When your comedy career becomes a crutch…

I was reflecting back on the end of my 20s when I had to decide whether to rent a new apartment in St. Louis, or move back to my Dad’s house just before my 30th birthday.  I had less than $1500 to my name, no health insurance, obviously no retirement fund, and a 2003 Ford Escort with over 100,000 miles on it.  My comedy calendar was fairly empty with the exception of a few $100 gigs and a couple of MC weeks here and there.  What was the excuse for a valedictorian with a college degree to be in this situation?  My so-called comedy career.  I’ll get famous some day and get some break where I can finally live up to my potential.  It won’t happen this year, but look at me everyone, I’m living my dream. I don’t think I was alone in this attitude or way of life, but I figured I can help prevent others from falling into it.  

I’m a pretty healthy guy, but any sort of health problem could’ve destroyed my career.  You need health insurance.  Essig sent me an article about a musician who had this problem (read that article here).  To be able to become a professional comic you have to have enough money to get places in a car that works.  Medical bills aren’t an option.  

Want to know what else you can’t have without at least a little money and sense of responsibility?  A healthy relationship with anyone over the age of 25 (if they’re younger, you can assume it won’t be healthy anyway).  You’ll eventually want one of those too, I promise.

I hear young comics all the time swear that comedy is the most important thing to them and that they’ll sacrifice their life and everyone in it to be a touring comic, but I feel that they don’t know what they’re signing up for.  The bigger problem is that a lot of them never get to that full-time touring status yet they’ve still sacrificed any sense of normalcy.  Your 20s are the time where you need to put at least one professional thing on your resumé.  If you’re approaching your late 20s and don’t have a resumé, you’d better be pretty damn funny.

I’m not trying to sound like your dad, but on the last page of my book I had a comic explain it to me.  “Make something of your life.  Do something meaningful.  Think about the next few decades,” he said.  

It’s fine if you have the drive to do this full-time–if you’re willing to make the sacrifice and make it your career.  A career takes over 40 hours a week of hard work.  I was never able to put 40 hours a week into comedy.  I just couldn’t get myself to (sitting in a condo on the road is not work).  If you’re the same way, you’re wasting very important years.  Don’t be the guy who wakes up at 40 and has the same financial worth as the 21-year-old comic who just scored an MC week you’ve been struggling to get for over a decade.  If you’re not building a solid comedy career yet, start building your backup plan in the form of a different profession so that you can afford to keep “chasing your dream” down the road when you grow into a better comic.  Trust me…you’re going to need that health insurance too.

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About Rob Durham

With an English Degree, three years as a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone, over a decade of stand-up experience, and a recent certification in teaching high school English class, writing a book seemed like the next inevitable step for Rob Durham. The son of a coach, Rob has an excellent ability to teach and explain things in the easiest and most direct way possible. His (often labeled ridiculous) memory allows him to think of every possible situation that a new comic might face because at one point he was there too. Rob gives an inside look at comedy that doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges every performer faces. Without ego and the myth that “anyone can do it” Rob gives the reader a true feel of what living the so-called dream feels like, from preparing for that first open mic night to touring the country. View all posts by Rob Durham

4 responses to “When your comedy career becomes a crutch…

  • Paul

    Excellent advice. Thanks for sending me your book, Rob. I did open mics in college, and now I use comedy in my act. See you on the road.

  • Julia

    This is great information but what about those of us who start stand-up at 40? I’ve got college under my belt and a job. I hate my job and would sacrifice a better job to pursue stand-up. I’m not happy unless I’m performing:D

  • Lex Canci

    Excellent advice. As a new comic in my early thirties I hear open mic comics in their twenties here in Canada say things like “If I wanted to waste my talents I’d get a trade” having a trade ticket under your belt can give you the comfort of being able to travel to show cases and tournaments like The World Series of Comedy in comfort. Why wear your poverty as a badge of honor working minimum wage jobs when you could just as easily have a nice lifestyle. I myself am a unionized electrician who when a job is over can take that money and use it to further my comedy career until the next job begins. Just a thought.

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