What every comedian should know about the people behind the scenes and what every producer, booker, promoter, podcast network, marketing person and club owner should know about comedians.
I get a lot of comments like: “It’s weird, your brain is like half comedian, half not.” “I never thought of that!” “Ohhh, THAT’S how it works?” so I figured I’d take this opportunity get everyone to think about some of the things they've never thought about...
First up, a few things we could all stand to put in our heads:
We’re all just people! “You fux with the people that fux with you” If you haven’t figured it out yet, that mythical “real world” run by smart adults who know what they are doing doesn’t exist. Especially in comedy. There’s rarely any vast conspiracy or malign design behind a “slight” coming from either side. In fact, a lot of the time, there was no slight, except in your own mind.
Nobody’s thinking poorly of you, they’re too busy thinking poorly about themselves
Comedians warn other comics off of certain shows, venues, managers or whatever for reasons that range from legitimate mistreatment to “wah, they didn’t cater to my every whim!” and I might not book you for a show because you’re not that funny or just because you kept bad mouthing someone after I said, “Actually, she’s my friend.” If you wrap your head around how capricious and random that is from all sides, you’ll be a lot happier.
Be loyal & Get a grip of what “loyalty” really is - As a comedian, you have to understand that the liquor and electric bills have to get paid if you want ANY spots, so don’t be a big baby when your buddy at the same level starts getting more spots than you once he gets a flashy credit. As a producer/booker, you can’t be blinded by those flashy credits and throw over the guys who are just as talented (and available to do a spot in a pinch when you need them). But a lot of people get bent out of shape for what they see as disloyalty because they have unreasonable expectations. Venues need to sell tickets, comedians want as much stage time as possible. Sometimes that means either or both sides aren’t going to get exactly what they want exactly when they want it but that’s okay.
Just For Comedians:
We’re not all slimy
Some of us actually care. Deeply. Like, we’re totally super gay for you. We care so much we lose hundreds of dollars per show to make sure you have a cool place to do your thing.
And just because someone is asking for a cut of a project, does not automatically make them slimy. It makes them reasonable and realistic about how much it costs to keep the lights on and stream your podcast and promote and market.
Help us help you - For god’s sake, please respond with info, avails, headshots, clips or whatever in a timely fashion. If you don’t respond about the spot I have open, I’m giving it to the girl who did. If you miss three appointments for an interview, I will just go talk to someone else. If your manager asks you to do a packet or reel, it’s not for her health, it’s to get you work.
And if you have to cancel, are running late, whatever, please be a grown up and give as much warning as possible. I’m actually HAPPY for the guy who gets a better paying gig and gives me three days notice to find a replacement (I know, I know, you’re the MOST amazing funny person on earth, how could I ever find a replacement?). I am NOT happy with the guy who texts ten minutes before the end of the show to say he’s not going to make it or worse, with a fakey, “Just heading out from the totally other side of town that we both know will take 45 minutes, will I be too late?”
Our Roles Change/Play The Long Game - The Mama Bear who was able to give you a couch to sleep on, help you with your website and promote every one of your sketches is now booking three shows, so no she can’t rewrite your bio this afternoon, but she still loves you and will eventually book you on one of those shows. And maybe that booker who always hooked you up went into management, so she’s got to focus on her clients instead of you, but she’ll still recommend you for spots and maybe get you a manager!
“The worst guy running a club is a failed comedian” is wrong! You know who’s worse? The disinterested money man who doesn’t know/care that getting picked for Montreal is meaningless and that chick just got all her shit because she was dating a more successful comedian who foisted her on everyone. Someone who has actually toiled in the trenches should have the good sense to see past that and appreciate stuff like “this gal’s hustling on a lot of quality bar shows every week” and “this guy’s been really growing into his voice and it almost there now” Which isn’t to say you have to have been a comedian to be one of the people who gets it, I know plenty of non-comedian producers and bookers who do give a shit, and those ones are the real gems.
For Producers/Bookers/Everyone Else that Makes Stuff Actually Happen
Comics are babies - Comedians are really just scared little rabbits who can’t believe anyone would ever want to help them, so most respond either by dragging their feet or being blustery idiots. Nag the ones that need nagging and tell the others to cut the bullshit.
Most of them didn't come from any kind of office or corporate background, so stuff like W2s, I9s, tax withholding and non-disclosure agreements aren't second nature. They may seem obvious to you, but they might look suspicious to them. Don't get frustrated, just help put it in context.
Roll with the punches - The sign of a terrible producer/booker is one who loses their shit when someone has to cancel, reschedule or requests to go up early or late to make another show. If a comedian has the time to make your show (especially if it’s unpaid) the center of their life, then you are booking some shitty comedians. If you want the best comedians on your show, they’re going to have other spots to get to and they may just get a sweet last minute gig in Des Moines and have to reschedule. Be cool about it. If you are, they will actually reschedule with you, instead of sighing angrily every time you pop up in their text and email notifications.
And good lord, don’t send one of those crazy pants “You’ll never work in this town again!” emails. Did Kevin Spacey send an angry email to that guy before he killed him in the garage? Nope. If you actually had the power to follow through on that threat, you’d just do it. (PS You don’t actually have that power. None of us do.)
Aim for balance - As the ones who actually see numbers, it can be tempting to just “Put that hot guy from Guy Code who will fill the room” on everything. But spread it out, mix in the hard workers who haven’t quite caught their break, the vets who aren’t getting as much love as they used to and for god sakes don’t just book five white guys. Everyone knows my cup of tea are dirty degenerate guys like Ari and Jay, but I rarely even have to think about it to end up with a show full of brown, black and vagaina people. And it’s fine if you do have to think about it, as long as you make it happen.
Trust your gut (and no one else) - I rarely book anyone without having watched them perform at least three times, unless I get some serious referrals from other people I really trust. Because even a vouch usually has an ulterior motive - a favor owed, a spot to trade, trying to get on the same show as her so he can try and smash. Actually, the people I trust most are the ones who do lay their cards out on the table every time, so I know when it’s a “Hey, can you just do this for me” vs a ”This gal is seriously hysterical” And “buzzz” pfffft, some of the least competent comedians I know have the best buzz while the good ones are too busy getting funnier to deal with all that garbage.
Give Second Chances - Bands have garages they can practice in, comedians don’t. One "off" set shouldn't tank a person’s standing in your eyes. Sometimes even a run of them - breakups, new relationships, job pressure, some weird beef with another comic on the show, their ex and her new fiance randomly being in the audience - lots of stuff can throw someone off for a night or a week, but most of them bounce back.