The B Word

I know long articles can be unattractive at times…  But I ask that if you’re going to put your 2 cents in below, that you do actually read the entire thing.  I know there are a group of very strong willed, passionate comics out there that are fully against a show they have to promote.  They have some merit in their argument, or they may just be bitter.  We can totally discuss this in an adult manner below if you feel inspired to do so!  You can comment at the bottom!

I usually don’t use the B word.  I have never used the term “bringer” in a blog, a booking email or newsletter before.  It’s definitely morphed into a negative term, and it’s a term that has been blanketed over any show that you have to promote these days.  Yet, many of these “B-word” shows are very different from each other.  Which is why I’d like to put this out here and defend the shows we produce a little bit, while I give my opinions about the SoCal comedy scene as well.

I think these shows have been placed in a bad light by certain promoters that put 18 comics on the line ups for a 3.4 hour show with no special guests or headliners that make people in the crowd want to stab themselves in the neck with a pencil.  Our shows aren’t like this.  Period.  In general, with a couple exceptions, our shows run about 90 minutes with a single digit comic count.  We always have a headliner or special guests on the shows that are announced to comics prior to booking.

Why should I promote my show??
Why should you have to promote your comedy shows?  You’re a comedian, not a businessman.  Your shows will always need promoting.  Even when you’re headlining.  There will even be more pressure to fill a place up as a headliner if you want to be invited back to headline that venue again.  Half of “Show Business” is the “business” end.  A lot of us are funny, but getting fans out to shows will always be part of the business end of your comedy career until you’re a household name.  You might get local spots or road work once you have some television credits, but getting a prime time spot or headlining at clubs on the weekends needs serious promotion until you’re a very big name.  This is especially true in cities where comedy is very prevalent like LA and New York.  People have 50 different shows they can choose from every single night in these cities.  Most of them with very funny entertainers on the bill.  Why should they come to yours?  You need to sell that to the public.  Someday, if you are big enough, you will have a PR company to do this for you.

Pretend for a minute that a huge comedian like Louis CK was just stripped of all his fame.  Magically, nobody knows who he is anymore, but he till has the same humor, jokes and delivery he’s always had.  The only thing he has lost is his popularity and fame.  Do you think Madison Square Garden would still want anything to do with him because he is hilarious?  Do you think he’d be able to perform at any arena he chooses to like he does now because he still has all those awesome jokes?  Of course not.  He would have to build his popularity up again and get the exposure necessary to make that happen.  It starts by doing what you are doing now.  We all want it to be easy, but nothing worth having ever is.

I’ll share the flyer on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!  But that’s all I will do.
Yeah?  How’s that working out for you?  It takes WAY more than just sharing a flyer on your Facebook wall.  I don’t care how funny you are or how pretty you are…  I care about having awesome comedy shows that we can all perform on!  Direct contact with your people is necessary, or they won’t come.   I’ve been doing this awhile, and I have yet to see a good turn out for a comic because they posted a flyer a few times.  I am NOT saying you shouldn’t do that at all.  But…  People need to feel invited.  If you just post the flyer and hope they see it, (Many won’t even see it because it’s up on their wall and under all their other friend’s posts by the time they login next…  Posts are usually gone and never seen within an hour…) most friends won’t be responsive.  I know I’m not responsive in that scenario.  As a matter of fact, when I see a flyer or something that is just a general info post, I think “If they really wanted me to come, they’d hit me up…”  People want to be invited personally to something.  Can you imagine if your best friend was having a birthday party and the only mention of it that you found was on their Facebook wall??  You’d probably be offended.  Social media is making personal and direct contact a thing of the past.  It’s necessary for good turn outs.

The following observations, “tips” and advice are just one guy’s opinion of course.  I welcome anybody to comment below with their’s.  I honestly believe some of this article can help any comic or current blooming headliner in this LA comedy business.  It’s the true reality of this business (in my opinion) and the town we live in.

