I’m not someone who sits down at the start of the year and writes down my goals. I’m the type who when I plan on doing something, I go after it. I can’t ever remember not finishing what I start on this front. Having said that, most of the time it doesn’t reach the heights I dreamed it would, but I’m usually pretty rational about the dream, so I don’t feel totally devastated if it doesn’t go where I wanted it to.
My biggest focus the past 5 months is writing and putting in a place a comedy show that is raw, personal, and informative about my life the past decade. From the struggles of conceiving a child to finding out the person you love the most in the world is on the autism spectrum. I wanted to see if I could write a show based on this subject matter and still be hilarious enough to do in a standup comedy club. The other element was bringing in special needs groups that we would collaborate in using this show to raise money and awareness.
In regards to the show, I used the Indy Fringe Festival to do debut my show. Since it’s not labeling itself as standup comedy, I felt like I had more room to be serious and it allowed me to do 6 shows over a week to help me figure it out what works and what doesn’t. By the last show of the Fringe, I had the show down pretty well and had a better understanding of what I thought would work in a comedy club. Next step was to do it in comedy clubs. My belief was to do 10-15 minutes upfront of straight-up standup, then tell the audience that the rest of the show was going to be different. Then I tell my story, using my storyboard chapters to give it some balance. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a comedy club, though a few people have said it reminds them a little of the dark, funny 1 person shows that Christopher Titus does. I’ve never seen Titus in person, but I have a lot of respect for him from his interviews and the TV show he had, so I take that as a major compliment.
Before I had even finished writing my whole show, though, I had contacted all the major groups working with kids with special needs in my state. I set-up appointments with each one of their heads to tell them what my plan was and gave them an outline of my show, especially focused on the how hypocritical people are in using words like Retard. Some understood the concept of my idea better than others, but the state head of the Special Olympics loved the idea and just happened to be part of planning for a National Convention of Police Officers who had raised money for his organization. Great timing. We booked a date that day.
Just to give you a timeline, I started writing this show in May. I contacted these organizations in July. I did the Fringe shows in August. Over the past couple months I have been perfecting it for standup comedy clubs. This past Wednesday night was the culmination of my efforts, as the Special Olympics show was ready to happen.
I should mention that I want to try to do these focused charity shows in comedy clubs, as I want to find another revenue source for them. I root for comedy clubs. I’ve been in business with them for 20 years. Having said this, a lot of these clubs are short-sighted. I realize that most clubs have some fundraiser plan, where they give a certain amount of money to the organization from ticket sales, but want to also allow others who have nothing to do with the charity. I think this is great, but what I’m trying to do is a different model. Here’s why.
I have put in a lot of time and effort writing a specific show for these groups and I don’t think it’s fair to the rest of the audience who just showed up for a comedy show to have some of the more specific things I do for my targeted fundraiser shows. I have also put in a lot of time cultivating relationships with these groups and I work hard to get free media attention to increase ticket sales. I pitch my specific show as something a club can do during a weekday or my preference, an early show on Saturday at 5pm, because it’s easier to get people out on a Saturday.
Now I totally am on-board with clubs making more money, that is why I’m not trying to set them up in more typical fundraiser rooms like hotel ballrooms or American Legion halls. Having said that, I have had a couple clubs say well we are interested, but we would rather deal directly with the charity. No is my answer to that. I know what that means. You want to take more money from the charity, cut me out of it by telling them you can get me for my standard club rate, and go from there. Short-sighted and sorry, but I’m not totally altruistic here. I want to get paid for all my efforts. I am not a draw in most markets, but for this show, I am a big draw. There is no one that can do a show as targeted for this audience. I am bringing the club an extra show and I’m all for giving them a guarantee of certain amount of food/drinks that they will make, but the charity and I are going to take the whole door. The club is guaranteed to make a lot more than they will generally make during a weekday show, plus they don’t have to lift a finger to promote it and neither the club or the charity has to deal with each other. Very low-maintenance planning for each of them. All I ask from the club is to pay the opening act who needs to do 20-25 minutes. I get paid off of a certain percentage I make from ticket sales from the charity. I don’t see any negatives for the comedy club, as I have created a new revenue source, done all the legwork, create great community goodwill for the club, and everyone makes a good amount of money off the event, if it turns out the way I hope. If for some reason it doesn’t, the charity and I take the hit. It motivates us to work harder.
Wednesday night was the kickoff of my comedy/business/special needs awareness plan. The Special Olympics have been a great partner, with a few different conference calls to get every thing in order. 2 days before the event and we had already sold all the tickets. I got to comedy club 90 minutes early to make sure everything was in order. I also wanted to be there to greet the people who were involved. For a show like this it’s important to have a good opening act, as there were some topics that are not open for discussion, with it being an event where you are performing for cops who raise money for Special Olympic events, plus they were from all over the US and Canada, so it was like doing a tourist show. There aren’t a lot of comics who will do well in this situation. My friend, Matt Holt, was perfect and got things off to a great start.
I began the show speaking from the heart of how much I appreciate the time and efforts these people made to raise money for the thing that is the most important thing in my daughter’s life. Life is often a real challenge for Maddie (my daughter) and our family, but nothing brings more joy to her than the swimming and basketball programs the Special Olympics provide. I then went into my show. While most of these people didn’t have a child with special needs, they were totally on-board with the comedic message I brought. By the end of the show I left to a standing ovation. I have been in standup for a long time and have only seen a handful of these standing O’s and I’ve worked with some of the best comics. I know they aren’t given out easily.
We ended up raising around 3000 dollars for the Special Olympics. The club made around half that in food/liquor sales. I have never done a show where so many people came up to me afterward, telling me how much the show meant to them. The best part of the whole night for me was parents of children with special needs hugging me and saying how much the show’s message is important to be said.
I know some of this sounds self-serving and I suppose it is, but this was quite a culmination for me. I’ve written Super Bowl sketches, I’ve done shows in huge theaters, and I’ve had some magical nights where I riffed with a crowd in an improvisational way where everything fell into place, perfectly. These were all very fulfilling moments, but Wednesday night was my favorite. I put a ton of time into this project. I wrote a mostly new 45 minute show targeted for a specific audience. In this show I share some very raw moments and even have some serious parts of the show that leave me exposed in a way I have never done before. I also put together a business plan and cold-called on some organizations, which is something that is very difficult for me to do. I’m not sure, but I think this show will continue to grow and become better and allow me to travel the country raising money and awareness for a cause that I totally believe in, while also helping comedy clubs make a more money, as well. I’m not a household name, but I’m a good comic who has always want to push the limits of what I can accomplish. Well for one night (and hopefully for many more in the future) I was Tony Fucking Robbins, but instead of people leaving with blisters on their feet, they left with tired cheeks from laughter, while at the same time felt a tug in their hearts.
That was my time. Give it up for me!