Some random tips including great advice from Rik Roberts

It’s summer, my focus has been on new material and another book so I’ve asked permission to post some advice from Rik Roberts. You may have seen his post in a few comic groups but it’s worth repeating…  Rik and I first worked together in ’01 when he repeatedly BUIRED Pauly Shore.  He’s a clean act and can please any crowd.  Find him at for more info.  Rik writes:

I’ve been at this 20 plus years and have had a great time. Anytime I got off track it was usually because I lost focus. I found I was often guilty of asking the wrong questions. Usually, I only need to start focusing on the right result to rephrase the question. I hope these help anyone who may be caught up in the same situation.

“Ask this … not this.” Some food for thought for hungry comics.

Ask this: What makes that comic so bookable and in demand?

Not this: How come no one is hiring me or booking me for gigs?

Ask this: Do I work hard even when no one is looking?

Not this: Why does everyone else get all the breaks?

Ask this: Am I willing to dedicate 3-5 years of my life getting on stage everywhere I can to get this thing going?

Not this: Where are the good open mics?

Ask this: What can I offer an established comedian in return for some of their time and experience?

Not this: What comics can hook me up with gigs?

Ask this: How can I rewrite this bit to make it work more consistently?

Not this: Why don’t people get my jokes?

Start each day with a goal to create, relate or update and move that ball a little further down towards the goal. Success is eventual not an event!

Hope that provides a little motivation.


Thanks again, Rik!  Those tips are very self-explanitory.

My other advice comes from my last three road gigs.  One was a 4-night gig 3 hours away, one was a one-nighter 7 1/2 hours away, and the other was a one-nighter  2 1/2 hours away.  You know what the most exciting story was from six nights on the road?  I almost ran out of gas in Tulsa.  In other words, the road isn’t that exciting and that’s fine.  If you’re squeezing every last drop of potential happy-party-good-time out of the road, you’re losing focus and energy from your act.  Maybe at 26 you can keep this up for a bit, but it will wear on you.  The most common thing I hear about most comics after not seeing them for awhile is, “Wow, he/she looks terrible.  What happened?”  Very rarely do we note physical/mental (attitude) improvements in each other.

The other thing that laying low on the road allows is you actually accumulate some money.  Clubs aren’t feeding us and giving us free drinks like they used to before ’08.  Don’t waste half your pay on a bar tab.  Yes, I may sound like your mother here, but odds are your broken relationship with her has something to do with why you’re a comic in the first place.

Yes, it’s okay to have fun on the road sometimes but don’t force it.  You have a responsibility to give just as much energy to the Sunday night crowd as you did for the crowd on Thursday.  Sleeping in until 3 p.m. isn’t what I’m suggesting either.

For other tricks and tips on how to survive the road…or just advice on how to get there, read Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

A big tip for comics who can’t just sit down and come up with jokes…

I’m not a comic who can just sit down and write material. I’ve tried and it’s awful. My better material is stumbled upon at random times in the day. The problem is I don’t seem to be coming up with as much new stuff lately and I couldn’t figure out why.

Last night I was in a meeting dealing with book marketing and such and some of it was review so I caught myself daydreaming. All of a sudden a few new bit ideas came to me. This same thing happened on Easter Sunday while I was sitting at church. Again, flooded with potential bit ideas instead of listening. These little “creative floods” have become rare in the last two years and I had always blamed the fact that stand-up isn’t my top priority in life anymore. That wasn’t it. What did last night’s meeting and church have in common? I went more than five minutes without being on my phone. I got an iPhone a little over two years ago (shut up, I was poor), and since then I’ve grown the common addiction many of us have. I check it probably hundreds of times a day. I’m on Facebook, Wordfeud (I’m Robagain2, bring it on!), Ruzzle, Twitter, and even the weather app almost constantly. I don’t have time to daydream anymore.

This can’t be only me, right? Last night when I got home I fired up the citronella candle (that’s not a euphemism for pot, I’m 36)and just sat out on my deck for an hour and a half. I wrote out a few of the bits that I thought up during the meeting and eventually stumbled on one or two more ideas. Most of them won’t even make it to open mic night, but there’s potential for at least one to make it into my show set. So this week’s tip is to put your phone away once in awhile and be amazed at what it’s like to daydream again.

Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage is my how-to-do standup book, but it’s limited in how to write funny material. I don’t think you can teach funny (there are other books that try), but it will tell you what to do if you are funny. It definitely covers what kind of material and actions NOT to do on stage as well as the business side. Please check it out if you haven’t already.


What to do if there are kids in the crowd…

At a recent show setup by a booker who prides his comics on being towards the clean side, I looked out and spotted two children in the crowd (five and seven years old I guessed).  My act isn’t that dirty to begin with, but I do mention sexual topics several times.  I only had to do thirty minutes, but on the fly I would have to alter my setlist.  I was caught off guard, so instead of trying to hide it and probably appear awkward, why not make it funny?

I pointed out my surprise about the kids being there and mentioned something about them learning some new things tonight.  I actually overplayed how big of a deal it was and the crowd enjoyed that.  If I got to a point in my set that I needed to adjust, I paused and said, “Can’t use that one tonight…”  These aren’t as big of laughs as the joke would’ve gotten, but it helped fill the void and it gave me time to substitute the setlist with other bits.

I then just decided to have fun by being coy about the topics.  For example, instead of saying condoms, I worded out something else explaining that I was in charge of the birth control, etc.  The crowd seemed to be in on the whole bit of editing for the children and my 5 minute warning timer (cellphone in pocket) vibrated way sooner than I thought it would.  Overall it was really fun to see what they laughed at and what they didn’t get (the five-year-old fell asleep, who can blame her?).

Some people might ask, “Why do you have to be the one to change?  It’s not your fault they brought their children to a comedy show.”  True, and if you want to do your regular stuff, go ahead.  But with this particular booker and venue I thought it best to go the route I did.  I was in a reception hall at a campsite an hour south of St. Louis and the crowd (and owner) came off as rural and conservative to begin with so I thought it would be best.  If the crowd is uncomfortable with children hearing about adult topics, they’re not going to laugh at my jokes.  Their focus will be on the children instead.  (Welcome to the Midwest!)

For tips on how to be prepared for other odd situations you’ll face on stage as well as help on many other topics in stand-up, order Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.