Many people think a comedian only gets paid to perform live comedy into a microphone in front of an audience. But did you know that there’s at least 20 other ways comedians make income?

Until you have the name recognition of Bill Burr or Louis CK, making money in comedy, particularly stand up comedy, can be quite the up and down adventure. For most comedians I know, the key to staying afloat and not needing a day job is multiple income streams.

Here’s all the ways I make money as a professional comedian:

  • Performing stand up at live shows including:
    • College shows – this is my favorite. The audience is usually smart and sober.
    • Hosting aka “MCing” (pays well in NYC showcase clubs, poorly everywhere else) – this involves more crowd interaction and being organized enough to keep track of everyone else’s names, credits and how much time they’re doing
    • Regular showcase spots – low pay, but you can do 3-5 shows a night, great for working out new material for 5 to 25 minutes at a time
    • Featuring and/or headlining clubs and bars outside of NYC – you do 30 to 45 minutes, and spend lots of time seeing the country, or country’s highways at least.
  •  Performing stand up on a TV show, Netflix or Seeso – this can range from a few hundred dollars for less popular programs to thousands of dollars for more well known brands.
  • Writing punch up for tech speakers – I’m part of a new service funnybizz.co which helps people infuse humor into their Ted Talks and other keynote speeches
  • One-on-one writing help for newer comedians – I work with some comedians to help them with their material
  • Book sales – A couple of years ago, I put out a book, Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes To Cheer You Right Up. It’s been an Amazon Top 20 Best Seller in Dark Humor Books. I sell it online and after shows.
  • Album sales (via iTunes, spotify, etc) – I have recorded and put out two comedy albums. Anytime someone buys it on iTunes or Amazon, or streams it on Spotify or some of the other services, I get paid.
  • Album royalties (XM radio plays via SoundExchange) – my second album is getting played on Sirius XM radio, and I get royalties from that.
  • Radio and voice acting – I do a bunch of voice over work.
  • Commercial and legit acting – I spend more time auditioning than getting paid to act, but this is one of those lottery parts of comedy, you get one right role and everything else falls into place.
  • Video editing – Over the years I’ve taught myself video editing and now other performers pay me to help them.
  • Directing – I taught myself how to direct (and be director of photography, and do the lighting, and the sound) and now others pay me to run their web series and short films.
  • Video filming – I’m good at technology and sometimes film live comedy shows for other performers.

Here’s other ways that comedians I know make money (in addition to all the ways I listed above):

  • Teaching comedy classes
  • Producing their own live comedy shows (or open mics) and charging a cover
  • Being a staff writer for a TV show that someone else created (a sitcom like Big Bang Theory or a late night show like Seth Meyers)
  • Being a talking head on a TV show (like TruTV’s World’s Dumbest, MTV Guy Code or VH1’s Best of The 90s)
  • Being a punch up writer on a movie set – the movie is written by someone else, but you’re constantly pitching funnier lines during filming
  • Hosting a podcast or web series with a large enough following to sell advertisements – Marc Maron is the best example of this but there’s plenty of funny YouTube stars that make a living like this too
  • Having a development deal at a network or studio – this is basically an exclusive one year deal where you get paid money to come up with an idea for the network or studio
  • Selling t-shirts, audio CDs and other merchandise after the show – I’ve been told t-shirts sell better than books
  • Creating and selling your own TV show or movie – this is different than writing for someone else’s project, as you create the idea yourself. You can also get paid to write it in advance (or write it for free and then try to sell it) and it might still never get made, or only get made as a pilot and never aired, but you will have still made income from this. It’s also different from acting, because you may not be in the show (think Larry David at Seinfeld).

 

Conclusion: There’s more than one way to make rent, it’s about staying flexible, finding your niche, always improving, always creating and always hustling.

(Or: How To Transition Out Of The Corporate World Into Full-Time Freelance)

Are you in a soul crushing yet high paying job and want out but don’t know the next steps? Are you just bored at work and wish there was more to life? Do you have a passion you wish you could turn into a full time job? (If not, you may want to read “How To Find Your Passion” then come back here.) I’ve transitioned from management consulting to working for myself in the arts, without spending time in a homeless shelter. Here’s some lessons I’ve learned along the way that may help you.

