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.

How do I get into new clubs without being someone’s opener?

The best and easiest way to get into a new club is to feature for a headliner they know and trust.  Here’s the thing, if you’re a strong feature act, a lot of headliners aren’t going to want to follow you night after night.  Yes, the great ones with large draws have the courage and ability to do so, but think back to how many not-so-great features you’ve seen open for big-name headliners who are more famous than funny?  What I’m saying is don’t feel bad if no one ever takes you on their tour.

Going to a club’s open mic night often doesn’t help much either.  If it’s a bigger room, the manager/booker isn’t there scouting new talent (Hell, you may not even get on the list!)  If he/she is on location, they’re probably taking care of paperwork in the office.  Your goal should be to try and get a guest set during one of their actual shows.  Since the economy (and comedy club) crash of ’07, it’s rare to find a room that has shows Wednesday-Sunday (Some clubs used to even do Tuesday-Sunday).  Your best bet is to aim for Thursday or Sunday night if they’re open on those evenings.  If it’s a struggling weekend-only club, you can do a spot on a show, but probably the late one with less people.  This is where your networking with headliners can be beneficial.  Check out a club’s schedule, see who you know on it, and if they respect your act, ask them about doing a guest set during the week.  If they respect your act, they’ll do what they can to get you on stage.  If not, their effort will be slightly lower or they’ll make an excuse about it.  To feel this out, start by asking them if they’ll give you the manager/booker’s email address.  If they offer more help than that, you’re in good shape.  Do this around a week or so out.  Don’t try to book a guest set 4 months ahead of time; that shows an empty calendar.  It always helps to phrase your email to make it sound like you’re on your way to or from another paid gig.

If you don’t know a headliner on their upcoming schedule, call the ticket office or find an email address on the webpage and start this process half a week earlier.

Having a great guest set does not guarantee any sort of work.  You’ll be lucky if the right person even sees it.  The key is hanging out afterward (OVER-TIP), being remembered as a normal person (not one of those random weirdos with no social skills), and then doing another guest set in the next month or so.  A lot of clubs have to know you as a person in order to leave a good impression on them.  It’s just like a regular job in that a lot of places don’t hire strangers.  Your second time around the manager is more likely to watch.

Even if you’re dirt poor, make it a goal to do at least one guest set a month outside of four hours from your home.  This is the financial sacrifice you have to be willing to make to get work at a new club.  So instead of buying all of those beers on open mic night, tacos on the way home, and video games, put it towards finding new work.  Club work can grow exponentially because that’s where you’re going to have better odds of working with helpful people (comics or club managers).  You also get a lot more stage time and can develop a rhythm while performing in the same setting every night.

I used to get so frustrated when I’d drive for hours to do an open mic and they’d put me up first before most of the crowd even got there, and then apologize afterwards.  “Sorry, I didn’t know you were an actual comic.  I wasn’t watching but I heard you did well.”

It’s really a tough process.  Getting into a new club can be as hard as landing a new job, but once you’re in, that club can really build you up as a comedian and who knows, maybe it’ll lead to you finally headlining some year.

For more on the entire process of going from your first open mic to surviving the road, please read my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  There are a few discounts on it right now via Amazon.  (Also available on Kindle, iTunes, Nook, Kobo, etc.)


Avoid these 5 comedy bio clichés…

Writing a bio is painful.  Yes, we often like attention but most comics wish they could just post a picture from their Instagram to serve as their bio.  “Look at me, I’m bacon.”  You want to be funny enough so that the reader chuckles a little bit, but you don’t want to look like you’re trying too hard.  You know those headliners who give the MC an intro that includes a lame joke in it?  Avoid stuff like that.

You should at least try to write an original bio, so avoid these clichés that we’re all guilty of at some point in our career.

1.  Brutally honest–Pretty much all comedy is “brutally” honest.  You’re not George Carlin.  They’re still going to moan at your edgiest stuff despite your bio’s warning.

2.  He/she doesn’t normally refer to himself/herself in the third person.  You don’t want to seem pompous for writing in third person, but it’s part of the process.  Enough people have pointed out how awkward they feel.  Just pretend and the patrons who actually read these things will have no idea they’re your own words about you.

3.  Finalist in the 2007 Springfield Comedy Festival… Unless you’ve won anything recently in a city with over several million people, your credentials will get scoffed at.

4.  Quit his/her cushy day job to do comedy full-time… It’s amazing how many of us had “cushy” day jobs.  Like we were sitting in a cubicle with a massage chair making $80K a year building our 401K and stock portfolios while sipping bourbon like the cast of Mad Men.  Yes, many of us have put an end to our office jobs, but that’s usually because those jobs weren’t worth our sanity.  I think it’s just the word :cushy” and how many times I’ve read it over the years.  You’re not a hero.

