Monday, July 11, 2016

The Good Old Days


I have to admit I sometimes yearn for the old days, before the Internet. Back then I actually had a life.

It started out innocently enough; I got a cell phone in my car. All of the really cool guys on TV  had one, now I did. I couldn't afford to use it a lot, but at least I had some way to get help in the event my car broke down, as long as there was cell service.

Back then is when I think this weird connection we have with our phones started. As I drove around the countryside of this great nation performing comedy I found myself constantly checking my phone.

What was I looking at? The signal strength indicator. I needed to know if I was going to be able to use the phone in the event of emergency. Or what if I did need to make that "important" call? I wanted to be sure my phone that was bolted to the floor of my car would be ready to go.

And what was the first thing I checked when I got into the car? Was my phone still there? It was a valuable item; someone might have stolen it! What would happen to my "cool dude" status if I no longer had it? After all, it was there for all to see, there was no hiding it.

Then there was the excitement of actually using the thing. Yes, I'm calling you, from my CAR! No, it's not a BIG deal, doesn't everyone have a phone in their CAR?

At least back then I was able to take a break. After all, how much time could one person spend in a car?

I didn't realize it then, but I was already on the road to ruin.

The beginning of the end came when they made the "mobile" phone truly mobile. It was no longer attached to the car; I could take it ANYWHERE! Hey! Thanks for calling! What am I doing? Well, I'm sitting by the river now, waiting for someone to call so I can say, "I'm at the river and you can still reach me". How about that!

Sure, the early cell phones were the size of a brick and pretty inconvenient to carry around. But on the other hand ... they were the size of a brick and EVERYONE could see that you had one!

Then they started making them smaller, and no one new you had one, BUT ... you could flip them open! Just like the communicators on Star Trek! In the back of your mind when you watched Star Trek you knew those things were fake, but yours was REAL! HA!

This is about the time that the evil geniuses of the Internet started to take notice. They had been working on their own plan to make us dependent on the Internet and it was going pretty well. Computer prices had been coming down for years now and a computer was no longer out of the reach of your average person on the street. Now everyone was getting one. But to use the Internet, they had to use their telephone line, which was slow, BUT ...

The evil geniuses on the Internet knew a BIG secret. Something that your average person on the street didn't know. The phone system actually WAS a computer system! That's right, for all these years (even Aunt Mabel who was still using a rotary phone) people had actually been using a giant computer network! Because that is what the phone system actually is.

So they came up with a plan ... let's get the phone companies to admit to what they REALLY are and have them add the Internet to their cell phones. We'll keep the Lemmings busy with dial up service until you guys at the phone company can make a phone that can easily use the Internet. We'll take care of it all after that.

We'll make it so they can't go anywhere without us. They won't actually need the phone anymore to talk on. We'll convince them that sending a smiley face or a frowny face is more than enough. We'll convince them that the only place to find someone to marry is on the Internet. We're going to get them to the point that a date night will consist of 2 people sitting at a table looking longingly ... into their phones at OUR Internet, it's going to be GREAT!

And so it was ...


Saturday, July 02, 2016

Always Trust the Gut - The Event


If you haven't already done so, you view the previous entry that sets this one up, or you could just start here.

When we left our heroes they had done everything in their power to put the evil event coordinators on the path of truth, justice and the American way ...

It's now 10 days prior to the event and I check the web site statistics. We moved up to 75 views on the ticket/information page for this event. This concerns me but I put it aside because as it was explained to me by the event coordinator, they have never sold advance tickets. It's a local event so everyone is used to showing up and buying their passes on that weekend.

Okay.

As a part of our agreement the event is to provide us rooms from Thursday - Saturday. We're coming in a day early to make sure we get everything set up properly. I hadn't yet heard from the event regarding where we were staying, but I wasn't surprised, I hadn't heard much of anything from them.