I’m Not a Bringer Anymore!
That’s what a lot of people say after some time of doing comedy.  I think it’s completely wrong for a multitude of reasons.  I have been booking shows for 8 or 9 years or so now.  I will be the first to say that I can’t stand how the LA comedy scene works.  If it were up to me, I’d put up my favorite funny friends up at all these shows.  BUT…  It’s LA.  I can put up 5 hilarious headliners with TV/movie credits on a show and not sell a single ticket.  I tried this for 5 weekly shows called “Solid Gold Headliners.”  I wanted to start a show with just headliners and see how tickets would sell.  They pretty much didn’t.  I realized then that in this city, people just don’t buy tickets to see shows unless there’s a HUGE name on it…  Why do you think when you get on a show where they say you don’t have to promote, 98% of the time it’s not sold out, unless the venue is really small.  They are usually dead shows that don’t stick around long.  Not all, but most.  I’ve been on plenty of these shows myself, and that has been my firsthand experience.

On one of these Solid Gold Headliner shows, an interesting thing happened.  Since they were headliners, I offered them money for each ticket they sold.  I said they didn’t have to promote, but if you do, you’ll get $3 per person that uses your code.  Most of these credited headliners just showed up and didn’t really promote it at all.  Like I said, I didn’t really ask them to.  Most of them just aren’t into it.  LA comics lock that out of their brains after a certain point.  Which is fine, some/most of them don’t really need to at that point for local spots.  Or at least they think they don’t.  However, one comedian (Not going to mention any names) said “I haven’t promoted a show in so long…  I’ll try if you want…”  I said “Yeah!  Can’t hurt.  Make a Facebook event and hit people up!”  This person made an event on Facebook and sold like 16 tickets in 2 days.  This is someone that put promoting behind them and headlines/features all the time.  People do want to see you if you’re not promoting 4 shows a week.  It’s really a matter of spacing shows out.  Sure, if you try to promote a big show every week, people aren’t going to come most of the time.  But when you space them out and make it something special, you’d be surprised how many people want to come see you when they haven’t been invited to do so in a while.  Especially when you give them some advanced notice.  It seems like most people don’t worry about it until 2 days before the show, and many of their friends and fans will have plans at that point.  Again, this doesn’t apply to all.  I get it…  Hey, some people don’t have that many friends.  Some people invited their friends to one of these long 3 hour marathon shows that gave your guests a bad taste in their mouths for comedy shows…  Try getting them out again after that nightmare.  They need to be told it’s not always like that.  Others just don’t have new material for their friends and they assume their friends don’t want to see them again.  Either way, all these various hurdles are jumpable.

Every Comic is a Bringer to Some Degree
Like I mentioned earlier…  Louis CK can sell out any club in the country because he has so many fans.  Right?  Well, you don’t have fans?  You’re so funny that you’re past “bringing” right?  Well if that’s true and don’t you have fans, then maybe you should try to get some.  Oh, you do have fans, but they just won’t come out and see you?  You’ve been plugging away hard, selling yourself for all this time and you’re just not to the point where 6 people will come to a show on a weekend that you have plenty of time to give them notice to?  Many times with a free guest list and a 2 item minimum they can count as dinner they would have had anyway?  Is it the economy?  I don’t get it.  I’ve been doing comedy for 10 years on and off and I’m not the most social guy on the planet…  I mean I have friends, but I’m not one of these guys with 50 close friends.  Yet, if I had to, and the show was right…  I could get 10 people out to an important show.  Maybe you can too but you just don’t believe in the LA system and won’t do it?   Anything is possible…   I know you want as much stage time as possible…  But you CAN’T promote all of them.  If you do, you’ll just have a lot of let down promoters that won’t want to book you in the future.  That’s why I suggest doing a full blown promotionshow less seldom…  Maybe once a month.  Picking and choosing which show you’re on…  Not just jumping 0n a show because you were offered it.  (Unless they don’t require promoting.)  If a promoter asks you to be on a show, take that spot!  But I would suggest only promoting shows your friends will enjoy.  If I brought my friends and family to a show with 20 comics that weren’t so hot, no headliner or special guests, and a 3 hour show time length, I’d be pissed at the comedy scene too.  Pick and choose the shows that you know your friends will actually have fun with.  They might actually WANT to come out again if you get them to the right show.

