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 Record Your Own Comedy Album

I’ve self-released two comedy albums, Neuro Comedy (2012 – iTunes | Amazon ) and The Russian Optimist (2016 – iTunes | Amazon | Google Play). The second album hit as high as #5 on Amazon’s best selling comedy albums list and was later re-released by a major comedy label, New Wave / Comedy Dynamics. Having gone through this process twice, I’ve compiled what I know and what I recommend you do, broken into the three major components: Recording, Editing/Post-Production and Marketing.

1) RECORDING THE ALBUM

a) Select The Proper Venue

Unless you have a big following (i.e. over 10,000 tickets sold per year because they recognize your name – not because it’s a comedy show in their town), I recommend recording in a smaller venue that seats 50-100 people.You’re much better off having a sold out small room then a half empty large room. 40 people laughing in a small room doesn’t sound that different from 400 people laughing in a large theater space.It feels different when you’re on stage, for sure, but for the purposes of a recording it won’t matter much. In small audience venues, low ceilings are your friends; they keep the laughs bouncing and sounding louder.

I recommend finding a venue that has previously recorded comedy albums, and then listening to those albums, to see if you like the sound quality. If possible, avoid being the guinea pig.

Don't be a venue's recording guinea pig
Don’t be a venue’s recording guinea pig

b) Equipment/Setup

When recording, the more separate audio channels you can record, the better. At the minimum, you want to have your microphone and the audience laughter on two separate .wav tracks. Sometimes, if there’s multiple mics on the audience, you can get a separate audio track for each audience mic (which can be helpful to fix minor noise issues like waitress drink orders, etc. but will take more work in editing). Other times multiple audience mics get recorded as one track. Both options are fine, just know which one you’re doing.

If the venue has recorded albums before, they should know how to run the equipment through their sound board and computers, etc. If you’re setting it up yourself, at minimum you’ll want a sound recorder like the Zoom H4N which can interface with soundboards and offers 4 different input channels. If you do this yourself, make sure to test it all out in advance and make sure all the batteries are charged. Then make sure to have a backup system in place too, perhaps a video camera with external microphone. There’s nothing worse than having an amazing set only to find out there were technical issues. Have a friend to watch the equipment to make sure there’s no malfunctions. Or better yet – hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Watch out for background noise like loud air conditioners or heaters which can really mess up the sound quality.

c) Get an Audience

Publicity-wise, you have two options:

Option 1: Surprise!

Don’t tell the audience or anyone in advance, record your long set with a good microphone (Zoom H4N or something along those lines) and if the show goes great, chop it up into tracks and release it. If the show goes okay or worse, never mention that you were thinking of releasing it as an album.

The advantage of this method is, there’s no pressure. The downside is, there’s no pressure and no accountability, so if you’re not highly motivated, you may never get around to releasing it. You’d be surprised how motivating it is when people keep asking you “so when’s that album coming out?”

I did this method with my first album. I was 3.5 years into comedy, and had done 45+ minutes a handful of times with mixed results. Eventually one set went very well (or so I felt at the time) so I converted my HD video recording (I record all of my sets anyway just for my review) into an audio track and then chopped it up into an album.

I know some comedians have taken this idea a step further and recorded a bunch of short 8-10 minute sets and then combined it as a long album. I would avoid doing this because you need to know how your 45 minutes flows since that is how the people buying your album will experience it. It’s possible to kill for a bunch of short sets but not have the flow work when you put them back to back to back. Also, this method prevents you from doing callbacks to jokes and you’re less likely to get fun crowd work in there. If you decide to ignore my advice and go this route, at least record all the sets at the same venue so the sound is similar each time.

Option 2: Publicize!

Announce the event well in advance and publicize it as much as possible to get a big turnout.

