This might be another yes and no answer. When you’re a working comic, you have to do shows instead of the normal things a person would do. Be prepared to miss important moments like weddings, birthdays, holidays and other events that you would normally make a Facebook album of pictures for. Ask the comedians who tour full-time how many New Year’s Eves or Valentine’s Days they’ve spent with a significant other over the years. Actually, a lot of them don’t have a significant other because of comedy. So in that aspect, yes, comedy should come first.
When should it not come first? A lot of comics start in their early to mid-twenties with nothing else going on in their life. No spouse, no kids, no career, so comedy seems like the natural fit. It doesn’t even have all that messy paperwork. I talked with an old comic buddy of mine, Bob Cook, who could relate to how we all felt back then. We discussed how a lot of us were not socially successful in high school and felt the need for that validation. With a little success on stage we easily fell in love with the idea of being a popular comedian. Bob summed it up really well by saying, “A lot of people jump in and prioritize comedy above logic.” With that first taste of validation it’s easy to go crazy and even get cocky from a little social success. What people overlook is that you need to have the rest of your life in order if you’re going to make something of yourself in this business. Once Bob finally got a few paying gigs he ended up having problems getting to them because he didn’t have a reliable car. Reliable cars usually take a full-time job to afford, so those who want comedy to be their full-time job are stuck working elsewhere in the meantime. Slow down. Make sure you’re financially and emotionally stable enough to start road work. Bob even told me the old line around Columbus, “Don’t answer a call from an unknown number, it’s probably just Bob needing a ride.” He said it was not the best reputation to have.
During this mean time of getting yourself a solid 25 minutes, make sure you’re working on getting the rest of your life towards the same consistent stability. If you have a weakness as a person, the road will find it and make it your downfall. Look what it’s done to even some of the most successful comics in history. Learn things like responsibility, social skills (personal and business), budgeting, and saying no before you start touring. One of the biggest criticisms of today’s younger generation is how they struggle to communicate. It’s amazing how many people I encounter are still unaware of basic courtesies (to be fair, a lot of them are the freshmen I teach English to, but they’ll be adults in a few years).
For more tips on surviving the road (and getting there in the first place) read Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.