How to Increase Status in Your Open Mic Community

Your community of open mic comics can get very catty with cliques, jealousy, gossip, and internet trolling, all while experiencing the inevitable fact that showbiz isn’t fair.  I won’t pretend I was above a lot of that either.  The best way to rise above this cloud of negativity that comes with just about every city’s open mic community is to make yourself useful.  At the early part of your career (first 5 years or so), your talent on stage isn’t going to be enough to let this become a full-time job–which is often a career goal for comics.  To set yourself apart, get more bookings to improve your act and increase networking, you need to bring some other quality/service/skill to your community so that other comics will treat you with respect and want to help you even before your act is polished and have coattails to ride.

Find something else to specialize in–no contribution is too small.   Here are some ideas:

Photography–A lot of comics have “some” college, and if any of that involved an art degree, there’s a good chance you’ve got an overpriced camera and some photography skills.  Comics love posting pictures of themselves at as many venues as possible.  If you can semi-professionally shot a showcase night, it greatly increases your odds of being invited to be on it.

Recording sets–Michael Reigner has been recording a lot of comics in contests with his camera here in St. Louis.  If you have the equipment, try the same in your city.  While your “short films” are a fun hobby, this could actually help you make a couple bucks while not gouging comics to record a strong 5-minute set.  Everyone wins.

Graphic design–Flyers for Facebook, posters for shows, and even help with webpages can be useful.  Fiverr.com isn’t always the best option, so if you have any skill in this field, help those who need it.

Starting a room–Stryker Spurlock started a room 3 years ago when he was 16 and it’s still going strong.  When you can decide which comics make your show it obviously improves your odds of getting on others’ shows.

Driving–Broken down cars and DWI’s are frequent in this business.  Drive a comic to his or her one-nighter and you’re bound to get a guest set or a chance to MC.  This is a good method to get booked there next time.

Keeping time–Our buddy Max keeps the light at the Funnybone open mic every Tuesday. He’s not a jerk about it and makes sure everyone understands when to get off stage.  It helps the club out too which is beneficial to him.

Buy a round of drinks–Buy me one.  I’ll give you feedback on your set while experiencing the mild euphoria from drinking on an empty stomach.  When has bribery not worked?

Speaking of feedback–be “positive feedback guy” if you’ve got nothing else to offer.  Find a joke in the set that your comic buddy should’ve gotten a bigger laugh from and let him/her know about it afterwards. Point out the strong parts of someone’s act even after a bad set.

Always have a following–If you gain a reputation for always having at least a table or two come out to watch you, comics who book other rooms will definitely appreciate that and remember it.  At one of my first open mics in St. Louis I poked fun at the comic before me.  My buddy said, “Don’t do that.  He brings a half-dozen college girls here every time.”

Post plugs for others–About a month before my book came out, I started sharing every other comic’s CD promo, show promo or any other announcement I could share in hopes they’d return the favor.  Whether the other comic is big-time or just starting out, odds are they’ll appreciate it and maybe return the favor.

Side note–I appreciate all all of the plugs and feedback you have give me over the years.  And whoever put the last post on Reddit–thank you!

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

 


Why many open mic comics can’t get work

Sometimes I’ll see an open mic comic have a great set with several good jokes.  The next week the same comic has a different five minutes–sometimes better, sometimes worse.  The following week, another completely different set.  I’ve heard it a lot from the newer guys: “I try and write a new five minutes every week.”  Writing and trying out as much material as possible is great, and these comics are probably going to multiple open mic shows per week, but it can be counterproductive.  If several of your jokes or bits work well, keep using them.  Even if a joke “kills” (or the open mic version of “kills”) on its first try, that doesn’t mean it can’t improve.  Yes, sometimes your newest jokes get the best laughs the first time you say them, but let them grow and develop.  Building a great act is all about revision and fine-tuning your material.  If you keep starting from scratch, you’ll never develop a solid set that gets work.