Step 1: Bide Your Time…

…a.k.a. “Save Up Money First.” Be strategic about your next moves. You know you want to quit. Should you tell the boss to fuck off tomorrow? No! Bide your time. Figure out your exit strategy whether it’s save up a year’s worth of expenses before quitting, get laid off and collect unemployment or shift to part time, figure out the softest landing. If you quit without financial room to maneuver, you might get cold feet, and even if you do quit, you’ll be more likely to start at another job you dislike sooner than later because the money will get tight.

Even as I joined Accenture, I knew that I wouldn’t want to be there forever. (Although many of the people who I know that have stayed there for 20+ years also felt that way when they started.) My original plan was two years. It turned into three. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be there forever, and that the money wouldn’t be coming in forever, I set up a savings account. In a different bank than my checking account. And I had part of my paycheck auto deposit into the savings account (hat tip to Ramit Sethi’s automating post). And I wouldn’t look at that account for months at a time. (Unless my car needed repairing or something.) This way I was already used to living on 20% less than I was making. After three years of saving like this, I had enough cushion to be able to pay my expenses for over a year, even if I didn’t make a single cent doing other things.

Step 2: Hold On For As Long As You Can Take It…

…but not so long that you lose your guts.

Basically don’t quit until you’re making a partial side income, or at least have a few clients signed up. Do your passion project work on the weekends and evenings for as long as you can. (Or during work hours if you have some downtime and discipline.) Hold off on quitting until you have something resembling clients and a small income. It’s easier to go from making $100 a month freelance to $2,000 a month in freelance than it is to go from $0 to $100. (Not that either part is easy, and all income is gradual improvements in my experience.)

When I quit consulting, I had a smaller income lined up as a grad student. I quickly realized I didn’t want to be there and had saved up enough money that I could just quit without worrying about immediate employment. Before I moved back to NYC, I talked to some comedy places that had already been using me and paying me a few bucks to make sure I’d be welcome back. So when I first went to “full time artist” I had my beer and food expenses covered and was paying rent out of savings. After two years, my monthly income wasn’t high enough that my savings got really low, so I had to take on an additional consulting like gig, but this time I did it as a freelancer. And it had a finite end date after 9 months. I was making more money in comedy at the time, but not enough to cover all expenses. So I built up my savings again in those nine months. After working from 7am to 1am nearly every night for those nine months, I had enough comedy income (and motivation to never go back to an office) that I’ve been surviving ever since.

Step 3: Live Below Your Means Before You Quit

Even when I could afford to live in Manhattan (where it’s $2,000+ for a studio) I choose to live in Astoria ($900-$1100 for a 1br). Then I found a roommate to split costs even more. When you’re freelancing, you’ll have some slower months than others. Knowing that you can at least cover your rent helps you sleep at night. And you’ll need that sleep because all you do is work. This is the most important thing: Finding the cheapest place you can see yourself living in comfortably for five plus years. Because it will probably take you much longer than you expect to get to a similar financial foothold as some of your peers who’ve stayed in the safer waters of a steady paycheck. All other expenses (like going out to eat) you can cut down on quicker during lean months. Rent is the one that will get you the quickest. I wouldn’t advise moving back in with your parents, as it might kill your motivation. Knowing you have to make some money every month will keep you hustling harder.

Step 4: Show Up Every Day

So you’ve finally quit your structured job. Now what? Figure out your daily process. And stick to it. (See Scott Adam’s book and The Jerry Seinfeld Method.) I have a huge board where I have six daily goals: Write, Perform, Exercise, Eat Right, Make Money and Meditate. I put a check mark next to each day when I do that activity, and an X when I don’t. I don’t do all 6 activities each day, but I do most of them, and I’m at least aware of the minimum I should do to have had a “successful day.” I also have a daily to do list, things that I should get done that day. Although it usually takes me 3-4 days to finish it. But it’s right by my computer. So I know what I should be doing. It stares me down when I start dicking around on the internet too much.

