How to stay out of trouble with bookers…

This week I was offered a New Years Eve gig in a town where I usually work at three times a year.  The problem was, it was at a different venue than where I usually work.  Though I was just featuring, I emailed the booker of my usual gig and asked if it would be a problem that I worked at a different place.  He asked that I not do the gig.  In retrospect, I kind of knew that would be the case and probably should’ve known ahead of time.  It actually made me feel better about my career.  So when is it okay to work more than one venue in the same city?

When in doubt, ask the bookers or club managers.  I understand they’re not always easy to get ahold of and you’re trying to make as much money as possible so that might not be an option.  For the most part (all of these are “for the most part”), if you’re MCing, they won’t mind you working both clubs if they’re on the other side of town.  However, if for some reason the clubs hate each other (usually stemming from something that happened in the late 80s with Drew Carey), doing both may not be okay.  So know the personalities you’re dealing with.

If you’re trying to decide which club to work in a town, take a look at the headliners on their calendar and figure out which will bring crowds that will get you better.  Some cities have a club known more for their Bob & Tom acts while some experiment a little more with younger headliners.  Obviously money and chance of getting promoted are additional factors.  I stopped working one club at $450 for a five-night feature week in order to do a $550 two-nighter headline week.  Some people may value the stage time and larger crowds more than only being away for two nights.  It’s up to your preference.

When in doubt go with the club that’s been around longer.  There have been a number of clubs to open and close within a few years so don’t expect any new franchises to pop up out of nowhere.

If you’re not making money yet, it won’t matter that you perform open mics at both clubs.  You should be.  You know what else you should do to start earning money in comedy?  Order my book.

“Why do they get to feature and I don’t?”

I was reviewing some blog stats this week and my highest week of hits was for an entry called, “Why do they get to MC and I don’t?”  I thought for this week I would try the same approach on a different level.  One of my bookers and I were trying to find someone for a one-nighter coming up so I posted something in the St. Louis Comics Facebook group.  I was overwhelmed with the amount of emails…Fourteen to be exact.  Most of them from comics who I’ve never seen perform except for at a few open mic nights (three from guys who I’d never seen).  I was relieved to find out the booker had found someone who he worked with recently, but I still had to reply to a lot of these emails.

So what does it take for someone to get a feature gig?  It’s a bit of a Catch 22 because to know that you have a solid thirty minutes someone has to give you a chance in the first place.  And that chance often comes at a crap show with hardly anyone in the audience.  I was lucky for my first feature show but it came with a small price.  The headliner needed a ride and I was only going to make $100.  It was an eight-hour drive but I was sure to tape it.  Was I funny enough (probably not)?  The show went fine, but it was for college kids and there were plenty of dead spots.  Did any bookers ever take the time to watch that tape?  Of course not.  So what does it take to impress someone enough to get them to take a chance on you?  You need to leave them wanting more after a ten to fifteen minute set.  They need to see a number of great sets that have different setlists.  Your one go-to bit isn’t enough anymore.  The jokes themselves need to become longer bits and you’ll need to admit to yourself that a few of your bits are expired fluff.  It’s really hard to produce that much quality material without enough life experience.

Just like everything else in comedy, it’s not fair.  It took me six years before I was finally featuring on a regular basis (or really at all).  What’s even more infuriating is the people who do get to feature who you know you’re funnier than.  All you can do is bury them.  There’s a lot more about this step (and actually becoming a professional comic) in my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  In the meantime, consider how seriously you’re taking open mic night.  Build your set!  Keep what really works and build it into something longer.

To Youtube or not to Youtube…

I always appreciate questions from my readers that I didn’t cover in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  This week someone asked whether they thought it was a good idea to post Youtube videos of your act.  A lot of variables go into this one starting with what level you’re at professionally.  Headliners need clips online because often a club will promote their video on their webpage or before a show as a preview for next week’s act.  Some comedy fans do a little research on who’s going to be there (I wish more did) and whether that person is up their alley.  I had a few people in Indy (Crackers) tell me they googled my name and found me before buying tickets, and I was just the feature act.

As a feature, it’s good to have a few clips up to send to bookers in order to expand your list of venues.  Yes, there is a chance that someone’s going to steal your joke, but at least you have proof that you were doing it first (plus Carlos Mencia has cut down on that lately).  Unless you’re doing something really out there, it’s not going to go viral nor will you be likely to gain some massive internet following.  Stand-up just isn’t as funny in a small box.

Finally, as for those just starting your professional career or still at the open mic level, I think posting clips is kind of like an 8th grader giving everyone a wallet photo of himself.  Sure, it’s okay now, but in just a short matter of time, everyone including yourself, will realize how awkward and “not quite there yet” the clip is.  People can (try to) do some awful things to a youtube video (ask my comic friends in Kansas City).  Sure you might get some feedback, but isn’t that what a crowd is for?  Most open mics sound like they have less than twenty people there and the only strong acoustics come from some drunk girl four feet from the camera.  It’s important to record, but you don’t need to share it with everyone.

