Other comics are your co-workers

Comedy is a job, even if you’re just getting paid in beers. It is also very social, especially when you’re getting paid in beers. The boundaries between personal and professional relationships are complex and much like comedy itself, highly subjective. What you think is friendly might be business to someone else and vice versa. This concept is something that I really struggled with my first year. Stand-up differs most from other types of comedy in that it is an individual form. In improv and sketch your comedy relies on collaboration and trust in others. In these forms, the group mind thrives and in my experience, it lends itself to closer relationships. Stand-up is much more isolated. You spend a lot of time near other performers versus with them. Writing is done by yourself, performing is done by yourself and the goals you have are ultimately, for yourself.

I’m not saying there is no community in stand-up, because have been very lucky to be part of it, but there is a little bit of a disconnect. You can spend hours a week talking to someone at mics and shows but have no idea who that person is when they aren’t a comedian. You definitely will make close friends in this industry, but most of the people you meet are just going to be colleagues.

When I started doing stand-up I felt very aware of how little I knew my peers. For a long time it felt like everyone was friends except for me. It took me months to process the difference between a work friend and a personal friend, mostly because of the weird blur between the two in comedy. Like in any other part of life, I think social media puts a filter on the relationships we form. It’s easy to feel like everyone is buddies when you when you constantly see a feed of group photos from the green room. 

I think it is easier for performers to take relationships for granted because when you see people night after night for open-mics and shows, friendship can start to feel kind of assumed. I think the quantity of time we spend with each other starts to replace quality and we reach out to each other a little less than we would if we were “regular” people.

I had to learn to make the conscious effort to reach out to the people in comedy that I care about and not worry so much about all the people I wasn’t close with. Just because you don’t hang out all the time doesn’t mean another comic doesn’t respect what you do- you’re just co-workers and that is okay.  

    A lot of comedy can feel like it is contingent on making friends with the right people and I won’t deny that friends book friends, but in the end being funny is what is going to matter the most. To anyone that is feeling like they are being held back by not being “in” with the right people, I have three things to tell you: 

  1. Be pleasant and present. This is the attitude that will attract friends and make you someone people want to work with, like I said when I talked about the best way to get booked.

  2. Say hi to new people. Remember how awkward you felt the first couple times you showed up without knowing anyone? For all your know, your newest lifelong friend is going to be on that open mic list, so make the effort to acknowledge faces you haven’t seen before and engage. 

  3.  Don’t measure yourself as a comedian against how many drinking buddies you have. Being popular isn’t the same as being good at your job and being good at your job might not always make you popular.

Put jokes in storage, not the trash.

Taking a new bit to an open mic and watching it die in front of your eyes is brutal and the urge to never say it again is tempting, but you should resist it. You can’t make a decision about the quality of a joke based on one set alone- you have to run the experiment of that new joke a few times so you can track the results. Most of the time it is during that 2nd or 3rd run through that I come up with a new tag or find myself riffing in a direction I hadn’t thought of the first time around and suddenly the joke becomes funnier. Don’t be afraid of a joke being weak at first because open mics are like going to the gym and if you keep working it out, that joke is going to tone up and start looking ripped as hell onstage- that's what they're talking about when they say call people "a strong writer".

If something still isn’t making progress after rewrites... just put it away for a while. Keep a document or notebook of stuff that you haven’t quite figured out yet and revisit it from time to time. Think of these jokes as spare parts, like that bag of screws you’ve moved to 3 different apartments: You could throw them out, but you never know when they might come in handy.

I guarantee you that at some point you will be writing a new bit and suddenly find a way to connect that joke that never worked to something that does and all of the sudden you have 5 new minutes. 

Good writing takes time and the sooner you accept that you’re not going to write anything groundbreaking on the first try, the sooner you will write things that are. 

