Everyone in Atlanta is failing at comedy.

Here in the local comedy scene, we are all failing at comedy. Let’s face the facts, unless you’re a household name, you suck just as much as the rest of us. Sure you may get a hosting gig that pays 20 or feature occasionally. Sometimes some of us even “headline” local shows. I myself have won a buck or two at some contests out-of-state, but seriously, are we doing this for a living? And even if we are, is it as good a living as we could be making working 40 hours with benefits at Target? Seriously, we are all failing at comedy, just some of us fail less than others. Even with all the success I have had as a comic in Atlanta, every night is not my night. Each time anyone of us takes the stage we have the potential for absolute brilliance and disaster. We have all faced both of those fates as well as the gamut of tolerance and indifference.

Some nights does it feel like you’re making real strides in your comedy career? Probably. But if you’re anything like most of us, you only feel as worthy of living as your last decent set. You can fall off the highest high only to feel the lowest of lows only in the same night. That is why I say, until you have beaten the game, we are all really losing. I’m lucky enough to lose less than average more than average. But my name alone is not enough to get me on shows in NYC or LA. I might be a player in ATL, but I’m a coward who hasn’t even performed at UPTOWN yet.  I have a lot of small  and personal comedy goals to accomplish before I have “made it.” You do too.

Perhaps the most important thing we need to do  in order to stop failing at comedy is redefine succeeding. “I killed it last night” is typically not an accurate portrayal of a prior comedy engagement nor is it usually consistent with the consensus of the more unbiased audience that had to suffer through your mildly comic tirade. If you were raised by parents, a teacher or even a good mentor, then you have probably heard that you need to be accountable for yourself and not try to complain about others words and actions.

“We teach people how to treat us.” I’m paraphrasing a quote I got from, I have no recollection, but I think it is so true in comedy. Once we take personal accountability for our performances we are no longer at the mercy of the audience to decide how we did or didn’t do.

1. Did you perform like you intended to perform? You told all the new jokes you had planned on? Did all the act outs you meant to? Weren’t thrown off by the audience interaction from the drunk heckler two minutes in? Then I guess you succeeded.

2.  Did you learn something from the experience? I know no one laughed tonight, but do you know why? This will help you make adjustments and get those well deserved laughs in the future.

3.  Most importantly, did you do comedy you wanted to do or what you thought the audience wanted to hear? This is probably my biggest problem. Sure, I appear to do well at a lot of shows, but I’m often making a lot of concessions based on what I think the audience will laugh at. A lot of times I am wrong. The mark of a true professional comedian is they get laughs where they want, when they want, in the way that they want. You can’t control the audience, but you shouldn’t let them control you.

I really wish I could say I was a better comic than I am. However, I recently went out of town to compete in a comedy contest, and I changed my set-list based on what I thought the audience would “accept.” It was not my best material, but it was enough to win 100 bucks. But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t get to do the set that I think people should hear. Why? There were a couple of words that I could have been disqualified for. This is why I hate comedy contests and as soon as I finish the last ones that I am currently enrolled in, I will not be enrolling in any more. (I say that, I reserve the right to keep doing them forever) .

Seriously though, I won that night, but I wasn’t happy. 100 bucks. What will that get me? Really ? Paid my entry fee, covered gas and food, and now I can pay half my phone bill. Did I progress as a comic? I had a fun time, but I’m not sure I really learned anything. Is there a possibility I might get work out of it? If so, it would be work that was just as compromising as having the set I did at the contest.

I have a lot I want to say about “defining success” in comedy, but for now I need to get back to writing my own failing at comedy/life jokes.

That is all.

Jamie.

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Practice won’t make you better at comedy.

Perfect practice will make you better at stand-up comedy. A lot of young comics I talk too (including my conversations I have with myself in the mirror) say that any stage time is good stage time. Here again, like women sucking at comedy, is another illusionary correlation we draw. More stage time does not make you a better comedian. More minutes of material don’t make you a better comedian. More experience performing doesn’t MAKE you a better comedian. “So then Jamie, if you know so well what doesn’t make a good comedian, than do you know what does make someone good at comedy?”