When you repeat a joke over and over, eventually you’ll develop a punchline in the setup too.  You’ll also think of tag lines and transitions into your other jokes.  Memorize the wording so that you can say it in your sleep because when the wording no longer takes any thought on your part, you can focus on which words to stress more, eye contact with the crowd, facial expressions, and all of the other elements and details that expert headliners use.  You can also develop callbacks with your other bits.  This also makes it easier to remember your setlist which is beneficial during a paid show.

I’ve talked to a lot comics about this over the years and they often say, “But I feel like it’s boring for the other comics who have to hear me repeat things.”  That shouldn’t matter.  It’s your career and if you can get out on the road, you’ll constantly be getting a new audience in a different city.  Repeating material doesn’t mean you’re not writing or working to get better.  Take the 2 or 3 bits that do the best and work on revising them until they can’t get any better.  Keep them in your act and build your first MC set.

Comedy is like other forms of writing whether it be songs, books, or essays.  No one produces anything great without revision.  To cite an example, Greg Warren has been coming out to open mic on Tuesdays and working through the same bits for the last month or so.  He’s not trying to write a new 5 minutes every week, but instead, polishing and perfecting the newer bits in his set.

You still have time to try something new in each set, but build a solid foundation first. Club managers look for consistent audience laughter week after week, not a new five minutes.  (And the most common type of revision?  Reducing the wording in the setup.)

To summarize: Find your best punchlines and revise those into tight bits.  Build on them until you get a 7-10 minute set of them where you don’t need a setlist because you’re so familiar with them, and then you’ll be ready to MC and start getting paid.

For other tips on how to make money in stand-up, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s also available on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.

 

 


5 Things Comics Want Bar Managers To Hear

One-nighters are a great way to profit in stand-up.  With more and more comedy clubs closing, the days of Wednesday through Sunday night at the same club are over in most cities (although not in St. Louis!).  So in your first few years, you may get a majority of your paid work doing one-nighters at places that aren’t comedy clubs.  Some pros–You get paid more for per show than you would at a club, and if you don’t do well, it’s only one gig.  Cons–These aren’t comedy clubs and bar managers often mistake their knowledge about running a comedy show with hosting a cover band.

I wrote this list to hopefully reach a lot of bars who host comedy nights.  I’ve been fortunate in the last few years to have some much better gigs than I did starting out.  I wish I could go back in time and relay this info to a handful of bars around the Midwest.  There are probably many others to add to this list (feel free to add them on the Facebook comments), but with our short attention spans here are the five I thought were worth sharing.  Hopefully it reaches someone who has booked you.

1. Lighting is extremely important–Rent a spotlight if you don’t have stage lighting (or a stage).  Audiences who are sitting in regular house lighting are self-aware, distracted, and less likely to laugh at the comics when they can see the whole room.  I don’t know all of the science behind this, but trust us on this.  Darken the room as much as possible and get a spotlight on the comic.  It makes a dramatic difference in the experience of watching live comedy.  (Surprisingly, most sound systems aren’t bad these days.)

2. Leave the MCing to the comics–You should have at least two comics in the show.  They both have experience MCing a comedy show, and it’s a skill that’s just as difficult as performing stand-up.  We know you’re familiar with all 45 patrons and therefore aren’t shy around them, but introductions phrased properly and a few solid minutes of material (not jokes you read and regurgitate from the internet) can set the tone for the entire show. Openers (features) are always happy to pass this duty off to the manager, but as part of paying their dues, they should take the challenging responsibility of breaking the ice.  Or, better yet, find a third comic to work for $50 or maybe $25 and a few drinks and they’ll take care of this for you.  If all else fails, maybe the bar’s DJ (if you have one) has some experience behind a mic.

3. No kids–It’s a bar, or some sort of adult venue.  People are drinking and us comics have grown-up stuff to say.  When there’s a kid in the room it cripples the crowd because they feel awkward knowing a kid is hearing everything whether it’s a big deal to the kid or not. Additionally, you have a responsibility with crowd control and hecklers (although I find most one-nighters are a lot more tame these last few years).

