If I could start my comedy career over, here are 6 things I would do differently…
- Establish a better reputation. Comedians gossip. I got to hear a lot of it as a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone. It made me feel like part of the mix when I could participate in these conversations with headliners. I’d make fun of other comics as if I was any better, just trying to fit in. While I don’t think I ever had a bad reputation, it would’ve been nice to be on that short list of comics who everyone loves because they’re so ridiculously pleasant and positive to be around. I realize this positive-thinking stuff is hard to find within the industry.
- Put my profession in front of personal relationships. Something I didn’t understand early in my career is that being a comedian makes you miss a lot of important moments in life. My dumbass turned down a week of hosting at a very nice club in another state, because I would’ve had to cancel anniversary plans with my girlfriend at the time. It was our two month anniversary. It was a pretty big booker too. Again, I was a dumbass. I cringe as I think at how much more work that could’ve led to. Establish your career before you establish your relationship or else he or she won’t understand right away what the strains of working the road are…plus you’ll be poor which they won’t care for either.
- Record and listen to every set. I still suck at this. It’s not like there isn’t time when you’re out on the road. They say professional athletes spend hours in the film room to get better; the same has to be true with comedians. If it’s painful to listen to or watch, figure out why and change it. Otherwise you could make a bad habit permanent, and stunt the growth of your career.
- Write about every gig. Journal what went right and why as well as what didn’t and why it failed. Keep track of the people you worked with at the gig–the servers, bartenders, managers, and other comics because when you return you can reestablish that awesome new friendship you felt like you had after that third post-show drink. When you build relationships with the people around your shows, it helps your following. You should also note what jokes work better with different types of crowds. Did you know that the people in Little Rock, Arkansas don’t have a good sense of humor about any jokes that suggest they’re a tad redneck? (Most places proudly admit it.) Which cities are super-conservative? Which managers are sticklers about how much time you do? These things matter if you’re going to return someday. It’s also a good place to log the local jokes you write for that particular gig.
- Shut up and listen. When I hosted for a lot of bigger names, I for whatever reason thought that anything I had to say was interesting. I had no life or comedy experience, yet I probably interrupted their advice to tell them about my boring day or a gig I did last in the prior week. Not only did this limit some of the advice they could give me, it probably scared them off. And I honestly think it was just a couple of drinks that made me like this, so to piggyback on this one…
- Stay completely sober while you’re working. You can make excuses that you’re funnier when you’re buzzed or high, but you’re probably more annoying to be around because of the things mentioned in #5.
Trust me on these things. If you’re interested in learning more about how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage which is available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc.