Way to go, Clubs!
In the past nine and a half years I’ve performed in a lot of clubs and a bunch of them stand out for one reason or another because they do something so incredibly right. I just wanted to point a few of them out and apologize preemptively for any of the ones I forgot. When I write these, I type as I think and don’t even really go back to proof them unless a word gets underline in red! These are my thoughts as I have them. I guess what I’m saying is please book me again even if you slipped my mind this morning. Please…
The Skyline in Appleton, Wisconsin doesn’t do a check drop. If you’re not a comedian you might not know what that means. If you are a comedian you haven’t closed a show yet, you might not even know what this is a big deal. The check drop is when the waitstaff drops the bills off at the tables. In a restaurant it’s not a big deal because everyone comes and goes at different times. Being a wait person at a comedy club seems like one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Every single person is arriving at almost the same time and every single person is leaving at the exact same time! When you’re on stage, you go from being the focus of everyone in the room to losing everyone in the room at the exact same moment. At each table someone is fiddling for money. It can be very distracting. A lot of clubs do it really well. The club that does is the best is The Skyline because they don’t do it at all. I’m not exactly sure what they do, but it has something to do with table numbers. When the audience leaves, they tell the cashier on the way out which table they were at and then the settle their bill then. It’s fast and efficient. While they have their money in their hands and are in spending mode, they next walk past the comedians selling their merchandise.
During slow times a lot of clubs will “paper the room”. What that means is they give out free passes to get butts in seats. Clubs make most of their money off of drink sales, so it’s not usually a huge deal. Sometimes it sucks for the performer because if people haven’t invested anything financially into a show, they sometimes forget to invest their attention. The two clubs that stand out for me with papering are Lansing Connxtions and Dr. Grin’s. Lansing runs silly contests on their Facebook page. A lot of times the contests will coincide with the comedians that are there. The week I was headlining, the theme for the contests was nerdy movie trivia. This is great for a couple reasons. First is I’m getting to perform in front of people who share my interests. That’s going to make for a better experience both for me and them. My first show that week there was a woman front and center with a Futurama t-shirt on. I couldn’t have been happier! She’s going to have friends who she’s going to tell about the show and next time I’m there, maybe she’s back with an even larger group. I win and so does the club! The second reason is because people still feel like they “earned” a show even if they didn’t invest money in it. I think it makes the audience more engaged.
When I started, Dr. Grin’s in Grand Rapids had a house emcee who used the moniker Dr. Billy Grin. Billy kept a stack of free passes with him everywhere he went and he passed them out to beautiful women all around town. When people asked where all the hot chicks in Grand Rapids hung out, people would tell them, “Dr. Grin’s.” They were packed almost all the time! And Grin’s is the perfect experience for this because it’s in The B.O.B. with a bunch of other bars. It was one stop mating game…or whatever the kids call it.
Some clubs have staffs that honestly seem like they hate comedy. The Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase is just the opposite. They love comedy there! This is great for both Roger who runs the place and the comedians. Roger has a fleet of people recommending people for him to bring in. It’s great for us too because if you can make that staff laugh, particularly Jay behind the bar, then you know you’re doing something right. It’s a great way to test material on something other than your cats…who will never laugh because that’s physically impossible for cats to do. If you look at the line up at any time on the calendar at that club you’re going to see people who are on the verge of breaking big or are currently the secret gem that only people in the know know about. Roger was booking Lynne Koplitz way before she was doing television with Joan Rivers. Roger was booking Jackie Kashian years before everyone in LA had a podcast and found a way to mention that Jackie is one of the best out there. You can see the best of the best at Ann Arbor and be like the cool kid who can say the comedy equivalent of, “I saw Green Day at St. Andrews.” By the way, I did see Green Day at St. Andrews.
Reach out to the community. Joey’s Comedy Club is open more days a week than most comedy clubs in the world. That’s largely due to the fact that Bill Bushart who runs the place does Comedy For A Cause better than anyone I’ve ever met. Being a comedian himself, Bill knows how much better it is to perform for a full house. Since I’ve known him he’s been working at Joey’s doing promotions. Probably a week doesn’t go by where there isn’t some sort of fundraiser going on at Joey’s. Those fundraisers fill the place. It’s great too because then it becomes someone else’s job to fill the seats and not the clubs. If there’s a group that wants to do a fundraiser first show Saturday, then the club is now freed up to focus on second show Saturday. Both shows benefit! When the fundraisers go well, there’s invariably someone in the audience that thinks, “damn, this was a fun way to raise money. I should do one of these too.” They get in touch with Bill and another one is booked. Comedy For a Cause is so successful at Joey’s that many times they end up having to do a third show on Saturdays! I’ve been to clubs where they’ve had to cancel a second show on a Saturday because of lack of audience. Joey’s is open six days a week and has at least eight shows every week.
