10 Myths about Stand-up Comedy

10. It’s our only job. Almost every comic has some other side hustle to help pay the bills. Substitute teaching, tutoring, driving Uber, commercial work/modeling, voiceovers, or any of the other freelance type of moneymakers are almost always necessary when you’re a comedian. My “side hustle” of substitute teaching turned into my primary career and now my career as a comedian benefits from the constant public speaking and the health insurance.

9. There’s a circuit. This assumptions seems to be mentioned by middle-aged men after every show. People imagine a comedian’s schedule magically appearing like an MLB schedule with gigs lined up in various cities for us. Yes, comics may get help from bookers or managers, but you have to achieve quite a bit of success for that to happen. Most of us work our way into a club in the same way someone gets a new job. You have to know someone, reach out, and if you’re lucky they’ll let you do a short set without pay, and if you do well enough then maybe you’ll get 3 nights there per year.

8. “You can use this in your act.” No. We can’t. It’s a story in context from your perspective. We can’t use your anecdote in our act. Great, your family is crazy, but no one else wants to hear about them. Also, we’re probably just laughing along to be polite.

7. Comedy is a good way to impress the opposite sex. Until they sober up. There aren’t comedy groupies out there like what guitarists might experience. People come to comedy shows on dates, and then they go home. The comedian goes back to his or her hotel alone. Comedy groupies are not the type you want to date either…especially if your comedian buddies work that town too.

6. Touring full-time is the ultimate goal.  This might be true for the first part of your career, but then you get old and tired of traffic and flight delays. Ask a veteran comic and they’ll tell you they’d rather have a writing deal or act on a sitcom. Movies and television syndication is the ultimate goal, not to mention being able to turn down gigs you don’t want to take. When you reach that point, you can still tour, and you don’t even need to be as funny to sell tickets.

5. Comedians only work one hour a night. The ones who do are no longer in clubs. They’re doing the same tired act at bars for much less money. Comedians have to write, revise, listen to their own recordings, attend open mics, promote, organize touring, drive hours and hours, and (see #1).

4. The comedy club feeds you. If you’re working an A room, then yes, you get 1 free meal a night. For the other 20+ hours of the day, you buy your own food. If you’re staying at the comedy club condo, stock up on groceries. If it’s a hotel, take advantage of the free breakfast…and the lobby apples…and the lobby cookies.

3. The gig pays for travel. If only. Until you’re a big-time headliner with a sweet contract, you pay your own way. We drive and pay for our own gas knowing that the profit isn’t much, but it’s an opportunity we answer for some reason. Flying is expensive, and if the show gets canceled, too bad.

2. It doesn’t feel like work. Sometimes it doesn’t. When I’ve done nothing else in the day and the gig is well organized and packed, performing is easy. But after I’ve taught 5 classes a day or driven for hours to a show, I’m tired. There are gigs outside of comedy clubs where it takes every ounce of focus and experience to be successful. While it may look like the comedian is having the time of his or her life, sometimes all the comic is thinking is, “How much longer until this set is over?”

1. Heckling helps comedians be funnier. They might bring a funny moment, but we’d rather not deal with them. First, it’s definitely work. Second, we have our act planned out and a heckler takes away from material that we’ve crafted and find important enough to put in our sets. Third, drunk people shouldn’t be rewarded with attention, nor should they think they deserve any credit ever.

Feel free to share and add any other myths I didn’t mention.

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

 

 

The saddest thing you can do from stage…

Someone asked me what the biggest difference between being a musician and being a comic was.  I joked that guitar players don’t go home alone after the show…comics do.  And I’ll admit a lot of us at one point in our career have hoped to land someone after a show.  A single guy in his 20s who normally doesn’t get much attention, especially in bars/dance clubs, jumps at the chance to have everyone (tables of women) in a room listen to him.  Here’s his chance to let everyone know he’s available.

The above situation and attitude hampers a set because the material’s first goal isn’t to be funny–it’s to get laid.  The sad thing is that everyone in the room can tell.  I’m not the first person to advise about this (Don’t Try to Have Sex from Stage as a sequel?), but it’s worth repeating.  In fact, guys, if you’re going to try and score from stage then go ahead and lie.  Women aren’t turned on by your tales of loneliness.  Pretend you have a significant other because the whores you’re going to sleep with don’t care if you’re single or not.  The most aggressive a woman’s been with me was after a set where I talked about my wife half the time (Union, MO if you were wondering).  So I guess this week’s bonus advice is this:  If you insist on trying to get laid from stage, then lie about having someone you can cheat on.

It’s okay to poke fun of yourself and your singleness, but don’t do it to gain sympathy and phone numbers; do it to be funny.  If it’s not worth the joke, drop it from your set.  Don’t sound too pathetic because half of the people in the crowd have a whiny friend just like you.  A lot of comics have found their significant other after a show, but not because they impressed someone by how lonely they were in all of their jokes.

This week marks my 14th comedy birthday.  I recall something in my very first set about getting a girl a Valentine’s Day card and her sending me one that may have been a restraining order (Get it?!  I was a loser!).  Nothing sentimental to write about how these past 14 years have been a blast and blah blah blah.  I’ll save that for next year.  How about a book plug instead?  Want more comedy advice?  Order it here!

***I’m aware it sounds like I’m endorsing the double-standard of casual sex and saying it’s okay for men and not women.  That is not my intention, I’m just generalizing because it’s a simple blog topic.  Men are whores too.  I’m also aware that this post has no benefit for female comics.  I haven’t encountered any female comics who have tried to get laid from the stage and I assume they know better.