Barry Katz did an AMA at Reddit. ("I've managed, developed and produced for Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Tracey Morgan, Jay Mohr among others and host the Industry Standard podcast on the business of comedy. Ask me anything.") In it, he breaks down the typical rates that comedians get paid...
If you're going to a comedy club in your city and seeing a person headline that you don't know that well, he's probably making between $1500-$3000 a week. The person going on before the headliner is probably making between $500-$1000 a week. The person MCing probably $300-$500 a week. If you go to a special event with a name that's a household name, you can probably figure out how much they're making by looking at how much you paid for the ticket and the people in the room, and normally the artist is making 50% of that gross, up to 100% depending on their pull. It the tickets are $25 apiece and 300 people in the room, you're talking about $7500 for that show. 6 Shows, about $40-$45K coming in. Chances are a headliner of that nature could make $20K or even up to $50-$60K that week, maybe more. That's usually how it works.
...and gives his advice on finding a manager (hint: don't).
Don't worry about finding a manager. When you're doing the right thing, when your comedy is undeniable, when you go to your home comedy club ten times in a row and you have the best set of the night by a landslide every, single, time and every bartender, every waitress, every manager, every comedian that hates you, every audience member if they had a truth serum in their veins would say you had the best set of the night. If you can figure that out, and do the kind of comedy that you love, embody the kind of material that blows you the fuck away when you watch it, when that starts happening, managers like me will chase you like your ass is on fire. But until then, keep working hard, keep doing the right thing and don't lose faith in yourself. You will prevail.
Katz also has a podcast where he interviews industry types.
To tell you the truth, Norm and I had done Update for three and a half seasons. I felt like we had made our point. What I did like about the way we approached Update was that it was akin to what the punk movement was for music: just real stripped down. We did whatever we wanted, and there was nothing there that we considered to be a form of cheating. We weren’t cuddly, we weren’t adorable, we weren’t warm. We weren’t going to do easy, political jokes that played for clapter and let the audience know we were all on the same side. We were going to be mean and, to an extent, anarchists.
I enjoy how "jokes that played for clapter" is the enemy here.
The “brainy” economy designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse –providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions. The perfect “subject” for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity — shock treatments — as “human interest” shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes along with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire.
Most comedy directors now believe that even an expertly written script can’t reliably elicit belly laughs. Nicholas Stoller, the director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek, both of which were substantially improvised, said, “The movies we’re trying to make, which have a hard laugh every minute, could not be made without improv.” Traditional comedies have a sleekness that calls to mind the typewriter. Consider the moment in the 1980 film Airplane! when two passengers chat before takeoff: “Nervous?” “Yes.” “First time?” “No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.” The point of improv, Apatow told me, is to make scenes feel fresh and unstudied—“to get the imagined typer out of the way.” When an improv really works, it has a skewed specificity that bears the stamp of an actor’s subconscious. In Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, it’s the scene where a vexed Mike Myers, as Dr.. Evil, stifles his son, Scott, with a whole run of shushes: “Let me tell you a little story about a man named Sh!” Scott opens his mouth—“Sh! even before you start.” Tiny pause. “That was a preëmptive Sh!” Scott opens his mouth again—“Just know I have a whole bag of Sh! with your name on it.”
Getting the script outta the way and replacing it with the performer's subconscious makes an entirely different cake.
1) His energy onstage. So many comics rely on being high energy – practically yelling toward the crowd. Ted takes the opposite approach. He leans back. He draws you in to his worldview. There's a zen calm to his approach. Yet he still manages to be hilarious.
2) And I dig the way he's political. See, there's the kind of comedian who preaches and lectures about his political views. Ted doesn't do that. He's a "be the change you want to see in the world" kinda guy. He's super involved in the Occupy movement without being in your face about it. And he seems to constantly be doing things like making calls for Obama or cleaning up after Sandy or volunteering somewhere in Astoria.
3) He also founded the New York Comedians Coalition which got clubs in the city to raise spot pay for comics. I can only imagine how hard it was to bring together a group as lone wolf-ish as NYC comedians in any sort of organized way. But Ted managed to pull it off.
