What are the best day and night jobs you can have when you’re trying to make it in comedy?

It always cracks me up when people come to open mic and say they’re going to “try comedy out” since they hate their job or have been laid off.  From your first open mic to the time you can make enough money to survive will most likely be at least five years.  That’s minimum.  That’s assuming you’re really good, have some luck, and can survive on a poverty-type lifestyle.  Perhaps you’re still living at home or having your parents support you (but who would admit to that?).  Rent is usually the largest expense.

You’ll need very flexible jobs while you’re building your act and gaining stage experience.  The best job to have as a beginning comic is to work at the comedy club.  That’s where I got my start (I had no intention of ever taking the stage).  Seeing hundreds of shows teaches you so much.  When I started MCing I had all of the announcements memorized.  I saw the things that worked, the things that didn’t work, and the things that infuriated other comics and the staff.  It also led to a lot of gigs because I knew who was coming up on the schedule and could get my requests in early.

***However***  There is a point where you need to stop working at your home club.  That’s discussed in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Feel free to order a copy (paperback or ebook).

The second job I recommend is for the stage of your career when you’re starting to work the road a little.  Maybe you’re getting MC weeks around the state and taking uneconomical one-nighters 300 miles away for $100 to build your experience and learn what the road is like.  I know quite a few comics who started, but never finished college.  Well you’re in luck.  For states like here in Missouri, you only need 60 hours of college credit to substitute teach.  Subbing is the PERFECT job for a part-time touring comic for the following reasons:

–It’s usually at least $90 a day.

–You have to adapt to every situation (2nd graders are a tough crowd) and learn to improv while you’re uncomfortable.

–It forces you to get up early instead of wasting your 20s away sleeping in.

–It is validating most days.  You can have fun no matter what the assignment is.

–It’s 100% flexible.  Almost every school has an online booking system (some even have an app!) for getting subbing gigs.  It’s very easy to fill one to five days a week.  Five days pays at least $450 which is about the average feature pay for a week.

Do your research and find a good district nearby.  Pick your battles in the classroom and take it seriously.  It’s a good chance to put on your professional skin.

I could go on and on, as I subbed for six or seven years and am now teaching full time.  Google subbing tips or find me for more questions about the job.

What’s up with comedy cliques?

A lot of the hostility about various clubs and various comics has to do with the cliques that are formed.  Comics learn to hate other comics, club managers, and even give up on a club itself because they believe they’re excluded from some sort of clique.  The word clique sounds like some gang…only involved in the arts (really intimidating, huh?).  But yes, there are people at the comedy club who are in a circle of friends.  This is true at every club in America I imagine.  It can benefit them professionally, but it doesn’t mean that if you’re not in the clique you have no chance of ever working that club or becoming friends with the people in it.  This entry will break down the hopeless feel of being outside a clique and let you know how you can still work at a room that you may have given up on.

The reason there is  a clique is because it’s a circle of friends who have endured a lot of comedy together.  That means they’ve shared some late nights, some fights, maybe road trips to bad gigs, and a few other deeper experiences.  They entertain each other with ball busting, interesting stories, and more ball busting.

So why don’t they want to include you in a conversation like you’re the new kid at the lunch table at the happiest middle school in America?  Maybe it’s not always them.

1.  Age difference.  A lot of times a newer, younger comic might only be in his early to mid twenties.  Perhaps the clique is mid-30s and 40s.  Do you normally connect with someone that much older or younger than you?

2.  Your stories suck.  Road comics have the best stories of anyone in the world.  The bar is set very high because not only have they done some interesting things, they’re usually great storytellers to begin with.  Your story is long and boring and everyone is going to make fun of it once you walk away…or to your face if you’re making any progress with said clique.  Stop talking, shut up and listen, and enjoy the free entertainment.  If you have something to weigh in on, it better be interesting and/or funny…but keep it brief.  There is nothing worse than a long and boring story.  These are basic social skills, and are newer comics known for being great at social skills?  No, of course not.  It doesn’t mean they’re bad people, they just shouldn’t bore everyone with stories.  And I’ll admit, I haven’t told an interesting story (maybe ever).  I can weigh in on sports and a few road experiences, but for the most part I should sit back and listen to others.

