Q&A With A College Student


I recently got an email from a college student interested in working in entertainment/comedy. I figured I’d post the Q&A here too, in case it might help others. If you’re a young person and have more questions, ask in the comments or via the contact page.

(*FYI most of these answers do not take COVID-19 and how it’s affected/affecting live entertainment into account – so pretend I wrote this in February of 2020 or 2022)

What is your current position title and what does it entail?
I’m a stand-up comedian. I live my life, notice interesting things that happen, write jokes about them, then perform them on stage. I audio or video record each show, then listen back and rewrite based on where laughs do or don’t occur and what I riffed in the moment.

Other comedy things I do: write scripts and try to sell them to get a TV show or to get staffed for writing on someone else’s TV show, use social media to gain a following, audition/act, create books, create comedy albums/specials, do voice-overs, write/direct/edit my own short comedy videos, etc.

Also I know you’re copy/pasting this to a bunch of people but  “Current Position Title” is way too corporate a term for my line of work.

What is your educational background and how has it prepared you for this career?

I majored in economics and philosophy. Other than general work ethic and thinking about ideas, it didn’t directly prepare me.

Can you recall any specific academic courses that you have found helpful in this role and why?

The most helpful thing I did in college as relates to my life right now was to co-create and write for a parody website of Rutgers called Slutgers.

We’d write articles like “drink of the week” and “sexual position of the week” and do funny captions for user-submitted photos. We’d also create merchandise like t-shirts, shot glasses and thongs and go around the dorms selling them. It was basically “College Humor” but only for Rutgers.

As a student, were you involved in any outside of the classroom activities (internships, student organizations, research, volunteer, etc.)? If yes, what were they and how were they helpful to you?

Mainly, see Slutgers above. I think I did some other things as well: I might’ve been a new student orientation volunteer one year. I think I had some internships at the museum, and I played roller hockey for a year or two, but it was 10+ years ago so I don’t really remember all my “resume building” details. I guess studying abroad counts as something, because I think I talked about that when I interviewed for “real” jobs.

How did you land your first position?

I went to career services. They asked what I wanted to do. I said “I don’t know. But I’m smart and I like to travel.” They said “How about consulting?” I looked into it, different projects and travel, decent pay. Sounded good. So I did all the on-campus interviews with all the management consulting places that were recruiting Rutgers and got a job offer with Accenture.

What are the more challenging and rewarding parts of your job?

Challenging = building a loyal following that wants to listen/watch/pay money to see you.

Rewarding = the creativity. Stuff like when a new joke starts working on stage, or changing the order, or building your new hour by playing with the order.

Also you get to talk to, hang out with and befriend other lost and funny souls. Way more interesting than the shmucks at a regular office’s water cooler.

What advice would you have for young professionals just getting started in this field?

Stop using the words “young professionals.” Learn a little joke structure. Then write some jokes. Put it away for a few days. Look at it again and edit the shit out of it. Memorize that. Then go perform it. Record it. Listen back. Make adjustments. Keep doing that process.

Also be polite/nice to everyone cause it’s a small community and already hard enough. Or just make a viral youtube video that gets you a loyal following and you can skip being good at the craft…

Also with comedy, especially at the start before you find your voice, you should be pretty familiar with what other people are doing/talking about, so that you avoid those subjects. Once you learn your character/viewpoint you’ll have a unique take on the most common of subjects and this matters less, although I still try to avoid very common subjects unless my joke is very specific.

Have you done any freelance work? Is job security with that type of work a big issue in highly populated areas like NYC and LA? 

It’s all freelance work. Job security didn’t exist before COVID19, now that’s just an oxymoron. If you want “job security” go work in something other than entertainment. At least entertainers know they don’t have job security. Everyone else is pretending that they do – see current global situation and Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Turkey Story below… Regular w2 wage workers = turkey.


Do you have one piece of advice for someone who has never tried stand-up before but would like to try?

I wrote a blog post about it here.

In this digital and social media age, do you think it is plausible and sustainable to pursue a career solely online?

Yes. You can become a Youtube/Instagram/TikTok/whatever else star if that’s where your drive and passion is.

I take a lot of digital audio classes and am interested in possible producing podcast in the near future. Have you had any experience in this somewhat new and popular media format?

Podcasting isn’t new at this point. It’s a mature medium. I did a podcast for 2 years / 100 episodes with two other comedians. It was fun. I learned the skill of bullshitting for an hour and being funny. We never had huge audience growth, so eventually, we stopped doing it. I’ve also been a guest on dozens of other people’s podcasts.

This is true for podcasting as well as all entertainment, if you’re interested in it and have a passion for it, you should do it. Just don’t expect anything to happen from it other than learning how to do it. (“You’re entitled to your labor but not the fruits of your labor” I believe is the quote.)

Recently with all the institutions closing down, how has the CODVID outbreak affected your field and do you think it will return to normal?

Until there’s a vaccine that gets distributed to the whole population, all live performances are fucked. My guess is that will be the next 6-18 months minimum. It ain’t gonna be pretty.

How To Put Together A Great College Comedy Show

Hey there College Activities Programming Board Person! Congrats on deciding to have a comedy show at your school! Now relax and know your students will have a great time. Especially if you follow the tips below that were gained from years of performing at lots of different colleges.

 

Booking

Book a comedian that’s right for your school! If you’re at a religious seminary in the South, the type of comedian most students will enjoy might differ from what students at a small liberal arts college in the northeast will respond to. All the comedians that I know who perform at colleges are funny professionals who’ll do a good job in almost any environment, but watch a few comedian’s videos and try to guess the best fit. For example, Jerry Seinfeld is great, but he probably won’t be the best fit for Live at The Apollo. If you have any language or content restrictions, make sure to let the comedian know that at least one week before the show so they can plan their material accordingly. Don’t announce restrictions minutes before the show starts, when the comedian has already decided on the material they will be doing at the show!

