in the crowd…

At a recent show setup by a booker who prides his comics on being towards the clean side, I looked out and spotted two children in the crowd (five and seven years old I guessed).  My act isn’t that dirty to begin with, but I do mention sexual topics several times.  I only had to do thirty minutes, but on the fly I would have to alter my setlist.  I was caught off guard, so instead of trying to hide it and probably appear awkward, why not make it funny?

I pointed out my surprise about the kids being there and mentioned something about them learning some new things tonight.  I actually overplayed how big of a deal it was and the crowd enjoyed that.  If I got to a point in my set that I needed to adjust, I paused and said, “Can’t use that one tonight…”  These aren’t as big of laughs as the joke would’ve gotten, but it helped fill the void and it gave me time to substitute the setlist with other bits.

I then just decided to have fun by being coy about the topics.  For example, instead of saying condoms, I worded out something else explaining that I was in charge of the birth control, etc.  The crowd seemed to be in on the whole bit of editing for the children and my 5 minute warning timer (cellphone in pocket) vibrated way sooner than I thought it would.  Overall it was really fun to see what they laughed at and what they didn’t get (the five-year-old fell asleep, who can blame her?).

Some people might ask, “Why do you have to be the one to change?  It’s not your fault they brought their children to a comedy show.”  True, and if you want to do your regular stuff, go ahead.  But with this particular booker and venue I thought it best to go the route I did.  I was in a reception hall at a campsite an hour south of St. Louis and the crowd (and owner) came off as rural and conservative to begin with so I thought it would be best.  If the crowd is uncomfortable with children hearing about adult topics, they’re not going to laugh at my jokes.  Their focus will be on the children instead.  (Welcome to the Midwest!)

For tips on how to be prepared for other odd situations you’ll face on stage as well as help on many other topics in stand-up, order Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

 


Different types of hecklers

When it comes to dealing with hecklers you can’t go with a ” one size fits all” approach.  The goal is obviously to shut the heckler up while keeping the audience on your side.  This is tough because as comics, sometimes we’re too mean in our rebuttal for the crowd’s taste.  Let’s face it, the way we talk around each other would be too much for a lot of audience members’ tastes.  So there are a lot of variables when dealing with a show disruption (location, type of gig, how many are there, how long your set is, how tight the crowd is, etc.).  For this entry, I’m just going to focus on the types of hecklers.  There is one thing that 99% of hecklers have in common: They’re drinking.  That means basic logic and etiquette doesn’t always apply (just like when you deal with children).

1.  The fan heckler–I first witnessed this as a doorman when Christopher Titus was perfomring.  With a special out and a sitcom on Fox he was packing the clubs (as he still does, I imagine).  A few guys in their 20s were so excited during his act that they started yelling out bit requests.  Once he could make out what they were yelling he actually stopped and explained to the crowd what they were doing.  He told them he was glad they were fans, but to be patient and enjoy the other material that they hadn’t heard yet.  (Most of us won’t have to worry about this happening to us.)  If you develop a trademark bit and it’s played on syndicated radio show like Bob & Tom, there’s a chance.  Dave Chappelle is the ultimate sufferer of this type.

2.  The loud talkers–This is the most common type of disruption I have to deal with.  The hard part is that sometimes you just have to ignore it.  Sometimes people are just putting in their drink orders which obviously involves talking, so they have no choice.  It could even be a server if the guest is having trouble hearing.  Often times it’s just a crowd member or two who have lost the ability to focus on the show.  They’ll have a private (which becomes public) conversation at their table unaware at how loud they are.  This has been happening a lot lately so I worked on two methods to overcome this in my last week of work.  The first option is just just pause between bits and make eye contact with someone in the vicinity (if you can’t see out that far give it your best shot).  A lot of times someone at the table who is still sober will realize your hint and shush their buddy for you.  The second method is to lower your voice almost to a whisper during a setup.  This gets the entire room quiet and the loud talker will become self aware on their own (depending on their BAC at the time).  Another danger, as they were discussing on Never Not Funny a few weeks ago, is that sometimes the rest of the crowd doesn’t hear people talking up front.  You don’t want to look like a jerk to the back half of the room, so be careful.

Eventually you might have to say something to the table.  “Is everything okay over there, it’s pretty chatty…” is one way.  I’ve heard some comics use a stock line, “Did you learn to whisper in a sawmill/helicopter/etc.”  This will also (hopefully) get the doorman’s attention.  If it’s a one-nighter, you won’t always have that luxury, so you’ll eventually have to start a verbal conflict.  Remember…when people are embarrassed they’re more likely to fire back and make it worse.  This applies in my classroom as well.  The most effective way to shut a student up is to walk over and whisper to him/her.  If I call him/her out in front of the class, it’s on.

