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.

5 Disappointing Things That Happen to Most Comics…

In a few weeks I’ll hit my 14th comedy birthday so I thought I’d reflect on some of the not-so-great things that I’ve had happen.  (If I just went over my best moments that would be a little obnoxious.)  As mentioned before, my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage has been labeled pessimistic by a few people.  None of these readers were actual professional working comedians.  So if you’re going to try comedy as a profession here are some things you can look forward to overcoming…

1.  Your friends show up to a terrible show…  They finally made it!  After twenty previous “Let me know next time you’re performing!” statements they actually followed through.  Sure you comped their tickets, they were late, and it took multiple texts and phone calls before they understood how to be an adult, but they’re finally there to see you.  Aaaand, it’s not your best show.  The crowd is half empty, you have to go up first, and things just aren’t hitting.  Get ready for an awkward post-show conversation where they put on their best acting chops and tell you they thought you were funny.  After they leave you get to picture their car ride home where they all discuss your poor life decision.  Meanwhile, you’re killing it at the 10:00 show they didn’t stick around for.

2.  The famous headliner you worship and get to open for cancels…  The booking felt too good to be true.  Four nights with someone you’ve looked up to since you even considered doing comedy years ago.  You’ll be best friends by Sunday night!  You promote it on Twitter and Facebook for weeks, maybe even months.  You have that girl you want to impress on your guest list and then 5:00 the day of…the big name cancels…as does the group of 30 who was going to attend the first show Saturday…and the rest of the crowd.  Looks like your profile pic is going to have to stay set as you and your dog for two more months.  Back in 2003ish I was supposed to open for Jim Gaffigan in Columbus.  Obviously he wasn’t as famous as he is now but it was still a big deal.  He canceled the week for a set on Letterman or Leno.

3.  Sold out show, great set…no merch sales?  You just had the set of your life in a packed house.  It’s Friday and most of the crowd just cashed their paycheck a few hours ago.  They actually applaud your sales pitch for your merch that you’re going to sell after the show.  You run back to your car and get more stock while the headliner is up because the box you have right now might not be enough.  The headliner isn’t even selling merch so you’re the only market in the lobby!  …Fifteen minutes later as the crowd clears you’re standing by an undisturbed table wondering what the hell happened.  (April 2012 Crackers in downtown Indy)

4.  Sorry man but… (the game’s on, chilifest is happening downtown, we were packed last week)…  You returned to one of your favorite one-nighters where you had a wonderful show last year.  You can always count on a filled room.  You sold three dozen t-shirts last time and killed it but as you pull into the parking lot, you realize that you’re in the front row of cars.  No one is there because the bar got lazy and didn’t promote the show.  Yes, sometimes it’s for one of the above reasons but those are usually just excuses.  You realize that the bar hasn’t updated any of its decor in nine years (Is that a neon Zima sign?) so of course they can’t hang up a poster letting people know you’re coming.

5.  I didn’t hit record…  Did you know that if you have your Square App plugged into your phone the microphone doesn’t pick up sound?  Ever accidentally click the night vision option on your old camcorder back in they day when recording a set?  …The same camcorder whose battery dies in eight minutes if you leave the tiny video monitor flipped open?  Or maybe you just didn’t click the right button…”I swear I saw the red light on!”  Or hell, maybe you did record the set from a device right next to the chattiest table in the room.  I’ve had many sets I’d be proud to put on an album to sell…Of course none of them were recorded correctly or at all.  Something will inevitably go wrong.  What’s that?  Have a professional come in a record it?  That’ll pretty much guarantee #4 will happen.

For other great reasons to try this ridiculous profession read Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

(Feel free to share this with others)


The best way to help the comedy industry

Last week one of the St. Louis comics did something that more of us should do.  She said no.  Micaela Mohr has been running an open mic at a bar on the south side of St. Louis on Friday nights.  I’ve noticed that there have been a few conflicts with this bar’s scheduling and comedy has been pushed aside on certain nights.  I haven’t even talked to her about it, but the bottom line is they weren’t respectful to the open mic or her and so she ended it.  Good!  The worst thing we can do as comics is continue to allow the disrespect when there are other options.  The key is figuring out when those times are.  It’s showbiz, so you’re going to have to learn to take a lot of crap, but there are some instances when enough is enough and this was definitely one of those times.