4. You take care of the promo–We most likely don’t know anyone in your town, so sharing it on our Facebook wall will reach no potential ticket buyers if its our first time in your town.  Your promo needs to extend beyond posting a flyer above the urinal in your own bar.  You need to invest in advertising outside of your venue.  Reach out to the comics well ahead of time and ask for a headshot and bio.  This can be taken care of in a simple email exchange.  (Comics, be sure to follow through promptly.)  Also, plan your event around your town’s other priorities.  Most of us aren’t famous enough to compete with your chili-fest.

5. Seat people in the front of the room–Rearrange your bar as best you can to put butts up front.  Put some “reserved” signs on the tables in the back until the front fills up.  Arrange tables and chairs so they’re all facing the stage or at least can be with a 90-degree turn.  I know your patrons are afraid they’ll be teased, but most great comics don’t go out of their way to be rude to the audience.  It’s not like what they’ve seen on television.  We’re just happy there’s an audience there to enjoy our show.

 

To learn more about how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage which is available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.

 

 

 


Are you hurting your open mic?

Bear with me on this analogy:  I golf.  I’m not great most days, but sometimes I have what I consider a really good round (+12 on 18 holes).  There are a lot of steps I could take to get better.  Lessons, cracking open the Golf Digest magazines my father throws in as a Christmas gift, or practicing more on my own.  Do I though?  Rarely.  Whenever someone does take the time to work with me on something, I usually get great results, at least temporarily.  Would I love to be a scratch golfer? Of course, who wouldn’t?  But I’m not going to put in the effort and work to do that because I’m okay with mediocrity.  I compete against my buddies here and there, sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.  It’s okay.  I’ve been pretty much the same golfer as far as skill goes since 2002.  I can golf well enough to not disrupt the flow of the course and cause backup at any particular hole.

I feel like this is the same way a lot of comics treat comedy.  They’ve been performing at open mics for some time.  Some nights they have what they consider a great set, sometimes they bomb.  Occasionally they get advice on a joke from a fellow comic, whether it be a tag line, a rewording or even a “never do that bit again” but for the most part, it’s like my golf game–it’s up to you and your self-motivation to get better.  You could go to comedy workshops, read a stupid book that might help, or really work your ass off at writing better material, but you’re content with the plateau you’ve hit, whether you’ll admit that to yourself or not.  The thing is, I don’t think most comics mean to be content, just as I don’t mean to be content with my golfing.  I envision some point in my life where I get much better.  I think most comics probably feel the same way, but much like golfing round after round every summer, going to open mics week after week isn’t going to help you dramatically improve.  You’ve got to do more.  But much like my golf game, there are other priorities in life: paying bills through another job, relationships, and other activities.  It would be wrong to say someone isn’t good enough to be at open mic.  What you have to figure out is this–are you actually hurting open mic?  It just takes one or two bad sets in a bar scene to walk what little audience the open mic has and make them never return in the future.  To continue the metaphor–don’t be that golfer who’s so bad he/she gets the whole course backed up.  If any open mic consistently puts on good comics who have great sets, it’s going to last for years instead of months.  The crowds will be bigger and you’ll get more useful stage time.

The point of this blog isn’t just, “Hey, don’t suck.”  I think there are some comics in every scene who are almost afraid to try and succeed.  (Good lord, here comes another metaphor)  When I was really young (sorry, I know), and my friends and I were approaching middle school, I was still terrified to talk to girls.  Instead of flirting with them like my friends started doing, I chose to just come off as the “weird boy who didn’t really try” because it felt safer and there was no way I could fail if I wasn’t genuinely trying.  This is the attitude I want to discourage at open mics.  These types of sets will hurt an already small open mic audience and that attitude will make sure you never progress anywhere.  So if you find yourself constantly performing jokes where the goal is anything other than making a majority of the audience laugh (blatantly offending, making abstract references that only your comic buddies get/playing to the back of the room, or just getting as dark as you possibly can because nobody “gets” you and it feels good), consider making changes for the sake of the rest of the comics who are there to gauge real audience laughter on their material.  It’s okay to try your best, even if it doesn’t work every time.  Your parents aren’t there to judge you anymore. They’re waiting at home for you to become successful enough to move out. (<–Completely unnecessary after suffering through all of my metaphors.)

