Why does this headliner’s crowd hate me?

In 2013 I had a week at a club that I didn’t feel went very well.  The crowds were large enough, but instead of getting the usual response on certain jokes, I got groans or silence.  To make matters worse, the headliner got a standing ovation during the show I considered to be my worst.  So why does this happen?

When a headliner comes back to a club year after year, he or she builds a solid following of people who come out every time they’re in town (otherwise they often get replaced by someone who does).  If a headliner has a certain kind of style that doesn’t mesh well with yours, as an MC or feature, it can be pretty tough.  If a big trademark part of the headliner’s act is something that varies from standard basic stand-up comedy (such as puppets, magic, singing, costume changes, or maybe they’re just a famous actor), you can expect to have a more challenging week.  I’m not saying they’re bad comics, but if their style is completely different from yours and the crowd is there to see them and that (whatever it is from above), it’s going to be harder on you.  A lot of times these headliners just come from the previous generation of comics (which means respect them no matter what you think of their act).

I’m getting better at telling if this is the case ahead of time.  Again, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these headliners, just that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if their crowds don’t dig you as much.  Here are some clues that this might be the case:

1.  They have a stage name (though I cringe when they introduce themselves to me using their stage name).

2.  There’s stuff all over the stage (sound boards, props, instruments, etc.).

3.  They have to put their wardrobe back on in the green room after every show because of all the costume changes.

4.  They talk a lot about performing in Vegas.

5.  They often get standing ovations.

So what do you do if this is the case?

1.  Hopefully the club’s manager realizes the situation and doesn’t think you’re bombing.  You could subtly mention that the headliner has a lot of fans.

2. Clean it up!  A lot of these fans aren’t regulars at the club so anything edgy might still shock them.  Do a more corporate sounding set that won’t make them nervous to laugh if they’re sitting by the table of minorities you just did a joke about.

3.  Stick to your time.  Often these headliners do longer sets so maybe you get trimmed back to fifteen or twenty minutes–cool, less work!

4.  Focus on the rare, positive feedback.  There could even be a table who likes your style better and wasn’t there specifically to see the headliner.  They’ll walk out early sometimes and tell you they liked your set much better.  Thank them graciously and hope that they filled out a comment card.  Focus on their praise instead of the mediocre sets you’re having.


5. Don’t care. If you’ve worked the club enough times and don’t feel like they’ll never have you back, don’t let it bother you. Don’t apologize during your set if you do offend his/her “fans.” Show them you enjoy your jokes whether they do or not by standing firm.

The overall lesson is that yes, sometimes it is the crowd and as openers we’re not always strong enough to adapt to every situation yet.  There are great musicians who get ignored at concerts while they open for popular headlining bands.  It just comes with the territoy.

For other tips from preparing for your first open mic night to surviving the road, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  (Available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Nook, etc.)

The #1 investment a comic has to make…

Reputations are established fairly early in a comic’s career.  Sometimes they don’t even have anything to do with how funny the comic is on stage.  It can be something else like drinking too much, always requesting a pay advance from a club, or chasing ass after a show.  One of the most important things is reliability.  Not making it to a gig can doom you in a booker’s mind for years.  If they hear more than one instance of this, you’re done getting work from that booker.

One of the biggest decisions a comic must make is whether or not they can finally quit their full-time job (or well-paying part-time job) to make comedy their only source of income.  Sure it’s important if you’re funny enough, but can you make it everywhere?  Do not attempt to become a road comic if you don’t have a reliable vehicle.  Needing a ride somewhere is crippling because once you’re known for that, comics will stop answering your calls.  (Yes, we bust the chops of one of our locals because he’s so young he doesn’t have a drivers license yet, but he’s getting there with his permit.)  If you’re asking favors of other comics, you’re now responsible for making it up to them.  What if they aren’t funny but they ask you for a recommendation to a booker?  “Yeah, I know you drove me to four gigs last years, but I’m not telling Eric Yoder you’re funny!”

In Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage I mention when I relied on my girlfriend at the time to drive me from Columbus to Dayton for a gig.  HUGE mistake.  She was over a half hour late and then got in an accident in Columbus rush hour.  We made my set by two minutes.  You cannot afford to put your career in someone else’s hands ever.

So if you have a goal date for quitting that job and making the plunge into even more poverty full-time comedy, bump it back to whenever you can afford a better car.  It could be another 6-9 months, but it’s worth it.

*This post inspired by the check engine light I was greeted with this morning.  I have to drive over 400 miles to Chattanooga in two days so my Civic is at the shop.  Please buy a book on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, or any other format so that I can pay for the repairs.  Thanks!


Something every comic should have…

Let’s say you had a really productive morning and wrote for almost three hours.  You rehearsed your new jokes/bits and feel like they’re ready for trying out at open mic tomorrow night.  You could write more, but three hours is quite a bit for one time and you only get five minutes so you’ll have no problem filling that.  Now what?

This week’s tip is to have at least one other creative outlet.  Some people believe in putting 100% of their lives into stand-up, but doing something else creative isn’t taking away from that 100%.  Find other means to use your creativity, otherwise you’re limiting yourself (and probably your income).  Here are some other ideas:

1. If you’re in the same boat with some other comic buddies, form an improv group.  I was in one for two years and though it’s hard to make money when you have to split it six ways, it helped me become a better comic.  You learn to act and get more comfortable on stage without having everything planned.  Being around other funny people always helps.

2. Start a web series.  You all have some form of camera.  It doesn’t have to be great but who knows–it could go viral and give you a nice jumpstart.  (Speaking of web series, check out this one my friend Maria Shehata is in)

3.  I hesitate to say this, but start a podcast.  We need more podcasts by comics.  We don’t actually, but it’s something to try at least.  Maybe yours can be unique.  Have a theme to at least set it apart from the millions of others.

4.  Blog.  I wrote on livejournal pretty consistently for five or six years before I started narrating my life one sentence at a time on Facebook.  It doesn’t have to be about comedy.  Find something unique (just like your podcast idea).  Sure half of my blog was about going to the store, but it really improved my writing skills so that I could…

5.  …Write a book.  Sorry, had to mention it.  In the two and a half years since Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage came out I’ve made more contacts and even scored a professional job.  Putting something in a binding is a sure way to get some level of respect from at least a few people.  I’ve also met dozens and dozens of people who are writing a book, but almost all of them fail to complete the process.  See the first link in this step for advice.

6.  Exercise and read.  This is just a tip on good ways to fill your afternoon without pot or video games.  They’ve both been shown to help creativity.

7.  Audition for commercials and industry videos.  Most cities have some sort of talent agency and yes, they’ll charge you for headshots but you probably need professional headshots done anyway.  Even if they only use you once or twice a year it’s still great money for the small amount of effort.  It’s weird how some people are so good at landing these things (I’m not but maybe you are).  Caution:  On average it’s takes 15-25 auditions before you land something.  18 for me.

It’s easy to get into the habit of wasting most of the daytime.  Looking ahead to a big show later on in the week is the worst thing you can do.  Find a way to be a productive comic now and get to work on it.  Put down the PS3 controller and do something.