Several months ago I wrote a post about how much you should charge when doing a gig that a booker or club didn’t set up.  The best thing you can do for the industry is say no if the money isn’t enough.  It’s hard to turn things down when you have bills to pay, but in the long run you’ll have much better gigs when they’re willing to take you serious enough to provide real pay.  The problem with low-dough shows is that the bar will put little to no investment in their promotion.  You might drive 7 hours for a gig in front of 8 people.  Ever notice how they always say, “I don’t get it, it was packed last time?”  They’re lying.  It’s never packed.

As a feature it’s harder to negotiate because you just want to make money and it’s already a set amount determined ahead of time, but if you’re putting together you’re own show, get something other than a “percentage of the door” up front.  In the meantime, learn to say no.  Quit giving comedy away.

For more tips on comedy and the business side of it, order Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Also available on iTunes!


What’s an annoying stage habit many of us have…

I read an article this week about something a lot of us do every so often…uptalk. Even if you’re never heard the term you can probably already guess what it is. It’s that way? …You talk? When you phrase something in a question? By uptalking at the end of your statement? Reno Collier is a comic who actually has a really funny bit on it. Stereotypically, sorority girls or valley girls are the main offenders. However, while listening at open mic last night I heard it in a lot of comics.

It’s harmful to your act for a few reasons. It takes away some of the assertiveness from your voice, and often your punchline. “Punch” is hard to do when you model it after a valley girl. Listen to your recorded sets and see if you’re guilty of it, even in setups. I think we develop this habit subconsciously making sure the audience is listening and following along. It’s even harder to avoid while trying new bits. So this week’s tip is to record yourself and see if you’re guilty of uptalk. If you can remove it, your laughs should increase if the joke has any potential at all.

As a reminder, a good portion of what I blog about is not mentioned in my book. So if you order, know that it’s a lot of other in-depth help with the unwritten rules of comedy. Thank you to everyone who’s been reading this blog for the last 2+ years. I will continue it as long as I can. Enjoy your holiday gigs!

Here’s the actual article. You have to watch a youtube clip to access the whole thing but you have that kind of time.


Why don’t comics promote each other more?

A friend of mine asked me to promote her new business that she had started.  I shared a link on Facebook and told a few people about it.  A lot of us comics sell our own products such as CDs, t-shirts, and (of course) books.  We don’t really promote each others’ shows or merchandise though (nor do we really ever ask that other comics promote it for us).  Why is that?  I’m not saying we should, but instead wanted to explain why we don’t and shouldn’t (with a few exceptions).

Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re kind of in a competition with one another.  Not necessarily on stage, but on the internet.  Comics tend to spam the hell out of Facebook friends on upcoming shows.  Friends get sick of hearing about promo.  So if we’re going to make annoying promotions (almost all of them are), we want to reserve that for our own shows and products.  (I’ve had people bitch about this blog being in their Facebook groups even though I’ve shared an additional book’s worth of advice in it over the last two years and only slide in small mentions of my book).

On very few occasions have I reached out to other comics or people to promote my book.  Here are the exceptions:

1.  Bookers–Bookers know a lot of up and coming comics who need help with certain things my book covered.  Steve Sabo and Eric Yoder were some of the bookers who were very happy to oblige and even paid for their books.  Thanks again, guys.

2.  People with a large following–I sent a free book to two people who I’m “friends” with on Facebook hoping they would share.  One person I reached out to and sent him a free one because he had authored a book as well (Mark Titus, Don’t Put Me in Coach).  He never got around to it, fine whatever.  It was my gamble.  The other was a comic WHO REQUESTED ONE FROM ME and said instead of paying he would Tweet and post on Facebook to thousands of people… and in 18 months he has yet to do so much as post a Tweet for it.  (He hasn’t had time to read it in those 18 months and apparently can’t even skim enough to give it a positive Tweet.)  You would think that of all people a fellow comic wouldn’t just “take” merchandise from another comic and not hold up his end of the bargain.  Maybe 2014 is the year he finally gets around to it.  I like to email him every May on the matter.  Or hey, he could just send me money.

