Monday, November 19, 2012

Turning It Up A Notch

When you are a comedian every time you walk on stage you must bring your "A" game with you. It doesn't matter if you are at the worst one-nighter out there or the finest comedy club in the country. Your best is the only thing that is acceptable.

Sometimes your best is just not enough; but even in those times, you have the comfort of knowing you've done all you could do.

It's no secret amongst comedians, comedy clubs are a much easier venue to work than one-nighters. For you "civilians" a one-nighter is a comedy venue that is not solely a comedy club venue. It could be a bar, restaurant, coffee house or even a laundromat. If you think I'm kidding about the Laundromat, I'm not. There's actually one in the Los Angeles area that has a regular comedy show.

One-nighters present a unique challenge in that they were not designed to host a comedy show. In order for a comedy show to have the best chance at success you needs several elements.

A stage with lighting that allows the crowd to easily see the performers face
A sound system that is set up for the spoken word
Seating close together and facing the stage
Very few distractions in the room, ie. not a lot on the walls.
The ability to light the room for the audience properly

There are a few other small things like proper wait service to the audience and some sort of bouncer/doorman in the room (even some comedy clubs don't have these anymore) that will add to the success of show. The truth is most of these things are missing in the standard one-nighter. In fact, if you are lucy enough to get 2 of these items you're looking at a pretty good one-nighter.

That's why working at a comedy club is what most comedians strive for. Comedy clubs are built from the ground up to provide the best possible environment for a comedy show. The wait staff is trained to serve customers in a way as to not distract from the show on stage.

In reality, a comedy club should be your first choice to see comedy. If there is no comedy club in your area and you are a fan of comedy, then by all means go to a comedy night that's being held in your area. It's live standup and that's a GOOD thing! Just remember that you will be up against a few extra distractions, don't let those get in the way of you enjoying yourself. It may take you one or 2 shows in this room to figure out where the best place to sit is and when to get your drinks, etc. but in the end, with a little effort you can enjoy yourself at a one-nighter.

I do a pretty good mix of both and like most comedians, the one-nighters will be the first thing to go once I can get a full schedule of comedy clubs. Which at the time of this writing seems to never, as the comedy club market seems to be shrinking and the way comedy clubs book their acts combined with an ever growing number of comedians out looking for work makes it highly unlikely.

So I always look forward to weeks I have in comedy clubs, some with more enthusiasm than others. I'm not going to lie to you, I have mixed emotions about Catch A Rising Star.

Don't misunderstand me, I love the club. Everything about it is good; the staff is great, the room is well laid out and the accommodations are the best I ever get.

It's the crowds ...

These are easily the toughest comedy club crowds I'm ever in front of and it's not the clubs fault, unless you blame them for where they decided to locate their club.

You see the Catch A Rising Star is located in the Silver Legacy Casino which is in downtown Reno. It is a part of a 3 Casino/Hotel complex that takes up about 6 square blocks and is a destination vacation/gambling spot. Which means that the people that come to this complex come from all over the The Northwest, Northern California, Utah and Nevada. When I say Nevada I'm pretty much excluding the greater Reno metropolitan area. It's not that they don't like the club, it's that the majority of them don't seem to want to come to downtown Reno.

This makes the crowd you're going to be in front of especially tough. They're not bad people, just an odd mix of age, ethnicity and backgrounds because they come from so many different places. Add to that the inability to use local references (every good comics hold card) the comedian ends up with what I like to refer to as a fruit cake crowd. Not because they're nuts which is what people usually mean when they say "fruit cake". I call them fruit cake crowds because just like a fruit cake there's nothing wrong with the ingredients individually, it's when you put them together that you get something you're really not going to enjoy.

Just because they're a bad mix doesn't mean that they don't deserve your best effort. That's why if you have an "A+" game, you better pull it out for these crowds.

This past week was no exception. I had shows that went off without a hitch and I had shows that I pulled out every one of my tried and true comedy "game changers" in an effort to do a great show with these crowds. The smallest show I did last week had 14 people and the largest had 125. Ironically, these two shows were by far the best of the week.

The rest of of the shows ranged from average to pretty good with one exception on Thursday night. It was not a good show by my standards but in the end I actually learned something that I was able to apply to the small show of 14 that happened the next night.

Every time I come to Reno to perform at Catch A Rising Star I know I am going to have to work hard. Without exception every time I have left Reno I have left a better comedian because of it.