Posters, posters, posters. The Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin has a great graphic artist who makes posters for every show. The posters are beautiful and are hung prominently on the street in a great location. The Comedy Castle in Royal Oak has great posters inside as well that are also works of art. I was just at Laugh Comedy Club in Bloomington. It’s a smaller club on a limited budget. Adam that runs the place is hyper aware of how much of a difference a good poster can make. The person that was designing them used a text heavy design. Adam told him that he really wanted logos of the credits each comedian had. Now you get great posters there that really stand out. Bloomington, like Madison has a lot of foot traffic and those posters hang right on the street where people passing by can see them. They jump out at you too and generate buzz. A good poster can make a huge difference.
A nice green room is heaven! The Ice House in Pasadena has nice comfortable seating in there. We had a tray of cheese and crackers. If my memory is correct, there were beverages too. The Comedy Castle has a little fridge that always has water for the comedians. The lighting in there is perfect. There’s a television in both clubs where you can watch the show. The Castle even has it where you can tape yourself right from the green room via a ceiling mounted camera pointed at the stage!
And finally, say, “Thank You”. I absolutely love The Comedy Club on State in Madison, Wisconsin and always will because my last memory of the place every time I leave is an amazing one. When they pay you, they pay you in an envelope with a Thank You card. I still have my cards from every time I’ve been there. They write you a note and the management staff all signs it. It’s a small gesture, but it’s one that makes me happy every time I think about it. When a club makes an effort like that to show that they appreciate you, it makes you want to do everything you can to let them know you appreciate them as well. Whenever I’m on stage I want to do my best, but when I’m on stage in Madison I want to do better than my best.
So thank you to these, and all the clubs that have been keeping me steadily employed all these years!
9th Anniversary and my thoughts on comedy classes
Nine years ago today I had my graduation show at Joey’s Comedy Club. Since then I’ve done over 1480 shows.
Some comedians argue about the benefits of comedy classes. I like them, but with an asterisk.
I don’t believe you can teach someone to be funny. I think it’s like playing a musical instrument. You either have an ear for music or you don’t. It’s the same way with comedy. Either you have an ear for what a joke sounds like or you don’t. Yeah, like with music, you can teach the mechanics, but some people just are never going to get it. They don’t have that natural ability.
Believe me, I wanted to play bass so badly. Practically all my friends when I was a teenager and in my early twenties were great musicians. A lot of my friends to this day are still great musicians. I just don’t have a natural affinity towards music. I practiced and practiced my bass until I was passable in a punk band where I wrote most of the songs so I knew I didn’t throw anything out there that was beyond my ability. My first passion is music. If I could do that, I would. I hate that I can’t. I took guitar lessons and tried, but at the end of the day someone else with a natural ability was going to have a much easier time and go a lot further.
It’s the same way with comedy classes. Some people take the classes with no ability, but they want to be a comedian so bad. They’ll never really figure it out. Some people have that ability and just need little pushes in the right direction. Some people may be amazing writers and just want to conquer their fear of public speaking. For that matter, some people may have no interest in comedy at all and only want to conquer their fear of public speaking.
I believe comedy classes are a good thing…as long as their being taught by a comedian. There was, for a time, a stand up class being taught by a local actor. I guess that class was for students who wanted to learn how to act like a comedian.
Bill Bushart taught my class. Bill himself is a great comedian, but what makes him an even better teacher is his ability to almost immediately tap into a student’s sensibility and punch up the material in their voice. Bill is a master of tagging jokes and in my opinion the best teacher out there. I don’t know how things would’ve been different for me had he not been my instructor.
I’m glad I took comedy classes and started this pursuit of this craft. I’ve never worked hard for anything in my life before this. Everything I did, I did because it came easy to me. I’ve sacrificed more for comedy than anything else or anyone else in my life. I don’t know that I’ve made the right decisions always. At times I’m almost certain I’ve made the exact wrong decisions. Comedy has given to me and it’s taken from me. I’m so deep in it now that I don’t see a life without it. I love comedy like a junky loves their fix. At moments of lucidity I see comedy as the Symbiote that at first helped Peter Paker and then later tried to destroy him. But when I’m on stage, I’m high and I like it there.
Looking back, if I were to give anyone advice starting out, it would be to set boundaries. Look at the things that make you happy now and never let comedy step on those things or take those things away from you. When you sit down with a note book to write new bits, write yourself reminders about where you are and what’s important. My personal experience is it’s hard to balance the life of a comedian with the real world. I think the people who have are the people whose real world really started once they reached a certain level of success. I don’t know.
All I’ve learned in the past nine years is that I’ve amassed a lot of opinions about things and an ability to spew them without having any real knowledge of anything at all. And that’s what comedy is really…when you break it down. One person in the spotlight spreading their thoughts to a somewhat captive audience.
Well…this return to the website took a weird twist, eh? Welcome back.
Can Heckling Be a Two Way Street?
My buddy posed a question to me yesterday morning. At first it sounded to me like he was asking why it was okay for a comedian to talk to someone in the audience, but it wasn’t okay for a person in the audience to talk to the comedian. My knee jerk response was that people pay to hear the comedian speak, the comedian never pays to listen to the audience member speak.