 

For tips on how to progress through the business and eventually make money as a comic please check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.


Put Yourself Second…

We all want more “likes” and “followers” because it leads to popularity, attention, and ultimately more money (theoretically).  But mostly, we all want more gigs.  If you’re not getting enough stage time, whether it be open mics, professional gigs, or those shows in between where a handful of comics split the door, this entry has a tip to fix that.  The same method can work with Facebook likes (and all the Twitter equivalents).  Take the focus off of “me, me, me” and help out a friend. 

With every show you do, recommend others from your comedy community who could also perform at that venue in the future.  For example, I just worked the opening weekend of a new club.  The owner is also the booker, so I was sure to give him the names of other St. Louis comics (and reminded him that this saves him on hotel charges because it’s only 2 hours away).  I chose a lot of the comics who have helped me get work in the past.  Obviously you want to be sure your recommendations are funny too.

Whenever I get random gig offers I’m always sure to ask how they found my name.  This is an extremely important habit.  Dan Chopin has been the most helpful in the last few years (Thanks Dan!), so of course he was at the top of my list for this new club’s recommendations.  And he’s very funny.

If you’re not getting enough love on social media, post something complimentary about someone on their page.  We all sound ridiculous when we have to brag about ourselves, so do some of your buddy’s promo for him or her.  It makes followers think they’re a bigger deal than they are instead of having them think the whole page is just endless self-promotion.  This can also improve your reputation in your comedy circle that you may have previously damaged.

Getting booked sometimes takes a little luck, but by helping others out you can really improve the odds that your name is mentioned to someone who runs a show.

For more advice on how to make money in stand-up comedy, order my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage from Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Nook, etc.


What NOT to do around a famous headliner…

As an emcee, one of the biggest thrills in your comedy career is getting to open for someone famous.  The shows will be packed, the crowds will be hot, and you get to hang out with a famous comic who might even be one of your heroes.  In your head you picture a post-show scenario where you’re now best buds sorting through all of the groupies while getting filled in on your new calendar because this famous headliner simply must have you emcee the remainder of the tour, but realistically it’s just another show for them and you’re just another overly excited opener.  So how do you get anywhere close to this ideal situation of them remembering you for future opportunities?

  1.  Don’t be a talker–After introducing yourself, be a listener.  Famous people usually want to establish themselves as a nice person, so let them do the joking (caution: inevitable name-dropping in this entry).  Upon seconds of shaking Bob Saget’s hand he was explaining to me that I should wash up because he had AIDS.  He was very talkative so I sat back and listened.  This is key when you’re just hanging out in the green room before shows.  Famous people usually don’t care about your story, listen to theirs. Babbling on and on about your short comedy career (which often leads to complaining) isn’t going to get you anywhere.  Ask a few questions and see if any advice comes out of it.
  2. Wait until afterwards for photos, autographs, etc.–A lot of headliners still get nervous before shows.  Famous comics (especially those whose fame came from something other than stand-up) still worry about how they’ll do.  There’s an anxiety when performing in front of people who paid way more than usual to see a show and the feature act is out there killing it.  They have high expectations to fill so after traveling all day, the headliner probably needs to get focused before a show.
  3. Don’t bring other people into the green room–Yes, introducing the person you just started dating to someone from their favorite season of SNL trumps Netflix n chill any night of the week, but backstage should be off limits, especially before a show.  The comic doesn’t want to have to be “on” before showtime.  A lot of times the green room is tiny and they need space.  It goes back to #2 as well.
  4. Minimize drinking–They probably aren’t drinking (half of them are recovering), so it’s hard to follow rule #1 when you’re even two drinks ahead.  You’ll just get too chatty and annoying.

So what can you do to build some sort of bond?
*Be patient–Ultimately it has to do with your act.  If you’re good, they’ll open up to you more and treat you with more respect.  If it’s a 2 or 3 night event, just back off that first night especially.