Open Mic Burnout is REAL

It is physically, mentally and emotionally draining to rush through traffic, find parking and wait around to signup for the chance to wait around some more and listen to other people talk for hours before you get a turn, which sometimes not one single person is paying attention to because it is after midnight.
So much of comedy is about just being around and I understand that the pressure to be out is HUGE but you can't let it dictate how you do comedy.
My own experience with it has taught me the following:

-You will get better if you stay home at least one night a week to listen to your old sets and write down what worked and rewrite what didn't. 
-You will have more jokes to tell if you just go out and observe the world. Go do a non-comedy activity so you have something interesting to say! 
-You will have more energy the next night if you stay home quietly watching your favorite tv show and fall asleep on the couch by 10PM once in a while.

-You will not get better if you're running the same undeveloped 5 minutes 6 nights a week. 
-You will not have anything interesting to say if all of your experiences are at the same open mics with the same 30 people. 
-You will not have the energy to be a positive and supportive part of a show if you are exhausted and bored. The most bitter person in the room is rarely the funniest.

If you ever feel like you need a break from mics but can't let go of the idea that you need to go put in face time somewhere- go watch a show. And I mean REALLY watch it, you will learn from the people who are booked and chances are, hanging out there will get you booked one day too.

Time spent doesn’t always equal experience earned

You will meet an endless amount of people whose biggest credit is that they’ve “been doing comedy for (some number) of years.” This is information to be taken with a grain of salt.
The amount of time someone has done comedy does not solely speak for their ability and someone’s ability does not always reflect how long they’ve been doing comedy.  Appreciate the people who have put in the work for a long time but do not bow to anyone just because they’ve been around forever.

When I started doing stand-up someone told me that I wouldn’t get booked on anything that mattered for at least a year and I believed them. That seemed like a reasonable amount of time to have to work on being good enough for something, especially when someone who had done comedy longer than I had said so. But what ended up happening was that I worked really hard and I asked for opportunities instead of waiting for them. (More on that here.)
When I was around 7 months into stand-up I booked a gig doing 5 minutes of material to open for a national headliner at a club. I came home proud of myself for my accomplishment but within days I felt like I had done something wrong. People asked me, “How did you get that?” with a heavy inflection on the “you”. One person accused me of having a romantic relationship with the male comic that was hosting the show and said that must have been why I got the spot. The same thing happened the first time I got booked to do 20 minutes. I think I was about 2 years in at the time and once again this accusation of, “How did YOU get that?” made me wonder if maybe I didn’t deserve the things I had been given.

I spent a lot of that first year letting comics that had been around longer than me give me bad advice because I assumed they knew better. Once I posted a clip from an open mic set that I was proud of (In hindsight it wasn’t really that good but I was proud and who cares?) and another comedian told me it was stupid to post that on my blog because if anyone saw it they would think I was being too cocky for a new comic and wouldn’t like me. I had people tell me not to make a website or market myself because I wasn’t good enough to have a website or be marketed. All of these people were people whose opinion mattered to me greatly because I wanted “in” but none of those people are people who ended up actually affecting my career. You know what did affect my career? Having a website to refer people to. Having a clip available to send out when I wanted to book shows or submit to festivals. Having the ability to look at the results I was getting as a performer and to deciding for myself what my value was without waiting for someone to tell me.

While you try to find your footing as a comic,  you have to learn a lot. If you're any good you will never stop learning new things about how to be funny. Don't underestimate your own experience or let anyone make you feel inferior just because they’ve been at open mics a year longer than you or some other inconsequential qualifier. Every single comic is in a constant state of growth and anyone who tells you they’ve reached their final form is a liar. The probably aren’t very funny either.

Don’t date other comics. Or do. Who cares?

I didn’t start doing stand-up until I dated a comedian. I was a theater actor that had always loved comedy but had no idea how to go about starting to do stand-up. I knew absolutely no one in that world and frankly, the idea of finding an open mic and trying it out was really intimidating. Then I met this guy on OkCupid that was a local comic. Let’s call him Kyle. We started spending a lot of time together and he introduced me to the world of local stand-up. I had only ever gone to see big names at clubs and seeing a show full of young people giving it a go in the back of a bar really inspired me. A 6 weeks into dating Kyle I decided to write my first set. I went up at two different open mics my first night and I loved it. I was incredibly proud of myself and so inspired by the experience that I went to another one a few days later. I remember going to Kyle’s house afterward and telling him how happy it made me. I remember him not seeming very excited and asking me, “Do you think you’re going to like...be a comic now? I don’t want to date another comic.” I had flashbacks of theater kid hookups and how no one has any privacy in a small community and decided it was a valid concern. We decided to keep quiet about being an item and not hang out at open mics.