I send an email to the event coordinator asking about the lodging 7 days before we're supposed to get there and I receive back ... nothing. I let things go over the weekend as I figured they're in the home stretch; they're busy. I send a follow up on Tuesday and get a brief message saying that they'll have my lodging information on Friday and Saturday when I get there for load in. I respond with a short message. "Thank you, but we're coming in on Thursday"; and get a reply that says, "I've only gotten you hotel rooms for 2 nights". I respond politely by pointing out that page 1 item 2 of the contract states we'll get rooms for Thursday - Saturday. The reply I receive is, "I'll look into it tomorrow".

Strike 1

The next day (Wednesday, we're leaving for the event) I receive another brief message saying they're sorry; that they will correct and give me hotel information for Friday and Saturday and that they'll pass along the  Thursday night hotel info once they get it. Also in that email is "and we're going to have to move your booth, we'll discuss it when you get here".

What? Huh? Where?

There had been a long discussion regarding booth placement. The spot we were in was selected specifically because it would give us the greatest amount of exposure, giving us the best chance to sell tickets. I send a text message saying, "you're moving us from the best location?", I receive the answer, "it's going to be better for you to move; it will benefit you".

Strike 2

I'm having the nagging feeling of impending doom at this point and I send a text response of "I'm freaking out here", which gets me a call from the event coordinator. The call is not to calm my fears; it's more of a scolding which contained something to the effect of "if I'd have know how much time you we're going to take".

Strike 3

I should have turned around and headed home. I didn't; and in my own defense I'll tell you where my head was at. We had already been somewhat promoted and I felt like once we got down there, I would be able to get things straightened out. I generally would not allow someone to talk to me that way, but felt there was no point in pissing them off any further when we were depending on them to promote us.

Right ... I should have turned around.

We get into town Thursday mid-afternoon and head straight to the hotel we're at Friday and Saturday, hoping there will be a room. We had not received any further information and truthfully, I was not expecting there to be one. I was not disappointed.

Our next stop was the event location, where we are greeted by the assistant coordinator, who claims to know very little. I am not convinced, she's the only other person that was involved in the planning of this event. Even so, it becomes apparent immediately that the coordinator is micromanaging this event. We get the materials that have been left for us, and the event coordinator is called. The coordinator shows up and is gracious enough. I do my best to "make nice" about the stress that has been happening so far.

We're shown around the facility and are shown where our ticket booth will be. We're told that this location was selected because once someone is registered; they will have to pass us to get to the outside vendors. If they are coming back inside; they would have to pass us to get to the inside vendors. It would assure us the exposure we needed to promote our show.

I'll point out at we originally were supposed to be right next to their merchandise area, which everyone will visit. Based on what we were told, the spot they assigned us seemed comparable. It wasn't as good, but it was as close as we were going to come; it was going to have to do.

We were then given our hotel information and told we were only there Thursday night and would have to check out and move to the other hotel on Friday. Inconvenient to be sure, but we're already on this train of destruction; at this point, I'm just looking out the windows waiting for the crash.

The crash came the next day; Friday, the first day of the event. We got our booth set up; and when they opened the doors at 1:00P ... nothing. There were maybe 20 people waiting to get in. They had changed the weekend of the event. In previous years it had been held in April. This year they moved it to another month, on a weekend there was a holiday, and two other events of the same type in competition. While there was an expectation that the numbers would be down some; no one would have expected what was about tho happen.

Back to our misery, already in progress.

We didn't see any of those first 20 people. They went straight to the inside vendor area and then ... exited the inside vendor area through another door that we were told would not be available that completely bypassed us. Not only that; they were able to go back in that way as well. Really, there was no reason to go by us at all unless they were just wandering around; which wasn't happening much.

Why?

Because moving the event also caused them to lose the majority of their vendors. They had only signed up (my estimate) a third of years prior. There was nothing to look at. People were making one loop through and then heading home though the outside exits to the parking lot.

I recognized this and at about 5:00, I spoke to the facility manager about moving our booth down the hall a ways. It would put us partially in front of the inside vendor exit and the bathrooms. It would be helping our exposure greatly. We had been told there were strict rules about such things, so I wanted to make sure it was okay with them before we asked the event people.

The facilities manager had no problem with it and neither did the event people. To his credit the facilities manager brought in a small crew and moving our bo0th was like a Chinese Fire Drill. On minute we were in one spot and 30 seconds later in another.