Am I saying 100% do not put your clips up?  No.  If you can handle the unfair, out of context feedback with the risk of it coming back to haunt you or someone stealing it someday…put them up.  I lean towards not doing it.

As for me, I did have a clip up from 2009, but on the ninth day of school this year my students (freshmen) started quoting things from my act.  Video down for now.  Depending on your day job, it could affect you professionally.  Perhaps the best route would be to put things up for a limited time and then take them down.  Post, get whatever feedback or validation you want for a week, remove.

Honestly, I’d like to hear other comics’ opinions on this one so feel free to share why or why not.

How to deal with the silent moments

Saturday night I had a challenging gig to headline.  It was challenging because:  A. I usually don’t headline.  B.  It was the first time this venue had comedy.  C.  It was a small wine bar with no stage or show lighting.  D.  The crowd was mostly uppity white people except for one black guy in the front row (I explain why this is a tough combination in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage… hint: it’s the white people who get touchy).  Knowing these things from experience, I took my own advice and adjusted my setlist somewhat.  Actually I just dropped three lines that would’ve made everyone uncomfortable.

I was reminded why it’s so tough to perform in a lit room.  You can see everyone’s faces and being a comic, you immediately notice only the people who aren’t laughing.  Like I said, they were a bit uppity and much different than the average Midwestern one-nighter crowd.  This crowd was sophisticated to the point that there was no white noise.  Absolute silence is not something I’m good at dealing with, meaning it shows that I’m uncomfortable when it happens.  What I’m taking from this experience is that in a setting such as Saturday night’s show, there’s going to be moments of silence between jokes and that’s okay.  Fifty people in a small room aren’t going to carry you through a forty-five minute set.  Show them you’re comfortable during the silence and they’ll become comfortable with it as well and it suddenly won’t seem to silent.  If I could’ve done anything differently I would’ve made sure I had a drink on stage before I went up.  Bad prep on my part gave me nothing to do to catch my breath.  Something else I’m trying to work on is having a go-to joke in my set in case I draw a blank.  I find that I only draw blanks when I know a crowd won’t be able to handle every joke well.  For example, in corporate gigs I do a bit of mental editing on stage so this can throw timing off.  It’s simply a lack of experience that I’ll improve on again this holiday season.

The point this week is, allow for a margin of silence in certain settings.  Act comfortable and patient and this will rub off on the crowd.  Have drink on stage for a longer set as a way to signal to the audience that you’re taking a breath.  And finally, don’t use it as an excuse to pick on someone in the crowd.

Should you alter your setlist for a crowd?

There are three big factors for judging what an audience may or may not like, although sometimes they’ll surprise you and be on board for anything (or nothing).  These factors are location, age, and race.  I get into this topic a lot deeper in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage (yes, I’m tired of the plugs too, but they work), but for this entry I’ll give the basics on these three factors.

Age is only dangerous when it’s the extremes.  If most of the crowd is over sixty, good luck.  Odds are they aren’t drinking, happy, or hip to your lingo.  Drunk college stories won’t relate to them and they’re offended by things if you’re young.  If they’re too young (16-23) they won’t get a lot of your act either…unless it’s packed with fart jokes.  Congrats on connecting with them, have fun doing after-proms.  They’re not bad people, they just don’t “get it” yet.  Disclaimer *I know some of you get it, I’m just saying this from experience from dealing with the majority.  There are some gigs just not worth taking (also covered heavily in my book).

Location can make crowds touchy.  For example, in Little Rock they’re pretty damn sensitive about being Arkansas natives.  If you’re mentioning a place of business, make sure the people know about that business.  A lot of the Midwest doesn’t have IKEA so it’s always funny to see L.A. comics bomb a joke unaware of that fact.  I’ve done it too, turns out Huntington, WV has no idea what Steak-n-Shake is (as of 2004 when I was there last).  This also relates to sports jokes which were covered a few weeks ago.  Socio-economics can also determine how smart or slow a crowd might be, but again, it’s hard to be 100% accurate so give them a chance.

Race is a pretty easy one to spot (duh).  If it’s an urban room, there are some things that just won’t work.  I’ve covered this matter in this blog and in my book so I won’t repeat a lot of that information.  One thing worth repeating is that white audiences are the most sensitive and will be offended on behalf of the small minority in the room.  Call them out on this with confidence. 

The problem that a lot of comics have with altering setlists is that they’re still in the first five years of their career and don’t have an arsenal of bits to pick from.  It’s okay, be patient and don’t rush into a feature spots that you aren’t ready for.  Once you get to the point of having more bits to choose from, you’ll find that most of your bits are universal anyway.  (Dude, get in a relationship.)

Finally, the most important thing to remember is not to start tailoring your bits towards one-nighters or really any specific kind of show whether it be college, casino, or alternative to name a few.  Pidgeon holes = bad.