King Nothing: Running a Comedy Business On Hobby Income

Like many comedians I have YouTube channels (2), a weekly podcast (soon to be 2), two television credits (1 ancient, 1 sort of irrelevant), a slick website, Twitter accounts (3), a decently read blog (according to Google analytics it is by far the most popular thing I do), albums (3), and a gimmick I have been working hard to put together with some other like minded individuals known as Comedians at Law (think Blue Collar Comedy Tour with law degrees, debt and a half-black guy).  I have had some blogs posted on the Huffington Post, which occasionally gets me well-read and roundly criticized by a variety of vegan losers – like YouTube commenters without the courage to use slurs.

So of course the question sort of asks itself – a question I have been pondering for the last year – short of a time machine to make me younger and less formed as a thinker and comedian, what is the next step for me as a comedian?

So the things I have been told is I need to start auditioning for stuff (which of course has nothing to do with making me a better comedian, just a more employable one).  I did take an acting class for a year.  But short of a remake of the Green Mile called The Beige Green Mile (and only if The Rock turns down the part) I feel like I would have a career of “Bouncer 6”, “Bodyguard 3” and “Guy on Hoops bench” (real life training for that).  Of course every thirty years or so one abnormally tall comedic actor is given a golden opportunity – Fred Gwynn begot Brad Garrett, so maybe in 2029 I will be cast in some sitcom or lose it to Gary Gulman.

But acting feels so exhausting an endeavor to start when I have had my guts kicked in (with increasing frequency given the trajectory of stand up comedy, which sort of resembes that of climate change) by stand up comedy.  “Hey, comedy was so fun that I would like to start an equally challenging form of entetainment from the bottom floor!”

And there is an interesting Catch 22 – I actually have fans.  Doing stand up since mid 2003 and travelling the road with fair frequency since 2008 has helped me compile a small, but extremely loyal following.  Now there are probably only 25-30 of them (if I discount friends around the country that have routinely brought people out and given me couches to sleep on).  This is not even enough to field a football team, let alone build a fan base that will get me noticed.  The easy thing, that I have seen other comedians do with some success, is to do the same set – a greatest hits fixed in stone – until someone takes notice or you just become some iritating road hack that younger opening comics resent and mock behind your back. But how can I reasonably expect fans to keep coming back to the same clubs to see me do the same shtick?  For headliners they have already arrived to a certain extent, but for a feature it becomes a tricky balance of establishing yourself with your A+ material, while trying to keep the fans that may help propel you to headliner status, with fresh material that may be A- or B+ material on its way to an A.

So that is the dilemma – in an era where the comedy consumer is king and all the social media gurus tell you to engage your fans, where is the sweet spot where you can keep your loyal fans engaged, while also showcasing your best stuff for newcomers?  Obviously the answer is to keep writing great material, but unless you are Chris Rock writing Bring The Pain, not every bit will be an A+.

In a year (2012) when I was not securing the rate of bookings as I did in the last three years I decided to release my CD for a month for free.  People could download it for free with the hopes they would give it a positive rating (or any rating) on iTunes.  It was downloaded 900 times and I got 65 reviews (Hey 835 people, what gives?).  I also gained a few radio spots and a handful of engaged fans.  But if a six month project that was of really good quality (fu*k false humility), in both content and production value, can only yield 5 engaged fans, what else is there?  I could not get it reviewed by any mainstream comedy sites, presumably because I am not on “Comedy Central’s Comics Whose Taints You Should Lick” list, so like Blanche DuBois I have to rely on the kindness of strangers.  Plus, the increasingly difficult path to getting consistent feature work increases the likelihood of losing those fans.

I guess the real answer for the many comedians who are not young enough to be “fresh” and malleable to whatever their managers see for them is that there are only a few options for a stand up path. Become famous for anything and you will be qualified to headline.  Do it as a hobby, which contrary to my wishes, desires and efforts appears to be what I am currently doing. And the last option is quit.  Is there any other art form that places this pressure on a performer?  If you can sing or play an instrument, all you have to be is good enough at that to make it.  Sure you may have to look a certain way for certain genres, but no one is requiring them to succeed in some other art or want to pursue another art in order to be allowed to work at their art of choice.  No one asked Daniel Day Lewis if he could also do def poetry and no one asked Adele if she saw herself more as a television or film actress.

So all I can say is if you are a fan of what I do, convince one other person to check out something I do (stand up being preferred, but hell the movie reviews or the podcast are ok too).  Then I will tell them the same thing in a year when I am sneaking in a blog post during my lunch hour at whatever job I am working.  Your compliments and support and money spent on shows are all greatly appreciated.  But until my 30 fans can be rewarded by seeing their discovery become a star (or at least big enough to only get hotels and never a semen stained comedy condo)… Comedy as hobby, here I come!