Think Of Comedy As A Business, But Don't

When I started comedy, one of the first pieces of advice I received is that “Show business is two words, show, and business”. Now I wouldn’t say this is great advice, but I also wouldn’t say it’s bad advice. I have been performing stand up for a little under 4 years now, have 2 business degrees, and worked for multiple startups, some successful, some not.


I disagree with what the person who gave me the advice was trying to say. What they meant was, that you need to start branding and competing in comedy as if your stand up comedy is a business. This is a strategy that I see a lot of new comics* take. The problem with this approach is that you aren’t ready to be making business-level decisions with your comedy. If you’re trying to brand your comedy after a few months or even a year, you’re screwing yourself over.

John Mulaney at USO show

                                     Royalty-free image on John Mulaney looking particularly businessy.

The hard reality is, you’re probably not that funny, don’t have a distinct comedic voice, nor do you really have fans. If you start trying to get into comedy clubs or big shows right away you will probably deter show bookers. Even if you do get their attention and get an audition, or they watch your comedy clip, you aren’t in a better position. If you send someone a sub-par stand up clip or bomb at an audition you will probably never get booked by them again. There are so many great comedians coin up right now, bookers will not waste time on second chances.


Comedy Is Not A Competition


In a similar vein, I don’t believe it is beneficial to “compete” in comedy. That is not to say you shouldn’t be driven, you should be. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t compare your success or value as a comedian off of another comedian’s success. The first reason is obvious, it can be crushing to see a comedian that you consider yourself on par with suddenly catch a break when you have yet to. The advice that I would give is, one person’s success doesn’t hurt you. All because someone is taking off doesn’t mean that you are suddenly worse off. It just means that your time has yet to come. Stand up isn’t a sport, there can be multiple “winners”.


(That sounds cheesy, I know)


The second part of competing that I would be wary of is “vanity metrics”. In the world of business, you have to watch out for false metrics of success. For example, a retail business might boast about how big their inventory is, as a metric of success, but if they can’t sell it, the inventory is useless. Some comics will get obsessed with running half a dozen comedy shows, but if they’re all poorly produced, then it’s not a good metric. You might be on a good run of showcases, but that doesn’t mean you’re the funniest comedian on those showcases. Everyone has a hot streak now and then.

I like to brag about having performed comedy in +20 states, does that mean I’m a good comedian? No! It’s fun to say, sure, but if you obsessed over these metrics you’re missing the point. The only metric that matters is being funny, and that’s what you should focus on.

Joke Writing Is Product Development

This leads to my final point, which is how I view comedy as a business. I like to think of my joke writing process in the same way companies view new products going into the market. Using the Product Development Cycle as a guide, or way of conceptualizing my joke writing process. If your joke/product doesn’t respond well to market tests, then you should probably fix it before launching

Stages In Comedy Writing Process

                                                         Image from Product LifeCycleStages.com

  • Idea– Joke idea/premise comes to mind, write it down right away!

  • Research– Check if someone else has a joke like it, dig deeper into the idea, do some research on the subject.

  • Develop– Start writing it out, get the correct wording. Make sure the joke isn’t too wordy and make sure it makes sense with your voice and comedy routine.

  • Testing– Run the joke at a couple of open mics (3 mics before I really evaluate the quality of a joke) to get a good read on it.

  • Analysis– What went well? What can you change? How did the crowd respond?

  • Intro– If it went well run it on a show!

  • Repeat.

Other Thoughts On Business & Comedy

  • Dress for success – Does your attire benefit your act? Don’t wear shorts on stage, it looks bad. That is unless you’re a “shorts comedian” who has a tight 5 minute set on shorts.
 
  • Go to work – Write daily, even if you’re not “inspired”. Set time aside, put pen to paper and don’t take it off until you’ve finished a thought.
 
  • Network – The term “networking” sounds insincere, but if you think someone is funny, tell them.

 

 

 

*I’m not saying that I am a veteran of stand up comedy by any means, but I’ve been around long enough to see comics come and go and venues open and close.

 

Updated 10/14/2019 – Grammar & spelling