How To Be A Comedian | Getting the Work

mic_mp720x480After a terrific graduation showcase for one of my classes this week, I sent out an email congratulating everyone on a job well done.

One of my students sent me an email: “The compliments are nice, but when does it translate into a paid gig?”

That’s a great question and is one of the most burning questions comedians have who are starting out in this business.

The hard and fast reality is this: It NEVER “translates” into a paid gig! Let’s get this straight…

No one will ever walk up to you after you do a random showcase and offer you a job. If it does happen, then it will be a rare occasion indeed.

I have had students who have showcased and got approached by managers or agents and developed other key relationships at a showcase, but to have someone come up to you and offer you a job without you developing a relationship with them first, is very rare. Especially in L.A.

Does this mean you cannot convert what you’ve learned in a class into a paying career? Of course not. What it means is that YOU have to get out there and chase the work.

The student who asked me this question is a sweet, kind woman who has a funny act, but doesn’t hit the mics regularly.

She reminds me of the “Guy And The Lottery Ticket” joke:

“A man is sitting on the sidewalk in front of a liquor store that sells lottery tickets. Every day you can hear him praying, “Please God, let me win the lottery. Please God let me win the lottery… Then one day a priest sees him on the sidewalk, empty-handed, praying. The man catching the eye of the priest says, “Father, is there a God? I’ve been praying for weeks… how come God won’t let me win the lottery?” The priest puts his hand on the man’s shoulder and says, “First, my son… you have to buy a ticket.”

The only thing I know for sure is what has happened to me in my 25-year career as a stand up comedian: I was hitting the mics 3-6 times a week. I was meeting other comedians. I was developing relationships and building a reputation.

One of the first paid gigs I got was when I was doing an open mic in Chatsworth, CA. I’d done this open mic probably twenty-five times. I would arrive at the bar at sign-up time and stay till close, supporting the other comics. I developed a casual business relationship with the booker. He liked my style and was impressed that every time I hit that mic, I had new material and was getting consistent laughs. He commented on it and asked how much time I had. I said, “about an hour.”

He asked if I had video… and I had a couple of tapes in the backpack I carried with me wherever I went. I handed it to him. He was impressed that I had one on me. (I thought to myself Wow! Some of that “crazy” shit my Dad told me to do is paying off!) The booker took the video home to watch it. I was excited.

The very next week I went back to that open mic, my heart soaring with anticipation of getting a job. When I got there I found out that the booker who took my tape just went out on the road to do his “new” act. That man’s name was Carlos Mencia…

JUST KIDDING! It wasn’t Mencia…

But he did go out on the road for two weeks. I was disappointed that I would have to wait for him to return, but I was already going to that open mic for about six months so what was another two weeks? The very next day the booker called me and told me he liked the video and he had a gig for me in West Covina at a place called Lamp Post Pizza. It paid a hundred bucks and you got food and a couple of drink tickets. I thought to myself: “I’VE MADE IT!”

I did the show and did really well. I got my hundred bucks, but was too nervous to enjoy the free food. I came home and was so excited that I got paid for telling jokes! I basically got paid for doing something that used to get me into trouble back in school! Fuckin’ Eh!

I was so excited and jacked up from that experience, that I researched and called everyone I knew that did comedy. I found something called Comedy USA, a publication that culled and printed information for comedians, bookers and clubs. I called all of clubs listed. Ninety percent said “NO.”  I called more. I got a Fed-Ex account, got my tape duplicated and sent it out to everyone I could. Slowly, I started to get work. Most of it was filling in for last minute cancelations and some of it was driving 5 to 6 hours to make fifty bucks, but it was a start.

I spent 5 days a week, making at least 10 calls per day for my career. I sent out tapes, traveled to clubs and auditioned in person whenever I could. Eventually one job turned in to several jobs. I did this all without an agent or manager, (Sometimes my wife called as my manager). Eventually I turned it into a career doing 40-45 weeks of work a year and more. But I chased it and I worked it. Every. Single. Day.

My point is this: YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK! YOU have to hit the mics 3-6 times a week. YOU have to develop the act to where it’s nearly flawless and YOU have to chase the work to win this comedy lottery…

In the words of the Priest: “First, my son, you have to buy a ticket!”

Please Share Your Comments! Love to hear from you!

Jerry says:

Thanks for the comment. It’s so true. I did those gigs for a few years before I started booking better gigs…and still did them to fill in the gaps. It wasn’t whether I was playing an arena or a pub. It was whether I was working on my stuff. Wherever whenever. I still do it. I just did an Italian restaurant just for kicks. It keeps you true to your craft.

Kevin says:

Jerry,

Thanks for the post. I think too often we forget about the HARD work that comedians put in to get their material to a point that it will actually make money. It’s all too easy to just think our material is hilarious (and maybe it is) and that fame should be thrust upon us. But the reality is ALL of the comedy greats worked for YEARS to get to where they are.

I actually follow quite a few people on twitter who are up and coming comedians. It’s always interesting to see their posts. The one thing it’s taught me is that these people perform EVERYWHERE and ANY CHANCE THEY GET…whether it be a pizza joint, dive bar OR comedy club.

In fact, I recently went to see one of the comedians I follow on twitter at a pizza joint that was close to my home. I’m sure they were expecting a local crowd, ranging in ages from 21-55. What they ended up getting was a hand full of adults who came to watch the show and a room full of 10-11 year old girls from a softball team celebrating a victory earlier that night. Yet, despite the kids running around, not paying attention, interrupting and everything in between each of the comedians just kept moving along, knowing that this was yet another opportunity to work on their material. Sure, it wasn’t an ideal or glamorous gig but it WAS a great opportunity to try new material, tighten up jokes and work on delivery…all things that are ESSENTIAL to reaching their comedy goals.