Jimmy Pardo and I worked out a deal where instead of paying me as his opener he would mention my book on Never Not Funny…and then he went ahead and paid me anyway because he’s that much of a gentleman.

So why shouldn’t we ask each other to promote out stuff?  Other than the overabundance of promotion, it has to do with the quality of the product.  Secretly, a lot of us think, “I can’t believe he/she sells that crap.”  Your product comes from your imagination not our own.  If someone is ahead of us in the game we think they don’t need our help.  If they’re behind us, well then, we may find it not worth promoting.  So don’t ask others to promote on most occasions.

As Polonius said in Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

 

And I’ll admit, I’ve asked you to share this blog, but my intention was to get the teaching points across.  Buying my book is your own choice.

And while I’m at it, my friend Trisha Wiles’ business helps people who need support on a wide variety of issues (comics) so check out www.iamafighter.com and get some there.  Sign up for free!


Something a headliner seems to notice most…

A normal comedy show should run around 90 minutes.  If it’s a later show, that time can even be shortened.  A lot of this has to do with how much how well the crowd is drinking.  During the holidays, people are a lot more festive and a lot of the crowd is finally cutting loose (they don’t usually drink as often as comics).  Therefore, they can get out of hand or just crash somewhere around an hour and fifteen if not sooner.  Now, imagine it’s your job to close out the show with a forty-five minute set in the following situation…The emcee goes over his/her time by a few minutes after the show starts ten minutes late.  The feature ignores his/her time and does closer to thirty-five minutes instead of the 25-30 agreed on before.  At this point the headliner is taking the stage about a drink later (15-20 minutes) than he or she would have if everyone had stuck to their time.  You know how it’s extremely difficult to be the first comic up on a show?  Being the last has its own set of challenges.  The point I’m trying to make this week is you have to stick to your time no matter the show or situation.   As someone who is just able to do forty-five and close a show out, it becomes ten times harder when times have all been ignored.  Just because you think you can do over a half hour doesn’t mean you should.  Comics need to stick to their time for the benefit of the headliner.  It’s the same courtesy as not opening with a lot of crowd work or extremely blue material. 

This rule is important at open mic as well.  Realize that when there are more than a dozen comics (or even two dozen) you’re screwing the other comics over by going over your time.  Assume that half of the acts weren’t that great and that the audience is praying for the show to end by the 100-minute mark.  It’s hard to fine tune or test material when the crowd is staring at their watches. 

I know it’s exciting to finally get to do longer sets, but odds are that if you’re finally getting to do thirty, five to ten of that isn’t worth forcing into your act just because you can remember it.  If your feature setlist includes almost every joke you’ve ever written, you shouldn’t be featuring yet.

So my message to the comics who are running shows, thinking about running shows, or are in shows:  Aim for ninety minutes and hold each act to that (especially if there are guest sets involved).  If you’re performing, stick to your time to the minute.  It will drastically improve the quality of the show with every comic who goes up as well as the crowd response.  I’ve never heard someone say, “That show was too short,” in the nearly fourteen years I’ve been doing this.  You’re also likely to get more work from headliners you open for when you stick to your time. 

This tip will help when you finally start working the road too.  It’s one thing to go over your time in your buddy’s show at a bar, it’s another to violate that rule on the road. I remember getting reamed and almost fired from one of my first MC weeks for going over by two minutes. Get in the habit of fitting your set into the allotted time.

For other tips on the importance of gaining respect from other comics, club managers, and the crowd, order a copy of Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.


A few quick tips on handling drunk crowds…

Drunk crowds aren’t hard to spot if you’re paying attention.  They’re usually the second (or third) show on a Friday or Saturday.  Friday is often worse because they’re tired from working but have been drinking since they left work for the late-afternoon happy hour.  What makes them even more challenging is that the crowd is smaller and the laughs are tougher.  With more silence between jokes they have a lot more time to yell something out.  Here are a few tips I use in these situations.

