Tuesday, May 14, 2013

So much for Brotherhood - Part I

If you have listened to my Podcasts The Green Room or The Spew you would have heard me say I consider comedy to be a brotherhood.

I can say I didn't feel that way until I got out on the road. It was then I really started connecting with the other comedians I worked with and creating the friendships I still have today. Back when I started every club I worked at had a “comedy condo”. It was a house or an apartment that the comedians stayed at during the week they were working at the club. There’s nothing like a shared experience to bond people. The condo did exactly that. Back then I actually used to be disappointed when I worked one-nighters because they put you up in a hotel.

In any case … we as comics all have one shared experience; chasing for work. It can be a humiliating experience if you allow it. It consists of calls that aren’t returned, emails that are ignored and promises that are never kept. To describe it as ego crushing could actually be understating it.

Here is how it works.

If you are attempting to get booked by phone when you call a club if someone answers (sometimes it’s the booker) you are told the booker “is out of the office”, “in a meeting” or some other generic excuse is given. We are basically treated like a telemarketer. In the event there is an accident and the booker actually picks up the phone and identifies himself then you get “I’m busy right now, call me back <insert date or time here>” and the process restarts. Rinse and repeat.

Email works a little differently. You send an email and it is systematically ignored. That means you are left wondering why you didn’t receive a response. Maybe it didn’t get there. Maybe it got there and ended up in their SPAM folder.

But what if it did get there and was read? Why didn’t they answer? Was it that you’re not good enough? Maybe it was because you didn’t have the right credits? Is the message you sent not properly describing you? What if you work for a club that causes them to ban you from theirs? There tend to be a lot of unanswered questions.

I will also acknowledge that there are bookers out there that don't operate that way. I will also point out that who you are makes a difference as well. If you are someone that can draw a crowd or already highly regarded you’ll get a different result.

Even so, there is no guarantee. I know a comedian that has a Comedy Central Special, numerous television appearances and lots of interest from the press that struggles just as much as the rest of us to get work.

I used to be book a club and I’d like to think I was not one of the bad bookers. I went to great pains to make sure comedians knew what they needed to do to get booked and I answered every email I received. I gave everyone that asked for work an answer as soon as I could. I even had a private web site just for comics with every bit of information on the club and how to get into it. I tried to treat the comics in a way I wanted to be treated, with respect and dignity.

Even so, I've had comics react poorly to not being booked but I never held that against them. I understood the frustration they felt in being rejected. I had similar experiences when I was a loan officer at a bank. You tell someone no to a loan and they hate you. They made me the focus their anger. It kept them from looking at their own situation to see the actual reason they didn't get what they wanted; even though I had just told them the exact reason.

I can’t tell you the number of people I would run into years after I left the bank that either apologize for what they said to me or told me what a nice guy I was and how much I had changed since leaving the bank. That always amused me because I hadn’t changed a bit. Their anger had left over time which changed their perception of me. In fact some even told me that even though they were unhappy at the time it was the best thing that could have happened for them.

I have told you all of the above to share with you an email I received from a comedian that books a club I contacted for work. He’s basically in the same position I was. He’s a working comic that books a room. That means he has to make the same decisions I did. He also has to deal with the fallout of those decisions.

Tomorrow in Part II I will not only share the email with you, I will give you my thoughts on the whole thing.

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.

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