For more tips on making money in comedy, read Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage. Also available on ebook.
For more tips on making money in comedy, read Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage. Also available on ebook.
Most one-nighter gigs, which almost always pay more than a club show, aren’t places you can just email and say, “Hey, I want to do your next show there.” They’re commonly booked by comics who also book multiple one-nighter rooms. You usually get your comedy legs doing these if you live in the Midwest. The important thing to remember is this: The comic who booked you for this room, 9 times out of 10, books more rooms just like it, all within a four-hour drive.
So how do you ensure to get more work? Usually that booker/comic is not at the gig with you, so he or she will rely heavily on the bar’s manager/owner. Other than being funny on stage, here are ways you can get on their good side to ensure they rave about you:
Back in 2003ish I MC-ed for Nick Di Paolo in a club in Dayton named Jokers. One of the things I loved about that club is that the headliner had to talk to me because the green room was the width of a love seat (which had a collapsed cushion on one side). There wasn’t anywhere else to go. But I was baffled when Nick said, “I’ve never had to call a club to get work.” And he didn’t mean email either. They were reaching out to him. 16 years later that’s how I’m getting a bulk of my work, and I’m nowhere near famous or special.
If you’re interested in making money doing stand-up comedy, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage which is available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc.
Within the comedy groups of Facebook, people are going to fight. Comics have too much time on their hands and strong opinions. It happens. The problem is, people who decide whether you get work or not are reading that too. As much as you want to believe: “I’m my own person and I say what I want. If you don’t like it, unfriend me bitch!” …showbiz doesn’t work that way. When you’re freelancing gig to gig, your whole life is an interview. And just like professionals in more traditional careers, one post can ruin your reputation.
“But I was just kidding when I posted that. I’m a comic.”
True, but have you ever had a joke bomb at open mic? Sometimes we think differently with a sick and twisted sense of humor. Tone isn’t always portrayed correctly in text. (Ever have a significant other misinterpret your tone in an email?)
I think it’s a good idea to share your gigs on Facebook because it shows you’re working, but be honest about them. Bookers and other comics are judging whether to hire you based on your off-stage persona as well. If you’re annoying on Facebook, they aren’t going to want to work gigs with you.
I’m saying this from experience. Almost every day with the “On This Day” Facebook feature, I cringe at the things I posted back in 2009-ish. I’m 40 now, and from time to time I still catch myself in threads that don’t matter.
Think of who your comedy heroes on Facebook and Twitter are. Ask yourself, “Would they post this?” if you’re unsure. The gig you lose could be the one that would have led to five more, so use more discretion because you’re not just playing to the back of the room.
For more tips on how to start making money in stand-up comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.
It’s very easy to get bored at your local open mic(s) after a few years of the same thing over and over. Instead of being nervous and excited to perform, sometimes it can feel monotonous. It’s even worse if there is little to no crowd to perform to, and you’re stuck listening to the same comics’ acts month after month.
This problem was part of why I slipped into a bad habit in the first few years of my career: performing to the back of the room. Performing to the back of the room means you’re doing jokes or making references that only the other comics will get. As a fellow comic watching the show, these jokes are often entertaining. When I was a doorman, great comics like Dave Attell would slip in a few for the staff, especially during the midnight show. They were some of the the funniest lines we heard all week. The difference is, that’s Dave Attell, and he’s not short on material or skill.
The problem with performing to the back of the room is that it becomes a really bad habit. Sometimes I’d make three or four comments in a five minute set. This detracts from working on actual material, establishing voice/rhythm, and it can lose or confuse what little crowd you have. Another problem is that it can cause tension between comics, so it needs to be done carefully (a female comic almost charged the stage with a pool stick once when I was first starting out). When you or the other comics have been drinking, it’s easy to say/take things the wrong way.
Playing to the back of the room is not to be confused with calling back to a previous comic’s joke–the audience actually understands that. Try that instead without being disrespectful to the previous performer (use good judgment on how far you can take it).
If you realize you’re guilty of back of the room jokes on a regular basis, make a conscious effort to perform as if the rest of the room is filled with strangers and none of them are comics. I still struggle with this some nights. Habits are hard to break.
For more comedy tips, including how to start making money, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage in paperback or any major ebook outlet including iTunes, Nook, and Kindle.
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.
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.
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.