4) Then there's his most recent standup special. Most comics tape specials in a big room in front of a juiced up crowd. Ted taped his at The Creek in front of a few dozen people. It's a special about the reality of doing standup, not the "on steroids" version that's usually released. (And he was able to put it out without lining the pockets of a big corporation.)
5) A lot of big name comedians look down on comics who are less experienced. They ignore them or do the ball busting/hierarchy thing. I've never seen Ted do that. He's always been patient and kind in conversations with me and other less-experienced comics. No wonder he gets so much respect from his peers.
It's easy to measure the wrong things in this business – to look at who's got industry heat or a pilot deal or a high iTunes ranking. But sometimes the person who's really winning is the one who redefines success. When I look at how well Ted does both onstage and off, I see true success. I see someone who is an example of how you can make people laugh and be an artist and a nice, authentic human being.
When I hear comics tell those jokes, I wonder what other, more personal experiences they might have to talk about.. You say you worry that people think you look like a lesbian and you aren’t one? Okay, sure. How large a part of your life is that fear? The audience you are in front of tonight might never see you again, so is it a crucial enough aspect of your life that you’d want to it be the only topic an audience ever hears you discuss? If not, talk about something that is. If so, why is that? What are you so afraid of?
I think that's an interesting frame: If an audience is only going to see you once and hear you talk about one thing, what would you want it to be?
Artists fit into one of three categories-the natural performer, who does the best they can within their limits on stage; the superficial performer, who shouldn't be on stage in the first place because they've got nothing original to tell you; and the supernatural artist, who, in Bob's words, 'is the kind that digs deep and the deeper they go, the more gods they'll find."
It's like artistic limbo. How low can you go? Also brings to mind another question: What happens if you find demons in the depths alongside those gods?
I’m not saying it’s everyone’s path, but my path was being really good at everything. I can write something, I can direct it, I can edit it, I can produce it, because at the end of the day you have to assume no one’s going to make anything for you. Assume you have to make it yourself and then whenever someone will help you or you get money for it, that will only be a bonus as opposed to being an expectation. I feel like people get bogged down by feeling like they need someone to validate their idea before making it as opposed to just making it.
Good thinking. Waiting around for the industry to "discover" you puts your fate in the hands of others. Not to mention, a lot of industry folks operate from a place of fear and not wanting to get fired as opposed to caring about what's good or not (if they even know what's good). Make something you think is great and prove it's worthwhile. Even if it gets you nowhere, at least you made something. Makers make stuff. Complainers complain about stuff.
The one thing you don't want to do is say, "I'm going to be different than anyone else — I'm wearing jeans!"...Steve Martin told me when he started out he was dressed as a hippie, and that shocked me. He was like, "Well, I was doing avant-garde stuff. Then suddenly I realized avant-garde comes out better from a guy in a white suit." I thought that's pretty fucking smart.
People laugh at odd combos. High-low, skinny-fat, smart-dumb. Comedy is in the contrast.
Los Angeles friends: I'll be in your city next week. If you want to see me tell jokes, I'll be performing on the following shows...
Jun 10 - 8:00pm - Put Your Hands Together @ UCBLA
Jun 11 - 8:00pm - Pints & Puns @ Angel City Brewery & Public House
Jun 12 - 8:30pm - Josh and Josh Show @ Bar Lubitsch
Jun 13 - 8:00pm - Peachy Keen @ Bar Lubitsch
Jun 15 - 9:00pm - Neal Brennan and Friends @ Mi's Westside Comedy Theater
Jun 15 - 9:45pm - French Toast @ Le Taix
People talking about drug trips are like people talking about their dreams: You had to be there – and you weren't. That's what makes this chunk by Simon Amstell on doing Ayahuasca so amazing. It's deep and it's weird and it's funny throughout.
Future Insights interviewed me about Vooza. Questions include: "Was there a specific viral internet video that made the light bulb go on for Vooza?" "Is it harder for you to play the straight man or the guy who delivers the punch lines?" "Which is your favorite Vooza video, and why?"
You know those self-indulgent videos where people talk about creativity, inspiration and their approach to branding as motivational music plays in the background?
Since launching (and doing we’re-still-not-sure-what), Vooza's made it its business to demystify the startup journey by zeroing right into the smarmy “thought-leader” attitude that so readily shuts people out before they've begun.
