One of my students sent me an email: â€œThe compliments are nice, but when does it translate into a paid gig?â€
Thatâ€™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 â€œtranslatesâ€ into a paid gig! Letâ€™s get this straightâ€¦
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 youâ€™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 doesnâ€™t hit the mics regularly.
She reminds me of the â€œGuy And The Lottery Ticketâ€ joke:
â€œA man is sitting on the sidewalk in front of a liquor store that sells lottery tickets. Every day you can hear him praying, â€œPlease God, let me win the lottery. Please God let me win the lotteryâ€¦ Then one day a priest sees him on the sidewalk, empty-handed, praying. The man catching the eye of the priest says, â€œFather, is there a God? Iâ€™ve been praying for weeksâ€¦ how come God wonâ€™t let me win the lottery?â€ The priest puts his hand on the manâ€™s shoulder and says, â€œFirst, my sonâ€¦ you have to buy a ticket.â€
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. Iâ€™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, â€œabout an hour.â€
He asked if I had videoâ€¦ 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 â€œcrazyâ€ 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 â€œnewâ€ act. That manâ€™s name was Carlos Menciaâ€¦
JUST KIDDING! It wasnâ€™t Menciaâ€¦
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: â€œIâ€™VE MADE IT!â€
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! Fuckinâ€™ 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 â€œNO.â€ 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 itâ€™s nearly flawless and YOU have to chase the work to win this comedy lotteryâ€¦
In the words of the Priest: â€œFirst, my son, you have to buy a ticket!â€