5.  Young…  If you’re in your mid-30s you’re not young anymore.  Time to admit it to yourself and your headshot (writes the guy whose headshot turned 10 last month).

I’ll admit that my bio is far from perfect.  They’re hard to get right until you get to the level where you have management who writes them for you.  One last tip: When a booker asks you to send your bio and headshot, do it immediately.  This isn’t your high school term paper, it’s your career and they’re trying to promote it (think back to how on-the-ball you were at that cushy office job).

For more advice on how to write your comedy bio and other tips to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Nook, etc.


Headliners: Stop going over your time…

Depending on fame, experience, contracts, etc. either a headliner or the club manager determines the amount of time a headliner’s set will be.  Typically it’s 45-60 minutes.  The best shows at a comedy club are often first show Friday or Saturday.  If the headliner has established that they’ll do a longer set, the other acts’ times are reduced so that the show doesn’t go too long.  Personally, I don’t care when my time is cut all that much–especially on multi-show nights.  It allows me to condense my set into only the best material.  So yes, the headliner has paid his/her dues and deserves the right to name the time.

However…

When a headliner does more time than what he/she established with the club, it has a negative effect on others.

1.  In every comedy club, servers are told when the headliner is supposed to come off stage.  They then calculate when last call and the check drop will be.  When the headliner goes over, the servers can’t re-open tabs and print up new checks.  Instead, it makes them look like bad servers and can hurt their tips.

2.  When a crowd gets tired and their buzz starts to wear off, they’re less likely to buy merch on the way out.  This can hurt the headliner if they’re selling, but definitely the feature act who seems like a distant memory and needs that supplemental income.  A lot of people “crash” after drinking and a lot of times they don’t even make eye contact on their way out.

3.  Back to the staff–They have other jobs most of the time.  Maybe a kid at home, maybe a shift next morning.  Keeping them at work an extra 20-30 minutes is ignorantly cruel.  Do they need to suffer?  The fact that you’ve “paid your comedy dues” has nothing to do with them.  Can you imagine that desk job you gave up making you stay an extra 20-30 minutes because of someone’s ego?  Also, on multi-show nights, the people waiting to get in for the next show may not get their drinks on time because the whole club is playing catch-up.  Again, less tipping.

So here’s the deal headliners…If you need want to do more time, just let the manager know ahead of time.  This way the servers can squeeze in that extra round of drinks.  The MC can do 8 minutes instead of 15.  The feature can do 20 instead of 25-30.  Even though it’s your show, it’s not all about you.  If you need to do well over an hour, you’re good enough to book theaters.

For tips on how to how to make money in stand-up comedy.  Check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Also available on Kindle, iTunes, Nook, etc.


What to do when you’re hosting and the headliner bails early…

This is a rare situation as headliners are often known for doing more than enough time, but occasionally one will abandon his or her set early.  It’s very rare at a one-nighter because it’s likely that the owner of the bar will greet them with, “Get your ass back up there or I’m not paying you.”  At a comedy club it can lead to a major problem…the checks haven’t been collected yet.

Granted, headliners should be able to look around the room and see when the servers are handling the checks, but sometimes they still bail.  It can even be on purpose because they’re not getting along with the club.  If there are 200 people at a show and a dozen checks are still out while the show ends, that sends the staff into a panic. So what should the MC do?

After giving everyone another round of applause, announce that you’re still aware that some of the checks are still out and the server will be right with you.  Do ALL of the announcements over from tipping to upcoming acts–really expand on the plugs.  If you didn’t cover birthdays or other celebrations earlier, get to those.  If you did cover them earlier and you’re out of announcements, do some crowd work with those people.  You pretty much have to take one for the team.  The manager won’t care how you’re doing up there, as long as the servers have time to collect everyone’s tab.  They’ll give you a light when that happens and then you can finally end the show.

Hosts normally don’t like to listen to the headliner every minute of every show.  If you’re sitting out at the bar waiting for the 45-minute mark, here are some clues that the headliner might bail early…

1.  It’s the first or last show of the week.

2.  They went way over their time in a previous show.

3.  They don’t get along with the club.

4.  They’re a big name known for something else other than stand-up comedy and haven’t paid their dues on the road.

5.  They’ve been bombing all week.

6.  They’re drunk.

For more tips on how to become a working comic, try reading Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage in paperback or ebook format (Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.).


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.


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