Ben’s Daily Board

 

Have a place where you can interact with like minded individuals daily. For me, this was easy because I’d be at comedy shows every night. If you’re in a different field, perhaps you schedule yourself to attend a different meetup or networking event every night. Or if you can afford it, shared office space. You want to avoid a situation where you have no human contact weeks at a time and where the Chinese food delivery guy is your only source of news from the outside world. This step should really be four steps, as it’s the most important thing when you’re trying to establish yourself. People need to see that you’re serious and always around before they give you a break.

Step 5: Be Open To Niches You Didn’t Originally Consider As A Possible Business

Even if you’re not in a tech startup, think like a tech startup. Twitter wasn’t twitter when it first started, but it noticed its early users were using their system and made changes accordingly. Keep your head on a swivel and notice what’s working, then put more effort into that.

I originally bought a very nice video camera because I wanted to film and review my comedy performances. (I still had my consulting job, so it didn’t hurt that I could spend more money.) I had no other motives for buying it other than my own video review. Soon after getting it, other people started asking if I’d film their performances. This quickly turned into an accidental business and a nice source of side income. By showing up every day and keeping my eyes open, I pretty much created an extra job for myself where none existed before. From this, I also taught myself video editing and how to shoot sketches and short films. People started paying me to do that. Then they realized I was good at computer stuff, so they asked if I could build their websites. Three businesses that I didn’t plan on doing just from being aware of what was going on around me.

Step 6: Create Multiple Income Streams

Until you’re sure that you have enough business coming in from doing only one thing, do a few different services so that it averages out into an income for each month.

Last year I got paid for doing the following things: performing comedy, voice over work, video filming, producing comedy shows, website design, video editing and selling copies of my book. Each month had a different percentage breakdown of which activity brought me the most money. If you work freelance and for yourself, you’re gonna want to have as many income streams as you can until one of your businesses really takes off. Is it a lot of work? Yes. But it’s still better than not controlling my own schedule and working on things I want to work on.

Step 7: Find Mentors

If you’re showing up every day, you’ll be meeting people. Some of them doing what you want to be doing. Some subset of those, you’ll be on the same energy vibe. Try to eventually start working with or for them. Ask for a piece of advice here or there, slowly they’ll become your mentor without even realizing it. Have a few people like this to bounce ideas off of.

Whatever you’re trying to do, someone has done something similar before and succeeded. If you don’t know who that is in your field, have you been showing up every day? I’ve found people are happy to share their experiences and advice when you remind them of a younger version of themselves. Hell, that’s what I’m doing right now.

Step 8: Have Gratitude

You’re gonna be annoyed that you’re not living a baller lifestyle for a bit like some of the people you keep in touch with. They’ll be buying a house or having a kid while you’re giving birth to your projects. Remember that people only post the highlights on Facebook and not their miserable minute to minute daytime existence. Remind yourself that if you don’t have to go to a job you hate, you’ve already won.

Thank you to Ishita Gupta for prodding me to write this post.

Russian-Optimism-Cover-Final-v2-low-resIn 2014 I did a Kickstarter campaign to create the illustrated coffee table book, “Russian Optimism: Dark Nursery Rhymes To Cheer You Right Up.” I wound up surpassing the fundraising goal and within five months the book was published. I would like to share my lessons learned and offer advice for those who are interested in self-publishing a book.

PREPARATION PHASE

  • Create A Pitch for Literary Agents
    After speaking with a friend who works in publishing, I spent time putting together an agent query letter, a ten page book proposal and a spreadsheet of agents to pitch. Why am I suggesting this when I wound up self publishing? Because:

