I have been asked by some readers to put up a schedule of my comedy dates. Here it is through May. All the dates listed are headlining shows (50-60 minute sets) except for the ones with Frank Caliendo.
2 Spring Lake, MI
3-4 Merrillville Star Plaza (Chicago area)
9 West Lake, OH
10-11 Grand Blanc, MI
15 Decatur, IL
18 Bloomington, IL
21-22 Duluth, MN
23 Spicer, MN
24 Mantiwoc, WI
25 New Holstein, WI
1-4 Kalamazoo, MI
10-11 Twin Cities
17 Ste. Saint Marie, MI Casino
18 North Dakota
19 UP of Michigan
21 Sioux Falls, SD
22 Stevens Pt., WI
23 Newton, IA
24 Brainerd, MN
25 St. Cloud, MN
29 Carbondale, IL
31 St. Louis
1 St. Louis
6-9 DC Improv (w/Frank Caliendo)
12 Lima, OH
14-15 Milwaukee Casino
27-29 Madison, WI
4-7 Chicago Improv (w/Frank Caliendo -- tentative)
10-13 Lansing, MI
17-20 Toledo, MI
I'm sure many of you noticed that many of these dates appear to be in Single-A towns. Kind of like a Nike tour of comedy. I have played almost every major club in the country. I have performed at almost all the Improvs, which is the top comedy chain in the country. Go to www.improv.com and look at the schedule of comics that will be performing there. The roster includes about 40 comics. These comics, with maybe five exceptions are major draws; they are draws because they have been on network TV shows or have built a niche following through specific communities (Hispanic, Urban, Gay, etc.).
Besides the occasional Pauly Shore or Michael Winslow, the Improv headlining comics are hilarious. Much like the music world, it's important to find a niche to market yourself to. If you don't find that niche, you find yourself featuring at the Improvs and Funny Bones. ($500-$1,200 a week, depending on if the big-time headliner allows you to sell CDs or t-shirts.)
The dirty little secret is if you are not one of these top 40 or 50 acts, the best way to make money is to play smaller cities and towns. Do three or four nights and you will make between $1,000-$2,000 for the week, plus you are given celebrity status in these places. By the way, the worst places to do comedy on a money scale are New York and Los Angeles, as the clubs pay most of their comics $25-$50 a set. These cities have so many quality comics that the owners rule the supply and demand side of the equation. Why comics are willing to do this is if you want to get on TV, you need to live in one these two cities, as all auditions are based out of there.
There are a few ways of making a good living doing stand-up comedy.
These first three categories pay well, but you need to be clean and extremely politically correct to do them. This is a big reason so few comics do them and why they pay so well.
Travel the country doing a mix of one-nighters and clubs. (Comics in this category are often referred as road dogs.)
Play small clubs and coffee houses in L.A., NY, or possibly Boston, which you will not making a good living, but hoping to be seen by someone who get you into TV.
I would guess that there are only 200 comics in the country that make over 50 grand a year, by just playing comedy clubs and one-nighters. If you add in the first three categories, I'm guessing you might be able to add another 100 comics who make over the 50 thousand barrier. Now there are some comics who make huge money playing theatres, headed by Larry the Cable Guy, but most comics are in category No. 4.
Morning radio is the No. 1 way to sell tickets. Now that Howard Stern is off the FM dial, the Bob and Tom Show is the most influential place to get people out to the show in the US. (They are in over 150 markets and have 5 million listeners.) Believe it or not, they will sell tickets in the markets they are in way more than an appearance on any of the Late Night talk programs. On the Bob and Tom Show the comic is on for a longer time and they mention where you will be at more often
Have you ever watched a show like Premium Blend on Comedy Central and thought, "Jesus, are these comics lame." I have been in the business for 13 years and I would say 75 percent of the comics on these shows have never performed more than a couple of times outside of SoCal or the East Coast. Almost everyone on these shows have Management and they are looking for young, telegenic people who they hopefully place in movies or sitcoms. I've had friends on these shows, but for the most part, the comics on Premium Blend would be openers for me, as they just don't have the experience or talent to perform in front of an audience for more than 15 minutes.
Just like any profession, comics have different goals. My goal was to travel the country doing live stand-up and hopefully get a TV writing job or two. Just trying to accomplish these goals was filled with frustration and disappointment, but fortunately I've been able to achieve mostly what I set out to do. I've had enough friends move to the coasts and have their dreams and fantasies squashed to not have much doubt that I made the right choice for myself.