Disclaimer: I put my back out earlier in the week, and then actually SCRATCHED MY EYEBALL on a houseplant whilst picking up puppy poop. My point being that I’m going to keep it short this week, if for no other reason than I’m in pain and feeling sorry for myself.
Had an interesting e-conversation with a friend earlier in the week. He’s been doing stand up for about as long as me and is around the same place as I am career-wise. We were back-and-forthing about money for gigs; i.e. should we be taking freebies at clubs, especially shows where we have to drive (therefore spend $$ on gas etc), even if it means extended stage time in front of a big audience. Which got me thinking how crazy this whole business is. Because, unless you are headlining or doing corporate gigs, the most you’ll make for an out-of-towner barely covers the getting there and back – if you’re lucky.
I don’t entirely blame club owners/bookers for this low-pay cycle – why pay more when you can get any number of comics who’ll work for beer or less? Even if paying a decent scale would be the right thing to do, what sane business person would pay more than they need to? On the other side of the coin, we comics are equally culpable – so eager to perform, so passionate about comedy that we jump at the chance to get decent stage time at all.
Now, I’m not counting the numerous open mics. They are free for the audience and therefore the comics are not obliged to put on a club show; these are work-out rooms and the audience (should) know this. Yet these are 5-7 minute lumps of time. How do we put together 20-30 minutes, then 45 minutes in 5-7 minute bites? We go to the clubs and do longer sets for beer or nothing at all. Of course, there are some good gigs out there, I’ve played them – but it’s hit and miss in the booking of them.
I ran a sweet little room for a while. It was a nice spot and was really gaining momentum when the owner sold up and I had to close. It was different than most rooms in that I charged the audience at the door and then paid every booked comic $10 and bought them a drink. My thinking was that the audience will value a show if they’ve paid to get in, and the comics will bring their A-game. The room held around 40 people at capacity, though at most usually only had 20-30 paying customers. I got about $7/head – so made around $150-200 a night. But I had 6 comics to pay and though I got a discount on the drinks, was usually out about $13 per comic (i.e. $80). So, on a good night, I’d walk away with $70 + at the end of the night (which went straight to the babysitter and our tab – my own stuff, I know, but still…). If the audience was small, I’d be out of pocket – but this, to me didn’t matter. It was important to pay everyone who worked the night. The reason it was important to me, however, is that I am a comic and understand that even a token payment for 10 minutes in a wee room should be the norm, not the exception. If only we could somehow make this work in real life. Because, truly, 20-30 minutes of comedy at a comedy club should cost more than what two audience members paid to get in.
**Disclaimer disclaimer: I realize that I did not, in fact, “keep it short” this week. Just shows that even in pain, I love a good rant.