    • 1) This forced me to write a clear, concise, one page and ten page document summarizing my book, my target audiences and my marketing ideas. Later on when I created the Kickstarter page, I was able to copy and paste from the book proposal document instead of starting everything from scratch.
    • 2)  Unlike many people in film and TV, most literary agents get back to you fairly quickly with a decision on whether or not they want to see more of your book. If an agent likes your book and can get you an advance, it might still be worth going the publishing house route. (While perhaps still combining it with a Kickstarter to build a fan base before the book is released.)
  • Create a Video
    I put together a three and a half minute video explaining the project, giving examples of the content and talking a little about myself. The video shows potential donors that you’re passionate and committed to putting something together that looks professional (make sure to post a high quality video!). This helps convince potential donors to entrust you with their money.
  • Create as Many Mock-ups As Possible
    Before seeking potential donors, I spent my own money to create sample illustrations. If you don’t believe enough in your project to invest seed money, why should anyone else? I put the sample illustrations into a mock-up spread with text, so people would get a feel for how the completed book would look. (The final book came out much better than the mock-ups, keep reading to see why.) You should definitely create as much of the look and feel of your book as possible for the Kickstarter page. This is particularly recommended for illustrated or photo-based books, but use your own judgment for your book.
  • Shorten and Re-Edit Everything, Including Reward Levels
    My first draft of the Kickstarter page had way too many reward levels. The description of the project was too long. I listed too many “potential problems.” Go through your entire Kickstarter page and get rid of every word that’s unnecessary. Then do it again. Then again. Then do the most important thing you can do–
  • Get Feedback From Smart & Trusted Friends Before Launching
    I sent the Kickstarter page to eighteen friends whose opinions I trust, asking them to look over my page for general comments and to answer two specific questions:

    • 1) What do you think of the rewards? Is any reward unclear?
    • 2) What do you think of the project description? Is anything unclear? Unnecessary?
    • Nine friends responded with varying levels of detailed notes, which all helped make the project as clear as possible. A side benefit was two of those nine friends contributed money to the actual campaign, including one for a really high reward level. When you ask people for help, they become invested in your project.
    • Send the page to people you trust for notes, but avoid people who are overly negative or overly positive, you need specific notes, not just “this is great” or “what are you doing with your life?”
  • Figure Out Your Funding Goal By Pricing Out The Costs
    There’s going to be one-time fixed costs (an illustrator, a book designer, ISBN registration, publishing upload fees) and variable costs (how many books you print and the mailing cost per book). Once you’ve researched your fixed costs, figure out how much you’d need to charge per book and how many books you’d need to sell to cover those costs. That’s a rough estimate for how much your campaign needs. (I approached this project with the goal of breaking even from Kickstarter and hopefully making money later on from additional sales.) Then remember Kickstarter’s and Amazon’s fees will eat into the money you raised. For example, I raised $3,800 but after fees I only received $3,300. So add 20% to your previous number for the goal. Also, have an amount of money you’d be willing to lose to make your project happen. And charge a lot for international shipping (see towards the ends of this post for the full explanation).

DURING THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN

  • Have a Daily Promotional Plan for All 30 Days
    Before launch, I identified potential audiences that might like this book: Russian speakers, illustration fans, people with a dark sense of humor. Then I wrote down a daily action plan to raise awareness for my Kickstarter campaign and divvied that up into thirty, more manageable, daily tasks. I devoted 30-60 minutes per day for this campaign. Some days I would post it on specific Facebook groups, other days it was on reddit, I also included in my monthly mailchimp newsletter. The point is, do something every day.
  • Don’t Rely On Only Your Friends for Funding / Expand Your Fundraising cirle
    Your friends will (hopefully) help you, but you can’t rely on only them. The first financial contributions were made by friends. Their donations gave legitimacy to the project and then strangers started to contribute. By the end of the campaign, only 30% of the donors were people I knew.
  • Getting Your Kickstarter Project On The Right Blog(s) Makes A Huge Difference
    An early contributor of mine submitted my project link to BoingBoing.net and next thing I knew, lots of strangers were contributing to my project. Figure out who your target demographic is, what sites they frequent, and post on those sites.
  • Mention Your Project In Most Conversations (Without Being Annoying)
    You never know who might be interested in the subject matter of your project. So when you’re going about your normal life and people say “hey, what’s up?” Instead of saying nothing, mention you’re working on a Kickstarter project. If they don’t ask more about it, let it go. But if they ask, this is a great time to spread awareness about the book and its campaign.

