Hi-Tech Comedy: Rob Durham

Today I’m interviewing Rob Durham. Comedian and author of the book “Don’t Wear Shorts On Stage.” Rob has built an act that he prides on originality and his unique point of view. He has been praised by many of the business’s big names whom he has worked with. From Bob Saget calling him “Freaking Hilarious” to Louie Anderson’s written claim of “Very Funny!”, his material is respected by all who hear it. With a smile that says I didn’t get my braces off until I was 27, Rob’s innocent look helps him vent about his other career as an English teacher, his horrible dating history, his wonderfully spunky wife, and other near death experiences.
RobDurhamColorheadshot1. You wrote a book “Don’t Wear Shorts On Stage” and have a blog by the same name. How helpful is having a blog as far as selling a book goes?  
Having a blog is the #1 recommendation for anyone trying to sell nonfiction.  A blog taught me that!  I realized that I was still learning something new about comedy every month, but I had to finish the book.  The blog is a nice way to cover other topics that are still coming up.  It’s received close to 20,000 hits and has links to purchase my book.  I can also see all of the weird Google searches that have accidentally brought people there.  I’d like to think a few of them made purchases as well.
2. Your book is self published. What was that process like?
I was lucky to have some good help as far as an editor and a cover artist.  My brother, Dave Durham, designed the cover and took the picture (those are even his legs).  The other part which I would’ve never been able to do, was transfer my Word document into actual book pages.  That takes somewhat expensive software and know-how so I left all that to my editor.  Other than that I used CreateSpace and they had 24 hour assistance.  They’re by far the best route to go for self-publishing.  Other than that, a lot of great advice in on the message boards from other authors.
3. Do you think there will come a day when physical books no longer exist?
Not completely, but if you look at music, CDs and albums are endangered.  Kids used to ask, “What’s a record?”  I’ve heard a few jokingly ask, “What’s a CD?”  It will happen when the publishers are ready for it to happen.  I’m all for it because the e-book version of “Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage” is $7 cheaper than a paperback, but I still make more from each ebook sale.  Oh, and trees are important too.  Once the classrooms replace physical books, that generation will phase most of them out completely in first world countries.
4. You made a separate website/domain name for the book versus for yourself as a performer. What’s your thinking behind that?
The book’s website is technically just an advice blog that links to my comedy website.  My comedy website isn’t the right format for a blog but it’s been around since 2004.  A lot of club owners still appreciate it when a comedian has a full website, with schedule, available.  Club managers aren’t going to go to the trouble of adding comics as Facebook friends to find out who they are.  The advice blog gets a lot more hits now, but I like to keep it simple and not too much about me.
5. How has technology changed the comedy business since you started?
After a few years as an opener I made a bunch of VHS tapes and sent them to clubs only to find out that they wanted DVDs.  After I got DVDs made of some sets it went to online.  Having clips online is probably the biggest advantage for comics trying to get more work.  The problem is that everyone can do it now, so bookers’ inboxes are just as flooded as the corner of their office used to be with envelopes.  Self-promo is another evolving aspect.  I always laugh when I see professional looking, over the top posters for an open mic that no one is going to attend.  Still, if someone is funny enough, word will spread much easier because of technology.  And while it can even be a shortcut to short term success, the importance of being funny eventually catches up.
6. What do you think comedy will be like in ten years (as far as technological changes go)?
I think we’ll see a rise in more younger comics having sets online.  They have access to so many more types of standup that they’ll be more likely to find an inspiration.  While we all grew up watching the same three HBO specials for the entire 1980s, kids today can learn from thousands of comedians online.
I also think that shock humor will bottom out.  You can only joke about domestic violence, rape, and abortion in so many ways, right?  The average person isn’t nearly as shocked.  I also think with the shorter attention spans that even some of the best comics will only need 15-20 solid minutes to make a name for themselves.  Who’s going to watch the same thing for more than 8 minutes by 2023?
The real question will be, how can we still make money with online comedy?  Sure Louis C.K. did that $5 thing, but those eventually get bootlegged and not everyone is good enough to get people to shell out money for their act.  Comedy isn’t done justice unless it’s live.  I really hope technology doesn’t ruin comedy (and by that I mean our ability to still make money).
7. How are you using the internet / social media to promote your career?  
It’s pretty much all promotion for the book.  I’ll mention if I have shows coming up in a certain town on Facebook, but anyone that wants to see me probably already has.  With the book, I had to disguise the promotion as the advice blog, otherwise it would be one long timeline of “buy my book dammit!”
8. Have you noticed the payoff yet?
Yes.  Without Facebook and my blog my book sales would probably be limited to what I sell after shows.  Every month I sell books via amazon to people I don’t know.  I’m even getting sales from Amazon Europe which feels pretty cool.  I finally got my ebook into a version I can sell to Kindle’s straight from Amazon and it’s really making a difference in the numbers.
Technology has paid off.  As far as the whole payoff for the effort of writing a book…that happened when I got hired as an English teacher (I brought the book to the interview).
9. What do you think about posting videos of your show online?
I get this question a lot so I put it in the blog awhile.  It all depends on what level you’re at.  I don’t think it will make or break anyone’s career (other than a few exceptions like Bo Burnham).  I had to take my youtube videos down because my freshmen students found them on the third day of school.  I guess I should put up some 100% squeaky clean clips.  I really don’t think it matters because club managers don’t randomly look around for new acts on youtube.
10. How do you think digital tools will change comedy?
Our headshots will all look much prettier!  Comics can dub in laughter for their recordings.  In other words, we’ll all pretty much use them as ways to cheat.
11. How much information do you tend to share on the social networks?
I try to make most of my posts “amusing.”  I have hundreds of pictures, like most people, and of course the promo (which I also try to make amusing).  I can’t believe how socially unaware people are when they air their dirty laundry and cries for help.  It makes me really glad Facebook wasn’t around when I was a young lad or everyone on the internet would’ve been exposed to my sorry-ass attempts at poetry.
12. What’s your weirdest online experience involving your comedy career?  
In February of 2012 Marc Maron tweeted “Who is @RobDurhamComedy to tell comics how to do comedy?”  to his 100,000+ followers.  I consulted some of my mentors and they said to handle it with him, but not on Twitter.  A few people piled on, including some comics I didn’t know had anything against me, but it resulted in a record day for my blog (not to mention some extra book sales).  The biggest question was “how the hell did he hear about my book?”  It turns out in was a misunderstanding with a local open-mic comic who wrote Maron a nasty letter about me.  I sent Marc a book and a letter explaining who I was and never heard back of course.  He gets in a lot of internet fights.  The funniest (and maybe saddest) part was the local online paper writing a big article about a Tweet.  It’s all water under the bridge with the local comic who I’m now friends with.  I would love to open for Maron some day just so we could laugh about it.  Honestly, I haven’t heard one negative review by anyone who’s actually read my book.  There’s been backlash about the blog, but what people need to remember is that I’m offering advice for those who want to make a living doing stand-up.  They can defy the suggestions I give and make it tougher to earn money.
13. Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Technology is a huge tool for standup but it’s not a shortcut.  All of the things that involve technology and comedy need to be prioritized BEHIND writing jokes.  Why spend 2 hours making a poster for a show that won’t be entertaining?  You can make yourself look like a pro online, but once it comes to stage time, the truth will come out.

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