Tips on Getting My Help in Comedy (UPDATED)

 

(The Person that I anonymously discussed in this piece contacted me and felt she was unfairly portrayed and that I left out an important part of the conversation. I would agree to a certain point, so I’m going to include the missing sentence. Go to bottom of the piece to find this addendum.  It’s in bold type.)

Standup comedy is an extremely competitive biz. There are few paying gigs for a multitude of comics to battle over. This is a large reason why most comics are selfish bastards in regards to helping others. It’s similar to what Joe Montana said about not helping Steve Young when he was his backup.

Any time you have a competition, there is a certain amount of animosity. I can say we have only a working relationship. That’s all it is. He’s on my team, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s part of the opposition. He wants what I have.

It isn’t a perfect analogy for the situation, but it isn’t that far off. I have tried to rise above that attitude with other comics, as I figured if I worked hard at being the best I can I would survive. I’m proud to say I’ve helped some other comics who have surpassed me and helped others become better comics than they might have without my help. I’m not saying I ever made anyone a successful standup, but I do believe I’ve given out good advice to help them be better.

My rules for helping other comics are this.

  • If I think you are funny and original, I’m going to try to encourage you.
  • If I feel you continually work hard at your craft, I will be more apt to help you.
  • If you are a cool, smart person who I like to be around–that isn’t going to hurt.

Now, if you are missing one of these characteristics I’m going to be cordial, but I’m not going to go out of my way to help. If you are missing 2 of these things, I’m going to try to stay out of your way, so I don’t waste your or my time. If you don’t have any of these characteristics, there’s a chance I might say something pretty blunt about you considering another vocation. There is too much Emperor’s New Clothes behavior in the open mic world of standup, which is why some spend years wasting their time and more importantly, keeping others from getting stage time because they can’t face facts. I know, harsh.

One new event that came into my life in 2011 was teaching a comedy class. A big reason I decided to do it is because I got so much positive feedback from this blog when I discussed my comedy theory. Well, the class ended up being a really great experience, as everyone who took it was extremely positive in their feedback. It also felt good helping others and aided my by working my creative muscle. I’m not going to pretend that I would have put in all the hours helping my comedy student’s craft their acts if they didn’t pay me. Outside of my kids, I’m not altruistic. My students will tell you though, that I have continued to try to help them afterwards, because I have a connection with them from the class.

It’s not that different than in life. If you feel a connection towards someone, you are more apt to be help them.  That’s where being someone I like and respect is part of the deal. I’m not going to kid you, if you’ve said nice things about me, I’m going to give you a little more leeway. I’ve always been complimentary to other comics, if I was moved by their act.  I don’t know if it’s because of the insecurity that most standups suffer deeply from, but so few comics ever say anything positive to each other.  I don’t want insincerity or ass-kissing, but when someone points to something that really reached them that I offered up in standup or at this blog, I appreciate it.  I’ve been in this profession for over 2 decades now and I know how fragile the performer’s ego can be, so even if I don’t like some “successful” comic’s act, I don’t rip them publicly as I know how hard it is to connect with a large audience.  I respect that even if you don’t make me laugh.  The only exception is if I know you are a joke thief or you are a really evil person off-stage.

As I have discussed here before, unless you are a large draw, most headliners are not given the opportunity to bring their own opening act. Booking agents have been burned too many times before that they would prefer to put in someone they know they can count on. A few gigs a year I am allowed to bring my own opening act and I have a ton of people to choose from. Usually it comes down to do they live close so they can help me with the gas money, plus I like them and they are funny.

I have no problem saying to me “Hey, if you ever need an opening act, I would love to work with you.”  What I don’t want to hear is “What’s the deal? You bring so and so, but you never bring me?” And I don’t want some person who has never worked on the road to expect me to break their away-game comedy cherry. I pride myself on trying to bringing an opening act who will make for the best show possible.

I actually have a couple friends who are dynamic comics that I don’t bring with me because they are hard to follow and I don’t think make for a balanced show. I know that sounds like I’m saying I’m not good enough to follow them. Nope.  The deal is they are a little too much like me and I don’t think the balance of the show works well. If I opened for them, it would be the same issue. I actually had this conversation with one of my friends just a couple weeks back and he appreciated me sharing it with him, as he had wondered why I didn’t ever take him with me. A standup show can be like a team, which it isn’t all about just having the best talent, as there is an ebb and flow to it which makes for some pieces working better together.  Jim Carrey and Robin Williams during their prime would have been as hard of comics to follow as any 2 people on the planet, but I can’t imagine they would have been a good show together.

Facebook has been great for creating a more connective comedy community, but it also occasionally gets me an email from someone I hardly know overstepping their boundaries.  I friended someone awhile back who had similar FB friends and here was the conversation that came out of it.

