Business School

Saturday September 14th, 2013 – Burlington, WI

I’ve been putting more time and energy in on improving my business skills all of this year than I have in the past ten years. I haven’t seen much as far as tangible results, but that’s only a matter of time. I’m finally doing a lot of things correctly I should have been doing years ago, but didn’t.

I still have an extremely long way to go, but at least I’m making the sincere effort to get better at something that has never interested me. It would be like a classic car collector that loves doing body work but neglects what’s under the hood. Without a functional drive train, it’s of little use.

It might look good sitting in a museum, but that doesn’t do much good. If it doesn’t run, who’s ever going to want to buy it? Some sap might take a chance, but it wouldn’t be at top dollar. I am in a similar situation with my career. If I don’t get significantly better at my business, my show is absolutely meaningless. It will have been the world’s longest and most unproductive hobby ever.

Eventually I’m going to have to hire someone to help handle my business. I’ve never wanted to do that in the past, but now I’m looking at it differently. I wasn’t sure I had a product to sell, so it made me gun shy to approach anyone in the big time. I really think there was a subconscious fear of not being good enough, and I successfully steered myself away from anything big for decades.

Now I totally feel I’m ready, and in fact I think I waited too long. Circumstances have gotten in the way, but that happens to everyone. I stayed the course and paid my dues – and the dues of six or seven other people also. I didn’t take any shortcuts, and I can hang on stage with most anyone.

Acts like Louis CK, Lewis Black, Jim Gaffigan and several others in that category are my peer group. Larry The Cable Guy worked the same hell holes I did (and still do). Nothing against any of them, but they somehow made the jump to reaching a wider audience. They’re not any funnier because they’re selling out big venues, but they’re sure being perceived that way by the public.

Unfortunately, I haven’t put out an energy that would make anyone perceive that about me. I’m seen as a club act by most bookers – even ones that I happen to like. It’s not their job to promote me to larger venues, and I can’t wait for it to happen by itself. I need to believe it in my head first (and mean it), and then project it outward until it becomes a reality. I finally believe I can do this.

My act is rock solid, and has been for years. Not everybody loves what I do, but that rings true for all acts – even the most popular ones. I’m convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt all kinds of regular people all over the English speaking world would love what I do if they ever get to see it.

It’s up to me to make it happen. I’m a race car driver and I need a pit crew. Tonight I hung out with my magician friend Dennis DeBondt. Dennis is as highly skilled at handling his business as I’ve ever seen. He does comedy magic, but it’s mostly comedy. He’s a funny guy first even if he is billed as a magician. He sells himself extremely well, and is always working at getting booked.

Entertainers like Dennis and my speaker friend Todd Hunt have a harder road in that there isn’t a ‘circuit’ or even regular places for them to work like I can in comedy clubs. They charge more, but I see why. They really earn it. I learned a lot from Dennis tonight, and I intend to continue.

He comes from an entirely different breed of entertainers than comedians who work in comedy clubs exclusively. That’s a boil on the ass of show business, and has been since the comedy club boom hit in the early ‘80s. The real money has always been in snagging the corporate bookings.

The actual circumstances for those can often be horrendous, but the pay is good enough where the temporary inconvenience becomes worth it. As an ‘artiste’, doing those never appealed to me on any level. I was always in it for the love of the craft, and would rather take a low paying show in front of a quality audience than a high paying one that isn’t. I’m starting to change my ideals.

In the old proverbial perfect world – which it never is or has ever been – I’d work great gigs in big venues for audiences who are there to see me. Is that always a pleasant experience? Ask guys like Steve Martin or Dice Clay. They both had amazing runs, but neither paints a perfect picture.

There are hassles with everything, but I’d much rather deal with the hassle of working the three thousand seat theatre in a town than trying to stand on a beer case in some snake pit biker dive in the worst part of the same town that’s not all that great in the first place. I’d like to have choices.

Dennis booked a show tonight at a summer camp near Burlington, WI. It was for dads and their daughters between age 5 and up to maybe 12. There were probably 75 girls and 60 dads sitting in rustic surroundings that had a microphone but no stage lights. They left all the house lights on for the show, but it wasn’t a problem. Dennis is a pro, and handled it fine. I could have done it also.

What I couldn’t have done was pull off a 50 minute magic show that kept the attention of both the dads and the daughters. Dennis is masterful at grabbing attention and holding it, and he did a spectacular job. I found myself laughing out loud several times, and that’s unheard of for comics because we’ve seen and heard everything countless times. Funny is funny though and Dennis is.

In the car on the way up and back, I got a crash course in phone negotiation skills – something that’s as appealing to me as getting a do it yourself Ronco Home Colonoscopy kit for Christmas. I absolutely abhor being on the phone with a potential client, but that’s probably due to the fact I haven’t made the effort to master the skill. I’m not saying I’ll ever love it, but I do need to try it.

Dennis is in a bit of a different boat as to what he needs to sell, but not all that much. He does a significant amount of kids birthday parties, and that’s something a comedian doesn’t get asked to do. Standup comedy isn’t aimed at kids, and not just because it’s dirty. It takes maturity to get it.

Negotiation tactics are the same in most any genre, and that’s what I learned about. Dennis has perfected his pitch system over decades, and I appreciate him sharing some tips. It doesn’t mean I’m going to be an expert negotiator any time soon, but it’s a very positive start. I need to learn.

The fee Dennis got tonight was very impressive. It was well above what I usually get to close a typical one nighter comedy show, but he earned every penny. His experience showed, but I have a similar amount in the standup comedy world. I’ve done much harder gigs than this for far less.

I’ve got work coming up in October and beyond, but as of now zilch for the rest of September. That rots. It’s my own fault, but I’m doing something about it and that’s all I can do. I’ll be ok.


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