1, They don’t have to provide you with a living. You can still eat if they fail.
2, They don’t have a deadline. And as there is no time pressure, you don’t revert to your usual formula. You try new things. You experiment. You take risks.
3, This is a Labour of Love. You provide the ‘Labour’. And you provide the ‘Love’. So when you spend time on it, it is because you really want to. That keeps you coming back and pushing it on. That’s important. This thing will require you to keep plugging away at it, maybe, for years.
Love pays well in the end. But in the early years, it doesn’t pay at all.
I think the experimentation part is important. The more you're trying to make money off of comedy, the more you start to follow the rulebook. The industry has a way of homogenizing people. It all starts to look, sound, and feel the same. The time when you're not getting paid offers you freedom. It gives you the ability to do whatever the hell you want.
The segmented nature of the series — disconnected tales, anecdotes, moments, and reveries, some of them just a few minutes long — evokes the stop-and-start rhythms of a stand-up routine, an art form in which it's perfectly acceptable to pivot from one subject to the next with a blunt transition: "Women." "Football fans are the worst." "Now I'm gonna talk about things that you can do to keep people on their toes." He's talking to you directly, in the way that a stand-up comic would talk to you from the stage at a club, but he's doing it through the language of film — a translation that's not as simple as it sounds, given that stand-up is pure performance, just words and gestures. Theater...
The only transitions between these stories are the commercial breaks between acts, or the seven days separating one full episode from another. This temporal black space is the equivalent of a stand-up saying, "Can we talk about Obama for a second?" or "It is so friggin' hot right now!" Every such transition means the same thing: "Now I'm going to talk about something else, and hopefully I'll be interesting enough that you'll keep listening and not heckle me." Richard Pryor could do routines in which his dog or his pipe talked to him, then ramp down into more personal stories. Eddie Murphy could do a filthy routine about Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton as gay lovers and a childhood reverie about kids and ice cream within the same performance. George Carlin could mix wordplay, social satire, religious and political commentary, personal memories, and even an extended fantasy about the destruction of the world and somehow make it all seem to fit. And if you didn't like one or another of these bits, all you had to do was wait a few minutes, and the comic would be on to something else.
Good points I think. Most TV feels more like watching a storyteller. The random leaps at play in Louie do evoke a standup set more than most of the narrative-driven things on TV.
One other CK thing I read recently from GQ: That's Not Funny, That's C.K. I think the part about anger coming from fear and shame is interesting – how much great comedy comes from those things?
This is worth noting only because a decent amount of his material seems to emerge from a place of anger—or maybe more accurately, anger's parent streams, fear and shame—and when he's standing there in his black T-shirt and jeans, sweating and red-faced, you get the sense that however much that joke has been honed for comic effect, it also isn't totally an act. The signal seems to be beaming from someplace real and not completely peaceful inside him.
Interesting story from one of Lenny Bruce's trials (article). A witness transcribed his act and started reading it back in court. Bruce was furious: "I'm going to be judged on his bad timing, his ego and his garbled language."
But Richard Kuh, an ambitious assistant D.A., was eager to take on Lenny Bruce. The chief witness against Bruce was Herbert Ruhe, an inspector for the city's licensing division and a former C.I.A agent. At the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, Ruhe took notes on Lenny's performance, which he read from at the trial. (By the way, Ruhe told me later that he was just doing his job, that he had nothing against Lenny.)
Lenny was in a state of desperate frustration. He begged—he literally begged—presiding judge John Murtagh for permission to do his own act and not have it dismembered by an agent of the prosecutor.
"This guy is bumbling" Lenny told me, "and I'm going to jail. He's not only getting it all wrong, but now he thinks he's a comic. I'm going to be judged on his bad timing, his ego and his garbled language."
An unusual witness for Lenny was the syndicated columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, an active Catholic and political conservative. But she had a keen sense of humor and had attended some of Lenny's club gigs in New York. In taking the stand, she was treated with great respect by the judges and court attendants. Kuh, the Torquemada-like prosecutor, had put together—out of any context—all of Lenny's "dirty words" from the tape of the Café Au Go Go performance, which Bruce was not permitted to give to the court in his own way.
