Author Archives: Rob Durham

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.

How to avoid being the sacrificial lamb opener at a one-nighter…

A lot of the one-nighters you book may be fundraisers for a great cause.  This means that the main goal of the night is to raise money.  The people who put it together are volunteers, not comedy club managers, so they often don’t know how to run a show.  Other things will be going on before and during the show: silent auctions, 50/50s, and amateur bartenders taking orders.  All of this translates to noise in the room.  The worst part is that often times when the show starts, people are still in the middle of these other activities.  Without proper lighting and a pre-show announcement, the crowd has no idea that talking amongst themselves or getting their wife Peggy’s permission to bid $150 on a power washer isn’t the norm while the show in going on.

Multiple times I’ve been at a gig where the person in charge walks up to the mic, mumbles something and then announces the beginning of the show (Wait, did he just say my name?  Did we just start?).  Meanwhile the opener has to bump his/her way through a crowd who isn’t paying attention in a fully-lit room and begin doing a ten-minute set while no one is listening, thus the sacrificial lamb role (This is why you always bring an MC if you’re the feature).

So what do you do if you’re handed the mic in this awful situation?  How do you break into your thought-out material when no one can even hear you?  I’ve been there many times unfortunately.  I finally figured out a few ways to avoid this situation.

First, see if you can prevent it by making it extremely clear to whoever is in charge that you need the room completely seated and quiet first (as well as all of the other ideal conditions such as killing the house lights–even if the show must start late).  Second, stay near the stage so the person in charge can’t stumble up there and start things without you knowing.  If it’s pandemonium, don’t walk out on stage.  Tell the person, “Get them quiet first,” and leave him or her hanging in the spotlight.  They’re not afraid to address individuals (sometimes by name) and be the “teacher” who has to settle everyone down.  If the noise starts back up once you get out there, you have to get “the mob” in unison.  This even happened in my own home town on St. Patrick’s Day about 5 years ago when I was headlining (note: don’t do one-nighters on March 17 or in your home town when they’ve seen you enough).  Start with the basic, “Round of applause” for whatever the cause is.  Remind them why they’re there without making it somber or morbid.  Finally, if all else fails, get them to repeat a phrase after you.  Some sort of phrase that can falls between the polite “Stop talking, I’m here to laugh,” to the more direct, “Shut up, I paid to get in here!” The redder the state, the more direct you can be.  Have them repeat that until the rest of the crowd notices that a show is going on.

You’re going to have to speak up, but once you get it to a tolerable level and get your set going, change strategies and on one of your longer jokes, slow down and get quieter just for a line.  This will actually make the last few loud-talkers aware that the rest of the room can hear them–because the rest of the room will turn, stare, and shush them.  From there they usually police themselves.  It’s really amazing and effective when this works.  Focus on chunks of the crowd, not the entire room at once.

This is not an easy thing to do, and unfortunately it’s just part of paying your dues on the road.  It takes a lot of failures and experience for some comics (me) before you can prevent it from happening ever again.  You just have to get a majority of the crowd on your side–and they will be.  If none of the above works, plow through and do your time.  You still get paid no matter what.  The manager should be able to tell it wasn’t your fault and you did your best.

For more tips on how to make money in comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Available in paperback, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.  Amazon currently has some new copies on sale.


Why You Didn’t Get Booked Back

Ever had a great week at a club or a great one-nighter and not get booked back?  Sometimes it’s baffling to figure out what you did wrong.  You tipped, didn’t sleep with the staff, nor did you take advantage of the fringe benefits (free steak fries are what most of us consider fringe benefits in this business).

I talked to a few bookers and found that one thing they’ve noticed is that less and less comics are saying “thank you” for the work.  Be overly thankful for the gigs you get, especially if you want to perform there in the future.  Even if you’re not getting paid and it’s just valuable stage time, thank whoever was partly or fully responsible for getting you that set.  If it’s a guest set at a club, you should also thank the headliner for letting you be a part of his or her show.  Even if the headliner had nothing to do with it, they’ll remember that.

Be sure you’re doing it in a meaningful way.  During my other job as a high school teacher (one of the more thankless jobs) I’ve noticed kids say, “Cool” or “Sweet” instead of thank you.  I’ve comped people to shows and gotten “nice!” as a response to me telling them their free tickets are waiting for them.  Replying back, “Thanks,” needs to be followed up with a thank you after the gig as well.

If you’re working a new club for the first time, send a thank you card to the manager when you get home that week.  Those things are remembered because it’s a lost art.  Any time you get a gig you need to express gratitude directly to them (manager, GM, etc.) in at least two different ways (they may not see your Facebook or Twitter feed but do it there too to promote the venue).

