Popular is not the same as good

I have lived in two different comedy scenes and spent time traveling through dozens of others and I’m here to tell you: The best local show in your town is just the best local show in your town- so don’t freak out if you’re not on it. Every city has a show that becomes the goal of new comics. A show that is "the best" and acts as some marker that tells people, “You’re in, kid!”.
It’s easy to get caught up in the culture that surrounds shows like that because if feels good to be part of what is popular. The downside to these shows is that more often than not, we are having too much fun to recognize shitty behavior until something bad happens.
Because sometimes those local heroes running the best show in town are not so great.

Some shows are run by ignorant people, like someone who still doesn’t get why their joke about a black trans school shooter isn’t working. [a real joke someone decided to write]

Some shows are run by shady people, like someone who gets paid but won’t pay their performers. [a real thing you will experience until you quit comedy or die]

Some shows are run by gross people, like someone who rarely books women and when they do, introduces them as, “a beautiful lady that would never fuck me, but did in my dream last night!” [a real thing that was said about me as I went onstage]

Some shows are run by struggling people, like someone who isn’t dealing with their drinking problem and you watch basically almost die every week. [a real thing you shouldn’t ignore if you notice it.]

Sometimes the person running the show does something truly fucked up, like physically harm another person-level fucked up. Usually this comes after all the other things we ignored because no one thought it was their place to say something. It’s complicated to navigate comedy scenes because they are a space with a lot of unwritten rules. Half of us treat it like a frat and the other half treats it like a job but either way, there isn’t anyone to report to. Bad behavior slips through the cracks all the time because who wants to be the person complaining about everyone’s favorite show?

There are shows I stopped supporting because of the things I see happening at them and for a long time I was anxious that it would hurt my success, but the thing I have learned is...it didn’t. Every show that has a booker I’m at odds with over their sexual harassment, their racist jokes, whatever it may be, is still running their show and I am still telling my jokes. We just don’t do it together.

My point is: Just because a place is popular doesn’t mean it is a space you have to support. Don’t be afraid to confront bad behavior and if you’re scared to, try bringing it up to a peer first. More often than not, they have also noticed and maybe together you can do something about it. There will always be people using their position to get away with stuff and just because you can’t guarantee it will stop doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. If it doesn’t work and some sad loser that treats people poorly gets mad at you, there will always be other shows, so don’t just settle for cool shows in your scene, demand that they be good ones too.


A Running List of Things I Would Report if Comedy had an HR Department:

Things I would report if comedy had an HR department:

(In chronological order)

(2014) The drunk male comic who mistook me trying to get him to sober up for flirting and ended up putting his hands up my dress to touch my crotch and the female comic who told me "You just have to avoid him."

(2014) The comic who whispered perverted things in my ear before I went on at a mic and when I called him out on-stage, whispered even worse things into my phone, recording over my set.

(2015) The club owner who always touched my lower back or thigh when he talked to me, depending on whether we were sitting or standing.

(2015) Whoever roofied the drinks at the house show I used to run (because the police didn't take it seriously).

(2015) The man who tried to film up my dress while I was onstage & his friend who fought me when I took his phone to delete the videos.

(2016) The showrunner who paid the two men I was traveling with but not me even though we all did the same amount of time.

(2017) The male comic who sexually assaulted me in my own bed & the woman who told people my assault was fake.

(2017) The show-runner who told me that I "just didn't know him" when I said his kisses hello made me uncomfortable. (Which, by the way, was exactly why I was asking him to stop.)

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.