BIG TIP!  Get a Mailchimp Account.  It’s FREE!
Guys, it’s 2014.  Technology is here!  Social media and Email marketing are the way things are.  Mailchimp is a GREAT place to start.  Hell, they have a referral program and I’m not even going to use it…  I just want to get you guys going in the right direction.  Just go to the site and make an account.  If it helps you and you’re on my shows…  It helps me too.  It’s an Email service that you can send out custom, nice looking emails to your friends and fans.  Annnnnnnnd….  IT IS FREE UNTIL YOU GET TO 2000 EMAILS!  If you get to 2000 Emails, guess what your reward is…  If those are actual fans in your area, your reward is you might be close to headlining your own show soon.  This is assuming you are funny with enough material to headline.  Look at local comics like Julio Gonzalez, Ocean Glapion, Vince Royale and Jen Murphy.  They all have limited credits (more than I do) but at this point in their careers they aren’t on their own network TV shows like Chris D’Elia.  So why would a comedy club like The Brea Improv, The Jon Lovitz Club or The Hollywood Improv let them headline when those clubs can easily get someone with bigger credits that very same night?   1.  Because they’re funny and have at least 40 minutes of funny material (yes this is a major part of the equation…)  2.   they have built a REAL FAN BASE.  These guys used to do shows for promoters.  Sometimes they still do…  But they realized after doing those shows, collecting fans and getting to the point where THEY were a big part of filling the place for promoters that they could do it themselves.  It takes real work to get this sort of fan base, but this is where you can get the upper hand in this town!  Fans, friends and family!  Pretend you’re the Brea Improv manager.  You can call whoever you want to headline a show next month.  There are TENS OF THOUSANDS of comedians in SoCal.  Fact.  As manager you can call someone with some decent credits that will probably sell 27 tickets at the box office.  Or you can call someone that has proven they are just as funny, PLUS has a big fan base in that area.  I think you probably know this…  But just in case…  Comedy clubs are all about money.  If there is one thing in this post that is fact, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years while dealing with these clubs, that’s it.  It is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.  So when people come up to you and tell you how funny you were…  Why not go beyond saying thank you and shaking their hand?  Why not pull out your phone, open up the mailchimp account or email collecting app, and say “Thanks!  Can I add you to my fan list and hit you up when there’s another show in your area?”  I’d say 10 times out of 10 they will say yes if they actually initiated a conversation with you and are local.  They’ll feel special too.  And BOOM….  There is 1/2000th of your 2000 fan goal.

I want to get paid!
Yeah, everyone does.  LA is not the best place to get paid for performing.  Period.  It’s one notch above being in a not so famous rock band because those guys are actually paying to play.  I’m going to give you some realities you may or may not know.  Again, these are just my observations.  There are exceptions to every rule.  These headliners we’ve been talking about generally make their money outside of LA on the road or through other avenues.   You’d probably laugh if you knew how much they made in LA.  Many of them are just appreciative of you when you get them on a show with a good audience.  You’d probably be surprised how many headliners won’t take money for a show.  Don’t get me wrong, most of the real big ones don’t need or want the $40-$60 a promoter can afford to give them out of what LA comedy clubs pay.  And on the flipside, there are a few that are all about the money.  It’s very few though.  They know the reality and the reality is this…  You make your money headlining outside of LA.  LA is all about getting up and mastering the craft.  Can you make money?  Well if you have fans you can…  But I am not aware of any comic that makes a living off of comedy by only performing in Southern California.  I don’t think that is realistic at all.  When a SoCal club books a headliner rather than a promoter booking that headliner, guess what happens?  The headliner is now the promoter.  They are getting paid on how many people they get in the door, just like a promoter does.  If they don’t get a lot of people in the door, they won’t get paid much and they won’t be asked to headline again.  Even if they killed it on stage.  Again, with clubs it’s all about the money.  They might love a comic, but every comic has to bring something to the table in terms of making the club money.  Fame=ticket sales.  If Chris Rock’s people called The Hollywood Improv and said “Hey can Chris headline next week on Thursday?”  The Improv would immediately give him a great door deal, cancel the show that was scheduled that night, and sell $40 tickets that will sell out in 5 minutes.  So…  If you’re not Chris Rock, I suggest you start collecting Emails and fans so you can show someone that you can fill a place up if you want to headline in LA.  From my perspective that’s what you need.  FANS.  Fans, and of course you need to be funny.  But fans is what the clubs and promoters that need to make these clubs happy care about.  It’s not easy, it’s not necessarily fun, and it’s not something that happens overnight.  Not everyone will make it in this business…  But if you’re serious about doing so, starting with fans is some good advice.  That’s what will make everyone want to book you.