1.  Pick up the pace.  Yes, we all want to give 100% to every performance, but I tend to “plow” through more material for that second show.  Start your next joke before the laughter completely dies down.  With drunks silence is bad.

2.  Find your targets ahead of time.  See which tables have a ringleader and give yourself five or ten minutes before the show to think of some insults you can fire back.  They’ll seem spontaneous on stage and you’ll get more credit from the rest of the crowd (who you want to keep on your side).

3.  Give the doormen a heads up.  Communicate with them ahead of time how many drunken outbursts you want to tolerate.  Make sure they’re alert.  A lot of times during the late show a doorman will be out back smoking, doing dishes, or simply not around.  It’s their job to control the room, but being a doorman back in the day, I can honestly say, sometimes we have other things to tend to.

I have a lot more advice on handling hecklers and other odd situations during comedy shows in my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Check out Amazon, iTunes, the Kindle Store, or many other ways to pick it up.


Does comedy damage your psyche?

This week I wanted to address what I consider a somewhat negative (yet accurate) book review for Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

“I enjoyed this book, think it’s honest and truthful, but also rather bleak and dark. It kind of gave me the impression that all the time and dues paid doing stand-up comedy really weren’t worth it. I think this book adequately addresses the mean-spirited, egotistical, narcissistic, sadistic side of comedy, mainly coming from warped and burnt out stand-ups, and greedy club owners and managers. It has a very submissive spirit to it and seems to have damaged the psyche of the author a bit. That’s my take on it friends.”

I’ve blogged about this before but it’s worth repeating.  One of my goals for this book was to thin the herd on people who thought they’d make comedy their career.  I get emails from readers and every so often one will thank me for talking them out of committing their life to comedy.  So is my book dark?  Yeah, probably.  I did have a lot of discussions with Nick Griffin over the years.  As comics we tend to bitch to each other about the career while putting on a facade to others that it’s wonderful (Look at all these Facebook pictures I took on a mountain at 1:30 in the afternoon while you were stuck in an office!).  

Just like any other career no one is forcing you to do it.  My warning is just be sure you have a backup plan because odds are you’re not a touring headliner making six figures who can pay for a medical emergency.

Back to the review…This guy started the review with two positive statements but since the message of the book wasn’t what he wanted to hear (even though I was “honest and truthful”) he gave the book 3 out of 5 stars or 60% (which is a D- in my classroom).  The whole review is one big metaphor for stand-up I think.  I tried to do him a huge favor by exposing the truths of the career but the truth made him uncomfortable.  Well you go for it, dude, and get back to me in 13 years.


An important decision an emcee must make…

During a standard comedy club show the emcee will perform 10-15 minutes, the feature will perform 25-30 minutes, and the headliner usually goes from 45 to an hour.  In between acts an emcee usually needs to do a few announcements for the club as well as other various promos.  (I wrote an entire giant chapter on everything that goes into emceeing a show in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

The big decision an emcee needs to make is how quickly to bring the headliner up after the feature.  Sometimes a lot of the announcements can all be done after the headliner, so there isn’t always a lot to say.  However, there are times when there should be a bit of a buffer.  If the feature bombs, it might help to do a minute or two of material to bring the crowd back into it; you could even check for birthdays, etc.  If you’re out of material, you can even try a newer joke and if it flops, make a joke of that.  You should have at least one trusty line saved up that you can get a laugh. 

If the feature has a great set, you can even ask the headliner (if he or she is nearby) whether they want you to bring them right up, or let the crowd settle back down.  I always prefer to keep riding the momentum of the comic before me in whatever format of show I’m in.  Some headliners have a more subtle beginning and may want the crowd to calm down so that it doesn’t feel like they’ve been buried. 

Another thing to watch for is when half the crowd gets up to smoke or use the restroom.  That’s when you should definitely stretch the show a little bit (provided it’s running on time and there’s not a second or third show scheduled that night) and take your time on the announcements.  No headliner likes to take the stage to a half-empty room.  The opening joke is so important so if a lot of people miss it, it can be detrimental to the set.