*Offer to pick them up from the hotel (ask the club manager, not the headliner)–with smaller clubs there isn’t always a designated person to do this.  As a doorman and emcee at Columbus years ago, I had a lot of rides with really famous people in my ’94 Escort (it sure humbled Joe Rogan).  Sometimes they’ll even throw you some money.  A lot of what I learned came from these short drives.  It also allows you to…

*Get their number–This shows they trust you.  Don’t just flat out ask, but management will give it to you if you’re giving them a lift.  Obviously you’re not going to call, but if you and the feature are going out to lunch during the week you can text and invite the headliner as well.  You could mention it after the last show of the night with the feature and see if the headliner is interested.  If so, that’s when you’ll get it.  However, keep it at lunch–they don’t want to write with you 99% of the time.

Progressing in stand-up has a lot to do with the off-stage social side of it.  The headliner will talk to management about you good or bad.  If you want to work with your hero again, follow the advice above and they may even ask for you next time through town.

For more tips on how to make money in stand-up comedy, order my paperback, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage, or get the ebook from Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, etc.


Is a setlist on stage acceptable?

From the comics I’ve talked to over the years, the general consensus for this answer depends on a few factors.

The first and most important factor is whether or not it’s a paying gig.  If it’s a paying gig, it’s your job to be able to memorize your act.  However, if it’s open mic and you want to make sure you try out all of the new jokes you wrote, having a setlist is more acceptable.  Still, there are exceptions to this rule.  If you’re a newer comic trying to get booked as an MC, you should put forth the effort to memorize that five minutes.  In other words, if your set is being evaluated by someone in the business that night, memorize it.  If you’re already a working comic who management isn’t auditioning, occasionally glancing at a setlist to make sure you try everything is okay.  You’re basically auditioning the jokes, not yourself.

Years ago (2002?), Daniel Tosh was in town a day early, so he headlined our comedy contest in Columbus and brought up his notebook.  He did nothing to hide it and even thumbed through a few pages.  These were jokes he had most likely written in the last 24 hours, and it wasn’t officially part of his “week” at the club.  It was amazing how he had them fine-tuned and perfected by the weekend.  I’ve heard stories of Dave Attell going through pages and pages of new jokes at the Cellar years ago.  When you write as much as these comics, it’s perfectly okay to need help remembering to try everything out.

On the opposite end, Richard Lewis had a giant sheet of paper on stage with him with every joke in his arsenal.  I looked at it between shows when I was a doorman and could hardly make sense of it, but it fascinated me that he still needed a setlist.  He’s able to pull it off because he’s Richard Lewis.  One time he even showed it to the audience.  Anyone else doing this would probably look bad.

A setlist on stage can become a crutch when used too often.  So if you’re just starting out, don’t use one at all.  If there’s something you absolutely cannot remember, I suggest a tiny note on your microphone thumb.  Writing on the inside of your hand usually looks bad because it’s very noticeable, and you end up looking like a freshman cheating on a vocab quiz.  When I use a setlist for open mic, I set a piece of paper on the stool.  You can even put a drink next to it so you have an excuse to look down.

Do I use a setlist at open mic too often?  Probably.  My excuse is that comedy is not my main job (I teach high school), so I’ve limited my writing and memorizing time.  Most comics have other jobs too.  So if you’re openly using one, let the crowd know that you know that they can see it.  If a new joke bombs, you can pretend to scratch it out on the list.  If one works really well, you can acknowledge it on the list in a positive way. (Just one acknowledgment per set is enough.)  The worst thing you can do when using a setlist is to pretend that the audience can’t see it when they clearly can.  Some comics even incorporate jokes as an excuse to use one.  St. Louis comedian Mike Stranz used to pull his setlist out towards the end of his time and say, “You seem like a really good crowd!” as if he was reading that from the paper.  (Telling you about it doesn’t do it justice, you just have to see Mike.)

Still, there are purists who would never allow themselves to ever use a setlist on stage.  Good!  I’m envious. You’ve committed more time and effort than some of us.  You’ll succeed at a better rate.  Just be sure you’re trying plenty of new material too.

For more information on how to make money in stand-up comedy, read my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s also available on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, and many other e-book outlets.


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