How the ‘Broke Artist’ Mentality Keeps many Talented Comedians Broke

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Business guru, Napolean Hill wrote a best selling book (over 100 million copies sold), called “Think and Grow Rich”

Comedians should have a book called “Think Broke and Stay Broke.”

A large percentage of comedians today have that ‘broke-artist’ mentality. They actually think their way into staying broke.

It’s exactly that mentality that keeps them broke.

Reality vs. Perception

I think part of the problem is reality vs. perception.

Here’s the reality: If you can get laughs consistently and work in almost any environment, you are a valuable commodity.

Here’s the perception: It’s an art, so you shouldn’t think about money.

The problem with that approach is that if you’re not thinking about making money, you ARE thinking about being broke.

When I ran an ad on Facebook for my comedy business seminar called, “How to be the Richest Comedian Nobody’s Heard Of,” where I drill down 20+ ways to monetize your comedy, either in writing or stand-up, one comedian actually commented with, “Don’t even expect to make any money in comedy until you’ve been doing it for 10 years.”

Like somehow 10 years is the magic number?

In other words, “think broke until the end of the 9th year.”

Sad part is, he’s not the only comedian that thinks like this. In fact, I sometimes think that more comedians think this way than not.

This is a bullshit belief system. Why do I say that? Because these comedians love to make these big, broad claims when all the evidence to the contrary is right before their very eyes.

Seinfeld

From the first time Jerry Seinfeld took the stage in 1981 at Catch a Rising Star in NYC, it took him only 5 years to get on the “Tonight Show.” After that, he was made.

Letterman

Letterman was in Indianapolis watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. He kept hearing that comedians were appearing at the Comedy Store. He saw an association between the Comedy Store and The Tonight Show, so he moved to L.A., got into the Comedy Store and within 3 years he was on The Tonight Show. He was made.

Both of those guys were making money in comedy before that. Not a lot of money but they were getting paid gigs.

My Own Experience

I was making money less than 2 years into doing comedy and many of my students are doing it just 2 years in as well.

At 27, I had just started dabbling in comedy. I left L.A. to go back to school and finish getting my degree. I wanted to get a degree so I could have something to fall back on just in case my career went in the toilet.

While at college, to make a little money, I got a job teaching comedy traffic school.

At the end of one of my traffic school classes, this student in class approached me. He said, “Hey Jerry. I’m the president of the local Chamber of Commerce. Every year we have an annual dinner where we swear out the old officers and swear in the new. Every year, every Chamber in the country does this. I was wondering if you could emcee that event then do like 30 minutes of comedy. We’ll pay you $800, feed you and give you beer.”

I thought Wow! Beer! 🙂

I did the gig. It was a lot of fun. I hired a videographer to get the event on a broadcast-quality video. I got my check for $800, ate the food and drank a beer.

3 days later, I got a call from the neighboring Chamber of Commerce. The gal said, “Hey Jerry. We hear you did a great job with the Chico Chamber of Commerce. I was wondering if you could do the same for us?”

I did the gig. It went great.

Then I thought how many Chambers of Commerce are there in the country?

Turns out, there’s 7,650.

I mailed out flyers to 200 of them. I booked 28 gigs in a 3 month period, all at $800. That’s $22,400. Or close to $7,500 a month. Not bad for a college kid with no agent, right? And that was in 1991!

Here’s the killer. At that point, I hadn’t done one single club gig yet.

I knew right then, that I had a business. I WAS the BUSINESS.

Note: I don’t say any of this to brag or anything. I say it to point out the possibilities.

Leveraging My Comedy Business

I sent out more fliers and booked hundreds of Chambers around the country.

But, there’s more…
One of the tricks I use to write comedy is to look up definitions. Definitions give you a starting point. When I looked up the definition for the Chamber of Commerce it said, “A local association to promote and protect the interests of the business community in a particular place.”

I thought to myself hmmm… an “association…”

How many associations are there in the U.S.? According to the IRS there is 1.53 million and most of them want a comedian at one of their events.

They just don’t know it: yet.

I recently did a gig for the Northwest Regional Tow Truckers Association, (who even knew they existed?!).
They paid $3500 for one night, flew me in, paid for my hotel and fed me.

And with 1.53 million associations out there, the available gigs is endless.

So when another “broke-thinker” says to me, “you can’t make any money in comedy until you’ve been doing it 10 years:” I say, “No. YOU can’t make any money in comedy. I’M doing okay.”

When you learn how to treat comedy like a business by learning how to create multiple revenue streams, how to scale and how to take advantage of something called “idle capacity,” not only can you learn to make money in comedy, but you can learn to build a comedy enterprise and create a great living.

And this is why I share this information. Because comedians have to get it out of their heads that they are competing with one another. There are enough gigs for everyone. You just have to know where to find them.

All you have to do is stop thinking like a broke artist and start thinking like a business
person.