Nope! I don’t. But I have a better guess. Some conclusions I have come up with based on my own trial & error from my first year of comedy. I’ll share them with you now.

Practice, stage time and experience are all helpful and necessary. I’m not so foolish as to discount the usefulness of all of them. But getting as much stage time will only make you better if you make the most of each experience. To get the most out of each performance, I have a few suggestions.

1. Know what it is you are working on each time. Have you written new material? Are you going to work on performing older material a new way? Have you re-arranged a set. Just going up to a microphone and throwing out a list of jokes (and some people read them off a sheet?!?!) will not net you the biggest gain. You need to understand the context of the audiences reaction. Sandwich new material in-between solid material. If the established material gets it’s normal reaction, it will help you gauge whether or not the new stuff works. If you’re working on your performance side, or perhaps trying out a character, realize different venues provide different levels of feedback of whether this material will work at a comedy club. Understand for my purposes, knowing whether material will eventually work at a comedy club is always my ultimate goal.

2. Understand that all venues are not created equal. Sometimes it’s better to work on different parts of your set at different types of venues. If the audience is not buying your old tried and true stuff a few jokes in, think about throwing everything out and just doing the some new stuff. It’s not guaranteed to work, but at this point, what have you got to lose. (I’m not saying make up stuff. If you’re ever at a loss for what to do, don’t hesitate to leave the stage.) If you are at a venue where the patrons are not expecting comedy, this is an opportunity to practice engaging the audience and maybe not so much the place for your comic’s-comic jokes. Realize if you’re having a hard time performing somewhere, it might not be anything you’re “doing” but your approach to the room.

3. Set a comedy goal. Like I discussed at the beginning, you should know what you want to learn or achieve at every show. Are you trying to make personal fans who would be willing to come see you again at a locally booked show? Probably not the best time to be trying out all new material or a character. Are you interested in polishing up a set right before a competition or a big booked show? You’d probably be benefited by performing in a venue as similar to the one you are practicing for. This means, if you’re practicing for a show at a comedy club, then an open mic intended for musicians at a rowdy sports bar at 12 on a Wednesday might not be as beneficial as performing at a regular comedy open mic at a normal comedy club. I realize that this is not always an option, and I would recommend take stage time over not taking it, but all things being equal, choose your venue. If you don’t have a comedy goal, you can waste your 3-10 minutes on stage, not to mention the travel time to and from the show.

 So I guess what I’m trying to tell you is don’t simply rely on performing to make you better. You have to perform better to get better. It sounds weird, but it’s true. If you watch comedians that are succeeding and the ones that never go anywhere you’ll notice the ones succeeding use every set they get. You don’t have to get lots of laughs every set, but you have to be deliberate. If you get silence, mean to get it. If you incite a heckler, have done that on purpose. Purpose is the key to perfect practice in comedy. You can’t ever bomb if you don’t mean to. You can bomb unintentionally, but that is when you open yourself up to unintentional mistakes by not paying attention.

So don’t expect to get better just because you play the game . It’s never been a quantity over quality game.

That being said, I’m a hypocrite and won’t follow any of this advice.

That is all.

Jamie.

Why women suck at comedy Part II

If you did not read part 1 of this post it is probably important for you to do so, so that you don’t hate me unnecessarily. I don’t mind you hating me, just be sure it’s for the right reasons. In fact there are so many good reasons to hate me, it would be a shame for you to be wrong.

I received a lot of awesome feedback from people about the previous entry and it brought up a few ideas that I had thought about. What are some of the reasons that people think women comics are terrible?

I have found a number of reasons people try to justify their dislike of female comedy. Chief among the caveats is, I did not relate to their humor. They only talk about their periods, hating men, and their cats. Fair enough. However, I have yet to hear a man tell a joke about a period, their girlfriend’s/wife’s/random woman’s period, or “what if guys had periods.” Every time I hear a guy tell a joke about a period of some sort, it typically triggers the hack-alarm in my brain causing me to turn off my ears regardless of how original the bit might be.

Once again, I want to refer to the concept of illusionary correlation from (WWCS Part I) to explain the statistical trend of terrible women comics. Now I’d like to say that applies to the subject matter as well.  I pretty much hate all the comics I find un-relatable. That is part of your job as a comic, take something that I unique to you and let people sympathize with its generality. You can also take the opposite approach. You can take something that is very general, and carve out your own idiosyncratic niche.