It didn't help much; because in fact attendance was so low that they we're still giving away the free gift to the first 500 attendees at 6:00P that night. How many people had we seen? About 20 ... our show was at 7:15P. Add the number of tickets we sold which was 2 (10% of the people we talked to) to the on-line sales, 0 and you get ... no show.

We stayed until the end of the day, 9:30P and actually sold another pair of tickets. The couple that bought the first pair were okay with moving to the Saturday night show too! So going into Saturday we had improved our location (a little) and had 4 tickets sold. If we could get good attendance at the Saturday night show we could make this work.

That turned out to be a BIG if.

Saturday came and the doors opened at 11:00A, coincidentally that is when the complaining began. We moved another 10 feet down to place ourselves squarely in the view of anyone coming to/from the bathrooms and the indoor vendor area. We became a defacto information booth. The most frequent question we were asked was "Is this all there is?". We would hear that about 20 minutes after they had gone through every last thing the event had to offer. When we told them that was it, they were angry and felt they had wasted their money. Then they left the event and had no intentions of coming back.

When we were able to talk to people about our comedy show it went something like this:

Us: There's a comedy show tonight at 7:15.

Them: Comedy? We didn't know there was comedy.

Us: It's an hour and 15 minute show that starts at 7:15.

Them: We won't be here; we're leaving now. There's nothing to do here.


We also had this conversation frequently

Us: There's a comedy show tonight at 7:15. It requires a separate ticket.

Them: What? I just wasted $17 per person, why would I throw away more.

Us: Well, we're not actually a part of the event so we sell out own tickets.

Them: Not a part of the event? You're here on your own?

Us: Yes. You might say we're "singing for our supper". We'd hope you come.

Them: I doubt it, we're leaving. There's nothing to do here.


As it turned out we were able to sell enough tickets to have a small show. It was a very small show; but the people who came really enjoyed it. We did too.

In hindsight ...

We should have never come. We were not properly promoted. The web site was atrocious. It seems to me the only reason they even had it up was to sign up vendors; which they did poorly at. I could easily write 5,000 words on what was wrong with their site.

I listened to their radio promo, we were mentioned as "and comedy". And ... you really had to pay attention to hear it. They did a promo video, which was (sort off) passed around the net. It was 30 seconds long, mentioned the other entertainment by name with graphics and we got ... "and comedy". The event promoter did 2 television appearances. In one we weren't mentioned, in the other we were "and comedy".

We were an afterthought.

Their promotion was so poor it produced these results.

The event attendance was horrible. On Saturday, like Friday they were still giving away the free gift to the first 500 people at 5:00P; 6 hours after the doors opened.

The people who did come were mostly angry at what they paid versus what they got. Very few vendors and high prices for beverages and food just made them angry.

Their big name entertainment on Friday and Saturday night did okay, but for the most part, this event was a bust

That all being said, it's obvious to me that we were lied to. We were never really promoted and they had no intentions on promoting us. The only reason we were there is so they could say they had "more entertainment" than last year.

We made some new friends and met a lot of nice people. And we were able to experience just about every bad thing that could happen to us in 1 event; rather than stringing them through 6 or 7.

We'll be ready next time ...

Friday, June 24, 2016

Always Trust the Gut - Before


I created an agency to provide entertainment to the motorcycle community. Up to this point my experiences have been good ones. I've learned a lot, met some very nice people and made some great friends.

I knew going in that I was going to have some obstacles to overcome. I knew that as with everything else in life, there was going to be a lot to learn.

I sure learned at lot at this last event.

You have to put yourself out there and with this event we were doing just that. Up until this one, we had negotiated a performance fee for our appearances. This one was different, it was up to us to sell out own tickets. We were going to be able to control our own destiny.

Here is how it was supposed to work ...

The event provides us with a performance space, they advertise our show The Rock & Roll Comedy Tour TM in their event and we sell our own tickets. They give their attendees another show option at very little cost to them and we get to keep the ticket sales. Everybody wins!

That's not exactly how it worked out ... I saw it coming and I could have avoided it. let me explain.

