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 GreenRoomRadio.net 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 Vilmos.com.
Follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/vilmosthecomic or Twitter @vilmosthecomic.