The advantage is you’re more likely to have an audience on its best behavior and rooting for you to do well. The disadvantage is, you’ll feel some pressure. Although I think pressure is a good thing, as it helps you focus. I usually do one or two new jokes in most of my live performances, but when I announced my second album recording, all my shows six weeks prior to the recording were spent running chunks of the album material to make sure I had the proper order and the jokes I wanted on the album.

If you choose this publicity option, I highly recommend having two shows on the same night.

I did this for mysecond album. And I made it on my birthday to help increase turnout. The first show wound up nearly at capacity, but the second show was relatively light. I wound up using my first show’s audio for 90% of the album. But it was good knowing I had a second chance if I needed to say something more clearly or if I forgot a joke. I was also super relaxed during my first show because I knew I had a second chance to get it right. I didn’t know that the second show’s reservations were so light, or else I wouldn’t have been so relaxed. So my recommendation is: have two shows, go all out promoting them, but the night of the show, don’t ask about turnout for the second show, just focus on the first show.

EDITING/POST-PRODUCTION

Congrats you’ve recorded your album. Now comes the way less fun part – editing it.

At the very least you need to chop up your 40-60 minutes of comedy into 1-5 minute chunks and give each bit a clever title. You’ll also want to decide on the album title and design a cover. When designing a cover, remember that most music is digital and most music displays in 150×150 pixel thumbnails, so make your design simple with the largest fonts possible.

This is the standard thumbnail size of your album (150x150 pixels), make sure your name and album name are readable in this size!
This is the standard thumbnail size of your album (150×150 pixels), make sure your name and album name are readable in this size!

You may also want to do things like balance mic levels, enhance laughs in select places or cut out bits that didn’t work that night.

If you know audio editing, you can do it yourself, otherwise be ready to pay someone to do it for you. Make sure to listen to the output a few times and give notes for changes that are needed. Once you think it’s ready, have a few trusted friends listen to it and see if they notice any issues aka do “quality control.”

Once you’ve completed the actual editing and your friends haven’t found any glaring problems, create an artist account on CDBaby.com (or some other distributor, I’ve only used CDBaby and am happy with them), upload your tracks, artwork and other info they require. Then set a release date and pay them their fee (in the $75-$150 range). Make the release date at least a month (maybe 2-3 months) from now so that you have time for…

MARKETING

This is the toughest part for me, and I think for most creative minded people. I like creating things, I don’t like promoting them. But you owe it to your work to get it in front of as many potential people as possible.

Keep in mind, one of the toughest parts of self-releasing is that the big boys are very unlikely to help you with marketing. So you need a plan and the time to execute it. While CDBaby places you on iTunes and Spotify and every other digital music platform, if you’re self-published don’t expect to get on the front pages of iTunes or any other extra push.

Pitch blogs! Getting write-ups is huge. Forget TV or the NYTimes. Find your niches. Also start with less popular blogs and work your way up the media food chain (read this book for a better step by step explanation). Most blogs will link directly to your album, so if someone likes the writeup, they can buy it in two clicks. This “quick to purchase” path is way better than any TV show or print magazine can do. (But yes, it’s still nice to get mainstream media coverage.) I recommend using BuzzSumo.com to search for artists who are similar to you and who recently released albums (Buzzsumo has a free 7 day trial). Then individually email every blogger who wrote about that album with your pitch and a link to a free download of your album so they can write about it if they choose. Once you start getting write ups, hyperlink to them in your future pitches.

Sample pitch email: “Hi John Blogger, I noticed you recently wrote about Jane Smith’s new comedy album and thought you might be interested in covering my new album (release date: in two weeks). Here’s the free download (for your review only). I’ve already been covered by James Blogger (link). Please let me know if you have any questions. Best, Your Name”

Mailing list and social media: A couple weeks before the release date, email your list with the announcement and pre-buy link. Then do it again the day of the release. That’s it. Don’t bother them too much. Same thing with social media. Make some pretty memes with jokes from the album too.

 

Do you have any questions I didn’t answer? Have you released an album and completely disagree with my thoughts? Leave a comment below and I’ll respond.