Well, there you have it.  SoCal comedy from 1 guy’s perspective…  I know a lot of it is factual.  Some of it might be just my perception or opinion.  I think my observations are correct.  I’d love to hear your opinions on the SoCal comedy scene too.  I know there is a clique of comics out there that LOATHE shows where they are expected to get people out.   Unfortunately, this town is saturated with shows.  WHY should people come to the one you’re on when there are 30 more within a 2 block radius?  The saturation isn’t going to change!  You can hate the system.  You can hate the promoters.  You can hate the clubs.  None of them particularly “like” where this has gone.  But I do believe placing blame or thinking it would disappear if a few people changed the way they worked things, is a fantasy.  There are just too many shows going on in one small area.  If the clubs tried to change, the shows would have low attendance and the club will find another promoter to do it the way that works in this town.  By the way, not only this town.  I did a show in Arizona.  Figured it would be WAY different out there.  Nope, they had 3 or 4 comics per show opening it up that had to promote the show.  It’s how the comedy business works.  It’s a matter of competition and business.  I’ve seen lots of these B word haters try to produce shows by putting themselves and their other B word hating friends on it.  The result is usually catastrophic.  I did one where there was literally 8 comics and 1 person that came with one of the comics in attendance.  The place cancelled the show immediately.  It’s very rare that a show without the comics promoting works on a regular basis.  There are 1 or 2 out there, but there’s usually a mass email list behind the “magic.”  When comics learn that there is no magic trick to filling these places up regularly and start collecting fans, shows will be more plentiful and fruitful too.  Thanks for reading!

To Speak or Not To Speak

I am often at clubs, colleges, coffee shops and many other venues outfitted with a mic and a stool frequented by tons of comedians and wanna-be comics who at any given moment will jump on stage and spew from their mouths what ever leaps from their head to their tongue quickest, often without giving it a fraction of thought. Thoughtless verbiage passed off as comedy should not be defended.

People are quick to use the 1st Amendment to defend what should have been a 5th Amendment situation. The 1st Amendment gives you freedom of speech while the 5th Amendment gives you the opportunity to shut the hell up!
A little judgment exercised goes a long way.

I was just talking about this on my radio show today. Freedom of speech is a tough topic for comedians because we are supposed to be the last bastion of truth. We are supposed to say what you think and feel without repercussions. The fine line is crossed when we say what WE think and feel and that ‘aint what everybody else is feeling.

It’s a good thing when society speaks up and says, “Hey man, that wasn’t funny, it was crude and demeaning.” What would the world be without checks and balances?

How did we feel when Michael Richards went on his “N” word rant at the Laugh Factory? We weren’t laughing. Because it wasn’t funny, and the world let him know it.

As I write this, it’s almost 3am and my eyelids are heavy, so I hope I made sense here. If not, I’m sure the world will let me know. Call in to my radio show anytime and let me know; STEVIE MACK RADIO airs Monday – Thursday at 6pm (PST) Google it, call in and let’s swap knowledge.