And a final message to headliners:  Please be somewhere in the vicinity of the emcee so they can ask you what to do.  No one likes taking the stage not knowing where in the hell the headliner is because he/she feels too cool to stand near you for two minutes. 


A quick tip regarding comics on Facebook…

I was going to write a response to the question, “Can you go to too many open mics?” but the answer was obviously “no” followed by some other obvious tips like, “Don’t be that comic who gets drunk, annoying, and wastes precious stage time of yourself or others.”  Chad Wallace summed it up in the St. Louis comics thread by saying, “Bring your A game.”

So just a quick tip.  Since Facebook is pretty much the main way most new comics try to promote themselves by getting their name and face out there…keep your profile picture as yourself.  It doesn’t need to be a headshot, but if you’re connected to hundreds of comics on Facebook, they’d like to be able to recognize you when you talk to them after a show.  Perhaps you MC for them once.  They’ll remember your face if they see it every so often on Facebook.  If they don’t see your face, you’re more than likely to be forgotten.  It doesn’t even have to be just you in the picture.  The mistake comics make is trying to post something funny as a picture.  That’s kind of like trying to do jokes during the show’s announcements.  It doesn’t need to be funny, nor does it work very often.

I’m not saying I’m one of those comics who is important to know, but there have been numerous times where I pretended to know who you were and then had to ask someone after you walked away or just didn’t care.  Turns out we’re pretty much all bad with names.  Facebook has been a lifesaver many times.  However, if I’ve never seen your actual face on it, it will take me a lot longer to know who you are.  (The same with important people.)


What the new Valley Park Funnybone is like…

This week I featured at the new Valley Park Funnybone (it’s just outside of the outer-belt on the southwest side of St. Louis).  It’s only the first week but I’ve collected a few observations on how it reminded me of a few other places I’ve performed.

I think the thing comics want to know is how the crowds are.  Though it’s the grand opening we’re battling against Cardinals baseball, so Friday was close to a complete wash.  Saturday night had a solid first show of over a hundred.  What we noticed was that the people there dress a little nicer than Westport.  Most of them really took pride in their appearance and showed class.  They seem to be a little more “established” as far as being in their 40s, having a spouse, and getting there on time.  Yes, there was one guy there in hunting gear and boots, but he was still a gentleman.  They aren’t an “old” crowd, but there are certianly less groups of 20-somethings.

The thing to remember about this club is that the people are proud of it being in their town.  If you perform there, be careful about mocking the area and don’t lump them in with the rest of the city.  Yes, they’re more conservative and traditional, but they haven’t moaned at one bit this week.  Just do your material about you or your usual topics and leave who they are out of it.  There’s a way to do local humor, but it’s tougher in these situations where they’re small-town but not isolated from the rest of the world.  There’s a sense of pride in their community.  Figure out how to translate that into your local jokes if you do any.

This club is very typical compared to a lot of the clubs I’ve worked at in the last half-decade.  It’s small town America but they have money.  They don’t always spend it in the same flashy way people in the city do but they’re not aliens, just more practical.

Anotherthing to point out about this club is its connection to the bar, Bobbie’s Place, just across the plaza.  A lot of people who will be patronizing the club are regulars or work at Bobbie’s.  I met at least a dozen people who mentioned it in conversation.  I think the two businesses will compliment each other well.  Hopefully none of the local or touring comics will do anything stupid after a show over there and hurt reputations.

As far as what material will work, this club is more like what a mjority of your one-nighter/paying gigs are going to be in the Midwest.  If you’re “too alternative” for Wesport, I think it’ll be even tougher at Valley Park.  It has nothing to do with being dirty or not, it has to do with trying to sound smarter than them when you’re a decade or two younger.  I’ll say it again, this club is more like what you’re going to perform in front of if you work the road in the Midwest.  Learn to adjust without pandoring (as I explain in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage).

All of the above are just my opinions based on what I’ve seen this weekend.  I could be wrong, but from what I experienced it’s a pretty typical Midwest club.  We’re fortunate to have it so close to the rest of our St. Louis scene.


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