Kilgallen, demurely dressed, wearing white gloves, sat coolly on the witness chair as Kuh circled her and then, in a loud, accusatory voice, roared a barrage of "dirty words" at her. Pouncing, he shouted: "You say that Mr. Bruce is an artist of social value. What is your reaction, Miss Kilgallen, to these words—these words—he used in his act?" Dorothy Kilgallen looked at her gloves, looked up at Kuh and then, with precise constitutional logic, said: "They are words, Mr. Kuh. Words, words, words."
Reminds me of the whole Colbert tweet debacle or when blogs reprint what Tosh or Tracy Morgan say onstage. Seeing words written down or said by someone else is WAY different than hearing how they were delivered in the room from that performer.
Because of our Vooza show, I got to give a keynote talk at a big tech conference in Amsterdam two weeks ago. I pretended to be an idiot startup CEO who's overly obsessed with Steve Jobs. I told 'em to embrace failure and ignore their families. I think they figured out I was joking? Here's a clip...
Cristela didn’t make the cut. However, the producers, who also are behind ABC’s Last Man Standing, and 20th TV took the $500,000 penalty, a fraction of what a normal pilot costs, and used it to budget a presentation with ABC’s blessing (the network called it “proof of concept”). Cristela ended up filming a full-length pilot on the stage of Last Man Standing using that sitcom’s crew, led by director/co-exec producer John Pasquin, with two days of rehearsal and prep time, doing the blocking in a windowless room using paper plates and metal chairs. Cristela, originally not even budgeted to get a testing, tested through the roof, with Alonzo, who has no previous acting experience, scoring higher than Allen, New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel and The Crazy Ones’ Robin Williams.
I like the lean "proof of concept" approach they took to making the show. Do it as cheap and easy as possible and make something good and prove it works. Then build it from there. Everyone's always hoping to win the lottery and get the BIG DEAL but the organic way to do it is to build slowly, make sure it's a good idea, and then double down from there.
Silicon Valley is definitely worth a watch…If HBO isn’t your thing however and you still want to have some laughs at the expense of start up culture, the collection of shorts over at Vooza intelligently pokes fun at everything from crowdfunding concepts to product pitches and business card exchanges to product launch videos.
A reader writes: "I think you should do a blog post on musical comedy. Even if it's about how you think it sucks. I want to hear your opinion. Because I respect it."
I did think Flight of the Concords were pretty great. But mostly, I don't like musical comedy. The dickish way to say why: I think it's mostly done by people who are not good enough at comedy to succeed as comedians and not good enough at music to succeed as musicians. But they mix the two and deliver an inferior version of both things as a sort of magic trick that audiences like in the same way audiences like prop comedy and guys dressed in drag.
Look, I love music and I love comedy. I just don't get off on them being mixed. Probably because I'm very binary and take a purist approach to things. (Overall, this is an unnecessary and unhelpful way to live life but c'est la vie.)
Also, I think music hits people on some sort of reptilian wavelength and then makes anything that goes along with it easier to swallow. Think about how stupid most song lyrics are. Or the painful in-between song stage banter of most musicians. People let it go because, hey, music!
But, y'know, do your thing. It takes a village and all that. And anything can be done artfully and worth watching.
The formation of a sitcom character is like a sculptor laboriously chipping away at marble; what Colbert did was more akin to a rock slowly being smoothed by the motions of the tide. 150 nights a year, Colbert defined the character slowly but surely, segment by segment.
What Colbert did on his show is/was amazing. To carry the entire show every night (Stewart has others that help out on-camera, Colbert does it all on his own) and to do it in character is something else. I understand why he wants to shift into being himself. But I'm gonna miss how vicious and mean "Stephen Colbert" could be. Like here...
"Reality has a well-known liberal bias." I got a feeling the real Stephen Colbert will be nice and uplifting and the kind of guy we can root for. But we've got plenty of those already. The truthiness of "Stephen Colbert" was a special thing in the ocean of Upworthiness and it's gonna be missed. See this related tweet.
All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.
Or, as Mitch Hedberg put it:
One time, this guy handed me a picture of him, he said,"Here's a picture of me when I was younger." Every picture is of you when you were younger. "Here's a picture of me when I'm older." "You son-of-a-bitch! How'd you pull that off? Lemme see that camera...what's it look like?"
