10 Things I've Learned in Comedy
1. Focus on the people that like you.
3. Follow Through on Everything
4. Get Paid
This seems obvious, but once you finish a gig sometimes the hardest thing to do is get paid after. I had one acting gig where they promised me $500 and after doing the gig I only received half the money. After avoiding my call I went to the production company’s office and asked for my money. They showed me an invoice for $250, but they had clearly crossed out the $500. Luckily I had a copy of the invoice with the amount not crossed out. I ultimately had to contact the advertising agency who booked me and they forced them to pay the remaining amount. (you can watch the video here. I'm the British soldier dancing at the end...it made zero sense.)
I had another company that had been re-airing a comedy set of mine over and over. I went to my union and nothing happened. Then myself and another comic filed a lawsuit and after 5 years we all got paid. Unfortunately comics still work for this company.
Save your contracts and all the paperwork. If they don’t give you paperwork ask for it or make your own and have them sign off on it. For bigger paying gigs always ask for a deposit that will cover your expenses and then some if they cancel.
As frustrating as it may be to not get paid on time or have a check bounce give the person the benefit of the doubt. I’ve seen comedians get upset and post on social media about what a jerk the person is and watched any chance of them getting paid go out the window. It’s happened to me, but I always try to be understanding and I’ve been lucky enough to always get paid.
5. Sometimes you're just not ready.
I’ve experienced the frustration of not being accepted to a comedy festival or booked on a late night show and sometimes you’re just not ready for it. They’re not wrong, they know what works for them. The only thing you can do is move forward and continue to get better.
6. Be a good worker.
It goes both ways if you want respect from club owners, bookers, etc. be reliable. Be someone they don’t have to worry about. It’s your responsibility to get to the gig. If they want you to work clean, it’s up to you to deliver. Don’t give them an excuse not to book you.
7. Deliver a product you're proud of.
I remember when I started out, I’d hear a lot of comics when I was starting out saying they hate their acts. I never wanted that to happen for me. There was a time when I was on the road a lot I started to understand how that can happen. You’re doing a lot of shows and the venue grades you and the grade is given to the booker. If the owner doesn’t like you or your act you’re screwed, so sometimes you end up playing it safe and just play your greatest hits. That’s not how a comedian grows. I remember working with Mitch Hedberg and he told me how when he was starting out he’d know at the start of the week he’d never be booked at the club again because his act was so odd. But he stuck with his vision and became very successful. I was lucky to find venues that liked what I did (even when I wasn’t the best) and they stuck with me.
8. Invest in yourself.
This is something I wish I had done more early on in my career, but I’m glad I’m doing it now. I used to teach stand up comedy through a theater and the theater would get most of the money. Now I teach independently and rent the space on my own. I assume all the risk, but I also reap all the reward. The same with shooting my stand up special, I could’ve waited or hoped someone would come along, but decided to do it on my own. Doing things independently gives you more a sense of control.
9. Do things on your own terms.
I was also lucky to start off in Milwaukee where there were very few comics at the time. No one told you how to do comedy, which was good and bad. Good because it allowed for creative freedom (I sang about a potato, pretty groundbreaking stuff) and bad (I once told jokes shirtless with a wrestling mask on, never acknowledging my outfit.—bad idea.) Succeed or fail on your own terms, that way you’ll never have regrets.
10. Do everything.
Act, write, sing, dance. One thing that made my comedy career easier or at least more enjoyable was that I was doing multiple projects: improv, acting, stand up, volunteering. If one thing wasn’t going well, one of the other things would be. They say stand up requires a singular focus, but I think to be truly happy it’s important to be well rounded in your life and enjoy what you do. Don’t limit yourself. Focus on what makes you happy, not just success.
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