About a month out of the event I suspected that something wasn't going well. We had set up a page to sell tickets in advance and so far sales had been "weak". And by "weak", I mean none.

So I looked up the stats for that page and immediately found the problem. The page had been up for at least 60 days and we had the sum total of 49 views. When I looked at the page referrals I found that only 8 of those had come from the event site.

What this tells me is that the event is clearly not doing well at promoting us, so my next step is to look at the event site and what I find there confirms my suspicion, we're not really being promoted very well. Plus the site itself has very little to offer anyone interested in coming to the event. There's no real information about this years event, just a video from 2014 and a link to this years press release. When you look at the lodging page you see "check back soon". The vendor page has links to sign up to be a vendor. Event info (the schedule) is non existent.

Then I click on the "Entertainment" page and this is how they are presenting us?


There is nothing about the above image that would give anyone a reason to click to find out anything more about our show. They don't even have the name of the show in the image.

I have to put some of this on me. After we negotiated the contract, communications weren't good. I thought it was because they were getting everything ready to announce their event, so I let it slide some. Then I didn't follow up well. On the other hand, they never asked us for any information. They pulled the above images off a page that had the image for our show but chose not to use it. Why? I have no real idea.

I hastily put together an email expressing my concern and pointing out that they don't even have the name of the show on their page. I attach to the email the image for our show, along with a better show description; all formated to fit exactly into the space they already have on their web site. I'm not just a comic, I'm a web developer, too; I can do that.

I receive no answer to my email and wait several days before sending a follow- up message. The next day I still haven't received any response so I check their site, and I can see that my images were used, but in a very poor way. They had even reduced the size of the show description to a point it was unreadable. I get my biggest surprise when I click on the link, it takes me to a photographer's web site.

Now I know we're going to be in trouble, and after a lot of thought I decide it's time to pull the plug on this show. It's obvious to me that we are not getting the kind of promotion we need to get our name out there. I send an email to the event coordinator expressing my concerns and our notification that we're going to cancel.

I expected no response or an angry response, and was surprised when I received a rather panicked reply. I was asked to reconsider my decision and to please call to discuss what was going on. I felt like I owed them that much and called. After some discussion and some assurance on their end I reversed my decision. I'm not going to get into what I was told, but will say I felt like everything I was told was reasonable enough; plus, I really did want to try out this show concept. we were back in again.

I even helped them out by making a new graphic that they could plug directly into their web page,


which they did use.

There was a flurry of exchanges between us and the event coordinator to get the promotion end of things going. I'm not going to say I thought everything was going to go well; I was still concerned.

There was nothing that could have prepared me for what was coming next ...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dear Future Former Club Owner


Dear Mr. Failure,

I'm writing this "I told you so" letter in advance. I want to be the first one "on the record" to say that it is inevitable that your comedy club will fail.

I tried to help you. I reached out and offered what I had learned during my ownership of a 225 seat comedy club. It was a polite email; it was an olive branch. What did I receive back from you? A smart ass response telling me how since you had been in the Army for 20 years and had a "background in marketing" that you would be "OK, lol" LoL? Really? 20 years in the Army and you use the term "lol" in a business related email?

That told me a lot. Not the lol. The "lol" told me that you don't know how to properly communicate with another business person. I'm wondering what your "background in marketing" actually is? The last time I checked the Army wasn't in "retail". Were you the one who cleaned the sign at the entrance of the base you were on?

The part that I learned the most of was how you didn't even ask me a question. All you did was tell me how you'd been in the military for the past 20 years and you had a "marketing" background.

I think you're basking in a little too much "thanks for your service" afterglow. The last time I checked the military didn't do a lot to prepare you to run a regular business, much less a comedy club. The last time I checked the only "marketing" they did was for enlisted men, they weren't really selling a product.

Now, do I think you're going to fail because you didn't ask for my advice? Absolutely not; I think you're going to fail because you think you have it all figured out. That when you had the chance to speak with someone who had been in the world of comedy for 25 years, owned a 225 seat comedy club located in one of the top 25 cities of the US, has ties with some of the most successful comedy club owners in the business and was the Senior Loan Officer of a bank; you probably should have taken it.