Hashtag activist, eh? Starting a hashtag is to activism what Like-ing a baby photo is to raising a child. All you did was type a couple of words and hit Send. If you want to be a real activist, do something difficult. Volunteer for a cause. Go to a city council meeting and speak up. Take some action that involves more than 3 seconds of effort. Otherwise, you’re not really an activist. You’re just a heckler.
Plus, I'm worried about what's coming next if "hashtag activist" becomes a real thing...
Selfie revolutionary - “if you photobomb, I drop real bombs”
Groupon militant - “30% off lipomassage or we storm the gates”
Retweet jihadist - “I detonate an IED of Upworthy and Buzzfeed all over your Twitter”
Yelp extremist - “We showed up with 20 people and we want a table NOW or else”
Snapchat warrior - “my willingness to fight for this cause will disappear in 10 seconds”
A good parody is one where ya still think it's funny even if you don't know the original that's being mocked. Fred Armisen talks about this at Splitsider in response to a question about the obscure references on Portlandia:
I just think of my memories watching Saturday Night Live as a kid, I didn't know who the hell they were talking about. There were jokes on Weekend Update that I would laugh at but I didn't know what they were talking about. So I think it doesn't matter — references don't really matter. Even Bugs Bunny is that way, they throw in some jokes for adults and sometimes you just laugh at the way it's being done. That's something that is a lucky break — we get to have Jello Biafra in a sketch, and if you know who he is great, and if you don't it's still a sketch.
Non-comedy article on ageism in tech had this quote I found interesting: “There are people in a room whose talent is to win the first minute. Mine is to win the thirtieth or the sixtieth.” Seems like it can work that way in comedy too. The guys who have the best TV set or tight 5 aren't always the ones you wanna watch for 45mins. Alas, you often don't get to the 45 unless you can nail the 5. And so it goes.
Just read that advertisers, whose main target is the 18-34 year old demographic, are starting to skew even younger (12-34). I remember being in the heart of that age range and feeling good about that: “We’re the ones who get it. We’re still alive. Move outta the way, old man!” But now that I’m becoming that old man, I’m starting to think everything on TV is aimed at people in that age range because they’re the only ones dumb enough to actually believe advertising.
That athletes eat Subway. That Coors is made from fresh Rocky Mountain water. That being an NBA player is like working for State Farm. That ladies flock to a dude who sprays Axe on his crotch.
What networks/advertisers really want is to capture the attention of the most gullible and easily manipulated segment of the population. Because that’s who can be twisted and fooled into wanting whiter teeth or whatever. And the end result is that our entire society winds up held hostage by the most naive among us as we’re all force-fed a steady stream of schlocky, dumbed-down entertainment for pawns. [This post sponsored by Samsung!]
I don't think the story is about the missing plane. It's about the ocean and how tiny we are compared to it. We think we're always being watched and that satellites know it all and technology rules everything around us. But then the ocean goes and swallows a hunk of metal. And all our cell towers, radars, and navy ships ain't shit compared to this 2/3-of-the-planet-covering pit of mystery and darkness. Part of me likes to think the ocean is saying, "Here's how lost you can get when you dance with me." But actually, the ocean doesn't give a fuck. I hope we never find that damn plane.
Cognitive neuroscientist Scott Weems thinks humor is worthy of serious academic study and writes about in his new book “Ha!” He explains why unhappy people are funnier.
Yet in tests measuring the ability to write cartoon captions, people who were more neurotic, assertive, manipulative and dogmatic were actually funnier. As the old saw holds, many of the best comics really are miserable.
Perhaps, Dr. Weems writes, unhappy people are “more likely than others to speak out in awkward or socially unacceptable ways to make a good joke.” Or, as people from Aristotle to Gertrude Stein have pointed out, unhappiness can breed creativity, and the best jokes require both intellectual gymnastics and astute observation of human nature.
Unless you are a model, Tiesto, or Leonardo DiCaprio, our doormen probably won't let you in." VERY excited to learn more about this hot club that's coming to NYC. Also excited: Dan Soder and Joe List. Spend 30secs at ClubScale.com and you'll see what I mean...