(If you’re still not getting re-booked, you probably need to reevaluate your sets.)

For more guidance on how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s also available in paperback and is also on iTunes, Kindle, Nook, and just about every other ebook format.


How to Increase Status in Your Open Mic Community

Your community of open mic comics can get very catty with cliques, jealousy, gossip, and internet trolling, all while experiencing the inevitable fact that showbiz isn’t fair.  I won’t pretend I was above a lot of that either.  The best way to rise above this cloud of negativity that comes with just about every city’s open mic community is to make yourself useful.  At the early part of your career (first 5 years or so), your talent on stage isn’t going to be enough to let this become a full-time job–which is often a career goal for comics.  To set yourself apart, get more bookings to improve your act and increase networking, you need to bring some other quality/service/skill to your community so that other comics will treat you with respect and want to help you even before your act is polished and have coattails to ride.

Find something else to specialize in–no contribution is too small.   Here are some ideas:

Photography–A lot of comics have “some” college, and if any of that involved an art degree, there’s a good chance you’ve got an overpriced camera and some photography skills.  Comics love posting pictures of themselves at as many venues as possible.  If you can semi-professionally shot a showcase night, it greatly increases your odds of being invited to be on it.

Recording sets–Michael Reigner has been recording a lot of comics in contests with his camera here in St. Louis.  If you have the equipment, try the same in your city.  While your “short films” are a fun hobby, this could actually help you make a couple bucks while not gouging comics to record a strong 5-minute set.  Everyone wins.

Graphic design–Flyers for Facebook, posters for shows, and even help with webpages can be useful.  Fiverr.com isn’t always the best option, so if you have any skill in this field, help those who need it.

Starting a room–Stryker Spurlock started a room 3 years ago when he was 16 and it’s still going strong.  When you can decide which comics make your show it obviously improves your odds of getting on others’ shows.

Driving–Broken down cars and DWI’s are frequent in this business.  Drive a comic to his or her one-nighter and you’re bound to get a guest set or a chance to MC.  This is a good method to get booked there next time.

Keeping time–Our buddy Max keeps the light at the Funnybone open mic every Tuesday. He’s not a jerk about it and makes sure everyone understands when to get off stage.  It helps the club out too which is beneficial to him.

Buy a round of drinks–Buy me one.  I’ll give you feedback on your set while experiencing the mild euphoria from drinking on an empty stomach.  When has bribery not worked?

Speaking of feedback–be “positive feedback guy” if you’ve got nothing else to offer.  Find a joke in the set that your comic buddy should’ve gotten a bigger laugh from and let him/her know about it afterwards. Point out the strong parts of someone’s act even after a bad set.

Always have a following–If you gain a reputation for always having at least a table or two come out to watch you, comics who book other rooms will definitely appreciate that and remember it.  At one of my first open mics in St. Louis I poked fun at the comic before me.  My buddy said, “Don’t do that.  He brings a half-dozen college girls here every time.”

Post plugs for others–About a month before my book came out, I started sharing every other comic’s CD promo, show promo or any other announcement I could share in hopes they’d return the favor.  Whether the other comic is big-time or just starting out, odds are they’ll appreciate it and maybe return the favor.

Side note–I appreciate all all of the plugs and feedback you have give me over the years.  And whoever put the last post on Reddit–thank you!

For more advice on how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.

 


Why many open mic comics can’t get work

Sometimes I’ll see an open mic comic have a great set with several good jokes.  The next week the same comic has a different five minutes–sometimes better, sometimes worse.  The following week, another completely different set.  I’ve heard it a lot from the newer guys: “I try and write a new five minutes every week.”  Writing and trying out as much material as possible is great, and these comics are probably going to multiple open mic shows per week, but it can be counterproductive.  If several of your jokes or bits work well, keep using them.  Even if a joke “kills” (or the open mic version of “kills”) on its first try, that doesn’t mean it can’t improve.  Yes, sometimes your newest jokes get the best laughs the first time you say them, but let them grow and develop.  Building a great act is all about revision and fine-tuning your material.  If you keep starting from scratch, you’ll never develop a solid set that gets work.

When you repeat a joke over and over, eventually you’ll develop a punchline in the setup too.  You’ll also think of tag lines and transitions into your other jokes.  Memorize the wording so that you can say it in your sleep because when the wording no longer takes any thought on your part, you can focus on which words to stress more, eye contact with the crowd, facial expressions, and all of the other elements and details that expert headliners use.  You can also develop callbacks with your other bits.  This also makes it easier to remember your setlist which is beneficial during a paid show.

