Treating Comedy Like Your Own Business

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The business of Comedy can be brutal. Here’s a couple of simple tips to get you going on the right track.

Have you ever set up a lemonade stand as a kid? You thought it would be great putting your portable table out with a pitcher filled with lemonade and some paper cups and you had a business.

But you sat there in the sun and your only customers were your Mom, Dad, and if you were lucky a neighbor’s Mom. And after a long day in the sun in anticipation of making money, you wound up exactly the way you started…broke. The only difference is afterwards, you were a broke with a suntan—except in my case, a sunburn!

How does this relate to comedy? In comedy without customers, you are not a business. You’re just a broke stand up comedian.

So, how do you remedy this situation? I’m going to give you the answer. It’s quite simple actually: HARD WORK!

Did you know that less than 2 percent of the comedians that start out in this business actually continue on to any level of financial success? That’s right. 2 percent! That’s a brutal statistic isn’t it?

The good news is that when you compare it to the other performing arts, the stats are similar. In the acting profession, according to the Screen Actors Guild, (the primary union that handles actors), the percentage of actors working at any given time is about 2 percent.

One of the reasons the failure rate in comedy is so high is because most people who get into this business—don’t treat it as such. They equate comedy with frivolity and thus, treat their profession, frivolously.

Most beginning comedians I run into also have day jobs and complain that after a day at work they have no energy to write or work on their act. I totally understand that dilemma. When you’re starting out it’s hard to balance your day job with building your comedy career. The good news is it CAN be done.

As a comedian, you should focus on three things:

  • Writing
  • Performing
  • Building relationships

But how do you do that when you have limited time? I mean you work after all!

“Show Business” is two words. You have the SHOW and you have the BUSINESS. You have to start thinking of your comedy career as a business—your OWN business and you need to start working it like your own business NOW. Not, “I’ll think about it…” NOW!

In most start-up businesses, it’s not unheard of for the owners to put in 18-hour days. You, as the owner, have to do everything. You work as the owner, the sales team, the accountant, human resources and the janitor. 18-hour days are pretty standard.

As a comedian, it’s very similar. You are the writer, the performer and the booker.

So, when you are starting as comedian, treat it like your own business. Put in the time. Build a schedule into your calendar. Give yourself at least a 2-3 hour period where you are working on your writing at least 4-5 days a week. Print a “DO-NOT-DISTURB” sign and post it on your door. Let everyone in the house know that during this period of time, you are writing and DO IT!

It may seem tough at first, but eventually it’ll become a part of your daily routine. But it is important to put it on your schedule. Treat it like you are reporting to work. When you do that, you train your mind to prepare for it. It helps you to follow-up and meet that goal.

You also have to plan to get mic time. Once you have 5-7 minutes of material, it’s time to hit the mics. You should be up at a mic somewhere in front of people at least 2-3 times per week, if you’re in a town where it’s accessible. If you’re near a town where comedy is accessible, then you should find ways to hit a mic at least a couple times a month. If this means getting in the car and driving to the next town…then do it! I remember driving 5-6 hours to do a gig for FREE just to get the stage time and make another business connection.

Sometimes I’ll tell a comedian that and they’ll say, “but that means you’ve lost money on gas!” I understand you’re frustration. I really do. But this is a business and in business you need to spend money to make money. You need to speculate to accumulate. You spent money to get experience and make a connection. Besides it’s tax deductible once you start to pursue this as a career. It’s training. It’s research and development. It’s travel.

Once you develop 10-15 minutes of solid material (by solid, I mean that it’s generating laughs every 18-20 seconds or so), then it’s time for you to become the sales team. Start hitting the phones, the email, Facebook and Linked In to make connections with comedy club bookers, club owners and talent coordinators.

Go to the clubs meet other comedians, find out who’s booking what and how to get in touch with them.

You should be at this point making no less than 10 phone calls per day for your career. That’s right, 10. But just having that number in your head helps you doesn’t it?!

Call comedy clubs, Rotary Clubs, Toastmasters, offer your services for free at local events, parties, annual banquets for chambers of commerce. Teach a comedy traffic school. It’s amazing how quickly you can hone your act when you have a captive audience!

Ultimately, if you study the fundamentals of comedy, you get to be a good joke writer and a better comedian with mic time and practice, you will find that doors will start to open.

Treat everyone with respect, over-deliver wherever you go, and be the guy who will do favors and help other people out. Be nice to everyone. Even the people you don’t like. Be nice! You never know when they will be in a position to help you!

This is only a summary of how to go about this there are many other ways to develop your comedy business. There are many tried and true techniques that I will go over in future articles.

In a nutshell, remember that people who start their own business put in around 18 hours a day. Think about the time you put into your comedy business and if you’re not treating it like your OWN business and you’re not putting in the time, then you might as well go to your kitchen, get a folding table and set up a lemonade stand.

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