3.  The “loud agreement” audience member is having the time of their life.  Unfortunately, they need to verbalize that after every punchline.  They’ll repeat it, add their two cents or whatever.  It’s the equivalent of someone yelling Praise Jesus! or Amen! at a sermon…or maybe a “You know that’s right!” at a movie theater.  This heckler doesn’t mean to disturb you, but it is annoying and can throw some comics’ timing off.  This is really hard to ignore because it can even make you laugh, but at the same time, it’s nice when it’s not there.  For this you just have to make them aware that they’re doing it.  Sometimes they forget or perhaps don’t see anything wrong with it.  Hopefully a friend or doorman will give them the heads up on their habit.  If you’re a comic who can tolerate it and even make it part of the show, go right ahead.

4.  The conflict heckler is the worst because they’re trying to disrupt the show.  It’s usually a drunk male (or a bachelorette party) who directly yells something out.  Even though these should be immediately taken care of by the club or bar, they aren’t always there for you.  As far as how to handle hecklers, there are tips throughout previous entries in this blog, but the two easiest ways are in my book.  With these, the crowd is almost always on your side right away at least.

Part of the thrill of comedy is that each show is different.  You’ll encounter all kinds of odd situations other than just hecklers.  (You’ll always remember your first stage located within a half-block from some railroad tracks.)  For more detailed help on all of these situations, check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.


The phase every comic should skip…

A majority of comics begin their careers in their early 20s.  I was in my senior year of college when I first started performing at open mics.  There are exceptions with the occasional middle-aged rookie, or kid who isn’t even old enough to drink yet, but for the most part, 21-25 is the usual starting time for beginner comics.  Some communities have a dozen or so, while others have even more.  There’s another season of Last Comics Standing about to air, so be prepared for a crowded open mic.  Out of all of these comics, most of them will fail to ever get a paid gig.

In a lot of communities, usually one or two comics get ahead and start getting work.  If you’re one of these comics and your town has a solid club, you’ll get to work with some famous comics.  The sold out shows on a Friday and Saturday are a far cry from the barren open mics.  You get to mingle with big names, meet hundreds of people after the show, and you actually get paid.  With this comes the jealousy of your peers.  That’s normal and to be expected.  No matter what level of comedy we’re at, we’re always jealous of the comics at the level ahead of us.  (…from feature, to headliner, to door deal, to theaters, to sitcom, to syndication, to movies and so on…)  Here’s what happens.  Young comic who has now joined the “real” comedy world can’t help feel good about him/herself.  Arrogance might be mild, but multiply that with the jealousy of your peers and you’re going to come off even cockier.  Even if you aren’t, your peers will insist you are because it’s an easy thing to point out and agree on.  So how do you avoid it?

1.  You don’t need to mention your gigs to everyone else in person before open mic night.  Post it on your webpage or Facebook page.  Word spreads quickly on its own via jealousy.  Let them bring it up if they want.

2.  Keep your time schedule like everyone else’s.  Show up just as early and stay just as late at all of your open mics.  Avoid being aloof at these shows.

3.  Don’t name drop.

4.  If peers are talking to you about your big-name gig, humbly acknowledge that it is a big deal and you were fortunate to get it.  Acting like the biggest gig of your life is a casual occurrence won’t help your image.

5.  Give advice only when asked.  You’ve only been doing this a few years so you’re not in the place to correct other beginners.  (Consider yourself a beginner the first four or five years.)

6.  Stay quiet at the pre-show meeting.

Honestly, there’s an epidemic of “first taste of success” comics.  Youth is not respected in this business so don’t remind others of yours.  Stay humble.  In Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage I mention how you must balance being liked by not just the audience, but also the other comics and the club managers.

I often get accused of writing these blogs with specific people in mind who are at fault.  That’s true for this one, 23-year-old Rob Durham.


How to be taken more seriously as a comic…

There seem to be a handful of comics we’ve all run into over the years who take themselves too seriously.  They make ridiculous flyers for their open mic show.  They have super-glossy business cards by the thousands.  They’re posting new headshots every six months.  Their website is above and beyond what they need to handle three hits a week.  They do everything they can to come off as a professional EXCEPT the Facebook postings.  The status updates are so dumb and meaningless that it sucks out any sort of respect one might have for their entire web presence.  Most of the time if a club manager hasn’t seen much of this person on stage, he or she only has one way to judge what kind of comic you are…Facebook.  You might think, “Well they don’t pay attention to me when I’m on stage at open mic, why would they pay attention to me on Facebook?”  You would be wrong about both.  Eventually it gets back to them about how unfunny you are.  People talk.  This is especially true if you’re posting something in a Facebook comedy group.

