Monthly Archives: May 2012

It’s Never Happened in Twelve Years!

In the twelve years that I’ve been performing, I’ve never received a standing ovation from a crowd.  One time two guys (out of sixty) gave me one at a one-nighter in Belle, Missouri, and another time a couple of comic buddies gave me one at open mic when I had a new joke work very well.  Other than that, not even close.  I’m not going to use the excuse of being the middle act either.  I once saw Tommy Johnagin get a standing ovation during a Tuesday night open mic at the St. Louis Funnybone.  He was around tenth in a lineup of almost twenty comics doing seven minutes of new and strong material (only Tommy). 

So are standing ovations something we should strive for?  If you accidentally watch America’s Got Talent, they cue them and abuse them every third performer.  Though my experience is limited (around 30 shows as a doorman when I was starting out), I’ve never seen a black female headliner not get a standing ovation, and for the record they earned them all.  I witnessed famous headliners like Louie Anderson, Jim Breuer, and Kevin Pollack have average sets but still get standing ovations because of who they were.  I think sometimes the audience just does it to say, “Thanks for taking what couldn’t have possibly been a direct flight from L.A. to our crappy city on a Wednesday to perform for us.”

It’s common that standing ovations only happen after a really strong and unique closing bit.  Many headliners end with props, a poem, a song,  a toast, (a song about Toast), dancing, or something really gimmicky that manages to take a typical performance (by headliner standards) and somehow make it standing ovation worthy.  Getting a crowd to stand up because they’re laughing so hard is really difficult. To make them stand, it has to be funny AND…   In other words, your material has to make a solid point that they can rally around whether it be political, patriotic, or able to dig into some other emotion.

It also depends on the individuals in the crowd.  A lot of people stand up just because others around them are, while some refuse to get sucked into what they believe would be overreacting.  I did a one-nighter with a comic who did five (FIVE!) street jokes during his set.  He ended on one, the organizer who booked him stood up and clapped, and the rest of the lemmings followed.  The thing is, sometimes you don’t really have to make the whole crowd think your set deserves a standing ovation, just one table up front.  The real advice for this week is don’t attach something at the end of your act that will lose respect from the club manager and the other comics just to get a standing ovation.  It doesn’t always result in a rebooking.  There’s a comic out there who has learned this the hard way at a few clubs.  (You either know who I mean or you don’t, I’m not sharing names.)

Upon (bitter) reflection, I’d have to say that 75% of the standing ovations I’ve seen (mostly during my years as an opening emcee) were unwarranted in my opinion.  So I’m going to say it, just like most of the times I’ve seen them given, standing ovations are overrated.  Just stay in your seats you lazy drunken slobs…  Wait, are you standing for me?  Oh, you’re just getting up to use the restroom before the headliner comes on.  Go ahead and tell me, “You was funny as shit!” out in the hallway while you’re checking your voicemail.  That’ll d0.

So even if I never get standing ovations I can still be proud of my act and the places I get to perform.  Should it ever happen though…oh, you’ll know.

Thank you to those purchasing my book on Amazon.com.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to see where all of the orders come from or sign the book, but as I said before, I’m glad word is spreading whether Amazon gets 40% of my royalties or not.

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Getting a Reference…

I’ve been fortunate enough to sell a lot of copies of Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage from people putting in a good word about my book to others (thank you!).   Most comics like helping others in whatever way they can though we’re very selective.  The best thing we can do for each other is to help one another get stage time.  Other comics will help you get professional stage time for two main reasons:

1.  Your act is funny and respectable.

2.  You’re a nice person.

It’s much easier to be a nice person, but that usually isn’t enough to earn stage time.  In fact, sometimes people get bigger breaks by being nice looking.  Helping a funny comic get the attention he or she deserves can be hard.  Hell, it’s hard enough to get your friends to listen to a CD you really like.  If this comic you recommend has a bad set, your credibility is blown.  If they’re the least bit hacky, your credibility is blown.  If they have a “trademark bit” that’s stupid, (it might even do really well) your creditability can still be blown.  Pros know this and aren’t always willing to put their credibility at risk.

In my book I describe the most common ways to start working at a new club or one-nighter.  The easiest way is to have another comic talk to the booker for you.  Sometimes you don’t even have to  make a call.  That’s why it’s so important to get along with everyone.  This includes not talking about them (people in the business you don’t like) to others in a negative way.  It’s easy to be baited into gossiping about someone another comic actually might be friends with just to see what you say about him or her.  Often times we like the comic, just not their act.

If it feels like no one is helping you out no matter how nice you are…well, it’s reason #1.  You’re not quite there yet.  I had so many features and headliners put in a good word for me when I was an emcee getting other emcee weeks from ’01-’05.  During the ’05-’07 phase of my career, I finally found my voice and could feature at one-nighters and B-rooms, but none of the headliners I had worked with as an emcee knew that.  It’s taken until the last couple of years for headliners to finally feel confident enough to refer me without risking their credibility.  I understand this completely and looking back I wouldn’t have been confident in referring me either.  You have to be patient, really funny, and then more patient, nice to everyone, even funnier, and then even more patient.

One final warning…if you’re using someone as a reference, be sure they’re actually going to put in a good word for you.  The easy way to be sure is if they offer to be your reference instead of you asking.  (I know this entry dances around a bit, sorry, but that last part is what you should remember most.)  You don’t want bookers contacting someone who is hesitant or has even a bit of doubt in their voice.

