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.

The Reason Your Club Won’t Promote You to Feature

No need for unnecessary intros this time.  Here’s why: the manager doesn’t like you…you’re funny but he or she doesn’t like you.

Showbiz isn’t fair.  Sometimes managers promote comics they like sooner than comics who are funnier (you know-right!).  So what are you doing that makes the manager not like you so much?

The stupidest thing I see emcees try to do is “show” the manager how much material they have.  They stretch 10 minutes into 12, 15 into 17.  No manager wants to look at the clock nearing 8:20 during a first-show Saturday and see that the emcee is still up.  The feature and headliner don’t want to see that either.  When you do this, you cause anxiety to multiple people and in this business we turn to each other and bitch about it.  You become unlikable.  The manager won’t want you to succeed if he or she doesn’t like you.

When you emcee, be ready to start the show.  Be wherever the manager can see you as the intro music starts well before showtime.  Having to search for you is another nuisance that gets under their skin.  On top of the stress of running a club, your mistakes are magnified.  Also–clean up after yourself.  This week there was an empty cup near where I was sitting.  No, it wasn’t mine, but I still threw it out (yeah me).  These are more of the little things that you don’t want to get blamed for.

Grow up with your material.  I’m sure I’ve blogged about this before, but married couples in their 40s and 50s don’t want to sit through 25 minutes of you whining about your lonely basement-bedroom activities.  Figure out how to write more universal material.  Get a full-time job and the material will happen.  This will help you clean it up too.

By sticking to your time, staying low-maintenance, and maturing your material you’ll be much more likable to the manager and at least be given fair judgment on what you do on the stage rather than off as to whether you’ll become a feature act.

For more tips on how to make money in stand-up comedy, try reading Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on paperback or any e-book outlet (Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, etc.)


How to make the small gigs worth it…

2 of the last 4 one-nighter’s I’ve done have had less than 20 people at them.  It’s October, baseball playoffs have been in full swing (which was weird for Illinois people), and bars aren’t great at promoting their shows (thanks for that black and white promo taped above the urinal in your restroom).  In fact, it’s a running joke among comics about how great a booker may make a gig sound, but then when you get there the manager says, “Well, we had 200 last week, but this week we’re up against (high school football, chili-fest, first day of hunting season, etc.), so numbers are a little low.”  So other than the money you’re promised, what’s at stake?

Obviously, we can all say, “I’m still going to give it my all every show–I love comedy so much–blah blah blah.”  Yes, do that…of course.  But here are three things to do on top of that.

  1.  Stay “excited” in front of management.  Last night I did a gig where they didn’t separate the bar of 60 from the room of 9 we had watching.  There was a roar the entire show, but it had to do with the Blues game the crowd of 60 was watching.  I told the manager I would pretend there were a 100 people there.  Managers talk to bookers, and if you don’t give your best effort (or complain, or belittle the gig), it gets back to the booker.  They want comics who don’t complain and bitch and make them look bad.
  2. Sell your merch!  There have been so many shows where I’ve seen headliners not even bother to sell their merch because they think it’s demeaning to sell anything with such a small crowd. Great–take advantage.  A lot of times crowd members buy merch out of sympathy rather than actually wanting whatever tee-shirt you’re selling.  If they see that you’re trying, they treat merch like a tip.  Sometimes a crowd knows when it’s a bad crowd.  (Ever notice how many people say, “Well we thought you were funny,” on their way out?)  They feel your pain and feel guilty on behalf of the bad crowd.  Cash in and at least make the rough set worth it.
  3. Realize that private gigs are at stake.  Last month I was in Breese, Illinois.  The crowd was great, but there were only 15 of them.  I headlined, but they money was the average feature pay.  Is it worth going to the middle of nowhere (no offense Breese), to be underpaid?  Turns out, yes.  A few days ago someone from that crowd emailed me about a Christmas show at the casino 10 minutes from my house.  It’s going to pay marginally better.

So even when a gig seems like it will have zero effect on your career, you might be wrong.

For other tips on how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

How to get from MC to feature…

A lot of comics agree that the toughest leap to make is from going from MC to feature at comedy clubs.  Granted, there are a few who were “blessed” enough to get there in the first year or two. (Please refrain from pointing out how quickly you were able to do it in the comments section on here or Facebook, good for you.)  It took me around six years, but by the time I did, I actually had a feature-length set (25-30 minutes) of feature-caliber material.  A lot of comics make the mistake of thinking that having a half-hour of material makes them a potential feature act.  In St. Louis, I think the community who works the clubs knows better than to be delusional about this.

