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.

What NOT to do around a famous headliner…

As an emcee, one of the biggest thrills in your comedy career is getting to open for someone famous.  The shows will be packed, the crowds will be hot, and you get to hang out with a famous comic who might even be one of your heroes.  In your head you picture a post-show scenario where you’re now best buds sorting through all of the groupies while getting filled in on your new calendar because this famous headliner simply must have you emcee the remainder of the tour, but realistically it’s just another show for them and you’re just another overly excited opener.  So how do you get anywhere close to this ideal situation of them remembering you for future opportunities?

  1.  Don’t be a talker–After introducing yourself, be a listener.  Famous people usually want to establish themselves as a nice person, so let them do the joking (caution: inevitable name-dropping in this entry).  Upon seconds of shaking Bob Saget’s hand he was explaining to me that I should wash up because he had AIDS.  He was very talkative so I sat back and listened.  This is key when you’re just hanging out in the green room before shows.  Famous people usually don’t care about your story, listen to theirs. Babbling on and on about your short comedy career (which often leads to complaining) isn’t going to get you anywhere.  Ask a few questions and see if any advice comes out of it.
  2. Wait until afterwards for photos, autographs, etc.–A lot of headliners still get nervous before shows.  Famous comics (especially those whose fame came from something other than stand-up) still worry about how they’ll do.  There’s an anxiety when performing in front of people who paid way more than usual to see a show and the feature act is out there killing it.  They have high expectations to fill so after traveling all day, the headliner probably needs to get focused before a show.
  3. Don’t bring other people into the green room–Yes, introducing the person you just started dating to someone from their favorite season of SNL trumps Netflix n chill any night of the week, but backstage should be off limits, especially before a show.  The comic doesn’t want to have to be “on” before showtime.  A lot of times the green room is tiny and they need space.  It goes back to #2 as well.
  4. Minimize drinking–They probably aren’t drinking (half of them are recovering), so it’s hard to follow rule #1 when you’re even two drinks ahead.  You’ll just get too chatty and annoying.

So what can you do to build some sort of bond?
*Be patient–Ultimately it has to do with your act.  If you’re good, they’ll open up to you more and treat you with more respect.  If it’s a 2 or 3 night event, just back off that first night especially.

*Offer to pick them up from the hotel (ask the club manager, not the headliner)–with smaller clubs there isn’t always a designated person to do this.  As a doorman and emcee at Columbus years ago, I had a lot of rides with really famous people in my ’94 Escort (it sure humbled Joe Rogan).  Sometimes they’ll even throw you some money.  A lot of what I learned came from these short drives.  It also allows you to…

*Get their number–This shows they trust you.  Don’t just flat out ask, but management will give it to you if you’re giving them a lift.  Obviously you’re not going to call, but if you and the feature are going out to lunch during the week you can text and invite the headliner as well.  You could mention it after the last show of the night with the feature and see if the headliner is interested.  If so, that’s when you’ll get it.  However, keep it at lunch–they don’t want to write with you 99% of the time.

Progressing in stand-up has a lot to do with the off-stage social side of it.  The headliner will talk to management about you good or bad.  If you want to work with your hero again, follow the advice above and they may even ask for you next time through town.

For more tips on how to make money in stand-up comedy, order my paperback, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage, or get the ebook from Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, etc.

Is a setlist on stage acceptable?

From the comics I’ve talked to over the years, the general consensus for this answer depends on a few factors.

The first and most important factor is whether or not it’s a paying gig.  If it’s a paying gig, it’s your job to be able to memorize your act.  However, if it’s open mic and you want to make sure you try out all of the new jokes you wrote, having a setlist is more acceptable.  Still, there are exceptions to this rule.  If you’re a newer comic trying to get booked as an MC, you should put forth the effort to memorize that five minutes.  In other words, if your set is being evaluated by someone in the business that night, memorize it.  If you’re already a working comic who management isn’t auditioning, occasionally glancing at a setlist to make sure you try everything is okay.  You’re basically auditioning the jokes, not yourself.

Years ago (2002?), Daniel Tosh was in town a day early, so he headlined our comedy contest in Columbus and brought up his notebook.  He did nothing to hide it and even thumbed through a few pages.  These were jokes he had most likely written in the last 24 hours, and it wasn’t officially part of his “week” at the club.  It was amazing how he had them fine-tuned and perfected by the weekend.  I’ve heard stories of Dave Attell going through pages and pages of new jokes at the Cellar years ago.  When you write as much as these comics, it’s perfectly okay to need help remembering to try everything out.

On the opposite end, Richard Lewis had a giant sheet of paper on stage with him with every joke in his arsenal.  I looked at it between shows when I was a doorman and could hardly make sense of it, but it fascinated me that he still needed a setlist.  He’s able to pull it off because he’s Richard Lewis.  One time he even showed it to the audience.  Anyone else doing this would probably look bad.

A setlist on stage can become a crutch when used too often.  So if you’re just starting out, don’t use one at all.  If there’s something you absolutely cannot remember, I suggest a tiny note on your microphone thumb.  Writing on the inside of your hand usually looks bad because it’s very noticeable, and you end up looking like a freshman cheating on a vocab quiz.  When I use a setlist for open mic, I set a piece of paper on the stool.  You can even put a drink next to it so you have an excuse to look down.

Do I use a setlist at open mic too often?  Probably.  My excuse is that comedy is not my main job (I teach high school), so I’ve limited my writing and memorizing time.  Most comics have other jobs too.  So if you’re openly using one, let the crowd know that you know that they can see it.  If a new joke bombs, you can pretend to scratch it out on the list.  If one works really well, you can acknowledge it on the list in a positive way. (Just one acknowledgment per set is enough.)  The worst thing you can do when using a setlist is to pretend that the audience can’t see it when they clearly can.  Some comics even incorporate jokes as an excuse to use one.  St. Louis comedian Mike Stranz used to pull his setlist out towards the end of his time and say, “You seem like a really good crowd!” as if he was reading that from the paper.  (Telling you about it doesn’t do it justice, you just have to see Mike.)