It may not have been advice that applied to your situation. But how would you know until you heard it? That's why you will fail. Because you think you have it all figured out. You'll find out soon enough that you don't, and by the time you figure that out it will be too late for you to pull out of the nose dive that your comedy club will be experiencing.

Even though you haven't asked for it, I'll give you some advice anyway. Instead of putting all that money into a comedy club, burn it; at least you'll get some heat out if it.

Your friend in comedy,


Vilmos

Note: There is an episode of my podcast The Spew that gives the background for this entry. It's short and to listen to by clicking here.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Watch What You Say


There is a war raging in the stand-up comedy community. I'm watching all these stand-up comics debating clean vs dirty. There is a small but mighty group of stand-up comedians that have become very vocal lately saying that going clean is not only the best way to do comedy; but if you don't, you are taking the easy way out. That any comedian that writes and performs dirty material is … well … not as good a comedian as they are.

I wonder how many of these stand-up comics smoke. Hasn't it been proven that smoking can kill you? Yet they do so anyway. What do they say when someone tells them they shouldn't smoke. They say “It's my life, I know what the risks are. Stay out of my business”. Yet these same individuals will look down their nose at me because I choose to work “blue”.

I use the term “blue” because because “dirty” is not really an accurate term. “Dirty” is used in an effort to make what I do different from what it is. “Dirty” gives a person the impression that I'm on stage swearing like a drunk sailor on leave talking in graphic detail about the lurid sexual things I've done or want to do.

That's what people think when they hear the word “dirty” they think objectionable.

Do I swear on stage, yes. Do I talk about graphic sexual things, no. I don't even talk about sex. If you are asking yourself if I could work clean, sure. I choose not to and for a very specific reason, I don't want to. That should be good enough for you and anyone else that may ever ask me that question.

Do I work without the swear words? Sometimes … but it's still blue because of the things I'm talking about. I'm not doing my material in front of kids or in front of a church congregation. Most of the time I'm doing my material in front of a group of people that are in a nightclub that serves alcohol. That's where I WANT to be, that's MY crowd. They enjoy what I do, I enjoy performing for them. Why does anyone feel the need to say what I'm doing is wrong?

It's this “shaming” of comedians that choose to not work clean that irritates me the most. We know what we're up against. We know that we can't work in ANY room. We also know that we probably won't ever be on TV. Yet we still do what we do. Why? Because it's what we feel we HAVE to do. Just like you “clean” comics.

Yet you tell us we're taking the easy way out, that “anyone” can write a dirty joke but it takes someone with “talent” to write a clean one because that takes a greater degree of skill. I saw a comedian post this gem recently; “If you can't write 7 clean minutes, odds are you can't write comedy”.

Really? I have news for all of you stand-up comics that seem to feel it's OK to spout this line of trash out. I hope that in the future the tide doesn't turn against you. Maybe then you'll understand how intolerant you appear to those of us that have decided to do what we feel the artistic need to do. If the roles were to be reversed I doubt that you would hear comics that chose to work “dirty” telling the comics that work clean what they were doing is wrong.

I respect comics that work “clean” do. Why is it they can't do the same? And don't tell me that you do while you're also telling me that by working whatever you consider “dirty” to be. You're contradicting yourself ...

Note: If you'd like to hear my verbal tirade about this listen to this episode of my Podcast The Spew

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Working Without A Net


I'm a part of a Facebook group that is all about how to be a stand-up comedian. It's a mix of veterans and newbies. It's become a great way for a new comic to find out about nearly anything in comedy. Ask a question; no matter how obscure, there will be a comic out there with tons of experience who can give some insight.

It's a necessary thing that has been a long time in coming. There is no school to learn the art of stand-up comedy. I've often compared stand-up comedians to medicine men. Their knowledge was not written down in a book. They passed their knowledge down from generation to generation, the rest had to be figured out along the way. That is the way it works in the world of stand-up comedy.

I've always believed in sharing what I have learned. I made that attempt with a podcast called The Mentorist but never felt like I was able to get the message out to those who really needed it. This group reaches way more comedians than I ever could and I couldn't be happier to be a part of it.