Thank you again to everyone who has spread the word about my book and this blog.  I’m a few Amazon orders away from cracking the top 100,000 in sales rankings which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but is to a guy typing away next to a cereal bowl and a pile of laundry on a Monday morning.

This week this blog will hit 10,000 views which I’m pretty happy about. Two weeks ago was the second highest weekly total I’ve ever had. I’d like to thank Eric Yoder as well as The Comic Bible Magazine for sharing my book on their Facebook pages (Eric’s post led to 534 blog hits on a Sunday!). So to everyone who has shared and allowed me to share in your Facebook group, thank you.  Though a few of these entries are common topics, they aren’t taken from my book directly. They’re only here to scratch the surface and give you an example of my writing style.


A special message…

I’m on vacation, so I thought I’d put a few random things up here this week (I’ll need to figure out a way to post this on Monday).

First, I wanted to thank everyone for spreading the word about this blog.  The shares on Facebook do wonders for the numbers and I’m approaching around 9,000 hits since it began mid-November.  I’ve been “accused” of only writing this blog to promote my book.  Well yes, that’s exactly why I write it.  It’s a common marketing tool for a lot of nonfiction authors…see?  As much as I like helping other comics, performing, and teaching…in the end I’m trying to make money (vacation wasn’t free).  I know not all of my advise agrees with everyone else’s philosophies every week, but it doesn’t cost you anything.

To further promote my book, I’ve sent out a few copies to those who I knew could share it with a wider audience.  Those who’ve mentioned it on podcasts and their sites, thank you.  I really appreciate the endorsements/mentions and the sales that it led to.  (A few others received it, didn’t thank me, nor did they mention it…baffling.  It costs me over $4 just to ship…you’re killin’ me here.)

Switching gears…good luck/congrats to my friends in the St. Louis contest.  Please don’t be resentful towards anyone who finishes better than you.  I’m a competitive person and I used to be in these kinds of contests back in Columbus.  I know how much they mean, but remember that it’s not going to make or break your career, so have fun (stay sober) and let a good placing be a bonus.

And finally, more shameless self promotion.  My first CD is nearly ready.  I just worked on combining some shows for a bigger setlist on it, so hopefully I can release it at least digitally in the next month or so.  I don’t have a title or cover picked out yet.  If anyone would like to help with photography, please let me know.  My brother is far away at work so he can’t take the shots unfortunately.  As far as upcoming shows, I have weeks in Columbia and Chattanooga this July and anything else will be mentioned on my schedule at www.RobDurhamComedy.com and Facebook.

Starting in August, I’ll be a full-time high school English teacher.  I’ll try to keep this blog going, but I have 150 teenage students who need to learn why reading and writing is important and I’ll be paid a lot more than comedy or book sales.  My advice will also be featured in a comedy magazine which releases quarterly (more details on that when it’s officially printed).

So again, thank you for reading and sharing.  It’s always neat to hear that people have heard of my book, especially the headliners who I’ve looked up to for so many years.  To go back and read some reruns you an find the entire list of my topics here.


I’ll admit to being two-faced

A few weeks ago I posted about some of the crap you have to take to make it in the comedy business.  I wanted to add another part of that because I practice it as well.  A lot of people may disagree with me about this one, but over the years it’s helped me get a lot of gigs.  In businesses other than comedy, the rules are the same.  Comics who are still fairly young may not have experienced a career/profession yet, so they may have a different set of standards.  If you work at a T.G.I.Fridays and you want to tell your boss off, you may lose your serving job (As Essig said in a bit once) “There’s an Applebee’s across the parking lot that’ll hire you.”  With a professional job you have to tolerate your boss even if you hate him or her and many of the people you work with while getting through your day with a smile.  Comedy must be dealt with in the same way.  There are a lot of dysfunctional people in showbiz, so not everyone is going to be nice.

Here’s the point…you’re going to work with a lot of people whom you don’t like.  Whether it be club managers, headliners, or any other level of comedian on the show.  Keep your feelings to yourself because no matter how you feel about them they may actually help you one day.  Need another reason?  If they find out you have something against them, they might have the means of keeping you from certain stages.  Comics remember who screws them over and will talk about it with each other.  Each week that you work with a certain headliner can be the equivalent of a job interview at that club or at others.  Even comics who are further along in the business need to respect the MC because that MC’s home club might be one they’re trying to get into.  When I first worked the road as an MC, headliners and features treated me very well because they knew I was a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone and that it was my home club.  

In my book, I explain how a headliner who once got me into trouble, later allowed me to get my first week as a feature act at a different club.  Face it, us comics gossip and chat before and after shows, especially when drinking is involved.  You can either gain friends or enemies.  For example, a lot of the older headliners seem to be very passionate about politics.  Instead of getting into an argument, just nod along because you’re not going to change their mind.  Some of them will babble all night, but if you (at least pretend to) listen to them, they’ll consider you a good person and help you down the road (they just want to be heard and agreed with, it’s kinda become their life).

So even if you can’t stand someone involved in your show, it makes sense to still be cordial to them.  One week I couldn’t stand the headliner so much that I paid for a hotel instead of using the free condo.  I lied and told him I was staying with a friend who had a really nice house to avoid conflict.  And yes, I’m well aware there are a handful of comics who don’t like me, but hey, I can be pretty helpful too, so fake it.

For other tips on how to make money in the comedey business order a copy of my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage. . .The stand-up Guide to Comedy.