Still, there are purists who would never allow themselves to ever use a setlist on stage.  Good!  I’m envious. You’ve committed more time and effort than some of us.  You’ll succeed at a better rate.  Just be sure you’re trying plenty of new material too.

For more information on how to make money in stand-up comedy, read my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s also available on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, and many other e-book outlets.

Something all new comics definitely need to develop

When you first get into comedy, your friends will probably be very supportive.  In fact, they’ll give you a false impression that you’re good at it the first time they watch you.  If it’s your first time on stage ever, they’ll really jump-start the delusional process that most of us went through at that phase.  “Wow, I’m really good at this!”

But then something else eventually happens as you start to perform open mics around the area.  Other comics start making fun of you.  Comics who have been performing for years who might not even know you might openly start saying things about you on stage.  This happens a lot.  I do it to people, people have done it to me.  So what all new comics need to develop is thick skin.  It’s one thing to be insulted and cracked on by your buddies growing up–but comics are virtually professional insult writers.  Your feelings are going to get hurt.  They’ll make fun of your appearance, your clothes, your jokes, your lack of jokes, your bad habits, and anything else that even your close friends were too nice not to mention–and they’ll do it in a way much meaner and much more public format than the bully at the lunch table.

The things is, it can’t matter to you.  Some of the insults are out of spite, but most of the time they’re just satirizing for an opening laugh to their set.  If you notice a trend though, perhaps you should listen to what these insults are saying.  The point of satire is to inspire change so if comics are always mocking one of your bits, ticks, or how you look–change it.  This whole millennial “I’m gonna be me ’cause I’m special!” certainly doesn’t apply to showbiz.  No one ever succeeded without the advice of others–whether that advice was a friendly chat or “Nice shirt, dumbass.”

You can’t get mad when you become the butt of a joke, because then you develop a bad reputation for that as well.  A lot of scenes have those one or two comics who are “dish it out but can’t take it” guys.  They become unlikable on their own level.  Learn to laugh at yourself and the comedy world will be a lot easier to manage through.  This isn’t easy to do.  We’ve probably all struggled at one time because insecurities and comedy often coincide.

And now for the guy who inspired this blog.  Patrick Brandmeyer is a St. Louis comic who has been around for a long long time, and no one has been insulted more times from stage than Patrick. He’s awkward, he knows it, and he keeps coming back for more. Despite everything that has been said about him (yes, they’re jokes, but still…) he keeps working to get better.  He logs every set (a great idea also) and continues to improve.  From his own Facebook post, here’s everything that’s been said about him–mostly from stage (and yes, I’m on this list as well):

“I guess I’ll tell a joke since he didn’t.” -Brett Clawson

“Keep it going for Brandon, that was like his best set ever.” -Andi Smith

“My favorite pedophile.” -Steve Poggi

“You’ll be funny someday.” -Dan O’Sullivan
“I used to just shake my head and leave the room…” -Dan O’Sullivan

“He’s been on Dateline NBC…” -John Doelling

“He resembles the lead singer of Crash Test Dummies…” -Josh Arnold

“The best thing to happen to radio since television.” -Joel Thornton

“…zero charisma…” -Louie Benson

“Wizard, fourth level.” -Jeremy Essig

“He stalks people…” -Keith Cissell

“I didn’t think it could get any more creepy…” -Gabe Kea

“We’re all gonna chip in and get him a hooker for later on.” -Rob Durham
“One of St. Louis’s most improved comics” -Rob Durham

“Holy $#!+, did you guys see any of that coming?” -Kevin Bunetic

“Sleep with him, please…” -Mark Feigenbutz

“Are you serious?” -Marcus Robinson

“That wasn’t awkward at ALL…” -Joe Lehnig

“The man, the myth, the action figure…” -Shane Mansfield

“If you don’t laugh, he’ll probably shoot you after the show.” -Joe Stewart

“Why are you doing this?” – Anonymous Family Member

“Convert to Judaism or you have no future in stand up.” -Pete Madden

“I heard more laughter coming out of the Holocaust Museum.” -Joe Lancey

“I don’t want to hear twenty minutes of your jokes…” -Mike Strantz

“Was recently named the 2008 ‘Rico Suave’ of St. Louis comedy…” – Clayton Champagne

“Be sure to catch him this weekend looking through your windows…” -Landon Meyer
“We love him like a brother…a Menendez brother.” -Landon Meyer

“His obituary will probably end with the words ‘before turning the gun on himself’…” – Andy Faasen

“Legally forbidden to grow a mustache.” -Joe Murray

“You are a stereotype of yourself.” -Kevin White

“The Marty Jannetty to my Shawn Michaels…” -Aaron Brooks

“If he offers your a Werther’s, DON’T EAT IT…” -Dan Schmidt

“He looks like the guy who shot John Lennon…” -Nick Branson

“He’s either 14 or 40…” -Tim Schifsky

“Patrick Brandmeyer was just flat out hilarious. Somebody book this guy.” -Derek Bennett

So as you can see, yes there are a lot of insults, but Patrick has become a solid fixture in the scene.  So if you’re going to become a member of a comedy community, get over yourself and take it on the chin like a pro.

“Comedy definitely gave me more self-awareness as I was legit clueless about how people viewed me. Now that I can acknowledge it, it’s better for me and the audience.” -Patrick Brandmeyer

For more advice on comedy read Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  Also available on iTunes, Nook, and every other e-book format.


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.