What it's like working at a comedy club

Here's a guest post from Dan Wilbur, a comedian who works in the Comix office. He has worked the past two summers with the head of PR, Kambri Crews, and currently is an assistant to Justin Gray, the head of promotions. As part of his job, he contributes to the Comix blog and Twitter account. Below, Dan writes about what it's like to be a comic working at a comedy club.

When I first arrived at Comix I wanted to gain this vague understanding of “comedy” and “the business of comedy” which is what I learned tenfold. But I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I worked in the office. I didn’t realize how collaborative every single show is, whether it’s a headliner or a monthly show with an external producer. Literally every show (unlike a room you would just buy out) is the entire staff’s responsibility from the general manager down to the guy in charge of sending out Tweets. With any collaboration, there will be frustrations: ideas will get repeated, your idea might get lost in the mix, and occasionally the name of a show will stick that nobody really loves, but there’s more work to be done, so you move on. Working in a club teaches you that the business and creative aspect of comedy comes with constant upkeep. There’s always a show the next week, and there’s very little time to rest on your laurels even if the last headliner sold out the room.

One other thing I’ve learned on the business end of things is that careers are not linear. People have great months, people have terrible months. If a show consistently does poorly, it doesn’t mean that the club turns its back on that comic, it means (no matter how big the comic is), as a group, we need to come up with a different show or a different way of promoting a current show, so more people come. Also, a show can become stale no matter how good it is. If you’re pitching the same show to press outlets over and over, it becomes white noise at a certain point, even if everyone loves the show. “Five for $5” which used to be “Hot Comix” was great when it started, and even though we are doing the same thing we always do, we have to change that specific show to get people interested again. You should always be working on some project, but if it doesn’t pan out, move on and keep working. Having perspective is a valuable lesson I’ve learned from working at Comix.

I think everyone learns when they first arrive in New York how slow a process becoming a club comic is. I thought as soon as I got the job I would get a guest spot on a Comix showcase, then a huge comic would see me, and ask me to write for their new sitcom. Being around working comics is THE BEST PERK because you’re listening (daily) to a successful comic. It doesn’t hurt to know those people (in fact, networking is KEY to doing well in the comedy world, and going to other people’s shows is the easiest way to stay in touch) but humility is the most important part of listening to comics like that. Even if you despise the person, there’s a reason they’re working, and you better figure it out quick if you want to work that room too.

The least interesting part is meeting huge comedians in the middle of the day. It’s one thing to say, “Oh, I shouldn’t bother this comic right after his set,” but it’s an entirely different faux pas to grab the attention of a working comedian at noon on a Wednesday. That means he or she probably got five hours of sleep, and is there to work. (Side note, if you are the comedian coming in to the office to discuss something, smiling doesn’t hurt. We’re all at work too. Julian McCullough brightens my day whenever he comes in).

The question I get the most often is: “Are you getting a lot of stage time out of the job?” That was never the point. If I were onstage every night in front of people I barked in, I wouldn’t learn anything. I’d just be onstage in front of people who didn’t have other plans. Furthermore, Comix pays me in cold hard cash (or peanuts, depending on how you look at it), and if they paid me in stage time, what would be the incentive for getting better? It would be a horribly dishonest office if my coworkers kept encouraging everything I did onstage because they want me to do a spreadsheet for them. Work is work. You should get paid for it. That said, the only reason I have my current job is because I started working there for free. That’s how most comedic jobs start. But I love my job because I am supporting good live comedy, a universe that I hopefully will be a part of in the future. The better the club does, the more opportunities there are for live comedy to thrive.

The fun part of the job, and this is true with any job that does promotional work (i.e. you don’t have to work at a club for this to happen, but it helps to not work at Starbucks), is that you end up watching clips of people you’ve never heard of, you go places you would never go (I’ve been to The Daily Show front desk, tons of hotels, and to the office of an awesome gay bar), and anything cross-promotional usually yields free stuff (Burritos, movie passes, etc.). I also am required to NEVER wear a tie.

Lastly, I find that comedians are always afraid that if they only go from work to open mics and then to sleep they won’t have any material because they don’t have lives. They are correct. But the only way to get good is to inundate yourself for awhile, and then pick times when you live your personal life. I still find time to talk to non-comics (civilians) about non-comedic things on the daily. I always feel good about that since I spend most of my day working and thinking about comedy in general.


Abbi Crutchfield said...

Thanks for the insight, Dan! Do you ever worry that spending all of your time at the club hurts your chances for ever performing there? Or that other clubs will view you as a "Comix" representative and not give you a pass?

Jessie Geller said...

Nicely done Dan Wilbur!

Dan Wilbur said...


I find it's much easier to get booked at places where you regularly hang out. I don't think it ever hurts your chances to hang around the club, though you may become annoying if you're constantly asking for spots. I hang out at Comix because I like most of the shows that are going up. I hang out at a few other places on nights where I'll really enjoy who's performing or where my routine would fit in well. My point being: hanging out at one place too often might not be expanding your horizons, but if your material does really well at places like UCB, why not get on more shows there? If Comix books comedians like you, you should hang out there until you're performing with those people.

It hasn't hurt me in any way to say I work at Comix, though many places don't know. UH-OH! They know now!


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