This week was no exception, I left Reno with a stronger act and a few new tricks to use when things start going bad on stage. For a comedian, you can't ask for any more than that.

Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is
Follow him on Facebook at or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Idle Time

I am still in Reno Nevada at the Silver Legacy Hotel. Today marks the 15th day of my trip, I have spent 12 of them in this room.

It’s very unusual for a comic to stay more than 6 days in a town and I have doubled that.

This wasn't my choice; I was actually forced into it when the club I was supposed to work at on November 2nd and 3rd closed days before I came out here. This happens more frequently than you would think. It's not just when a club closes; you can lose your booking for many other reasons. The club could have double booked the show by accident, they may need to cut the show down, or sometimes they'll have an opportunity to bring in someone they want more than you. Pretty much if the wind blows the wrong way and the club thinks it's in their best interest, you're going to get cancelled. So the rule you learn early on in comedy is to hope for the best, but expect the worst.

The irony here is that if the club cancels you, you may or may not even get rebooked again. They feel no obligation do anything to make this right. If you are fortunate enough to get rebooked it could be soon, it could be next year or it could be never. On the other hand; if you have to cancel your booking then we have a problem. I'm not saying this happens with every club but when you cancel with a lot of clubs you will never work for them again. Your only chance with these places is you have to have a really good reason for your cancellation. That pretty much limits valid reasons to I'm going to tape a late night talk show, someone close to me has died or I have died. Anything else leaves you open for a lifetime ban.

I know you're thinking "There must be something in your contract that would deal with this"? What contract? This is one of the few businesses that still operate on your word. The unfortunate part is a lot of clubs don't feel the need to keep their "word", they'd rather keep their options open. The ONLY time these clubs will enter into a contract with a comedian is when they are booking a bigger name that will draw a crowd. It's because they don't want to put out all that money for special advertising and then have someone cancel. That would actually COST them something and they can't have that.

So as you can see some of these clubs handle business without regard for how their actions will affect the comedians they deal with. Why can they do that? There is a never ending supply of comedians that will work for these people no matter how they have treated those who have come before them. They'll take the chance because the reward is worth it to them, but they'll also be the first ones crying "poor me" when things don't work out even though they knew that going in.

Even though this example isn't about getting cancelled by a club it will show you the desperation that comedians have when it's comes to work. There was a club in the Northwest that was owned by a comedian. One day I received an email from a comedian I was friends with telling me that he had worked this club nearly 6 weeks before and his check had bounced. At the time he sent out the email he had still not gotten his money. So he decided to warn all the comedians he knew. I happened to know a friend of mine was scheduled to work at this particular club in a couple of weeks. So I called the comedian that sent the email to get the whole story. I was told that not only was he having trouble, every comedian that had worked after him also got a bad check and none of them had gotten their money yet. I relayed this information to my friend. Instead of canceling his booking, he called the owner of the club and asked him "is the check you're going to give me going to be good"? Of course the owner told him it would be just fine. So my friend hopped on a plane, flew 2,200 miles, worked his week at the club, got his check and went home. He deposited the check he received and when it bounced my friend was angry, even though he went in knowing there was a good possibility of this would happen.

In his mind he had to give it a try, because he needed the money. If he would have stayed home, he would have had NO chance to earn. This way, he had SOME chance and that was enough for him to put himself in that position and he is not alone.

There is a booker in the Northwest that is well known for not only taking an unreasonable amount of time to pay the comedians; this booker also regularly bounces checks. Yet there is an unending number of comedians willing to work for this booker knowing full well that there will be a good chance things aren't going to go well when it comes to their payment.

Yes, we are a strange bunch.

Back to the story ...

When you end up with time off like this the key is to put it to good use and that’s what I ended up doing. When I finished my show in Winnemucca I had 2 choices; one was to find the cheapest hotel in the area and hole up in a room eating bologna sandwiches in an effort to keep my expenses at a minimum.

My other choice was to see if I could go into Reno early, find a place to stay and see if I can find some stage time.

It wasn't a tough choice; after all, I am a comedian and stage time is what I live for. So I contacted the GM of Catch A Rising Star. I asked him if he could get me a special rate at the Silver Legacy for the 4 days I would have to stay before my week started. I also asked for the opportunity to do guest sets on the shows.

I felt pretty lucky when he said he could do both.