CREATING THE ACTUAL BOOK

  • Pay For a Book Designer
    Seriously, this is the best money you’ll spend. I was on the fence but decided to spend the extra money. Once I started working with the designer, I realized how much time I had saved myself by not trying to do it on my own. A good designer is worth his price a hundred times over. Your book ends up looking better because a book designer will think of little things you would have never thought of: different text separator designs, formatting decisions, etc. This will make your original funders happier and more likely to tell people. And the book becomes easier to sell to new customers.
  • Buy The ISBNs
    If you want to be listed on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and every other online (and potentially retail) store, you must spend the extra $250 and get the ISBN. This also makes your book look much more professional. With an ISBN there’s at least a chance that brick and mortar bookstores will stock it too.
  • Build In Lots of “Oops Time”
    I was funded by the end of June. My illustrator said it’d take him six weeks to do the remaining drawings. My book designer said he’d need a month. My printing company said they’d need three weeks. If I had taken everyone at face value, I would’ve promised this book to people by October. But I knew better, and built in two extra months for when things will inevitably get delayed. You’re always better off leaving extra time and pleasantly surprising people than cutting it close, being late and making people angry. Plus the extra time allowed me to order one test copy of the book, where I found lots of little typos. Oh and if your Kickstarter succeeds and you have to ship hundreds of books, guess what, that’s a huge time suck! So leave time for that too.
  • Quadruple Check For Typos
    My only real complaint with self publishing is that the print-on-demand companies gouge you with fees if you have to re-upload any corrections. IngramSpark charges $25 per re-upload, and the cover file is a separate fee than the interior files. That’s $50 every time you catch a mistake late in the process. (And you will almost always catch some last minute mistakes.)After everything seemed fine and I’d placed an order for 150 copies, a friend of mine was looking over the book and found 7 more typos. 7! Including 2 on the cover! Luckily, I called customer support and they were still able to make the changes before printing, but I almost had heart attack. And it cost me an extra $50. Ask everyone you know who is willing to spell check and grammar check your book before you send it to print. If you’re doing something that’s more text heavy, pay for a professional editor. Also, you save $25 if your ebook version is ready at the same time as you upload your print version.

GETTING THE FINISHED PRODUCT TO KICKSTARTER CUSTOMERS

  • International Shipping Blows
    Financially this has been my biggest miscalculation to date. I had no idea how much international shipping (from the US) costs. I knew it might be a little more, so I had international funders add another $5 for shipping. (My basic book price of $25 included shipping to America, which I had properly estimated at $5.) Turns out sending a book overseas (not counting Canada) is $18.65. I lost 8 dollars per book I sent out. So if you listen to nothing else I’ve said, listen to this: Charge an extra $20 for international shipping.
  • “Wow!” Your Kickstarter Customers
    Give more than what you promised, even if you lose a little money. These are the people who believed in you most, reward their loyalty. I included a free copy of my comedy DVD with each book, as well as a Russian Optimism bookmark and a hand signed thank you letter. I want my first 106 customers to be really, really happy and to show and tell all of their friends. You should want that too.

AFTER CROWD FUNDING

  • Be Ready To Sell More
    While it may feel like the end, if you care about your book (and your bottom line) you will realize this is only the beginning. You need to figure out how to get people to talk about your book and (more importantly) to buy your book.
  • Have Your Marketing Plan Ready Before Sending The Book To The Printer
    This is the biggest mistake I’ve made so far. I didn’t fully formulate my post-Kickstarter marketing plan until after the book was already available on Amazon. (My printer told me it usually takes Amazon six to eight weeks to list the book, it took two.) The day after I saw the book for sale on Amazon, my physical books arrived that I had to send out to my Kickstarter funders. I am now behind on generating new sales as it took me four days to ship out all the existing orders. I also lost money by printing my bonus bookmarks locally to save time rather than ordering online.

Hopefully you found this helpful. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me.

Thank you to Charlie Hoehn, Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss for inspiring me to share my lessons publicly.

Do you want to get rich? Do you want to have so much money that it’s obscene? Well, it’s easy! Just stop focusing on earning or saving money and focus on creating value and giving to others. Not only will you get rich over time, but by giving value to others, whether it’s valuable advice, laughter or a genuine human connection, you’ll feel better too. And yes, most people won’t reciprocate your gift. That’s okay. It wouldn’t be a gift if it was quid pro quo. You earn good karma for helping others and giving feels better than taking.

moneybagSo here’s my challenge: Give and create one million dollars in value for other people in the next year without expecting anything in return. See what happens and report back.

