Disclaimer: If you read the blog regularly, I apologize. There is a heavy focus on stand up comedy internals on this post, although I’m sure they’re a few metaphors for life as well. Also, this is a fairly long post, so you’ve been warned my ADD generation of friends.
I’m in the US for a few months and the harsh beauty of stand up is that no matter how many credits you have on TV, how many millions of views on youTube or how many twitter people like you…when you’re doing this as profession there is something you have to quickly learn and accept – NOBODY GIVES A SHIT. Hunting for stage time is going to be a normal part of your career. Just like an office worker checks his emails in the morning or marketers need to offer you their products – so to do you need to be actively taking control of this craft you’ve committed yourself too. It’s not easy, you will get A LOT of negative responses (to be fair, they’re many good people who are just busy) but eventually you will start filling up your calendar and your own routine will be sorted. Most comics (including myself) sit around for years thinking some magic guru will pluck them from the open mic scene, mentor them and push them up the ladder. It might happen for a few, but the reality (even for myself) is if you want something done, you have to do it yourself. You’re creative with your comedy, so now get creative with your career.
Most comedy ladders follow a few different steps. The standard progression I’ve seen and done is:
Year 1: Open Mic: Love yourself. Hate yourself. Question everything. Bomb for many. Kill for a few. Think you know everything after watching Carlin, Burr, CK, Stanhope, Hicks, Mitch, etc.. (Hint: They don’t give a fu*k about you either, but I’m sure are still amazing human beings) Get accepted by fellow comics. Judge other ones, thinking they’re hack or sellout even though they’ve been in your exact same shoes. Make friends. Make enemies. Many quit here. You will put out a 8-minute clip of your standup thinking it’s awesome when in reality it’s terrible and shot on your shitty phone. Your friends laughed to be supportive and your ego will swell. You will message me and other comics to watch it. If we’re nice enough to go through it (cause that chick we’re stalking isn’t responding and we have the time), you will then overstep and ask us to share it. Then we will block you. I’m not being an asshole, I’ve just made this mistake and it’s the equivalent of emailing your friend’s friend who is a VP at Google with your resume when the HR department exists for a reason. Trust the process, learn the rules and then bend them. I admire the grind, and I’ve been both too aggressive and too passive. All I can say is be patient but not complacent.
Year 2-4: Featured Shows + All of Year 1: Based on contacts you’ve made and crowds you’ve impressed, start getting booked at bars, birthday parties, comedy clubs, company events, etc.. Bomb at these shows and realize while open mics are required, making comics laugh and making a general Friday night office/college audience laugh aren’t the same thing. They don’t care about your super clever pedophile joke. Continue the same hustle at open mics, maybe even hustling harder. I’m shocked in California that some of the most successful comics still go to the shittiest open mics – but that’s the same reason for their success. You should be actively announcing your existence as a comic to all your Facebook friends by now. Now you will need them to attend shows, share better videos, give you support, etc.. And if you’re worried about your job noticing your comedy hobby or your friends judging you – then please quit now. If you don’t commit to it, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. Some of the best real gigs I’ve gotten also come because my entire social network knows I do this as that one guy on their newsfeed and will think of me when events happen. Use the tools at your disposal, not run away from them. Know some guy who owns a restaurant? Do a show. Have a team outing at your office? Do a show. Wedding friends asking you to say something? Do a show.
Year 4-7: Headline Shows, Many Featured Shows, few open mics: Same as before but now try to actively push on 30-40 minute spots, try to book your own dates at bars/venues, etc.. More heart break, a few mores successes. Travel, spend money, and look for other avenues to have your voice reach people. Continue to get rejected but don’t even think of it like that – it’s just another day at the office.
Before you give up on these depressing timelines, just know that I’m in year 6.5 of actively doing this (and year two of doing it without a day job) and I’m barely in this bracket in India, and probably in the second bracket in the US. So don’t worry if your timelines don’t match up. I’ve seen guys and girls doing it for a year already booking big clubs, and I’ve seen similar folks doing it 10 years and still at an open mic. It’s commendable to think that if you just hard and you will climb. Mama raised me the same way. But real life isn’t so black and white.
So now that you kind of understand the process, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of the day to day. How the hell do I actually get more shows, now that I want to do this everyday?
Well to be blunt…while you’re learning comedy, don’t forget to learn the business of comedy. And after the jokes, what exactly is the business? It’s about getting strangers (aka non comics aka audience members) to come to a venue, watch comedy and ideally spend money (e.g. Ticket Sales or Food and Drinks). If you look at this like a startup or a company, it eventually becomes fairly simple.
Being honest, genuine and of course funny is still the most important thing you need to do in comedy, but there’s one last point most people forget…comedy isn’t about the one hour you shine on stage, it’s about the 23 hours you grind off it.