Comic: Just wondering if we’ve met or where you saw or heard of me?

Me: I’m working at the (local club where you live) with a friend of yours. I saw how you had commented on his post for the show this week. I sometimes use Facebook to connect with comics in the Midwest. And now you know…

Comic: Oh okay, cool. From the looks of it, you headline frequently, which means I cannot help you in any way with actual work. But hey, maybe you can help me:) check out my feature act at youtube and maybe you know a club that will dig me or maybe you’ll want/need an opener sometime.

Me: OK.

(A few months later I get my second message from this person.)

Comic: I’m trying to find a contact for the loony bin chain. Do you work there? I want to submit for work there.

Me: I used to but I haven’t in quite awhile. Sorry I can’t be more of help. I would suggest you go to their website and hit up some comic on it that you know.

I was pretty nice in my responses, but internally this person really rubbed me the wrong way. I guess my payback is including these private conversations here. For those of you that think the comedy world owes you something, get a fucking clue. When I began I had only one other comic help me get a couple gigs. Dave Dugan. That’s it. Everything else was on my own. I did showcases, sent VHS tapes (remember those?) and word spread.  I had a couple booking agents who referred me and I will always be grateful to them. Since then, Frank Caliendo has been very good to me, but I feel like I’ve been almost as helpful to him in different ways. I’ve never felt entitled. I know how hard it is to be one of the 50 comics each year that will headline a club, so I try to keep that in mind.

Not that he needs much help from me, but my friend Mike Gardner always gets a positive referral for me for 2 reasons.

  1. Mike always does well with an audience. He has a killer instinct to do well, which is lacking in standup. I know that he will do a good job with almost any type of comedy room.
  2. Mike has hustled to create his own rooms and he always uses me to do them, if I have an open date. They sometimes are hellgigs, but I appreciate making the money and staying close to home.  When I started I used to create similar gigs because I wanted to get a chance to stretch my legs.  Don’t be afraid to try to do this on your own. If the room is a success and you don’t want to book it, a larger booking agent would be glad to take it over, split the commission with you, and it will put you more on their radar.  Smart business move.

As I believe anyone who has ever contacted me will tell you, I’m glad to give you standup advice. Sometimes it can be unsolicited, so sorry if I said something to you on the subject you didn’t like.  Having said this, I am not going to keep someone’s delusion alive if I think they should have quit long ago.  Oh and don’t think I’m being a dick if I don’t bring you with me. I don’t get the option to bring my own feature that often and I have a couple of friends who I feel are a great fit to follow. Good luck out there and if you can help me in anyway, please do it.  You will feel a lot better afterwards. I promise.

ADDENDUM: During the Facebook message that I discussed above I didn’t include a one sentence response that has some importance to the whole conversation.  After the comic (who I have never met) writes “check out my feature act at youtube and maybe you know a club that will dig me or maybe you’ll want/need an opener sometime.”  I responded with “I am more in the help other biz so I will keep u in mind.”  I wrote this because I don’t contact any comics with the idea of what they can do to help me and I have helped way more comics than have ever helped me because it is something I believe is the right thing to do.   I wrote that more saying I never expect help from someone else and do help others, but I still thought it was strange that she was so aggressive in pushing her comedy at me, even though I had never met her.  (I’m not saying I know my way is right versus her’s, though.) wI didn’t include this exchange in the story because I was trying to make a point about good/bad ways to go about having ME help you. I was never trying to throw this comic to the wolves, (which is why I didn’t use her name)– more using her dialogue as a way to explain what I like and don’t.

We ended up having a back and forth on facebook over this. I now know she is just an aggressive person in regards to making her career happen. I admire that. Her methods did rub me the wrong way, so it doesn’t really matter who is in the right or wrong, I just hope she learned that you have to be careful about the way you approach people about helping you in this biz.  On my side of things I learned from our further exchange that I need to very direct in my responses and not leave any comment open-ended which might portray a differing point of view from what I intended.  This might not be interesting to anyone but the 2 of us at this point, but I felt like it was more fair for me to at least include what I left out of this FB conversation and to give it more context.  I’m sure it’s not going to read totally fair to this other comic, but it is my blog, so I’m going to put up my version of it–to a certain extent.  Thanks. Scott

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8 thoughts on “Tips on Getting My Help in Comedy (UPDATED)

    1. You are one of the more altruistic comics I have ever met, which means you are about 5 percent altruistic, even though you don’t know what it means.

  1. Great post. I love your honesty and I agree with it all the way. I’ve always done all I can to help out other comics as long as they’re funny, work hard, and are not a douche bag. And whenever I am hanging out with guys who could probably get me work, I have to realize that I’m probably #50 on a list of 50 comics that this guy wants to help out.

    It always boggles my mind when some comics feel so entitled to help that they just ask for things from people they don’t know.

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