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.

The hardest part about comics having a day job…

Several months ago I wrote a guest blog about the long-term process/plan of going from a day job to doing comedy full-time.  Read it here.  There’s nothing wrong with working a job while pursuing a comedy career.  Unless we’re delusional or living with our parents, we all have to go through it.  While you’re still working a day (or night) job, there are a lot of obvious challenges.  Scheduling, fatigue, and a few other common problems can plague anyone burning the candle at both ends. 

The toughest part about being a comic with a job is the times you can’t be a comic.

Learn to put the filter on when you’re at work.  The workplace is one of the best places to find material, but you have to be extremely careful when to hold the punchlines back.  You have to leave the comic mentality at home and realize that most workplaces have a different set of conversational standards than the pre-open mic meeting.  I once got fired from a subbing job for writing that “3 students were being smartasses and embarrassing themselves by using insulting slang, please give them detentions.”  Yes, smartasses got me fired from some hillbilly school in Ohio (Hamilton Local in southeast Columbus).  Luckily, bartending and the whole server industry usually loosens things up a bit, but some of the other better-paying jobs that comics need have no room for verbal error.  

It’s a tough concept because we naturally make jokes in conversation, and especially during important times (like meetings).  We’ve trained ourselves to say what comes to our mind.  “Is this funny?  Yes?  Say it–say it now!”  Another thing to remember is that your coworkers can often be those people in a crowd who just don’t “get it.”  My freshmen students often don’t get my jokes and the other 75% I have to filter out.  So yes, it’s important to train yourself to say funny things, but realistically, we all need money and often the joke you make isn’t worth losing your job over.

This is also good advice for “turning it off” around other comics who are much further along in the game with you.  I mean the guys who have been headlining for years and years.  I was recently talking to one and realized that I was boring the hell out of him and nothing I was saying was entertaining to him.  Be self-aware is what I’m saying.  If the other person isn’t contributing back to the conversation, you’re boring (again, someone should’ve told 23-year-old 33-year-old Rob this).

I’ll be away next week so in the meantime be sure to check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage (which is now available on Kindle for $6 less than retail!).

Thank you again for those who share my blog–the numbers continue to climb and I actually had to report my book sales for 2012 (hello, write-offs).