I’m talking a REAL road comic. Does grinding it out on the road, staying in condos and crappy hotels, constant rejection, emails never returned, countless car repairs, connecting flights, flying coach across the country sitting in the middle seat, losing your luggage, forgetting your merchandise, all for the the same comedy club flat-rate pay they have been paying since the 1980’s sound appealing?
Well, let me share some tips on how this dreamer (me) has managed to do it without going full-on Richard Jeni from all the nonsense that comes with telling jokes for a living.
Doing the Road
Comic: How do you do the road?
Me: You just do it!
Me: Come to think of it, there isn’t anything really out there that shows how you do it? Besides Judy Carter’s out-comedy-dated book and comics looking to make fast cash by teaching a scam comedy class.
So, here’s how I do it — free of charge, btw. I’m a nice guy.
I’ve managed to be a full-time road comic pretty much without any representation or management. I do have some now, but I learned everything by asking questions non-stop to anyone that was willing to share their secrets. A lot of comics guys who have been doing it are helpful because they know how hard this journey is. There are some that won’t help because they are bitter assholes that never made it and never will make it. Don’t worry though, these people will all die tragically in a Megabus collison someday so have some contentment in knowing that. (kidding)
Here are my 4 essential tricks to working the road as a comedian. I picked 4 because wrestler Ric Flair just followed me on Twitter and I loved his group “The Four Horseman” as a kid in the NWA. So you only get four because of that. Blame Ric Flair for inspiring me.
1. Follow Up With The Booker From The Club You Just Performed At
No matter how you get booked at club — whether it’s from a reference, a video, an agent, or a headliner bringing you out — you have to follow up with the booker. I work a lot because a lot of big acts have brought me out on the road and that’s not lost upon me when that happens. It’s always a thrill when a big stand-up act throws you a week of work at a club you’ve never performed in.
I’ve been very grateful big acts like Chris D’Elia, Bert Kreicsher, Jim Florentine, Godfrey, have thrown me weeks of road work. When this happens I always remember it’s their show, but try to use it to come back.
Go in there, be professional, and bring your “A” game to the stage. This is your chance to win over some new fans but also a chance to get booked back at the club without the help of the headliner.
Jim Florentine once brought me to the Omaha Funnybone and I had amazing shows, because it’s an amazing club. The General Manager Colleen Quinn and I hit it off so well that I asked for her contact information to come back. Because of that, I work the room 4 times a year. Another thing I used to do is send out a “Thank You” card for letting me perform at the comedy club’s well-oiled machine.
Always follow up, especially if you do well.
2. Sending Weekly Avails
One thing that is a constant when you perform any stand-up gig: another comedian will ask, “Who books that!?”
I’ve been asking, “Who books that!?” at least once a day to comedians for about 15 years now. You would think by now I’d know all the bookers in comedy, but it’s never ending. Once you’re in at a club, you have to send out ‘avails’, meaning your availability.
Below is an example of how I send out my quarterly ‘avails’ that I do once a week, every Tuesday. I always try to personalize every email in the beginning before I send my openings.
Send them out, sit back, and wait.
Sometimes you’ll get a response right away. Others, you’ll wait a week to 3 years. Send them out without any emotion whatsoever. They are being read with zero emotion. It’s all a numbers game. Always remember you are one of 557 billion comedians working today according to fact I made up.
I also contact clubs via websites, essentially cold calling with my information. I will include a video link from my TV set, High-res headshot, my bio & credits. From there, it’s another numbers game as to who will get back to me. There are some club managers that will do it, so don’t lose hope if they’re not getting back to you.
3. Never Get Too Comfortable
Never get too comfortable working with someone or doing high profile amazing gigs.
I once did a high profile theatre gig where the booker actually put me up in the hotel penthouse and sent a car service to pick me up. I got paid $5,000 for one show. The very next week, I was getting paid $250 cash doing a one-nighter at bar with a microphone that sounded like a trucker CB and the stage was on a pool table during the Ohio State game in Ohio. I’ll still sleep on a buddy’s couch if it’s a club I really want to work.
I really do believe this type of mentality keeps you hungry and makes you tough. This profession is a test of will and you will fall fast if you don’t want to put in the work.
4. Handling Down Time
A comedian on the road waits all day for the show.
You basically are killing time to do your 10 min, 25 min, or hour depending where you are in the line up all day long. When you’re on the road, this can be dangerous. How do you pass the time? Sleep, porn, gym, bar, porn, going to the movies, porn, writing, and porn. The temptation to get into a little trouble is overwhelming at times. There have been many times where I chose the bar and sleeping over doing something productive. I have put together a checklist that I’m trying to utilize myself so I’m not dead by the age of 50.
1) Most hotels have mini-fridges, so I try to go shopping when I first get into town. I do this so I’ll have healthier options for food and not so tempted to go eat out. Grabbing fast food after a show is so easy to do, especially after drinking. I have the beer gut to prove it if you don’t believe me.
2) Try your hardest to establish a routine when you’re in a strange town and state. What I’ve been doing is making a list of things I have to do in a day. I’m holding myself accountable…
Here’s my list:
One hour of writing
An hour-and-a-half at the gym
30 min of returning emails and messages
30 min of updating social media
One of hour of comedy business work (update website, send avails, etc.)
I also keep a timer where I work 10 min straight and take a 5 min break to check Twitter, watch YouTube clips, etc. This keeps in a pattern and not tempted to blow off what I have to do. Again, this is what I do. You may have a better way of staying on track and productive and dammit, please tell me. I need help myself!
So, there you have it!
I once performed 14 straight days in a row, 3 different states, 3 different time zones. 11 shows of 25 min on stage and 6 shows doing an hour. I stayed in 3 different hotels, Staybridge Suites extended stay, Ramada Inn, Hilton, and a comedy condo. I woke up at noon most days, went to the gym for a horrible workouts because I was hungover, and I ate horribly. I probably gained 10 lbs from all that, but it also taught me the invaluable lesson that I need to manage my time better. Time management is key to all of this because of the downtown. I can’t encourage you enough to stay organized and focused.
I’m hoping what I’m sharing will help you in trying to get out there to do what you love. Stand-up comedy on the road is the true definition of “Labor of Love.” There is no possible way you can do this unless you’re love with the art form. Never get jealous of other’s success but instead inspired by watching other comics more successful than you. This will help push you to greatness…