    I kept doing stand-up and he kept away from me at shows and we would only really hang out in the bedroom of his basement apartment. We honestly never even talked about comedy when we were together. A few months into us dating he went out-of-town for some shows, something he had done every few weeks since I met him. This particular time, he text to tell me he wouldn’t be coming home as planned and had to cancel our plans. When I pressed him about his reason for it, he admitted that when he had been out-of-town over the past few months, he had actually been visiting another woman.  I was upset enough to dye my hair purple, but life goes on and so did I.

I kept doing stand-up, did my best not to get too embarrassed or cry when I saw him at shows and tried to forget about him. Three weeks after Kyle and I broke up I went out to a showcase that I had been hanging around at every week. I was starting to feel like I knew some of the other comedians and was really excited when one of the producers of the show invited me to sit with them to have a beer afterward. While we were hanging out, another one of the producers, who happen to also be a good friend of Kyle’s, came to sit down. She was pretty drunk and ribbing everyone the way that comics do when she noticed me sitting there. She stared at me for a second with a scowl on her face before saying, “Aren’t you that girl that was fucking Kyle?”.

I felt my stomach drop to my feet and my face flush. Everyone at the table looked at me with raised eyebrows as I stammered, “Um...yeah, we were dating for a while but we broke up.” She rolled her eyes and said to the table, “Why does every new female comic have to fuck the first guy she makes friends with?” and that was the end of our conversation. I spent the next few weeks scared to go to open mics because I thought if Kyle had told her, maybe other people knew too.

I imagine if you’re reading this you’re thinking, “Wow, that is a dumb reason not to go do something that you like to do.” You’re right, it was dumb. But boy, oh boy, if it didn’t feel incredibly valid. Starting stand-up in general is very intimidating. You’re making yourself vulnerable to a room full of people (or you know, a room with SOME people in it) who probably don’t care about what you’re saying more than they care about writing down what they want to say when their spot comes up. Doing stand-up as a woman is that plus the hyper-awareness that you are a woman in a room full of men who probably will go up there and tell a joke about some girl they fucked or a crazy bitch they broke up with. Doing stand-up as a woman who was romantically linked to another performer is that plus the illusion that you must like having sex with other comedians so much that you are doing stand-up just to fulfill your comedian dick quota. I dealt with so many drunk propositions and accusations of, “What, you think Kyle is funny, but you don’t like me?” from men and disapproving side-eye glances from women in the weeks following our breakup. It made me feel very stupid and I kept having to leave shows to take a walk around the block and fend off panic attacks before my sets. Eventually we all moved on, but it was a really demeaning experience. 

Two years later, I am in a relationship with a comedian once again. This time he doesn’t want to keep me a secret, we write together all the time and we go to shows together almost every day. Not one single person has made me feel bad for choosing him AND choosing to be a comedian. The moral of this story is that choosing to hook up with or date another comedian is no different from choosing to hook up or date any other person. Some people will be good for you and some will be bad. Some people are going to judge your decision and others won’t care. More than having to decide whether or not you should date another performer, you have to decide whether or not you should date that person. In hindsight, Kyle never was that great to me in person and clearly wasn’t very good to me when I wasn’t around. People who build you up don’t have friends that put you down, plain and simple. There is nothing wrong with dating another performer if you just remember what I said about comedy being like a job. Before you start anything, think about if you’ll still be comfortable working with that particular coworker after things are said and done.

At the end of the day, you have to use your judgment to decide what is healthiest for you.  Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for who you like and do your best to like people who don’t make you feel bad.