So why can’t you get past MCing?  In some clubs, a good MC is hard to find.  If they’re comfortable using you as an MC, and there’s a healthy supply of other features, you’re pigeon-holed.  Venture out to other clubs around the state or region.  Here’s the mistake I made while doing that.  I labeled myself as an MC at these other clubs.  I would have great guest sets and then “proudly” stated how I MCed for all these big names at the Columbus Funnybone which did nothing but backfire.  Remember, your home club is the usually the last one to promote you.  If you truly believe you’re ready to feature, then sell yourself as one to clubs who don’t know any different.

If you’ve been in comedy for over 18 months, your writing has definitely improved.  Ask an experienced comedy peer which bits/jokes you should get rid of.  Sometimes it can be one or two stupid jokes that you consider reliable that are actually holding you back.  I’ve heard managers and bookers even say, “Yeah, so-and-so is okay, but they’ve got that stupid joke about…”  Find out what you need to drop, and then work hard fill it with something better.

Along those same lines of jokes, maybe your material needs to grow up some.  Clubs make a lot of their sales on date night which is the first show on Saturday.  Have your jokes evolved past your mid-20’s so that married couples in their 40’s or 50’s can relate?  They don’t have to be cleaner, but it doesn’t hurt to class your set up a bit.  We get it, you’re single and you smoke pot. Older married folks aren’t and don’t.

So how do you even get a chance to do a longer set?  Probably the easiest way is to organize your own show at a local bar with a promise to fill some seats.  Whether you can get much of a crowd or not, it at least shows you what it feels like to be on stage that long. The second best way is to talk to a comic who does mostly one-nighters and ask him or her if you can feature for them sometime (offer to drive!).  They might be able to arrange it as many of them book their own shows at bars.  Finally, look at the calendars of some of the smaller comedy clubs.  If their headliners are comics who normally feature, there’s a chance that they’re a low-paying club who can’t afford the average headliner.  They probably don’t pay well for features either, but that means they aren’t as picky.  You’ll get your first shot at a club like that.  Mine involved a club that is notorious for having the worst condo in the country, had me do 6 nights of shows (including a midnight show on Saturday), and paid me $300 for the week.  However, the stage time I racked up that week was well worth it.

For more tips on making money in stand-up comedy, check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon (paperback), Kindle, iTunes, Nook, or just about any other e-format.

5 traits headliners look for in an opener…

Lately I’ve been booking fellow St. Louis comic, Nathan Ortan, to open for me at various one-nighters.  Opening for me is no great honor, but what I look for when I ask someone to work with me translates to others as well.  One-nighter gigs are often good money, especially when they’re local and don’t drain your gas tank, plus they make you a better comic which is explained in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  They can be quite different than working in a comedy club.  So here are the reasons I can count on Nathan to be a solid opener for me.

1.  He can get there on his own.  I text him the address, he uses technology we’ve had for over a half-decade, and confirms the location with me the day of the gig along with the time.  Most importantly, he has a vehicle that will get him there and back.  He shows up on time every time.

2.  He can clean it up and limit crowd work.  This isn’t always a must, but recently Nathan did 10-15 minutes without disgusting or offending the crowd.  Nathan usually works with very little crowd interaction which is appropriate for short sets up front.

3.  He realizes the crowd is going to suck but still works through it.  There is no tougher spot than opening a show in a room that isn’t expecting comedy.  Usually they’re not seated, listening, or even facing the stage.  The introduction you get is awful and the sound system is even worse.  This happened and Nathan didn’t complain once.  Afterwards he was positive and thanked me for the experience and compared it to comedy weight-lifting.  Each one of these hell gigs gets a little better as you get used to them.

4.  As mentioned in #3, he’s thankful.

5.  He wears appropriate attire.  At a recent gig we did, I texted him that jeans weren’t allowed because it was at a country club.  No problem.  (No, he didn’t wear shorts either.)  Be sure you can clean yourself up and wear bigboy outfits when the time comes.

Note:  I’ve had a lot of other great openers as well who also were good examples of the above (this post wasn’t to suggest that any of them weren’t).

For more tips on how to make money in comedy, check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon, iTunes, Kindle, Nook, etc.