I’ve talked to a lot comics about this over the years and they often say, “But I feel like it’s boring for the other comics who have to hear me repeat things.”  That shouldn’t matter.  It’s your career and if you can get out on the road, you’ll constantly be getting a new audience in a different city.  Repeating material doesn’t mean you’re not writing or working to get better.  Take the 2 or 3 bits that do the best and work on revising them until they can’t get any better.  Keep them in your act and build your first MC set.

Comedy is like other forms of writing whether it be songs, books, or essays.  No one produces anything great without revision.  To cite an example, Greg Warren has been coming out to open mic on Tuesdays and working through the same bits for the last month or so.  He’s not trying to write a new 5 minutes every week, but instead, polishing and perfecting the newer bits in his set.

You still have time to try something new in each set, but build a solid foundation first. Club managers look for consistent audience laughter week after week, not a new five minutes.  (And the most common type of revision?  Reducing the wording in the setup.)

To summarize: Find your best punchlines and revise those into tight bits.  Build on them until you get a 7-10 minute set of them where you don’t need a setlist because you’re so familiar with them, and then you’ll be ready to MC and start getting paid.

For other tips on how to make money in stand-up, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s also available on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.

 

 


5 Things Comics Want Bar Managers To Hear

One-nighters are a great way to profit in stand-up.  With more and more comedy clubs closing, the days of Wednesday through Sunday night at the same club are over in most cities (although not in St. Louis!).  So in your first few years, you may get a majority of your paid work doing one-nighters at places that aren’t comedy clubs.  Some pros–You get paid more for per show than you would at a club, and if you don’t do well, it’s only one gig.  Cons–These aren’t comedy clubs and bar managers often mistake their knowledge about running a comedy show with hosting a cover band.

I wrote this list to hopefully reach a lot of bars who host comedy nights.  I’ve been fortunate in the last few years to have some much better gigs than I did starting out.  I wish I could go back in time and relay this info to a handful of bars around the Midwest.  There are probably many others to add to this list (feel free to add them on the Facebook comments), but with our short attention spans here are the five I thought were worth sharing.  Hopefully it reaches someone who has booked you.

1. Lighting is extremely important–Rent a spotlight if you don’t have stage lighting (or a stage).  Audiences who are sitting in regular house lighting are self-aware, distracted, and less likely to laugh at the comics when they can see the whole room.  I don’t know all of the science behind this, but trust us on this.  Darken the room as much as possible and get a spotlight on the comic.  It makes a dramatic difference in the experience of watching live comedy.  (Surprisingly, most sound systems aren’t bad these days.)

2. Leave the MCing to the comics–You should have at least two comics in the show.  They both have experience MCing a comedy show, and it’s a skill that’s just as difficult as performing stand-up.  We know you’re familiar with all 45 patrons and therefore aren’t shy around them, but introductions phrased properly and a few solid minutes of material (not jokes you read and regurgitate from the internet) can set the tone for the entire show. Openers (features) are always happy to pass this duty off to the manager, but as part of paying their dues, they should take the challenging responsibility of breaking the ice.  Or, better yet, find a third comic to work for $50 or maybe $25 and a few drinks and they’ll take care of this for you.  If all else fails, maybe the bar’s DJ (if you have one) has some experience behind a mic.

3. No kids–It’s a bar, or some sort of adult venue.  People are drinking and us comics have grown-up stuff to say.  When there’s a kid in the room it cripples the crowd because they feel awkward knowing a kid is hearing everything whether it’s a big deal to the kid or not. Additionally, you have a responsibility with crowd control and hecklers (although I find most one-nighters are a lot more tame these last few years).

4. You take care of the promo–We most likely don’t know anyone in your town, so sharing it on our Facebook wall will reach no potential ticket buyers if its our first time in your town.  Your promo needs to extend beyond posting a flyer above the urinal in your own bar.  You need to invest in advertising outside of your venue.  Reach out to the comics well ahead of time and ask for a headshot and bio.  This can be taken care of in a simple email exchange.  (Comics, be sure to follow through promptly.)  Also, plan your event around your town’s other priorities.  Most of us aren’t famous enough to compete with your chili-fest.

5. Seat people in the front of the room–Rearrange your bar as best you can to put butts up front.  Put some “reserved” signs on the tables in the back until the front fills up.  Arrange tables and chairs so they’re all facing the stage or at least can be with a 90-degree turn.  I know your patrons are afraid they’ll be teased, but most great comics don’t go out of their way to be rude to the audience.  It’s not like what they’ve seen on television.  We’re just happy there’s an audience there to enjoy our show.

 

To learn 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, iTunes, etc.

 

 

 


Are you hurting your open mic?