It might help to address the specific reasons I didn’t think I liked women comics:

1. They talk about their period/hating men/cats and I can’t relate to any of that material.

 Okay, so here is the problem. I can’t relate to the material. But that is true with any comic. I don’t have to have ever been a nuclear scientist, but if you tell jokes about it, make me care. Let me see how your gay relationship experiences the same moments as my straight relationships. Men and women are different, so are cats and dogs and blacks and whites. You know what else is different? Good comics and bad comics.

 Good comics are all like “what you’ve never experienced my life? Let me break it down for you in ways that you can relate to.”

Bad comics are all like “this happens to me, and you’ll never understand.”

 

2. Women comics are just hostile towards men.

HAHA, I don’t want to even start in to a debate over gender equality in comedy. I don’t care. Let me just ask, are the well written jokes? Are they clever? Women should be able to make a career making fun of men, because I know I’ve spent the last 20+ years tricking people into thinking I was funny by making fun of women…and Blacks…and Jews…Asians, Christians, Atheists, Amish People, Midgets, etc. etc.

 

3. Women comics can just get up and say really disgusting things and the audience laughs because of the weird contrast of having someone who is cute spew such vile filth.

 That’s actually just my personal taste in comedy. I’m not a big fan of guys who are way to graphic in their descriptions and act outs of lewdness and debauchery. I used to think maybe some women comics just got away with “that kind of material” because it audiences will buy it from women. I have come to realize, long-term, that is not the case. We are selling ourselves on stage and our material/act is just the medium through which we relate to the audience. There is no automatic combination of writing, acting and persona that will guarantee success in comedy. We all “work” it out. So this point of contention in my case is just a preference.

 

If you are not familiar, Google Maria Bamford. She has to be one of my favorite current comedians. She is so unique and creative she puts a lot of male comics to shame.  However those target commercials freaked me out.

Anyway, check her out. I probably could have shortened this rant if I had just brought her up at the beginning. Seriously, she’s good. Check her out.

That is all.

Jamie.

Why Women Suck At Comedy

To be fair, men suck at comedy too. Almost everyone sucks at comedy. That’s why everyone can’t be a super famous comedian. The reason comedy is one of the most awesome things in the whole world, is basically because it is such an honest medium. You can either do it or you can’t. There is no men’s league, now women’s scale. Each one of us goes out in front of the audience and tries to make them laugh. Most of us fail.

You often here the phrase “I don’t like women comics.” I have to admit I was guilty of making such statements when I first started. However, as I have progressed as a comedian and grown to have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t it has changed my perspective on comedy.

First off, there simply aren’t as many women in comedy as there are men. That’s a shame. Dudes like working with ladies. We certainly aren’t trying to run them off. There just is a smaller pool of candidates. Now consider the fact that 99.9 % of the all the people we see at comedy shows (disregarding gender) are not funny. So now if you assume that only 33% of all the comics are women and only .01 percent are funny, that is why it seems like so few women are funny. I’m being extreme with my statistics to illustrate a point. The fact is, since I think it might actually be harder for women to thrive long term in the comedy scene here in ATL, that the ones that stay are actually better, meaning that statistically in Atlanta, if you are a female comic you are more likely to be good at comedy than if you are a random male.

Bottom line: if you are funny, you are funny.

Okay, time for me to get honest.

Sometimes I’m jealous of women comics because I have this misguided notion that people that run shows just want to sleep with the women and give them preferential treatment when booking them. I wish I was a bigger person than to feel this but I know that I have shared this sentiment on occasion with other comics. That being said, I know that as much as that may or may not be true, that is the sexual dynamic of our society, and if it is true and helps them get a foot in the door, there are plenty of factors holding them back long term. Mainly, the stereotype of women not being funny, that I described earlier. How much does that hold them back from being booked later in their careers when they are actually good.

So what can we do to make sure that women are treated fairly in comedy.

1. Don’t care. Ultimately the audience will determine what they want to see. As players in the game we can influence stage time and shows, but we as comics are the supply and audiences create the demand.

