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 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.”


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

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

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

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

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

A new way to watch your own clips…

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

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

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

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

When to be invisible…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop saying you “killed it” on Facebook

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

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

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

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



Why does this headliner’s crowd hate me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.  They talk a lot about performing in Vegas.

5.  They often get standing ovations.

So what do you do if this is the case?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.



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