One thing I do which i find creatively inspiring is to listen to intelligent comics discuss the art-form on podcasts. I want to share what I just heard on the excellent podcast The Champs with Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher. They were interviewing Chris Rock. Here’s a great nugget for any comic.
Rock discussed how when he young, he was doing a shit set at 1am at the Catch in NYC. It wasn’t going well, but 1 guy in the back was laughing. That guy just happened to be Sam Kinison. Kinison asked Rock after if he wanted to hang with him and go to SNL that weekend? It wasn’t the reason that Chris ended up on SNL, but it ended up being a great experience for him.
You aren’t Chris Rock and I’m not Sam Kinison. None of us are. I would rate them among the 10 best whoever have done it. Focus on the reason Chris Rock’s brought it up, which Neal pounded home. You should never phone-in a set. You just never know.
On some gigs I get to bring my own feature act. Since I get asked by a lot of comics if they could feature for me, I thought I would use this time to clue you in. How do I choose who I am going to use? First I have to have seen you in person. I could watch video on you, but the only way I know if someone really has the goods if I’m in the room with them. There is something you can only learn from being in the room with a comic. This is why some comics seem just okay on video, but in the room are monsters. It’s the difference between a band who is good on a record and who is better live.
Here are the other reasons I go about deciding if I’m going to bring you along.
- Can you consistently get laughs with most crowds? Most weeks I do I will face a variety audiences, even if it’s at the same club. Most weekday club shows have a 20 something audience. Most early weekend shows feature people that are in the 30-50 age range. You need to have some versatility in your jokes. That is why the more personal you are about yourself, the better, as topical references that can fall flat with certain ages aren’t important then.
- Not too dirty. Look, I am not a clean act, unless I am being paid to suppress that part of my show. I’m not saying I want my opening act to be really clean before me, as I like a little flavor, but it makes me crazy when a comic drop a ton of F bombs which have no context. I like edgy comedy, but only if it is smart. I don’t want to follow lowest common denominator shit.
- Sorry, but I need you to live close, as a big reason I am using you is that we can save money by carpooling. That is a major factor.
- I don’t want to tour with a party animal. I don’t expect my opener to act like a Mormon, but if you want to party after the show every night, you are working with the wrong dude. Occasionally is cool when you say I’m going to catch a ride with a staff member, but I don’t want to deal with someone hungover the next day when we make a long drive.
- On that note. Be professional. If we are going in the car together to the club, be ready at the time we are set to go. When I toured with Frank Caliendo I was always early and tried to make his life as easy as possible. I set up his merch, I grabbed him food if he was busy doing radio, etc. I’m not Morris Day and I don’t expect you to be my Jerome, but I don’t want to have babysit your ass.
- If I get a gig where I can bring my opener, get back with me quickly, as most booking agents want to know soon who I’m bringing with. I don’t want to have to chase you down. I’m not a star, but I’m pretty enough that I have plenty other options.
- Are you someone I can see being in the car with for 10 hours? You need to smart and not annoy the shit out of me. It would help if you know something about music or sports. Btw, I am a nice guy, I mean if I wasn’t would I throw that line in here:) Having said that, I realize I can be a little difficult to spend a long time in the car with because I’m so opinionated.
The comic I most often work with now, Mat Alano-Martin, fits these bullet points. The first time I met him we both did a bar show in Indy. He only did a 5-10 set, but I could see from that he understood what was funny and he had stage presence. (You see what I mean about not giving away a set. First impressions are important.) I spoke to Matt after his set and we had things in common. No, we didn’t start making out from our shared chemistry, but I did want to take the next step in our relationship. The next step was I had him do a crappy one-nighter with me and he demonstrated he could stretch out and do a quality 30 minute set. The timing was good for him, as the other 2 acts I had been using had moved to LA and were getting off the road to take care of family obligations.
Added Bonus: Mat is the only comic with a higher forehead than mine, which I like.
This has basically been the formula for every other opening act I’ve toured with. I’m not saying it’s the same for all other headliners, but I think this isn’t too far off.
The most important thing I can tell you about this list I detail above is that if my opening act doesn’t manage to do consistently well on-stage and behave professionally off-stage, I will lose the privilege of bringing my own opening act. If I choose to bring you with me, you are living off of my reputation, so if you fuck up, I get taken down a notch in that booking agents eyes. I don’t take this responsibility lightly, as I can’t afford to lose work over your ass. I also like that every booker I know respects my referral and knows I don’t give my seal of approval unless I’ve seen that person do a 30 minute set in front of me.
And now you know.