2. Be honest with the women comics. If you like their stuff tell them. If you don’t, give them advice. Honestly, they’re not going to **** or ****  or **** your **** for **** just because you suck up to them after every show. We should all be more honest with everyone else. We all want to be better and we won’t get better if everyone around us acts like everything we say is gold.

3. Quit saying I hate women comedians and start saying I hate bad comedians.

That is all.
Jamie.

You’re not all that funny.

Okay, maybe you are, but I’m trying to steer traffic here with inciting titles.

When I started comedy, I was shocked at how superficially polite of a community it was. We all get off stage, shake everybody’s hand and tell each how we “killed it.” I’m not sure this is helping anyone. But we may need to cultivate a little more of this survival of the fittist mentality if any of us want to get better.

HONESTLY, and I’ll be the one to say it: There is not room for all of us at the top. If we all sit around patting each other on the back, someone else is going to come along and take it. I’d rather beat my friends and like wise I’d rather lose to my friends.

Now I am not about to suggest we all need to start acting like assholes. There is a place for civility in this world, and like I always say, I 100% respect anyone who is working on their craft regardless of where they are at the moment. Hell, I’m not all that good, I’ve just been lucky enough to get by with what I’ve got. However, lately I have had a few people that I respect who have pushed me to be better. Here is why:

1. Remember to have fun on stage, but remember this is your work. I’ve been having too much fun for the past few years. I have done my set, then spent time hanging out with my friends. That is all well and good, but understand, once you start getting booked for actual shows, it’s not like the showcases and open mics. There are only a few comics, you may not even know anyone else on the show. I’ve learned to use this as on opportunity to learn from people better than you, and with more experience than you. This leads to point two.

2. Surround yourself with people better than yourself. It feels good to be the big fish in a little pond. But play that role to long, and you start to look like the old guy who still hangs out with high schoolers. I like to always be the worst comic on a show (meaning the least experienced) and I always aim to be the best. In reality, I know I wont be, but if I don’t try, I might as well quit before I even go on stage.

3. Get out of your comfort zone. As soon as you feel like everything is going right, it’s probably time to push yourself further. I’m a very cautious person by nature, and I’m very slow to take risks comedically. It was after several converstions with another senior comic that I decided to apply for the Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy festival and what do you know? I got in. This is something I would not have done of my own accord, but I’m grateful to have tried. If you’re doing well, on a consistent basis, its time to find that next challenge. Try new material, try a new venue, or do what I am doing, go for more out of town work. It is a great feeling to have your comedy validated by an audience from a different state. (note it can also be a long ride home.) But that is the game. You must constantly raise the stakes in order to progress.

Let me know if there is any good advice you have gotten from someone about the business too.

Or we should all just quit comedy.

That is all.

Jamie.

Why I hate hosting.

A lot of comics can’t wait for their opportunity to host a show. I don’t blame you. When I was just starting out and I used to see the hosts interacting with audiences and making funny remarks about the previous comic I thought I could be great at that. I probably am. But there are a few reasons why I don’t like hosting anymore.

1. Honestly, I do showcases/open mics and stuff because that is basically all I do in life. This is essentially my one opportunity to hang out with people and it kind of sucks having to run every five minutes to introduce a new comic.

2. It’s not easy (to be a good host.) Sure ANYONE can host a show. However all hosts are not equal. In order to do your job, re-set the stage and audience for each comic, and keep the energy of the crowd at a appropriate level, you have to be that “hack comic.” Really, I’m sure there are some amazing geniuses that flawlessly improv their hosting gigs, and keep the crowd comfortable and laughing the whole time. Seriously though, have you ever heard theses:

The more you drink the funnier we get.

If you don’t like the comic on stage, they’re almost done.

This next guy performs in colleges and clubs across the country.

Trust me, there is sort of a script. I have no problem with people having to use those lines, I just am not really one for saying stuff like that. And I don’t really want to spend my time writing jokes to interact with the audience. It’s hard enough to write all the other material I’m working on.