A good rule of thumb before posting something is asking this:  “Would my comedy hero look down on this?”  Consider that first.  If you knew Louis CK, Bill Burr, or whoever you worship now was going to read your post and get one impression of you just from that single status update, would you post it?  If the answer is no, don’t subject the rest of your Facebook friends to it either.

 

Sorry the blogs haven’t been as frequent lately.  I’ll admit, it’s not always easy to come up with a topic every week.  Thank you to those with ideas and questions.  Feel free to send questions or suggestions at any time.  To learn more about making money in the comedy business check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage for a book full of other tips besides what I post on this blog. 


How to deal with internet trolling and other nonsense…

A couple years ago a comic who’s now a good buddy of mine had a misunderstanding about something I wrote/said. We really didn’t know each other, but after a ten minute talk we were 100% okay with each other. Weeks before our chat while he was mad at me, he wrote an angry email to his hero, Marc Maron, about me who tweeted “Who is @RobDurhamComedy to tell comics how to do comedy?” to over 100,000 followers. I was finishing up a school day and had no idea that it had happened until a few hours later. Within moments I had a tweet ready to reply but then thought about it. I had 65 followers, he had 100K+ and people I knew were already piling on. I called some more experienced friends in the business and they advised that I handle it directly with Marc instead of in front of thousands of his disciples. So I did. (They also explained to me that Maron gets mad at things like sandwiches that are the wrong kind of BBQ.) Remember that I had no idea at this time why Marc Maron, who is ALWAYS arguing with people on twitter, picked me out. I figured, “Wow, he got my book somehow!” Nope, it was just a random letter. A buddy of his told me he said, “I try to defend all these nutjobs who write because they’re fans.” The good news is that day this blog had a record high of 854 hits and over 3,000 that week. I sold quite a few books in the next week and it gave me something to talk about on podcasts (Otherwise I’m very dull). The irony was that someone like Marc who is always trolled, ending up kinda trolling me? (That’s like, an honor, right?)

When you’re a comic with a social media presence and a webpage you’re going to get that. I used to have to remove obnoxious comments on my webpage 3 times a day the first month it was up (I finally figured out that screening option). The thing was, I knew who was doing it (eventually). He was a fellow Columbus comic who I worked with a lot and was actually a buddy of mine. I messed with him a little and we both wasted each other’s time. We’ve grown out of those things as we’re both adults and realize we have better ways to use our time (earning money by working). Incidents seem to happen every few years.

Still, there are people out there who still continue trolling. Usually they’re cowards so they’ll create a fake Facebook/Youtube/Twitter profile and post something about you like the bitch internet heckler they are (usually comics are against snipe heckling, aren’t we?). They don’t know you, but are probably jealous of your success (How dare he encourage reading and educating other comics!). They’ll spend hours designing fake profiles, adding fake friends, and photoshopping instead of doing something productive like writing material, booking gigs, and making money. The best thing to do is to just ignore them or talk to them directly if they have the balls to at least own it. In the previous situation, I ended up sending Maron a letter along with a book. I explained that my book was inspired by the fact that I was sick of seeing new comics make the same mistakes week after week at open mic night. I was a high school teacher who didn’t work the road as much (that’s explained in my book) and didn’t understand his out-of-the-blue animosity. He never wrote back and that was that. I ignored the tweets that followed from others who thought that it would hurt my feelings 140 characters at a time. I didn’t respond to the disrespectful and somewhat ridiculous article that the RFT wrote asking me to reply and all of the comments that followed, (oddly enough, written by the same guy who wrote a nice article about it just weeks before).

The problem is that comedy doesn’t keep some people busy enough. They get bored. They get jealous (we’ve all been jealous of someone in this business…I’m very guilty of that).

I remember the first time some classmates were jealous of my success when I was little. It was 3rd grade math. The people who still feel that way and act out on it are the intellectual equals of those 9-year-olds. Ignore them and feel flattered that your success has bothered someone so much that they waste hours of their life trying to upset you.

There’s a reason they troll from a hidden identity 99% of the time. They know you could cut down their pathetic career life very easily. Don’t waste your time. Go write some new jokes (or a book–those seem to sell). How about a new t-shirt design? Maybe a day job so you can afford to have a comedy career. The list goes on…

And yes, I fully expect obnoxious comments on this entry… (please disappoint me)


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.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.