When I got to the Silver Legacy I found out it worked out pretty well for them that I came out early. As it turned out, the comedian that was featuring at club that week wasn’t feeling well. So I was able to take his place. In addition they were able to give me food vouchers that covered all my meals until my week started.

The other bonus came from the headliner. The comedian that was originally scheduled for the week cancelled at the last minute. The replacement they found happens to book a venue in Oregon that pays pretty well. So not only was I able to get in some stage time, I was able to find work that I didn't even know existed!

Had I found a Motel6, parked myself in it and watched TV for the weekend "saving money" I would have missed out on the great stage time and the chance at new work.

The lesson learned here is a simple one. If you really want to do something you need to keep yourself immersed in the culture of what you want to do. No one is going to see you when you are on the outside looking in.

Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is
Follow him on Facebook at or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Off To A Good Start

The view from my room at the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino in Reno Nevada

I am sitting in my hotel room in Reno Nevada reflecting on my November 1st show at Winners Casino in Winnemucca Nevada. I drove 1,630 miles over 3 days to get here.

If I were to tell you how much I made last night you would wonder why I do such a thing.

I did it because it was on the way to my next show and it paid the expenses to get out here. Then there was the opportunity to do an hour of comedy.

I believe that as long as you make the commitment, every show you do improves your skill at comedy. You can come up with a new joke, make an existing one better, come up with a premise for a new bit or you can learn a little more about dealing with the audience.

The latter generally comes from bombing. Bombing is a great learning experience for a comedian. It is important for a comedian to learn "how to bomb". When I say that don't believe that comedians everywhere should go on stage and perform horribly on purpose. I believe that as a comic you need to become comfortable when you bomb; because that is when the learning starts.

You see; as you begin to bomb you start to feel uncomfortable. As the bombing continues it will eventually trigger the panic that comes from "fight or flight" feelings. Nature has given us this emotion to protect us; a sixth sense that will get you out of a bad situation. It's there to save your life. Even so, it's not a good or productive feeling to have when you are on stage.

I think we can all agree that no one is going to die while bombing on stage; but that does not minimize the panic that you feel. This is the feeling a comedian needs to become comfortable with. Once you are able to push past the panic you are able to assess the situation for what it is. You can then figure out how to get out of it or what to do the next time to prevent it.

Which leads to the age old argument amongst comedians; whose fault is it. In other words, was it your fault or was it just a bad audience.

I will tell you it is my belief that it is always the comedians fault. I will also say that when I make that statement I don't believe that it means the comedian always makes a "mistake". In most cases it’s because the comedian has never been confronted with the situation he or she is in.

Therein lies the rub ... technically we are not talking about "fault" as much as we are talking about "inexperience". This is why it is so important to be comfortable when you are bombing; because as a comedian you need to be able to adjust to your audience. You need to be able to change your material, cadence, inflections, energy level or whatever you feel is necessary to connect with the audience you are in front of. Sometimes, you even have to abandoning your act. If you do have to go to this extreme your choices are to do crowd work or do your best "riffing".

There are times that "none of the above" will work. If you can't work through that feeling of panic you will miss a lot of the experience; you will be focusing on the wrong things. You will in essence "lose the lesson" this show is giving you. In the event something like this happens again you will not have any idea of what to do. You will end up repeating a bad experience.

If you are lucky enough to get to a point of being famous enough that people will buy a ticket to see you; the above may not apply. You have become a commodity that a club can resell; you do not necessarily have to do a great show.

The truth is that among comedians the "have" and "have not's" are distinguished between the comedians that draw versus those that do not.

If you draw there is a never ending amount of work you can book. If you don't do well in some venues versus others it doesn't matter, there are always more venues that will book you.

If you don't draw you have to be able to bring a great show every time you go on stage regardless of who is in the room or what the conditions are. If not, there is a never ending pool of working comedians out there that the club will use instead of you.

In the end it's all about making the club happy which means the audience must be satisfied that they purchased a ticket. That can be as simple as being able to say "I saw [insert famous comic name here]" or "man was that comic funny".

For the record … I had a pretty good show there. I had a good opening act that warmed up the crowd and they liked what I did.

I even learned something ...

Vilmos has been a standup comedian since 1992.
He created a web site with Podcasts by comedians.
He is the host of The Green Room which is the longest running Podcast on standup comedy.
He also hosts The Mentorist v2 and The Spew.
His web site is
Follow him on Facebook at or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.