What’s the Deal with Young Crowds?

Because you needed another opinion on the whole Seinfeld thing, right?  This is kinda about that, but at a different angle.  Two weeks ago I performed at the Valley Park Funnybone.  It’s summer and it’s not the busiest club, but we had around 35 for the second show Friday.  It was by far the youngest crowd of the week.  That club typically has a demographic of 30’s-50’s and it’s a good room for laughs–pretty typical.  However, the show I mention on Friday was 80% under 30 and the “edgy” jokes in my set (my friends who know them roll their eyes) that got laughs all week, received a different response:  “Oooohh’s” and such.  So is this a sign that they’re too PC and a bad crowd?  Here’s my take on it…


As comics, we like laughs.  Laugh at us and then you can even applaud should everyone deem it appropriate.  The younger generation just makes a different noise.  Those “Ooohhh’s” that you hear aren’t as bad as you think.  The studio audience for Tosh.0 does the same thing.  Does that mean they don’t like the joke?  Of course not, they’re his fans and they know exactly what they’re getting there.

I once read that laughter is a very strong and primitive form of communication with the other person.  It tells them, “I connect with you.”  What’s happened is that these young moaners and groaners are trying to tell us that same message, but with a different sound or expression.  If a crowd really doesn’t like your joke, more likely than not they’ll let out a little gasp and quietly look to the faces of the people at their table.  For proof of this, watch what happens at open mic when a rookie tries to pull off something edgy and it comes off completely racist.  They don’t even give the performer the courtesy of the moan most times because that would subconsciously suggest that they’ve connected with them.

When you get groans (which are as contagious as laughter among audience members), you’re at least getting a response.  It’s just throwing us comics off because we’re used to the traditional laugh.  Groaning and “ooooohhhh’s” have climbed their way into our natural responses.  People have this as a new way of responding that they’re shocked by something.  It happens in other forms of entertainment as well.  Watch old highlights of Dr. J dunking on people.  Now watch modern clips of LeBron.  The responses from the fans and players are completely different thirty-some years later.  Today’s players have a completely body language which says, “I’m surprised and impressed by what just happened,” than those from Dr. J’s time.

I’m like you in that I’ll admit that I get frustrated when I don’t get the traditional laugh, but those same people who moaned and groaned at my jokes during that late show did nothing by compliment my set on their way out afterwards.

Oh, and as far as why college kids suck as audience members?  It’s very simple.  They can’t put their cellphones away.

For more advice on stand-up comedy please check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon (paperback), Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.).

Should you cancel another gig for a better one?

Obviously it’s not a good idea, but what if you have a one-nighter booked and you’re offered a week on top of that?  In St. Louis we usually have the luxury of having someone cover us for a show, but in a different town you probably don’t.  It’s best just to say you can’t do the week.  Bookers understand and it shows them that you’re a working comic.  They hate it when comics back out on them, so they shouldn’t hold it against you.  You should be offered another week in the future if you have to say no.  Just like when you send avails, you want to show them you’re busy and at least somewhat in demand.

Here’s what else can happen–you cancel one gig for a “better” one, and then the new one gets canceled and now you’re out both gigs.

So when should you?  Consider what’s going to lead to a better future.  Will it affect future working opportunities?  Are you willing to burn a bridge with whoever you’re canceling on?  99% of the time it just isn’t worth it.  If it’s a working comic taking you on the road with him or her it might be considered a wise choice because it will ultimately result in a lot more work.  Just be sure.

Some comics swear by never canceling.  This is probably the best way to go, but if you’re financially pressed or have the opportunity of a lifetime, it’s hard not to.  Big names do it often, but they’re benefited by the club needing them more than they need the club.  There have been a lot of big-named headliners who I was supposed to open for who canceled for TV appearances, etc.  (The biggest being Jim Gaffigan back in ’03.)  They have that luxury, most of us don’t.

So when the temptation comes, don’t cancel a gig for another one.  It’s easy to get a bad reputation for this.  Give the booker other available dates and be persistent on following up to get a different date.

For other tips on how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage (available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Nook, Kobo, etc.).

Off topic but not really…

As comics most of us have a reason we’re a comedian.  It has to do a lot more than because we’re funny.  It often stems from something negative.  Over the years I’ve worked with and met a lot of dysfunctional comics who cheat themselves due to whatever misery they’ve had to deal with.  Here’s how I avoided that…


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