So how do you create a million dollars in value? Everyone has their own unique skill set that others find valuable, so I can’t tell you something like: “Create a website for every senior citizen you know, they value websites at forty dollars each.” This challenge is not about assigning a specific monetary value to every interaction you have with a person. It’s about doing more than is expected in every interaction you have. All of us, especially me, can always do more. You can give this extra value at work by doing more than what they pay you to do, especially if it won’t get recognized. Or, you can even do it for one of your hobbies: For example, if you love playing tennis, give some free lessons.

Although the focus should not be on the actual monetary sum, discussing the sum can help make my idea clearer. Giving one million dollars in value can occur in various ways. You can give one person a million dollars in value, give a million people a dollar in value, or give something in between. Coming up with one great million dollar gift or a million really small gifts seems really difficult to me. A more realistic goal is to divide up the million dollars by the number of days in the year, which rounds to $2,740. Now try to give $2,740 in value every day. Some days you might give twenty-seven hundred people a dollar of value, other days you give three people a thousand dollars of value. For the internet inclined, if you have a blog with 2,700 readers, and you can give a dollar of value a day to each of your readers, you’ll hit the million dollar mark easily (and probably end up with more readers by the end of the year).

And yes, I feel like a hippy writing this, but my experiences over the past couple of years have me really believing this is true. When I’ve given someone something without expecting anything in return, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Posting free comedy tips on my website has led to successful comics getting in touch with me. Giving other comics stage time and not asking for anything in return has led to me getting stage time. I didn’t write tips or ask people to do shows so that they’d help me out, I just did it because it seemed like the good thing to do. The things I’ve received back in return were all just nice unintended side effects. However, every time I’ve pitched someone, asked them for something, or expected something in return, I’ve gotten nothing. (And deservedly so!)

So go ahead, take the million dollar challenge.

heckle_and_jeckle

A year ago, a reader asked me how I address heckling. At that point, I hadn’t been heckled nearly enough times to have an opinion or technique on the subject. “Luckily” I’ve been heckled plenty of times over this past year, so now I have some thoughts on the subject.

Different Kinds of Heckling

To start, I like to differentiate between five different kinds of heckling, the first four of which could be considered more of an “interruption” than a “heckle”:

  1. Someone responds to your jokes by saying something out loud that they think is helpful to the joke (but almost always isn’t)
  2. Someone doesn’t realize your statement or question was rhetorical and that they weren’t supposed to actually answer it
  3. Someone says “Jesus Christ” or something like that when you do a meaner or edgier joke
  4. Someone is drunk and just yelling out sounds or words that don’t make any sense
  5. Someone yells out “you suck”, “I’m funnier than you”, etc. This is what most people think of when you mention hecklers.

I’ve had the first 4 kinds happen quite often but have never gotten into #5 with an audience member. (When I’m doing poorly, the audience just stays quiet.) Realizing what kind of heckle you’re dealing with will help you respond to it better.

Here’s what I’ve found to be the best response to each of the five kinds of heckles.

  1. Acknowledge their suggestion and either riff off of it, say something witty or say something standard (see below)
  2. After you acknowledge the comment, take shorter pauses than usual between lines and jokes for the rest of the set. Some audiences are more A.D.D. than others and can’t handle any silence, especially if it’s right after a question.
  3. If this happens once, you can smile and move on without really addressing it. A stronger move is to admit  “You’re right, that’s bad” and then say something even more offensive. Showing the audience you understand you’re crossing the line, and then crossing it even more causes a laugh because going further after apologizing isn’t expected. If you get the “Jesus Christ” a second time, then make sure to admit the audience is right, and then take the joke even further. I have whole jokes (suicidal girls and the morning after pill, in particular) that are written with this dynamic in mind.
  4. Admit to being genuinely confused about the sound, maybe even mimic the sound, but don’t give them time to respond. If they do respond, it’s usually so nonsensical you can just laugh or stare at them and then move on without another response. You can always make a comment about them needing another drink too. The key here is to get back to your material ASAP. The audience tends to tolerate these kinds of heckles less than any other, so you can ignore it after the first time.
  5. Try to be agreeable while one upping them. Don’t resort to insulting them unless they’ve yelled out negative stuff more than once.

