Monthly Archives: February 2012

Someone famous talked about my book

But first this week’s advice…You’re not going to really read the advice are you?  OK fine, CLICK HERE to hear my book mentioned then comeback for the advice part.  (It’s a podcast, listen in the first 10 minutes).

(See what I did there?)

In my book I mention that guest sets are one of the best ways to get into new clubs.  Whether you’re looking to work there as an emcee or a feature, it’s usually a five to ten minute set right after the emcee.  Occasionally a club will accidentally promise two comics a guest set.  If you have the choice go after the emcee because he or she will be much easier to follow if you’re in your first few years.  Just like with anything else with the word “guest” in it there is a certain etiquette to follow.

Usually the club manager will have to ask the headliner or will have you ask for yourself.  It really depends on who it is.  If it’s someone well known enough to get a door deal (no free passes for audience), then guest sets are normally not allowed.  If it’s the average headliner, they usually understand and have no problem with it.  I talked with Isaac Witty whose credits include a set on Letterman about his preferences as a headliner and here are some things we came up with…  (Most of these seem like common sense, but if you’ve never done a guest set at a real comedy club before, it’s important to stress these.)

1. Stick to your time.  You’re causing the show to go on even longer, so it’s important not to go over.

2.  Stay as clean as possible, especially if you’re trying to get booked as an emcee.  (Clean vs. dirty is discussed extensively in my book.)  Isaac is a very clean comic and no guest set should be dirtier than the headliner, let alone the dirtiest comic on the show.

3.  If you’re already an established comic at your home club, don’t do a guest set of your tried and true stuff (unless you’re doing a recording).  Use that time to fine tune your newer jokes.  It always bothers the other comics when a guy takes up seven minutes of the show to crush with his best material just to impress a girl he brought along for the night (Some comics call this “auditioning for a blowjob”).  On the flip side, if you’re trying to get into a new club you should always do your best stuff.

4.  Even if the club clears it for you, it’s still nice to ask (and then thank) the headliner for letting you be on the show.

5.  Whether they allow it or not, don’t take advantage of the club’s free drinks or food.  Buy and tip like extremely well.

The whole process is a long interview.  Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage includes more information on when, who, and how to ask for guest sets and what to do if they go well.

Also, I’d like to mention that my book is now in ebook format, so whether you want it as a PDF or if you have Kindle, check it out on this link.

Thank you to all of the new readers.  Click here to be able to scroll through previous entries.


A message from 5 national bookers…

This week’s entry is for those who work the road, specifically one-nighters, mostly as feature acts.  This, I believe, is a large bulk of the industry, especially in the Midwest.  A lot of comics, including myself, get these gigs off of mailing lists.  Bookers email a few hundred of us at a time with an email that looks like this…

Who’s open?

1)West Plains, AK.
    (SAT)
    FEB 11
   $125 Plus Hotel
2) Gray Oaks, MI.
    (SAT)
    FEB 18
   $125 Plus Hotel

If we’re open, we reply back which gigs we’d be willing to work.  Usually we don’t get them because we’re up against hundreds of others.  It’s pretty much like applying to a job because the emails are basically “help wanted” ads.

To get on these mailing lists is not easy though I explain the process in my book.  One thing I didn’t go into enough detail on was the reply etiquette.  I took it for granted that comics who were trying to get work would have some.  So here are the pet peeves and tips from the bookers I emailed with about this problem:

1.  Be professional!  Don’t use slang or curse words.

2.  Decide ahead of time if you’re under/over qualified.  Stop writing, “I normally headline…” …they hate that.  Headlining some of these road gigs is nothing to pat yourself on the back for.

3.  Don’t lie about yourself.  We all talk to each other and have the internet.

4.  Only respond to the dates given.  Don’t write, “I can’t do that but do you have it open for the next month?”  The bookers are trying to book their dozens of rooms, not worry about your individual career.  And you’d better be able to do it.  Canceling goes on your record!

5.  Don’t ask for extra money.  Most of these gigs haven’t exactly been “selling out” since the economy crashed in ’08.

6.  Don’t ask to bring your own opener.  When you get to that point in your career you’ll be allowed.  Hint:  That point in your career doesn’t involve mass emails for bookings.  (By the way, my book also includes an extensive list of reasons, some with dignity, most without, about why headliners bring their own openers.  So ladies in your first year of comedy who are already featuring for someone who brought you along…you should probably read it).

7.  Writing ‘I might be able to do it, I’ll know in 3 weeks.  Can you hold it for me till then?’  No.  Absolutely not.

8.  Do not follow-up.  This isn’t a business job where they’re looking for extra effort.  They have enough emails in their inbox without you following up.

9.  Coming up with a lame excuse/ begging as to why THEY should get the gig… ‘My dad just died of polio, I wrecked my car, it’s perfect routing, I could really use the money’ is also looked down upon.

10.  When you reply, just write which gig (with date) you are available for and include your name and phone number.  Nothing else is needed.  Write the email in standard letter form.  DO NOT CALL THEM.

There you have it.  All ten of these were given to me by various bookers who were all happy to share this with you.  And again, more tips on how to make money in Don’t Wear Shorts on StageAvailable by clicking HERE.


Why you’re not funny yet…

This week marks my 12th comedy birthday.  On a Tuesday night in February of 2000 I took the stage, did five minutes, and won $30 in a clap-off in the basement of a pizza shop on High Street in Columbus, Ohio.  I thought I was a natural comedian and extremely funny.  Looking back, I’m ashamed that any of the material I used that night came from my mouth.  In fact, other than one or two jokes, I’m embarrassed about anything I said on stage in the first four or so years of my career.  The reason is, newer comedians don’t know what’s funny yet.