The 3 Minute Set

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but for some reason I have been doing a large amount of 3 minute sets over the last month. Whether at an open mic or an audition, or slipping me into a midnight show, people are giving me 3 minutes to say my piece and that is all. When I was given my first three 3 set, I was astonished. How could I possibly fit everything that I had to say into 3 minutes? Just to get on stage and ask the crowd how they’re doing takes almost 30 seconds. I thought that by the time I finished warming up the crowd, I would get the dreaded wrap-up light. My jokes aren’t little one-liners either. Usually they’re given in an anecdotal format and they have a constant flow from one to the next. I didn’t even want to bother if someone told me I could go on stage for 3 minutes. I figured I could accomplish the same thing sitting at home, working the jokes out in my head.

After doing a number of these recently however, I have realized that there is a certain skill that goes into performing a 3 minute set. It is a completely different animal than a 5 or 7 minute set. There is no time for filler words, or unnecessary pauses. Just saying the word “um” 3 or 4 times takes precious seconds off the clock. To be able to give a memorable 3 minutes on stage takes practice and a certain amount of skill. Each word that you speak has to have a purpose. Set-up, punch…that’s it. Only the most essential of words can be used to give you the tightest of sets.

It is a great feeling to be able to get a crowd really riled up in 3 minutes. I still prefer to do the 5 or seven minute set, but I did learn a valuable lesson in doing the 3’s. I make sure to only concern myself that words that matter in my set. Any fillers or lines that I can take out, I do. Even ones that are iffy, I remove. Obviously, this doesn’t work for all comics and situations, because a lot of comics like to talk to the crowd and riff/improvise and whatnot. But once I get into my material, I make sure each word I say is leading to something funny, and is necessary to continue the joke. When I look at my jokes in this light, I realized that the 8 minutes of material I thought was really solid was actually a great 5 minute set. So next time somebody offers you 3 minutes of stage time, take it. See if you can fit your 5 minute set into 3. If you take out the extra words and fillers, it might give you a step ahead of the other comics to bring your tight 3 minutes to the illustrious stage of late night TV.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Next month will mark my third year anniversary of my entrance into stand-up comedy. Now, while three years might not sound like a long amount of time to most people, it is worth noting that three years constitutes a full eighth of my life. One eighth of my life spent going to open mics, bringer shows, and listening to countless hours of the worst comedians that L.A. has to offer. During those three years, I have performed at pretty much every place a comic at my level can perform in L.A. Three years has amounted to about an hour’s worth of solid material that I am comfortable using in front of an audience. I’m not quite sure if I could say that I’ve really developed as a comedian over the years. Really, the best I could say is that I’ve become more comfortable on stage if nothing else. But as I reach the precipice of another year of comedy, I just can’t help but wonder, where do I go from here?

When I think about it, I know I’m in the same exact position that every comedian has experienced at one point in their career. What sets the ones that go on to have real careers apart from those who don’t is that they ended up finding a good answer to that question. And I have to say, when you reach that point of asking “what’s next?” it’s not really about the level of talent that you have. Yes, you have to be funny, but if that were all that were necessary, the guy who brings the house down at your local open mic wouldn’t be working part-time at the Staples store down the street. (also, I have to imagine that Tyler Perry wouldn’t be consistently exposing us to a new terrible Madea movie every year)

So again, it’s the ones who can come up with a good answer to the “where do I go from here” question who are able to make it in this business. So what do you do? I’ve looked to try my hand in a number of comedic outlets to show my diversity in comedy. On top of stand-up, I’ve written scripts, performed improv, and even made a few videos for YouTube in hopes that one might go “viral.” But what the hell do I know? What if all this time and energy I’ve spent working on what my mother calls my “projects,” I should have been pounding the pavement, looking for an agent? Or what if that stand-up gig I passed up to film my not-so sensational Ass Piece YouTube video had a rep from Comedy Central, just aching to find a tall, skinny pale guy for his next big show?