General Heckling Techniques

I’ve found the first key to a heckler not derailing your set is to address the situation as soon as someone says something. If you acknowledge the situation and respond with something that isn’t too mean the first time, they’ll usually stop. The reason not to get mean the first time is because a lot of times the person (and rest of the audience) thinks they’re just being helpful (heckle #1) and doesn’t understand why you went from zero to asshole. If you don’t have a witty in-the-moment response something like “Thank you for your opinion sir, I can take it from here” or “Ok, no more alcohol for that one” usually works for the first interruption.

If you ignore the first comment, then they’ll almost certainly say something else. Plus the audience starts wondering why you haven’t responded to the comment and while they’re thinking about that, they stop listening to you and your next joke. If you respond to the interruption and the audience member says something again, try to not respond directly. Stare at them for a second or two and then say “annnnnd back to me” or just a “that’s nice.” I don’t suggest getting mean, calling the audience member names or telling them to shut up until they interrupt for a third time.

Also, keep in mind that some audiences are just talkative and want you to talk and interact with them instead of just listening to you do material. This isn’t really “heckling,” this is crowd work, even if you’re not the one who decided to start it. When you’re trying to work on new material having to spend time talking to the audience can get annoying but you just gotta go with it. It’s also important to make it seem like the interruptions are “fun” and don’t bother you.

Another tip is to use the improv rule of “yes and” to agree with whatever the audience member says and then add some additional information. This usually works because you don’t want to seem defensive. Even something like, “You suck” can be turned into “Yes, I do suck. And you can’t afford me. Why are you propositioning me anyway?”

To add to the all variables, it makes a big difference if the heckling / interrupting has been going on the whole show before you get on stage or if it’s just the audience’s reaction to your material.

Of course, heckling is just like with the rest of stand up, you can only really learn how to respond by doing it. It still helps to read, ask questions and be prepared, but you need the actual game reps before you really know how to respond. I’m sure my tips will be different and hopefully better a year from now after I get even more reps.

War Stories

I have a feeling a lot of people reading this are less interested in techniques and more interested in “war stories” so here we go.

  • I had one show where there were four drunk girls who interrupted EVERY comedian. The first two or three comics, the audience was enjoying the girls getting ripped apart. (They were constantly interrupting, so the “third interruption” rule kicked in within a minute of the first comic being on stage. After the third comic, the rest of the audience started getting pissed at the comics for not ignoring the girls because they wanted to hear actual jokes. By the time I got up there as the 10th comic, I knew to address the girls once and then ignore them. Doing this got other people in the audience to yell “shut up” at the girls while I was talking.
  • I was doing a bar show, and in the middle of one of my jokes, someone yells out to me, “show us your tits!” Without stopping my joke, I pull up my shirt and flash them, then hit my punch line. Sometimes it’s easier to just go with the flow. (Although thinking back on it, after my punch line, I should’ve said, “The first sample was free, next time, I better see some bills flying.”)
  • Three girls dressed in super tight, really short skirts came in and sat down in the front row when the comic before me was on stage. He proceeded to get them to make out with each other and fondled them (this was a bar show, this doesn’t usually happen in comedy clubs). I get up there and go, “I could be Jerry Seinfeld right now and everyone would rather watch them make out than to hear my jokes.” Which actually got the audience to start listening to my jokes. Until the girls didn’t realize my questions were rhetorical and started interrupting…
  • The comic before me was doing so badly someone in the audience yelled out “Next!” over and over again. The comic then ran his light in order to argue with and insult the audience member. This got ugly and made the room weird. I get up there and say “Well looks like you got your wish.”
  • Aadip recently told me he struggled with a heckler his whole set until he finally told the crowd, “Congratulations, you’ve finally met someone who’s actually inbred.” This funny but mean comment worked because the guy kept talking so the audience was on the comic’s side. If the Aadip had said that same comment when the heckler said his first comment, the audience may not have been with him (unless the same audience member had been heckling other comics before him too).

Share your war stories in the comments.

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