3.  You’re drinking too much.  #2 tends to become even worse when you’re drinking.  Drinkers become socially unaware of reading people.  Their stories go on and on and the conversation skills disappear completely.

4.  You tout…It’s pretty easy to build a reputation as someone who’s always saying how great they are.  Again, be self-aware of what you’re saying.  If you’re having a conversation and the other person is only speaking in 10% of it, you’re doing it wrong.

5.  They don’t respect your act.  Maybe it gets laughs, but a comic’s act says a lot about him or her.  It’s hard to like or respect someone who’s really hacky, etc.

So how can you break into this clique?  Or better yet, not sell your soul, but at least be accepted enough to know they don’t all hate you and make you feel like you’re blacklisted…

No one’s going to invite you into it.  Just sit there at the bar and listen.  Don’t say much at all.  Let people get to know you over time.  Yes, you’ll probably be a whipping boy at some point, but at least you’re being acknowledged.  Learn the inside jokes.  Learn what’s off limits.  Listen and learn what others are doing wrong.  Yes, cliques are going to badmouth other people behind their backs (that’s showbiz life, get over it).  It’s a comedy club not a church group.  Build some trust at least and don’t go blabbing your mouth.  If your club doesn’t have a bar then just hang out with “the group” after the show.  Have a drink and briefly ask the manager, “Can I hang out and finish this?”  If you have a clean record/reputation and haven’t already annoyed the hell out of everyone, they’ll allow it.  You don’t have to be a meek little child, just be polite.  Club managers want new blood.  A club manager is probably tired of everyone’s act in that whole clique.  New people are good on and off stage.  Think of yourself like that character who comes in season two of a good show.

It’s really not that hard to be a socially normal person.  You don’t have to be a card-carrying member of any clique to make it in comedy (I’ve never been in one and I do fine).  Look at some of the people who are in cliques.  They’re often terribly annoying and they’re still tolerated.  That just goes to show it’s not impossible.

I understand that there will be many readers who say, “F comedy club cliques!  I’m not playing that game!”  That’s fine.  Some people just don’t get along.  Just keep your thoughts to yourself if you want booked at that club.  If you can’t hide your feelings towards others it will limit a lot of your money-making opportunities…and according to the subtitle of this blog, making money is the main purpose you’re reading this.

The bottom line is this:  Be a respectful person and even if you feel left out of a group, you’ll still be liked enough to be booked.  As my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage mentions…You need to be respected by the crowds, other comics, and club managers to make it in this business.

What if my old classmates are going to be at my show?

Some of us are comedians partly because of our not-so-great high school experiences and the issues our classmates provided.  Most of us weren’t even close to being the class clown (Birbiglia covered that difference in his first album).  Eventually, word will get out that you’re “doin’ comedy” and they’ll show up.  Maybe you’ve even invited them.  Some people are fine with their classmates showing up because they were friends and they still keep in touch.  But in some situations it can be an extra dose of nerves.  Most of us have at least one type of audience member that would throw us off whether it be exes, parents, family, or the focus of this example, classmates.

First of all, realize they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.  They probably think you wrote your act about them and that they’re going to get made fun of.  Here’s what to do:  If possible, stay aloof before the show.  Keep them wondering.  If you haven’t seen them in awhile let your new first impression be from the stage.

If they’re like a few of my classmates, they’re probably hammered well before the show even starts.  No need to say your hellos that loudly in front of the rest of the crowd.  This is hard to do in a small venue, but find a reason to excuse yourself and get away from them because if they realize it’s okay to talk to you before the show, then they may think that rule applies during the show.

Establish that this is your job.  They’ll either respect it, or mock it out of jealousy because you’re doing something you enjoy.  Sure they can afford more beer than you because they’ve been working for their dad for over a decade, but in a lot of cases they would trade lives to experience the set you just had just once.  (Inspiring, huh)    If they hold the illusion that you’re successful and “living the dream” that’s even better.  See you at the reunion with namedropping stories.

There are all kinds of odd crowd situations you’ll face over the years.  I figured them out through experience and asking others, but if you’d like a better shot at doing it right the first time, they’re covered in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Click that link to find it on Amazon, ebook, or signed copy.