Dave, do you think there is a way to make a living as a comic in which one bypasses the comedy clubs? I know the only other major venues are colleges and cruise ships and corporate events. – S. S.
Hey S. S. – You pretty much ran the comedy bases in that one. From first to home with one swing:
- Comedy Clubs
- Colleges & Universities
- Cruise Ships
- Corporate Events
I’m sure readers can suggest few more options (I’d love to hear from you) such as private parties and different social events. I could mention MC’ing a fashion show or doing comedy for an “after the high school prom event,” but only because those two options were thrown my way (as a talent booker) during the past week. But these are not regular gigs and doubt they would add up enough $$’s to help make a living as a comic.
Since you’re talking about bypassing comedy clubs, that knocks out the first market – working in comedy clubs. So let’s move on…
Colleges & Universities:
This can be a BIG $$ market, but like the others more specialized than what is normally expected in comedy clubs. From my past experience as a talent agent in NACA (National Assoc for Campus Activities), you – as a comedian – have to follow one of the most important rules of comedy:
Know your audience!
Your audience will obviously be college students. We’re talking mainly between the ages of 18 to 22. Does your material work for that age range? Also (and be honest) are you an age the students can relate to? Here’s what I mean…
When I was writing the book Comedy FAQs And Answers, I interviewed comedian Bill Engvall about copyrighting material (you’ll have to read the book to find out what he says). It was a great topic for him because his hook – “Here’s your sign!” – is legally protected. You can’t use it – period.
I mentioned Bill working the college market and he told me he doesn’t. The reason? He talks about his wife and kids and husband/father/family stuff. College kids aren’t interested in that. They’re more into sleeping late, skipping classes and… well, think back to what you wanted to do when you were 18 years old and that’s what the audience wants to hear.
Know your audience!
But to get back to your question – yes, you can actually bypass comedy clubs by working colleges. It’s not easy and you still need an act – which is usually developed through open-mics or free gigs at local colleges.
Once you have an act that fits the college market, I would suggest working with a college booking agent. Doing this on your own is not cheap because most work comes from showcasing at college booking conferences. Again, this is described in more detail in the above-mentioned Comedy FAQs book, but the agencies invest a lot of money in membership fees, conference expenses and promotional material.
They do it because agencies offer a wide variety of entertainment that can fit what different colleges are looking for – which give the agencies more opportunities to make money. Colleges don’t just book comedians – but also bands, variety acts, speakers, and even inflatables that the students and jump on and bash into (remember the age of the audience we’re talking about).
The associations that run these conferences are:
- NACA (already mentioned)
- APCA (Assoc for the Promotion of Campus Activities)
Hook up with a member agency, have a GREAT college act – and there’s a chance you can bypass comedy clubs until the amount of candles on your birthday cake is a legitimate fire hazard that would scare off students.
Most comedians talk about this being the hardest market to break into. Depending on your status within the comedy industry – we’re talking the difference between a name headliner or just a very good not-as-well-known headliner or feature act – it can be very lucrative or just another gig that happens to be on a ship.
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Name headliners can work a cruise gig and get all the frills. They may not be paid anywhere near what they would get for a big corporate show, but the perks can include a stateroom and regular seat at the captain’s dinner table. I know a (very) few who do this and also consider it a vacation – sometimes even bringing their families.
But I seem to know more who work as a cruise ship contract-player. In other words, they sign on for a certain length of time, say three to six months, and share accommodations with other entertainers and staff in the lower quarters of the ship. No portholes to look out of and buffet food with the rest of the crew in the off-limits to passengers area – again – in the bottom of the ship.
The pay isn’t big time, but then again you don’t have to pay for much. You live on the ship.
Most comics also have to be skilled at doing two completely different performances. They’ll do an early CLEAN show in the large theater for audiences that include kids and grandparents. Then a later “adult” show in one of the lounges for the “adults.”
I know comics who don’t even have houses or apartments anymore. They live on cruise ships and continue to sign months-long contracts. When they do take a month or so off, they’ve saved a lot of money and can live it up on a grand scale for awhile – then sign on again when the money’s tight.
It sounds like it could be fun – unless you have a family (who can’t go when you’re a contract entertainer) or want to be available for auditions on dry land. But it’s a bypassing the comedy club option.
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I think most will agree that this is the BIGGEST $$ market for comedians. I wrote about this in a FAQs and Answers article a few weeks ago – so you can scroll down and still find it.
But to make a great point about this, I’m going to use one of the comments sent in after that one was posted. It comes from my online comedy pal Frank King (www.CleanCorporateComic.com) who wrote…
What’s the difference between the average club comic and the average corporate comic? Answer: $3,000 a day + expenses.
Thanks Frank – that pretty much sums it up. If you can break into the corporate market, you won’t have to work a comedy club unless you want to.
I’ve written numerous times in these articles how to break into the corporate market, but the key is to work clean. You can’t live on the edge material-wise, but you also don’t have to be all business. Corporate comics are entertainers – just like on cruise ships and at colleges (and at comedy clubs). And depending on what market you would rather work in, remember the important rule…
Know your audience!
Dave Schwensen is the author of Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers, How To Be A Working Comic and Comedy FAQs And Answers.
For information about these books, comedy workshops at The Cleveland Improv, and private coaching for comedians and speakers in person, by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com
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