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.

3 tips for corporate Christmas parties

‘Tis the season It’s time to finally chip away at those credit card bills by booking a few corporate Christmas parties.  Not everyone can do these well as they’re very challenging.  If you’re headlining Christmas parties, you probably don’t need this blog.  If you’re an opener, follow these tips:

1.  Ask for a little more if a headliner asks you to open.  In other words, $100 or even $150 is probably way less than the close to $1000 they’re getting.  These gigs are challenging and you should be compensated for that.

2.  Stay clean and universal.  This month alone is the main reason to have a clean set in your notebook.  If you can establish to a headliner that you can work clean, the gigs will keep coming.  Also, during a work party, a lot of people won’t laugh at something they think will offend their boss or coworkers.  It’s not just material about sex–talking about politics, homosexuality, race, religion or anything edgy is going to make them feel uncomfortable.  Even if it works at every other show during the year, this crowd will be tougher.  If you can, write some quick local humor.  Stay away from making fun of the boss.  Save crowd work like that for the headliner.

3.  Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t go well.  It probably won’t.  That’s why headliners set such high prices for these. They’re almost secretly hoping it’s declined.  You were brought to break the ice for them, not to kill.  The conditions you’ll perform in are often the furthest thing from a comedy club.  The headliner will understand this and appreciate you being the sacrificial lamb.  If you do somehow do well, great!

I wrote about several of these experiences in my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage including the time I did a noon gig in a break room with no mic for $50 (there are at least 4 things wrong with that booking).  It also discusses how to handle a lot of other types of shows you’ll perform at over the years.  Today is cyber Monday, so pick one up on Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kindle, etc.


5 things to tell your friends at your open mic

If you can get your friends to come watch an open mic night, that usually helps you and the show quite a bit.  At a lot of clubs you have to bring friends (usually 5) just to get on the show.  Other clubs understand that part of the reason you’re a comic is because you don’t have a lot of pals.  While friends always mean well, unfortunately they can do a lot of damage to your reputation, so it’s important to talk to them ahead of time about a few things.

1.  This isn’t the music industry.  They don’t need to worry about promoting you and talking you up ahead of time.  You’re not ready to be promoted yet, so tell them they can relax and…

2.  Enjoy the whole show.  Even if it’s a contest, they should laugh for everyone they enjoy.  No comic wants to win a contest that he or she doesn’t deserve to win.  Usually it’s just open mic night, so there’s no contest at all.  The better the other acts are doing, the more energy and show momentum you’ll have from the crowd during your set.  Stay the whole time.

3.  Do not complain about anything.  Did you order a margarita and get a rum and Coke?  Too bad, suck it down and like it.  Let this be a small metaphor for the showbiz industry that your comic buddy is about to take on.  And tip, a lot, obviously.

4.  Wait until after the show to talk with you about your set.  There’s nothing worse than when a group of ten sees their buddy do well and then feels the need to hold a congratulatory meeting right there in the show room.  Or, sometimes half the crowd will go out to talk with him/her at the bar leaving a void in the audience.

5.  Friends have the potential to ruin your future at this venue or others.  Think about that.  If they get too drunk/stupid and the staff connects your friends with you, it can get you left off of the list in upcoming shows.  A lot of this goes back to #3.

For other tips on how to survive and eventually make money in the comedy industry, order my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  (Available on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, and in paperback as well.)


Ways to actually handle yourself “professionally” on the road…

Until you have a big enough name to land a door deal, you need the club more than they need you.  For a booker or club manager to book you at least once or twice a year, they need to see your name and not instantly think about potential problems.  Think like a mananger: “Is this comic worth the trouble?  Yes, I like him/her, but last time there was that incident with…”

If you can keep a clean slate, you’re much more likely to get annual work from solid clubs.  Some of these tips seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised how many fellow comics don’t follow them.  Handling yourself professionally has almost more to do with your actions off stage than on.

1.  Show up early enough.  It’s easy to form a reputation as a last-minute comic who keeps the manager wondering.  They have 100 other things to worry about on show night (such as the new bartender and the bachelorette party of 20) so it’s an extra kick in the pants if you add more stress.  Use an app like Waze to make sure your route is clear.  If it’s a longer trip, send them a text or email to let them know you arrived to their city.  It’s scary thinking how a guy had to travel from two time zones away and you haven’t heard anything from him all day…and it’s his first time at your club.

2.  Hotel etiquette!  I had a fifteen-minute wait on Friday for my check-in.  I didn’t complain, but instead kept a smile on my face.  Mention your name and the fact that you’re the comic at whatever club to help them find you in their reservation list.  (The La Quinta in Columbia gives you bottled water and free cookies!)  The hotel and the club have a tight professional relationship, and they’ll be sure to report back any problems to the manager if you give them reason to.

3.  Don’t abuse free drinks/food.  Along with hurting the expenses in these tough times, you also can’t afford to make an ass of yourself before/during/after the show.  I’ve seen even some of the top headliners take too many shots before a show and have bad sets.  (Not to mention the DUI rates of comics)  If a manager knows he/she has to stock an extra case of Red Bull or another bottle of Jack just because it’s your week, they’re likely to pass you up for another comic.  As far as food, stick to the basics instead of the entrees.  Take what they give you, tip everyone involved, and NEVER complain about anything that is free.

4.  Avoid conflicts– Heckling happens, but if it happens to you every time you’re at a club, that’s not a coincidence.  Managers don’t want to have to staff an extra doorman or keep watch themselves.  You know what a manager’s favorite thing to do during a show is?  …Not have to watch it.  Don’t get personally involved with the waitstaff either.  You can be friendly, but if you cause some sort of issue with one every time you’re in town, that’s extra stress for management.  Basically, don’t sleep with them.

These road tips and many others are all a part of the later chapters of Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Amazon has put it on sale so if you haven’t bought a copy, now is a good time to do so.  It’s also available on pretty much every e-book format including Kindle and iTunes.


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:


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