Over the last couple of years in comedy, with the rise of social media, there have been many hints and tips on how to accelerate your career using the new forms of communication. “Communicate with fans!” “Create a relationship with fans!” “Be Louis CK!” Other than “content creation” there are no other things I hear more in comedy right now to make it. Unfortunately, I feel like all this advice and expertise sharing is moot. Like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (not really a Breaking Bad reference, but feel free to think of Walter White as you read this), which states that you cannot know the position and momentum of something at the same time, all this advice about social media and outreach is outdated as soon as it is identifiable. Once ten comics have made money and success from a given strategy (Dane Cook – MySpace, Rob Delaney – Twitter, George Lopez – Latino people with terrible senses of humor), everyone adopts the technique and then collectively saturate the market with it. And no on discusses the side effects or unintended consequences of all this outreach! Sure, for the upper echelon of comedians in stature and money, they still call the shots, but I recently mowed three fans’ lawns just to get them to listen to my free weekly podcast. Telling jokes, providing free content and travelling around the country is not quite enough these days. Now, this is not to say that the advice of communicating with fans is useless, but at some point too much communication, outreach and heavy petting can lead to an awkward blurring of the line between fan and friend, which has given rise to a new breed of people thriving in the new media world of comedy: “Frans.”
Frans can come in three varieties: one is the fan that crosses too quickly into friend territory and starts sharing too much personal information. The second Fran is a friend that believes because they have been to three shows in 8 years and has heard of Louis CK that they are now well equipped to critique and modify your act. The final Fran is very common to comedians – the token Fran – the friend who has claimed to be a fan for a long time and turns out is really neither.
TYPE 1 FRAN
This Fran starts as an eager fan and can engage you on various topics – sports, movies, comedy and it all stays solid. If it stays there you have a great fan, social media has worked and you should reward them with merch or comp tickets or recreational drugs. But Type 1 Fran-ness can start with a personal question or an inquiry for advice on a personal matter, which then puts the comedian in a position that I hate in all aspects of life (I have used this example before on sharing cable bills). If you engage on a personal level, then you have just turned the fan into a Fran. However, if you pull the “slow down,” or “that is not my department” then you may lose the fan entirely when they feel like, justifiably or more likely unjustifiably, like a used up Steubenville high school student who was only there to have his or her funny bone tickeled while they were passed out in what they thought was a friendship blackout. In other words, there is no safe middle ground – you are either uncomfortable or an asshole. I once had a fan tell me “can’t you act like a person?!” during an exchange and all I could think was, “I’m not a person! I’m a comedian!!”
The way to nip this in the bud, in my opinion is to have a firm boundary. Mine is either the second pregnancy or the third restraining order, whichever comes first. That is when I tell a fan, “Hey, you have crept in the the Fran zone!”
TYPE 2 FRAN
This is the person that started out as a friend and then, thanks to lots of interactions with you and your comedy on social media, began to feel a little bit like Luke Walton. What I mean by that is when Luke Walton arrived on the Shaq-Kobe Lakers he probably was in awe of their talent and very respectful. But after 4 or 5 seasons of VIP treatment at clubs, championship rings, Luke Walton probably started offering Shaw free throw tips and trying to compete for chicks with Kobe at the club. Similarly, if your friends become immersed in your comedy world on social media and on the Internet what may start out as a respectful, deferential relationship to the work you have put in to your comedy and the talent you have cultivated, but then all of a sudden your friend goes from Flavor Flav, just offering spontaneous bursts of encouragement to P Diddy – attempting to one-up your status updates on Facebook, critiquing all aspects of things you do and then slyly throwing in comments like “WE know what funny is.” Since when did you go from my Luke Walton to my Scottie Pippen?
The way to nip this in the bud is to go out to a big dinner with them and at some point during the dinner do this to them:
TYPE 3 FRAN
This is the friend who claims to always support your comedy and then after a few years you realize, no you don’t! And then you realize, we aren’t even really friends! And finally, that is when you tell your parents you are moving out.
The cure for this is easy – do not get into comedy. If you respect your parents and family at all you won’t make them choose between loving you and respecting you.