 

 

Promotion

Once you choose a comedian and a date is set a few months into the future (don’t schedule events during midterm or finals week!), start doing your online marketing, except for email blasts. Add the comedy show to your school’s calendar of events and other such places.

 

When it’s two weeks to show time:

– Send your first email blast. Students don’t make plans months into the future, so if you email too soon, you risk getting ignored.

– Make sure to create and put up nice looking flyers all over campus. Especially at social places like dining halls, dorm lounges and on bulletin boards outside of large lecture halls. The more students that come to the show, the better the energy, the bigger the laughs, the better time everyone has. While you can still have a great comedy show for ten or twenty students, it’ll be much better for everyone if you can get fifty or five hundred. I recommend having the minimal amount of text possible and making that font size very large. All you really need is the comedian’s photo and name, the location and date, and clarify if there’s an admission fee or if the event is free.

 

Example flyer text:

 

Comedian Ben Rosenfeld

Fri Sep 24 @ 8pm

Scott Hall Theatre

FREE

 

^That’s all you need!

 

 

The Room

This is the most important and underrated part of the show. How a room gets setup for comedy makes a huge difference for how well the show goes. The best practices:

  • If you can reserve a theatre or lecture hall with a stage, do that. Rooms that are already setup for performance are better than cafeterias, classrooms or multipurpose rooms because everything is already perfectly configured.If you can’t have the show in a theatre space or lecture hall with a stage, do the following:
  • Make sure there’s a microphone, a spotlight and maybe even a stage.
  • You have to a microphone that’s connected to working speakers. I highly recommend using a corded microphone. Cordless mics are great ideas, until something goes wrong and ruins the momentum of the show. If you insist on a cordless mic, have a backup wired mic hidden towards the back of the stage so that the comedian can quickly switch over without causing distraction.
  • If you don’t have an actual spotlight, at least make it so only the front of the room is lit. The best comedy is when the audience feels like one cohesive unit and too much lighting and being aware of other audience members will lessen this affect.
  • If you’re in a multipurpose room and can’t procure a real stage, most colleges usually have little risers that are easily transportable. Even a 4’ by 8’ stage that’s a foot off the ground makes a big difference. That said, of the three requirements above, the stage is the least important.

 

  • Focus on seating and stage arrangement
    • Have the seats as close to the stage as possible. A twenty-foot gap from the stage to the first row destroys energy. Plus comedy is enhanced when the audience can see the comedian’s facial expressions. The first row of seats should be no more than two feet from the front of the stage.
    • Assuming you’re not in a preconfigured theater space or lecture hall, minimize aisles. One long, connected row of seats is better than an aisle splitting chairs down the middle. Of course, this depends on the size of the room and specific fire codes (always follow those!) but as a general rule, connect all the seats in one row if possible.
    • Place the stage so the room feels wide, not long and narrow. If you’re in a rectangular room, the stage should go in the middle of the wide wall, not on the narrow wall.
    • Have someone from student activities guide audience members to sit in the front first. It’s much harder for a comedian when the first two rows are empty and everyone is sitting in the back. Comedy is about connection, and physical proximity enhances that connection. Don’t worry about the comedian picking on students, that happens very rarely (and usually only if students keep interrupting), this isn’t the 80s, well behaved audience members don’t get picked on for no reason
  • Play music as students come in to grab seats. Comedy is about energy, so get the mood positive before the show starts.
  • Have someone from the activities board introduce the comedian with a few words. Comedians will usually tell you exactly what to say. Keep it short and sweet.
  • Make your upcoming programs announcements AFTER the comedian finishes. Reading announcements from a piece of paper before the comedy show starts kills the energy and makes the start of a show harder. Do it at the end when everyone has had a good time and wants to learn more about your hard planned upcoming events.

 

That’s it! Ten years of experience distilled into less than a thousand words! Enjoy the show!

 

Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

Other Comedy Tips:

  • 10 Steps to Become a Great MC
  • 3 Tips To Planning A Successful Comedy Show
  • Are Any Topics Off Limits?
  • Barking Tips
  • Clayton Fletcher: Auditioning Q&A
  • Clayton’s 7 Tips
  • Clayton: When To Become A Full Time Comedian
  • Comedy Economics
  • Dealing With Hecklers
  • Eleven Observations About The Comedy Business
  • Five Basic Improv Techniques
  • Five Tips For Your Comedy Event To Run Smoothly
  • Free Comedy Content Economics
  • Hi-Tech Comedy Interviews
  • How To Make Money In Comedy
  • How To Put Together A Great College Comedy Show
  • How To Record Your Own Comedy Album
  • How To Self Publish A Book Through Kickstarter
  • Interview with John Vorhaus
  • Intro to Improv
  • My Comedy Mindset
  • My Writing Process
  • Not Connecting With The Audience?
  • Organizing Jokes
  • Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Producing a Show: Getting Audience
  • Producing a Show: Running The Show
  • Producing a Show: The Comics
  • Producing a Show: The Venue
  • Road Work Tips from Danny Browning
  • Stealing Jokes – Ben's Thoughts
  • Ten Tips To Succeed During a Check Spot
  • The 8 Different Types of Comedy Audiences
  • The Pecking Order
  • Treat It Like a Job
  • Types of Shows for Beginners
  • Types of Spots
  • What To Do When Nobody Laughs
  • Why I Won’t Be a Pro Snowboarder
  • Your First Stand Up Performance