Is it just luck that took a guy like Nick Swardson from no-named to Adam Sandler’s new right-hand man? (No offense to Nick, I think he’s pretty funny) But I have to believe there’s more to it than just being at the right place at the right time.

My first year in comedy, someone gave me advice that if I want to make money, I should start producing my own shows. My second year, I was told that I have to make my own website and focus totally on self-promotion. I have yet to do either of these, but the people who gave me this advice are still at the same level I am.

So again I ask myself, where do I go from here? For every person who is faced with this answer, their answer will inevitably be different. The comedy business is full of failed dreams and lost hope. I guess the real answer is that if I’m lucky enough to somehow make the slightest of livings doing what I love most, I don’t really have to go anywhere. And if that doesn’t work out, I guess I could always try to attach myself to a famous comic’s golden teat. Both seem like excellent answers to me.

So sound off blogosphere, am I right in thinking everyone is in the same boat as me? Or is there something I’m missing and really there is a solution to the age-old question: “what the hell do I do now?”

How To Deal With Hecklers

I’ve been performing Stand Up Comedy since 1991. I’ve been on TV and in Movies, but most of my experience comes from being on stage in front of a live audience, comedy clubs, colleges, parties…etc. The main thing to remember about comedy is, HAVE FUN!

 When on stage performing Stand Up Comedy, it’s just you and the audience. You really want that audience to be WITH you. One of the biggest challenges for the comic is the heckler. A heckler can do one of two things, (1.) Ruin your performance and break your connection with the audience (2.) Give you a great target to point all the attention of the audiance to…and take the heat off of you!

I f you have a polished routine from beginning to end and a limited time to perform, the last thing you want is some person or animal (dogs, cats, pigs, etc) in the audience blurting out words and/or sounds to interrupt your “flow”. I’ve witnessed this time and again happening to comics at various venues. I made mental and written notes on how I would deal with hecklers in my own performance. There is a difference between a heckler (an intentional interrupter) and an unintentional interruption. The first can be rude, throw you off ballance and make you the culprit if you don’t respond the right way…the latter can throw you off ballance, make you be rude and make you the culprit if you don’t respond the right way.

Let’s deal with the first, a real heckler. Say you are in the middle of a routine and out comes this loud sound of words or out-of-sync loud laughter from an audiance member…oh God! What to do?!? Obviously this person is starving for attention, so let’s give them a little. The main objective here is to HAVE FUN! But now, it’s at his/her expense, not with the punchline of your polished routine. At this point your routine has been punctured and the wind has been taken out of it’s sails, so the only way to get back on course is to deal with this interuption and move on to your next joke or if you’re lucky and skilled you can pick up where you left off and finish that bit.

1st RESPONSE TO HECKLER: “We’re here to have fun and want you to shut up…so, audiance on the count of three, let’s tell him to SHUT UP! One, two, three..SHUT UP!!”

2nd RESPONSE TO HECKLER: ” Sir, this is my job, why do you keep interrupting me? I don’t come down to your job (multiple choice) (A) playing with the Slurpee machine (B) kicking the aluminum cans off the truck (C) slapping the d#!!s out your mouth!”

Keep in mind, these are basic responses used by many comics over the years, they are not proprietary and don’t belong to any one comic, so feel free to use and/or modify them them to suit your situation and taste. Of course there are tons of “Snappy Come Backs” available all over the internet these days, grab some and add them to your arsenal.

Now let’s look at how to deal with an unintentional interruption. If something happens while you’re on stage and it is obvious that it was unintentional or not ill intended, the best way to deal with it is improv without malice. Improvisational skills come natural to some people and not to others. But there is a way to improve on your improv. Try going on stage, preferably at open micas not on booked gigs,  and use only improv skills sometimes…make funny observations about the stage set up, someone’s hair, clothes or about your own attire, look or persona. Don’t be rude, insulting or obnoxious (unless that’s your schtick), just make a humorous observation and you’ll find it easier in the future to deal with unexpected occurrences. Most of all remember to…HAVE FUN!

Stevie Mack – Actor/Comedian/Friend