The Top 3
Gabriel Rutledge: “Be flexible in your definition of success.”
I just saw the movie “Nebraska.” (Great movie, btw.) At several points they’re drinking in tiny bars in small towns in Nebraska with karaoke in the background and I thought, “I’ve probably done a show there.”
It brought back memories of bars in Whitefish,MT and Plaza,ND when I thought “If I could just be in buildings where people know there’s going to be a comedy show…” Lol.
“Be flexible in your definition of success.” Some days it’s never enough and it shouldn’t be. You should strive for success at every level: “I should be headlining. I should be on Conan O Brien! I can host the Oscars better than that.” but every once in a while, maybe today, step back and say “Wow. people are coming to a building for a show I’m on. I win.” or “I’m getting paid to tell jokes.” or even, “I didn’t have to bring 7 people to get on this open mic. Things are great.”
Alonzo Bodden: “Work the Hell Gigs and you’ll cruise in the A rooms.”
Sometimes a good show can get bad. Or a bad situation might happen and you need to be prepared. Lights go out, Mic cuts out, Trays get dropped, People heckle you, or even crowds that just aren’t paying much attention. The best way to prepare is to go to places where bad things happen more often.
I’m usually the kid that gets insulted on the playground and says “You’re stupider” and runs away. Later that day I’ll get home and come up with the perfect insult retort but it’s only 6 hours late. That’s kinda the approach to comedy. A mic will go out and you’ll freak out but luckily, the next time it happens you can have an idea to try instead of flailing in the wind. My go to line is: “I don’t need a mic, I go acapella! Fuck a papa doc!” (Video of Mic cutting out on me)
My friend Susan Jones always called it her “Batman Tool Belt.” You have a tool for each bad guy. Light go out, grab this tool. There’s also a level of confidence in walking into a bar gig, getting their attention and doing well. Leave that show going “Imagine how good this will be in a room where I have their attention from the start.” I’m thankful for my time doing crazy gigs because they’ve given me the confidence to walk into anywhere and know I’ll have a chance at success.
There’s another signature that echo’s this that I’ll find later but it said “Always have a good dick joke to fall back on.” I call that my closer parachute. Sometimes I’ll do a big story and the closer will get a tepid reaction or I’ll fuck it up myself or any variable of things, someone heckles you in the middle of the set up. I know I have 2 or 3 emergency parachute one liners that I can fall back on. It’s not that they are bad jokes. They’re just maybe not as profound. 😉
It’s important to maintain a balance between good gigs and bad gigs, and eventually do mostly good gigs because you can learn bad habits doing nothing but bad shows, but there’s only so much room in a tiny signature book.
Mike Birbiglia: “Keep going. Keep writing. Keep traveling. Keep being critical of your own work. But don’t stop. Because you’re very funny.”
If you read through the whole book on my facebook page. You’ll see a million different variations of this. “Be A Tank” “Don’t Give Up.” “Keep going.” “Hang in there.”
Why would a comic who hasn’t seen me perform say “Keep it up”? They probably just know how hard it is to be a comedian traveling the country doing crappy gigs and know that encouragement is important.
I was lucky enough to work with Mike for a few shows. Maybe Mike was being nice, because I probably wasn’t “VERY” funny a few years ago but that encouragement has been important. Mike is one of my favorite comics. I know I’ve looked back after many bad shows to this page (and others) and thought, “If this guy thinks I’m funny, I can’t be horrible. He knows funny! I can keep doing this.”
Find moments you can hang on to. I had a callback audition for Last Comic Standing last season. I didn’t get on the show and of course I was pretty bummed but I had to force myself to think “I must be on the right track. They wanted to take a closer look.” This next opportunity is right around the corner. Don’t give up!