When I started in the comedy biz, you could work for just 2 comedy booking agents and fill a whole calendar year. By the time I had moved up to being a feature act (5 years later), it took 6 booking agents to fill your calendar. Today, I have to work for almost everybody just to meet my bills. It’s constantly a hustle. I am a loyal/practical guy, so I’m always focused on who helps me the most. If there is any doubt in my mind that one gig competes with another, I don’t attempt to both of them. Sure it is tempting to try to work both rooms, but it is not worth wrecking a relationship for one gig. This is an incredible tightrope that comedians walk, but I understand why booking agents want loyalty in a market, as their client doesn’t want the same comics as their competitor.
Now that there are less venues to work, you do have to work for a lot of booking agents if you want to be on-stage every week. In today’s cut-throat comedy climate, most booking agents either have shaky truces with each other or just out-right despise each other. I totally get why some agents would think less of you if you work for some less than ethical booker. I wish I could just work for people who are completely on the up and up, but my kids would go hungry with that business plan, so I try to do the best I can. I’ve worked for every major booking agent in this country and I have a good relationship with all of them because I’m a complete professional when I do a gig and most importantly, I get good reviews almost everywhere I go. It would be more freeing and creative to be more experimental at my gigs, but I try to bring the Noize every show, as I know one bad show can set you back for years.
For example, I headlined a new comedy club a couple of years ago and had just okay shows early in the week and then on the Friday, had a substandard show for me. The audience just wasn’t good for me or the very funny feature act. I don’t usually blame the audience, but every once in awhile they have a bad night. The Saturday shows I did were kick-ass, but unfortunately for me, the manager was gone that night, so I was graded off the earlier part of the week. I haven’t been back there since. I can think of 2 other clubs in my career this happened at, including one where I had gotten A reviews the first 2 times in, but never went back because of one night where the response wasn’t as good. This is a business where you are constantly being judged and graded. I like the challenge of that, but it is a very stressful. There is a reason that every year formerly successful comics drop off the comedy grid because they can’t make it work anymore.
Now I get to the title of this post. Why I don’t post my tour dates. In the digital age, it is important to use the web to market yourself. Social networking, Youtube, web-sites, etc. Listing your full calendar seems like that should be an important element of this. Now if you are an act that only plays major comedy clubs you should list your dates, as no booking agent is going to hassle you over these. It is when you get into 0ne-nighters that can pose the problem. Booking agent A doesn’t like Booking Agent D, so even though the gig doesn’t impact Agent A, that agent cannot get past their dislike of Agent D, so they knock you down a peg in the pecking order. If you are doing one-nighters, your listing of a gig isn’t likely to impact any ticket sales. The big reason 98% of comics list their gigs is so they can look like they are really working to their friends and fellow comics. There is a booking agent now looking at your schedule making positive and most likely, negative judgments off it.
Here’s how I do it. If I do a gig where I think announcing it on my Facebook, Twitter, email list will help sell some tickets, I will definitely whore myself out. If I’m doing a one-nighter in some small town that I’ve never been before, I don’t. I do this for the reason I listed above and also this: I don’t want fans of mine knowing some of the shit gigs I do. While I often do stories about these shit gigs and I also often find these shit gigs pay better and I have a better time at, it makes me look like I’m not playing in the big leagues. I have a weird career where I play theaters, play major comedy clubs, and also play taverns. If I was a comedy snob about where I was going to play, I wouldn’t have a nice pad, with a nice car, and the cool stuff I have. I’m not saying my plan would work for everyone, but it is the path I’ve chosen and so far, it’s worked pretty well. You have already picked an artistic field to make your living, if you aren’t willing to make some sacrifices you better be some amazingly special comic. Just remember the next time you post that gig you are doing in Daleville, Alabama—who are you really doing this for? Your fans? Your Ego? Get out of your narcissistic head for a minute and consider the bigger picture.
POSTNOTE: I do hope that most comedians keep their schedules up, as every once in awhile I will peruse them to help me. If you are a comedian I think I’m superior to I will go “hmm, they book that jackass, I will have to get a hold of that club.” We all have a bulls-eye on us.