This is the article I’ve had the most requests for and it’s also the article I’ve been the most reticent to write. People always want to know the fast way to do something, they want to know the shortcuts you took and how they can get there too and there isn’t one. Also I’m not at the peak of my career right now, I’m doing incredibly well and I’m living off of my comedy but I’ve still got a long way to go. What I decided with this article is that it’s going to be a basic guide on how to get your career moving in the right direction.
(Dammit I said right direction!)
I know this is going to get a lot of comeback but who cares? We do comedy! Any feedback is good feedback. Also some of this has been covered across a couple of different articles but gathering it together here gives people a single place to reference.
1. Do everything you can – Now by this I don’t mean “do hundreds of free open spots in tiny pubs to no audience” I mean when someone says “do you want to do a podcast about this funny thing” you say yes, when someone says “do you want to be involved in a wrestling/football match with other comedians” you say yes. Do you want to film a pilot we’re pitching to the BBC, YES YES YES. Why do you want to do this stuff? Because a. There will be other people involved who will see you and say “this is a guy who likes to get involved” and then tell other people about all the involving you do and how good you were with the involving. b. Those other people will be promoting the hell out of this project as much as you are so you are significantly increasing your reach and c. You’ll have an incredible experience to talk about on stage at some point.
2. Keep writing – The best comedians write constantly. They don’t necessarily carry a pad and paper around with them and scribble furiously but they are coming up with concepts and dedicating a time of the day to noting them all down. You’ll have jokes that are funny and you perform all the time and then you’ll have these other jokes that sit in a cloud of material and you’re developing gradually. By taking the time every day to sit down and write something you’re adding to this cloud and bit by bit building a better set. Promoters will be able to book you more regularly if you’re turning over material at a higher rate.
3. Keep track of your contacts – Have a spreadsheet and put all of the people on it who could possibly give you a gig. Put as much detail on there as possible then write notes as to what type of gigs they could get you. The more detailed the spreadsheet the better then email them every 3 months with a different email asking for work. You need to stay fresh in promoters minds and someone else will jump in, if you email them too often though you become part of the white noise in their inbox and if you send the same text everytime you’ll automatically get added to spam filters so you need to vary it. The biggest problem most inexperienced comics face is not remembering to keep in touch.
(Ah hi Grandma is this a good time?)
4. Be a chancer – I don’t care what you’ve read or heard every single decent comedian is a chancer and the people who ask you not to be are either stupid or lazy. You need to ask to do spots above your current level otherwise how are you ever going to progress? Don’t be ridiculous about it, I’ve said before you need to have a realistic understanding of how you compare to other acts, but then don’t be afraid to occasionally go for a spot you’d normally think was for more experienced comics. I’ve gone for some absolutely crazy spots and got them just because I was the specific type of act they were looking for or they’d heard great things about me from someone else but never got in touch. I like to think of this more as taking opportunities rather than chancing.
5. Contact agencies/promoters on a higher level and invite them to come see you – It’s hard to get spots on shows you don’t already do, it’s especially hard if no one has heard you outside of the M25, so how do you get on a show without getting on the show. You invite the promoter to see you live. Contact promoters and give them dates where they can see you live and nearby to where their base of operations is. 9 out of 10 times you’ll get nothing back but all you need is one of these guys to come see you, book you for their night and then recommend you to other industry types. This is easily the best way to get better high level gigs.
6. Ask for money – We get it, you love performing! You just want the admiration of fans! Admiration is great but you can’t eat it and you can’t walk around dressed in it, sooner or later you’ll need real money. There’s a horrible trend on the circuit to do gigs for free. It’s madness when you think about it, you don’t get builders to build you a trial wall and you don’t get plumbers installing a single tap then getting them back to finish the bathroom in a couple of months if you’re happy with the job. Why should you work for free? Working for free gives promoters the impression that you value yourself at absolutely nothing and if you think you’re worth nothing why should they think you’re worth anything? Even when doing a tryout spot you should ask for travel money, you’re still going to be providing them with your work even if it is only so you can work for them. A comedian who asks for money is more likely to get paid work.
(You’ll either get paid work or sold to a funeral directors as a slave, either way it’s up and out for you!)
7. Promote yourself as a brand – You have to stop thinking of yourself as a person and start thinking of yourself as a brand. Tell people you’re a comedian. Update your facebook and twitter with the things you’re doing and how well they’re going. Hand out business cards with the title “Comedian” under your name. Be excited about the fact that you get to be involved with one of the last true art forms. Stop worrying about saying how great you are because really no one else is going to do it. Kill all of the modesty you had before and just let people know how proud you are of what you’re doing. If you’re not excited about it why should anyone else be?
8. Ignore bitterness – You will get a lot of this. In the comedy world bitterness is like oxygen for comedians who aren’t doing as well as they think they should be. They’ll bitch about you behind your back, they’ll criticise you to your face and they’ll tell promoters you’re rubbish. All because you’re on the way up and they’re on the way down. Ignore them. If they talk to you directly smother them with kindness and positivity. Be above it and beyond it. No one ever succeeded in comedy by doing exactly the same as someone else so any criticism that isn’t constructive should just be discarded. I don’t care if it comes from one of your comedy heroes because at some point they were in exactly the same place as you facing exactly the same problems and adversity, they’ve just forgotten because it’s easier to break someone down than it is to identify your own faults and correct them. Stay strong.
9. Work hard – This is the very key to progressing. You need to gig as much as you can and when you’re not gigging you need to be contacting promoters about getting gigs. If you’re not contacting promoters you need to be promoting yourself. If you’re not promoting yourself you need to be writing. If you’re not writing you need to be doing something else, a podcast, a radio show, writing topical one liners on twitter, standing in the street giving out jokes to passers by, anything just to get some attention. If you think you’re working hard you’re only halfway there. You need to be sick of comedy by the end of the day. If you can do two or three gigs in a night do it. Work your ass off. You’d be amazed how lucky you are when you work hard.
(Lucky? Nah I’m just short and prolific)
10. Don’t expect to be an overnight success – Comedy is a long apprenticeship. You need to realise that it’ll take years before you can expect to earn a living from it and years more to get any kind of notoriety. It’s not going to happen overnight. Even the youngest comics spent 4-5 years gigging all over the country before getting their break. Once you realise that it actually becomes a lot easier to recognise your successes. Also there is no such thing as a lucky break it’s all just time and hard work.
So there you have it! My top ten tips for new comics to progress.
Thanks for reading it and now you’ve read it share it with everyone you know! Tweet it, facebook it, reblog it, Google+ the other person you know on it, myspace it so the admins have something to read just let everyone see it. I want these articles to get to as many people as possible, I mean 1500+ is great but I’d love to see all of you doing more and more because of them.
Once again thank you for all of your lovely feedback and article requests, I’ll get round to as many as I can as soon as possible!
- Progress is a Nice Word (lifehack.org)