Among the lectures at the World Series of Comedy, the well-attended session with Don Barnhardt covered a lot of ground. Barnhart, the Las Vegas-based veteran comic, has headlined everything from corporate events to clubs and ships, and even had his own room here in town for a while. He also is the booker for Jack Didley’s in Kennewick, Wash., so he had a lot to offer the hungry comics who showed up.
The main points he covered were how to and often how not to get booked. Being that most of the competitors in the World Series of Comedy were feature acts looking to gain more of a national presence, this is an important aspect of the business. Social media, marketing and presenting a digital press kit with a video of your set are absolutely mandatory. As Barnhart pointed out, you might hate Myspace, but if you still have a page, your name will end up much higher in search engines. Little tips like this can separate a rising comic from getting a gig or not getting one.
Barnhart and joke-writing professor Jerry Corley repeated one theme—to work, you have to work. In other words, if you call about getting a job and get shot down, make more calls! For every “no,” call 10 more people. Look beyond clubs to private events. Market yourself as unique and customize your show for the audience on any given night. And don’t be an asshole. It sounds simple, but a lot of guys lose work for no other reason than people don’t want to work with them. No matter how funny you might be, if you’re a jerk, you might end up just being a jerk at local open mics and nowhere else.
Some of this stuff is common knowledge, but it’s always good to have it reinforced by guys who have grinded to the top of the comedy game and whose wealth of knowledge is very valuable to those who are trying to get there.
The Vegas Headliners lecture is another interesting event at the World Series of Comedy. For the comedians based in the city, they are able to gleam valuable insight about the process of getting their own room on the Strip and making a living doing what they love out here. But for the visiting comics, it must just be odd. Most of what is said has no real-world application to their day-to-day lives.
This year’s panel included Geechy Guy (Crown Comedy and The Dirty Joke Show), Kevin Burke (Defending the Caveman and Fitz of Laughter) and Tanyalee Davis (formerly of the Clarion Hotel, currently back on the road). The basic message from all three was the same: Work your ass off, and go get it. Guy was a road dog for a long time and has been in long-running shows in Reno and on cruises before landing in Vegas with Dirty Joke. Of his desire to draw an audience, he told the comics who used to dress in a giant whoopee cushion costume and hand out advertisements to Dirty Joke throughout Hooters Casino Hotel. Burke, who used to live in Chicago, knew for a long time he wanted to have his own Vegas show. He had no idea how to make it happen or even what it would be, but with Caveman and its big-money investors, he was able to parlay that into also getting Fitz, which features him doing his stand-up act as opposed to Caveman’s one-man play. Davis had been on the road almost nonstop for years and was looking for a home base. Her show at the Clarion was well reviewed but just as sales were picking up steam, she and hotel management were not able to agree on terms to continue her run. She has gone back on the road, doing what she has to do to make her living. As is often the case, this comic’s home is no home at all.
The point is, as a rising comic, you can’t rely on anyone else but yourself to make your name. If you want to headline a room, find a bar, restaurant, hotel, airport lounge and make it your room. Work out whatever you have to with ownership and then take off. Outwork everyone else and then just maybe you might be able have some stability as a resident headliner and not have to travel constantly. It doesn’t sound easy, and it isn’t, but Guy, Burke and Davis have all had varied levels of success doing it, proving, if nothing else, it can be done … at least here in Las Vegas.
Jason Harris is a local stand-up comedian.