3. I’m at a point in my comedy growth where I’m trying to find my persona. You can’t really do that as a host. I have some dark material that I am working on and it will often alienate the audience. I’m experimenting with that, but if I go up as a host, it is not really fair for the comics I have to introduce to have me do such dark material. Sure, perhaps the experienced ones will be fine, but a lot of the newer comics look to he host as the guide of the show. However, to be a good host, you really need to commit to the host persona.

So for all you guys out there waiting for your first hosting job, or love it, good for you. The world needs great hosts. I will most likely do some more work in that capacity before the end of days or I quit. I am not for one minute denigrating the role of a host on a show. I’ve simply expressed the top three reasons, I prefer to have a regular slot.

That is all.

Jamie.

One of the most valuable and under-utilized resources available to comedians!

It’s a website.

http://www.rooftopcomedy.com

That’s right. It describes itself as a youtube of stand-up comedy, but it is even better. Why? Because they have a screening process. A quick look will prove that it isn’t a deep screening process, but in order for your clip to be posted it does need to be visible, audible and take place at a real performance.

So Jamie, why does this matter to me? I’ll tell you the reasons you need to care about rooftop comedy.

1. You become aware of who many of the good comics working the scene are, and what type of material they are doing. Likewise, you can become aware of what type of material is being over done.  I often leave the video clips running while I work on other things. I have since become very familiar with the material from several very good comics I have had the fortune to meet, even before I had met them in person.

2. It’s great exposure for you. Your chances of being discovered on Youtube? 1:million bazillion, Your odds of being discovered on rooftop? A little more reasonable. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but you have far fewer videos to compete with. Plus, the people that look at videos on rooftop are already interested or connected to comedy. I attended a festival in North Carolina a couple of years ago and I met a comic from Chicago who said he had been asked to attend the festival based on his rooftop clips. There is industry who looks at rooftop.

3. They provide great opportunities for comics. From contests, festivals, media to just plain old promotion. Rooftop is a fantastic resource for comedians. It’s free, it’s powerful, and I’m shocked every time I talk to a comedian who doesn’t frequent the site.

 

Really, if I cared more about my career I wouldn’t share advice with other comics. The sad truth is, I would like other people to talk to. When I talk to you, I’d like you to be the best comic you can be, because that’s what pushes me to be the best comic I can be.

 

Jamie.

Comedy Contests

I have certain feelings about the usefulness of comedy contests. Comedy is subjective. If you are using contests to prove you are a good comedian, then you should probably quit. You’ll never be satisfied. Even if you win, what does that mean? But, if you use comedy contests as a way to perform in new locations, meet new comics, and expose new potential fans to your comedy, then by all means go ahead. That’s just my 2 cents on the situation.

Now that I have prefaced this post, here are some of the upcoming comedy contests.

Scenic City Comedy Search (Previously Southeast Funny Person Search) Starts 23 June 2011

Chattanooga, TN. – The newly revamped SCCS is about to start up. It is now run by comics and they have tried to reduce the bringer element as much as possible. I have competed twice before. Once making it to the semi-finals and once finishing 3rd overall. The entry fee is a little on the steep side, but there are cash prizes for your preliminary round and the finals. I have been fortunate to make back my entry fee and more each time.

Comedy Catch Contest Page

Florida’s Funniest Comedian Starts 16 August 2011

Florida (Various) – This contest is in its first year. It sounds great. I’m not going to be entering this one, but let me tell you I thought about it. It’s definitely a tough format. Increasing set times. prelims, 5 minutes, then semis 10, and the finals are 20. The prizes are good though, because you are competing for multiple weeks of work.

Florida’s Funny

Rocky Top Comedy Contest Starts 26 August 2011

Knoxville, TN. – This contest is produced by Matt Ward, who also runs the Port City Top Comic contest. The PCTC contest is one of the best competitions I have competed in. I am biased, because I won the 2011 contest last month. The Rocky Top Comedy Contest is run in the same way. I have not entered it, but I am planning on it.

Rocky Top Comedy Contest
That is not all the comedy contests, but it is enough for now. Check back weekly, hopefully, I will update with more info on contests and festivals that are upcoming.

Jamie.

First post.

Hi. There are basically no promises I’ll use this like I should, but I’m going to try.

We’ll see how things go.

Jamie.