This may sound very pretentious on my part, but you can also ask any other veteran comedian how their material was in the first few years and they’ll tell you the same.  No one writes great material early on.  It’s kind of like looking back at the poems you wrote in middle school.  At the time the teacher may have loved them and I’m sure you were really proud of your work, but is it something that would come out of your pen now?  Of course not, it was lame.  Jokes are the same way.  99.9% of comics (100% of those who read this) have had to (or will have to) learn what’s funny on stage.  The only way to do that is to be in and at as many shows as possible over the course of several years.  You are not an exception to the rule and you cannot speed time up.

Though open mics are a great way to test jokes and learn what’s actually funny, they’re never going to be as effective as working in professional comedy shows (more on that here).  The best way to be a part of a professional show was mentioned last week.  It’s very hard to build a great act out of four to six minute sets in front of open mic crowds.  It’s not that the bar is necessarily set lower at open mic, it’s actually set kinda sideways making it hard to figure out what you should keep or get rid of.  Also, crowds of limited numbers and demographics will throw you off.

Comics who fancy themselves “ready” are making mistakes on and off stage and hurting their chances of ever being taken seriously.  My book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage, lists these mistakes and explains the steps comics should take to save time and dignity in those first few years.  It explains the process of going from open mic, to guest set, to MC work including how and when to talk to club managers.

***Special bonus***  This week only–Order from my site and your book may be also signed by Tommy Johnagin.  Tommy is quoted on the back cover, mentioned during a funny story in one of the chapters, and has been on Letterman multiple times (with many more times to come).  He signed a handful of books for me this weekend while he was doing shows in St. Louis.  ORDER IT HERE and you could be one of the lucky winners.

Thank you so much to those who shared last week’s advice.  I’m glad you found it helpful.  Please feel free to share this week’s entry on Facebook and Twitter as well.


“Why do they get to MC and I don’t?”

As a comic your ultimate goal should be to eventually make money by getting people to laugh (notice the subtitle of this blog).  For the comics reading this, especially in the St. Louis scene, the first way you’re going to be able to earn a legitimate comedy paycheck is by getting an MC booking either for a local one-nighter or at a comedy club.  So how do comedy club managers decide, out of all of the open mic comics, who they’re going to give a chance to?

It has nothing to do with being the funniest.

An MC’s 4th most important job is being funny so if you’ve ever seen someone get ahead of you in the business and thought to yourself or out loud on a Facebook post, “I’m much funnier than the MC!” you could be right.  However, the person who got the gig does the other duties of an MC much better than you.  These jobs are all discussed in depth in my book.

The biggest question comics have argued with me about is why they have to be clean.  Actually only some have argued, many have just ignored the advice.  Think about every joke in your act.  Now picture a fairly conservative woman in her 50’s out at a non-smoking show on a Saturday night with her husband.  She’s about to place her order when she hears your bit about masturbation and gym socks.  She’s not the only one frowning at her menu.

When you host a show you become one of the club’s employees.  You need to be a relatable person and ease the audience into the rest of the comedy.  Does this sacrifice some of your act and artistic capability?  Yes!  Welcome to showbiz, you’re at the bottom of the comedy ladder.  But until you make these changes you’ll never get the chance to climb it.  In other words, write material that relates to something other than “slacker guy in his 20’s.”

So what are club managers really looking for in an MC?

I hosted shows for a good portion of the first six years of my career.  The main thing they want in a host is someone who just comes off normal.  That’s all you have to do…be normal.  Be personable, decently funny, clean, but just normal.  Dress normal.  Talk normal.  This way when you make the club’s important announcements, introduce the other comics, and represent the club, you’re not a liability to the show’s overall respectability and professional feel.  If you’re confused, go to a club and watch a good MC open a show.  (You’ll be able to tell if he/she did it correctly)

So how do you get the chance to MC?

My book covers the delicate process of getting the attention of a club manager, getting a guest set, and earning money.  Comedy is not like other business when it comes to getting hired.  If you happen to get a chance to be an MC you don’t want to screw it up, so my book answers a lot of other questions such as:

1.  What are the other jobs of an MC other than being funny?

2.  How does an MC’s set vary from a regular set?

3.  What do you do while off stage?

4.  When and how should you start self-promotion (without looking like a jackass in front of your peers)?

5.  What should you do differently if the headliner gets a standing ovation?

6.  What’s the process of getting paid?

7.  What if there’s a bachelorette party in the crowd?  Or birthday announcements?

8.  What if you’re working with a famous headliner?

9.  What are the rules on free drinks?  Food?  Passes for your friends?

10.  What do you do after the show?  More importantly, what should you not do after the show?

11.  How do you get to MC at other clubs?

12.  How do you balance dignity with pleasing a crowd?

13.  How do you get a comedy club manager to like you?

14.  Which shows will be the most challenging?

15.  What should you know about the wait staff?

There has been a big shift in the St. Louis scene allowing for a lot of opportunity in the two major clubs.  I know for a fact that a lot of new people will get a chance in the upcoming months to become MCs in the both venues.  Some will make the necessary adjustments and get mass amounts of stage time in front of great crowds.  Others will continue on with their social awkwardness and/or pride and keep bitching that they’re funnier and the club owners know less about the business than they do.  And it’s not just St. Louis.  Good MCs are hard to find all over the country…ask any touring pro.

Order my book at www.robdurhamcomedy.com to answer all of the above!

Note: I welcome any public or private questions of comments about this post.

RobDurhamComedy@gmail.com