Recently the subject of what to do about pre-show anxiety came up. There was much discussion about how to deal with it, some I agreed with, others I vehemently disagreed with. One of the suggestions that came up was smoking a little pot.

I can't communicate how much I disagree with that idea. In fact, I believe that if you need to use anything to get past your anxiety or, as they're called, "pre-show jitters" you haven't done the work necessary to become a really good stand-up comedian.

The only way to be on the top of your game is to be in in the right place mentally and emotionally when you walk on that stage. Because if you're not, you're going to make a mistake. It could be slight and mess up only one joke. Or it could be something huge that ruins your entire set.

So anything that you "require" to get your head "right" is not a good idea. A stand-up comic needs to be able to do that on their own, without assistance. I used to like to listen to a group of 5 songs before I went on stage. This may sound extreme but I even quit doing that. Not because it had created a problem, I just didn't want any kind of ritual before a show.

The reason is a simple one ... stand-up comedy is an art form that is totally dependent on the performer. There are no instruments (unless you bring one with you) or visual aids required. Through the spoken word you are conveying an idea that has only one purpose, to make someone laugh; a very specific end result. It has a difficulty level that exceeds just about everything else. It takes years to master, and the only way to master it is trial and error.

Not to take anything away from musicians, but as a comparison; a musician can practice his song as long as necessary to make sure it is perfectly played. When that same musician decides the time is right to play that song in front of a crowd it can be done with absolute perfection. There is no guarantee that the crowd will like it, but you have a better than average chance that it will be well received. Mostly because people are conditioned to respond to a song at the end by clapping, and in truth, are able to recognize (even if on a subconscious level) that a song was well executed.

Compare that to a joke. You can practice a joke as long as you like, but technically delivering it correctly really isn't much help. The audience doesn't recognize if a joke is structured correctly. They do not recognize that it was delivered properly, because there is no such thing. A joke is about as fluid as it gets. The audience will not give you a response just because you did it well. The first time you tell a joke, you're hoping for is some sort of positive response.

Once you get that response, the process of honing the joke starts. It's a process that varies; but it involves figuring out the best way to tell the joke. This involves the proper cadence, facial expression, voice volume, position on  the stage, how much body motion should be used, where you are looking and a number of other things that all must combined to make the joke work. The process is literally done by trial and error.

Once the trial and error period is over, a stand-up comedian must then deal with the "audience component" of a joke. No two audiences are the same. What will work for one may not work for the next. It is up to the comic to determine what the audience "vibe" is and then adjust the joke to work with that particular crowd. This is not done by surveying the room before going on stage. This is done while on stage during the performance. To the point of using the response to material that is done earlier in the set to decide whether or not the joke should even be done.

The other component to all this is when you do the material, it all needs to look like it's coming off the top of your head. Even though as you tell each joke you are evaluated how the joke was received and using that information to adjust upcoming material, as well as editing your set list.

To be able to do all this you must have a clear mind and the ability to focus. You are not going to get that smoking marijuana, having a drink or doing some sort of drug before a show. All of those things dull your senses and modify your thought process. The same goes for rituals like when I was listening to music before the show. I didn't have to, but I did enjoy it. When I didn't have the chance, it didn't ruin anything for me, but I did worry that it would eventual it would become too important to miss. The downside on a ritual is that when it doesn't happen it can ruin your mood, which will cause you to lose focus.

That's why it's so important to be in the same mental place every time you step on stage. Because when you can start from the same place you will already be well ahead of the game. It allows you to clearly see your environment and focus on the adjustments you need to make as you perform your material.

It's not easy and it doesn't happen right away. It can be a long journey, but it's well worth the effort.

In my case, I am at an absolute calm as I walk on the stage. It gives me a clarity that is hard to describe. I can only tell you that when I'm performing I can feel the energy in the room and can use that energy to guide me through my set. At times I feel superhuman. I am able to react with very little thought because I do not have anything mentally getting in the way.

It gives me confidence; which removes fear and anxiety. Truthfully, all I feel is joy in its purest form. Something that is not easy to find ...