I had booked a corporate event in Wisconsin for this past Saturday awhile back, so I was up for finding a gig to route with it. My friend (and comic), Keith Barany, had a room a few hours away and he’d been hoping I could do it sometime. The money was fair, so I took him up on it for the Friday night. Bonus was Keith said I could bring my own feature act. Since I was doing the corporate the following night as a solo performer, it wasn’t practical to drive with someone, but I still wanted to give some comic I respected a chance to work it.
I am going to withhold the comic who ended up taking me up on the gig because I don’t want to embarrass him, but I’m still going to tell the story because that’s what I do here. So comic (name withheld) gives me a call about 45 minutes before showtime to tell me he got lost and ended up 3 hours away. Now that definitely sucked for him, as he blew a lot of gas money and lost 150 bucks to open. I will tell you though, I wasn’t hating it.
I told the client the bad news is the opening act wasn’t going to make it, but the good news was more of me!
I ended up doing the whole show and it was fun. I’ve had the opening act not show up a couple of other times in my career and all 3 times the show went great. I ended up doing almost 2 hours and it never felt like I was stretching. I just got into a lot of my older material and just kept going. I’m not trying to be Carlos Mencia doing a super long set just to show off or to feed my ego (that is what this blog is for:), but I know I can do it. The client was super happy and I left with 150 more bucks. Not a bad night. Add to it that it was in a scenic part of Northern Wisconsin and that the set-up was really cool (see video below), which made it easier to do a long set. I doubt a lot of comics could have done the whole 90 minute show since the ages varied between 16 and 74 and they were mainly small-town Midwesterners, but I know how to pull back and massage certain material to be relatable for varied ages.
Now here is where it gets very tricky for me at this site. As some of you know, I try to be really supportive of feature acts. I also try to bring the most talented comics I can who will do well with the audience, as I want to help give them opportunities. Having said that, there are plenty of times when if I did the whole 90 minutes, it would end up being a better show. Now I know that is egotistical, but I have performed I’m guessing 7 hours of material during my career, so for me to find 90 minutes of good material isn’t too hard. Let me also state, that if it was on the bill with Bill Burr or Chris Rock, not sure my best 5 minutes could compete with their worst 90 minutes. I think I’m pretty honest about my place in this business.
I know this particular blog is not going to win me too many friends, but there are plenty of one-night shows where I end up doing an hour and get 90 percent of the laughs. The best standup show has someone who opens and is funny their whole 30 minutes, only to be followed by the headliner who is just as funny for their hour. I write this to point this fact out to feature acts. I know it’s tough to open a show, but if you are bitching about not getting more work you need to think this way:
Am I as funny in my 30 as the headliner is in his best 30? You should be because it’s easier to write that first 30 than it is to add another 30 that is just that good. If you are a feature act who thinks they should be headlining, your 30 should be better than the headliners you work with best 30 minutes.
I can remember when I reached a point in my featuring career where I knew it was time to be moved up. That was when I was getting way too many “you should have been the headliner” comments. As I’ve discussed here before, I’m very competitive, which makes me want to leave the stage every night knowing I killed. It doesn’t always work that way, as I’ve outlined here many times, but the times I can recall a feature act having a better show than me is few and far between. (If you think you are one of those feature acts that have had a show or two where you did better than me that night on the bill–you just might be. Oh and remember this—keep it to your fucking self.)
I can recall playing Go Bananas in Cincy a decade ago and doing better than the headliner every show. At the end of the week I asked the club manager if I could headline next time around and his answer was, well the headliner this week is one of our weaker acts. I responded with could I become one of his weaker (but not as weak at this guy) acts? He said no. Last time I ever played there. Might have been a mistake, but if you end up doing better than the headliner every show that week, it’s hard to see how it’s going to be better the next time around. Not sure what kind of advice I’m giving you with this story, but I will tell you that you need to be consistently good night after night as a feature if you want to move up. It also doesn’t hurt if you can figure out a way to draw some people to the club. The best way to move up is to be worth way more financially to the club than most other comics.