Bear with me on this analogy:  I golf.  I’m not great most days, but sometimes I have what I consider a really good round (+12 on 18 holes).  There are a lot of steps I could take to get better.  Lessons, cracking open the Golf Digest magazines my father throws in as a Christmas gift, or practicing more on my own.  Do I though?  Rarely.  Whenever someone does take the time to work with me on something, I usually get great results, at least temporarily.  Would I love to be a scratch golfer? Of course, who wouldn’t?  But I’m not going to put in the effort and work to do that because I’m okay with mediocrity.  I compete against my buddies here and there, sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.  It’s okay.  I’ve been pretty much the same golfer as far as skill goes since 2002.  I can golf well enough to not disrupt the flow of the course and cause backup at any particular hole.

I feel like this is the same way a lot of comics treat comedy.  They’ve been performing at open mics for some time.  Some nights they have what they consider a great set, sometimes they bomb.  Occasionally they get advice on a joke from a fellow comic, whether it be a tag line, a rewording or even a “never do that bit again” but for the most part, it’s like my golf game–it’s up to you and your self-motivation to get better.  You could go to comedy workshops, read a stupid book that might help, or really work your ass off at writing better material, but you’re content with the plateau you’ve hit, whether you’ll admit that to yourself or not.  The thing is, I don’t think most comics mean to be content, just as I don’t mean to be content with my golfing.  I envision some point in my life where I get much better.  I think most comics probably feel the same way, but much like golfing round after round every summer, going to open mics week after week isn’t going to help you dramatically improve.  You’ve got to do more.  But much like my golf game, there are other priorities in life: paying bills through another job, relationships, and other activities.  It would be wrong to say someone isn’t good enough to be at open mic.  What you have to figure out is this–are you actually hurting open mic?  It just takes one or two bad sets in a bar scene to walk what little audience the open mic has and make them never return in the future.  To continue the metaphor–don’t be that golfer who’s so bad he/she gets the whole course backed up.  If any open mic consistently puts on good comics who have great sets, it’s going to last for years instead of months.  The crowds will be bigger and you’ll get more useful stage time.

The point of this blog isn’t just, “Hey, don’t suck.”  I think there are some comics in every scene who are almost afraid to try and succeed.  (Good lord, here comes another metaphor)  When I was really young (sorry, I know), and my friends and I were approaching middle school, I was still terrified to talk to girls.  Instead of flirting with them like my friends started doing, I chose to just come off as the “weird boy who didn’t really try” because it felt safer and there was no way I could fail if I wasn’t genuinely trying.  This is the attitude I want to discourage at open mics.  These types of sets will hurt an already small open mic audience and that attitude will make sure you never progress anywhere.  So if you find yourself constantly performing jokes where the goal is anything other than making a majority of the audience laugh (blatantly offending, making abstract references that only your comic buddies get/playing to the back of the room, or just getting as dark as you possibly can because nobody “gets” you and it feels good), consider making changes for the sake of the rest of the comics who are there to gauge real audience laughter on their material.  It’s okay to try your best, even if it doesn’t work every time.  Your parents aren’t there to judge you anymore. They’re waiting at home for you to become successful enough to move out. (<–Completely unnecessary after suffering through all of my metaphors.)

 

For tips on how to progress through the business and eventually make money as a comic please check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.


Put Yourself Second…

We all want more “likes” and “followers” because it leads to popularity, attention, and ultimately more money (theoretically).  But mostly, we all want more gigs.  If you’re not getting enough stage time, whether it be open mics, professional gigs, or those shows in between where a handful of comics split the door, this entry has a tip to fix that.  The same method can work with Facebook likes (and all the Twitter equivalents).  Take the focus off of “me, me, me” and help out a friend. 

With every show you do, recommend others from your comedy community who could also perform at that venue in the future.  For example, I just worked the opening weekend of a new club.  The owner is also the booker, so I was sure to give him the names of other St. Louis comics (and reminded him that this saves him on hotel charges because it’s only 2 hours away).  I chose a lot of the comics who have helped me get work in the past.  Obviously you want to be sure your recommendations are funny too.

Whenever I get random gig offers I’m always sure to ask how they found my name.  This is an extremely important habit.  Dan Chopin has been the most helpful in the last few years (Thanks Dan!), so of course he was at the top of my list for this new club’s recommendations.  And he’s very funny.

If you’re not getting enough love on social media, post something complimentary about someone on their page.  We all sound ridiculous when we have to brag about ourselves, so do some of your buddy’s promo for him or her.  It makes followers think they’re a bigger deal than they are instead of having them think the whole page is just endless self-promotion.  This can also improve your reputation in your comedy circle that you may have previously damaged.

Getting booked sometimes takes a little luck, but by helping others out you can really improve the odds that your name is mentioned to someone who runs a show.

For more advice on how to make money in stand-up comedy, order my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage from Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Nook, etc.