Danny Browning: Working The Road

Today I’m interviewing Danny Browning about road work. I previously interviewed Danny about how he uses technology in his comedy career. Danny has been nice enough to share his seven years of road experience.

 

miniflyer1. Do you book road work yourself or do you have an agent who does it?

Up until recently, I’ve done it all myself. Now I have a management company that helps point me in the direction to get more work.  .

There’s comedy booking agencies across the country and those agencies book clubs and one nighters. Other clubs just book themselves. You just find these agencies, you find the clubs, then it’s a lot of phone work, emails and rejection.  And you just slowly but surely get in with these bookers and clubs. My first year I made $9,000. That’s definitely gone up. Every year has gotten better. That’s due in large part because with every passing year I’ve picked up two new clubs, or got in with another booker. Now, I’m at the point where I’m in with the 3 or 4 major booking agencies. So the work comes a lot easier now.

2. How did you get your first road gig?

I was the house MC at a Funny Bone in Evansville, Indiana. There was a comic working 3 hours away in Farmington, Missouri, it was a restaurant called Spokes Bar and Grill. He asked me to open for him. I remember it like it was yesterday. That was my first road gig. I had to do 30 minutes I didn’t have close to 30 minutes. I had 20 minutes. I ended up stretching and doing 25 to 30 minutes. I wish I could see a video of it because I’m sure it’s shit. But I was able to do it, and I got $100. That was the first time I drove somewhere and got paid to tell jokes.

When I first started, I was desperate to be a comedian. I would take work anywhere. I remember I took a gig in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a 12 hour drive. The gig paid $150. I knew I was going to lose money, but it was all about the experience. The experience of getting used to the road, going somewhere new, getting paid and learning how to be funny.

That’s one advantage New York comics have. You guys can go to a club and get on stage 3-5 times a night or more. And that sounds like a lot of fun. As a road comic, we can do open mics in our home club, but beyond that any experience we get has to be on the road.

That said, being on the road, I learned how to do 30 minutes. I learned what it takes to do an hour, and I learned pacing and timing and crowd work, everything that’s involved in being a comic.  That definitely helps. Doing those short 7 to 15 minute sets like in NYC, it would be cool to start the night with 5 minutes of new material and by the end of the night have it half polished.

Jerry Seinfeld talks about that in Comedian. He develops his new act in NYC. Then he says, “now it’s time to get out on the road, tighten it up and learn what will be funny on a much broader level.” If you do the road right, that’s what happens. You develop an act that is funny to everybody, no matter where you are. The same jokes I told in NYC, I will tell in Sioux Falls, SD and Macalister, Oklahoma. You learn what’s really funny to everybody.

Some Chicago comics have mentioned that road comics have a stereotype of having really hacky material because they’re working for drunks and end up having material fit for drunks. And there is some of that, and if you’re not careful you’ll fall into that, but if you do it right and you constantly try to be original and find material that will work, the road is very beneficial.

Then again, any comedian that does one thing too much, whether it’s colleges or corporate events or strictly bar shows on the road, doing only one thing makes your act get weaker in other venues. If you work thirty colleges a month, and do nothing but colleges, then your act will become very college friendly and a lot less club friendly, I think. I knew a guy who used to be an excellent club comic, then he started doing corporate comedy, now there’s certain clubs that won’t hire the guy because he’s become so crisp and corporate clean. There’s no sharpness or edginess anymore. Working in NYC could be the same way. If you do too much New York work, you might develop an act that works in New York City: you might have seven minutes of riding the subway which would kill in NYC but not in Indianapolis. People in North Dakota wouldn’t give two dog shits about the New York Subway experience. Once you get out on the road, you have to find something else to talk about.

3. Does road work progress slowly where you have 10 weeks the first year, 20 the next until you’re up to full time, or what’s the process?

Yes. It’s slow. Ideally you get in with a booker and they throw you some road work. Then you get in with other bookers. The best case scenario would be to hook up with a big name comic that can take you on the road. And work at the best clubs, The Improv’s and the Funny Bones. For most guys though, it’s a slow process. The first year I had 15-20 weeks of work. That’s light. But with every passing year, the clubs increase and the work increases, hopefully.

4. What do you like about the road? What do you dislike?

I like traveling, I’ve been in forty states. I’ve got to see a lot of this country. I like meeting all kinds of other comics from all over the country. I like being able to tell jokes to an audience one night in one town and the next night I’m in a different town entertaining those people. No show is ever the same. Now that I’m headlining more I like that I can try out more new material and stretch my legs a little more and find myself. Especially with the smaller venues, the road is a great place to work out your material and work out what’s funny.

As much as I like the travel, I dislike it too. Take this weekend for instance, I left home yesterday after I’d only been home for one day. I got home Tuesday night, was home all Wednesday then I left Thursday. I drove 7 hours to the University of Iowa and did my show there. Then I got up at 5am this morning for a ten hour drive to my next gig tonight, a corporate event at a military base. Then early tomorrow morning, I drive 7 hours early to Omaha. After that, I’ll be driving 10 hours home. I’m logging 35 to 40 hours in the car in a period of 72 hours.

This weekend is a little extreme though. A lot of times, these clubs are weeklong events. I may drive 6 hours to get to a club, but once I’m there, I’m there. I don’t have to drive. But there are a lot of times when you’re doing a lot of driving. You might be going to a different venue every night. Now that I can pick my schedule a little more, I try to keep my drives between 5 and 7 hours, but you have to go to where the work is. If I get offered a headlining week in Minnesota, I gotta take it.

Another advantage of the road is that I’m cutting my teeth and nobody knows who I am. The next time I go to NYC, or when it’s time to get my chance in front of someone important, I’ll be ready. I know Jeff Foxworthy headlined the road for 12 years before ever going to LA. Then he moved to LA, by then he hit the ground running.

5. In my interview with Judy Carter, she mentioned getting sick of the “Comedy Roach Condos”. What are they?

Some clubs you do put you up in hotels, others put you up in apartments and some put you up in a condo. A condo is usually a house with 2 or 3 bedrooms where you stay with the other comics for the week. The nicer clubs keep their condos nice and the comics keep them nice. But there are some places where they’re not kept nice, they’re very dirty. I don’t know a comic who looks forward to having a condo.

I stayed in a condo somewhere in Arizona and it was so dirty, it looked like they had changed the motor oil on the condo floor. I was afraid to walk barefoot through there. I would always wear shoes. It was a horrible, horrible place. I’ve stayed in one condo in Colorado where I had to share a room with the MC. That’s okay, but the MC was a female comic from LA. That was just a weird situation because we had to be roommates all week long. We were sleeping in a room that looked like Dick Van Dyke’s bedroom: there were 2 beds with a lamp shade in between. I’m sure it was weird for her, it was definitely weird for me. So I could totally see where a woman would get tired of the condos real fast.

Although there are some clubs that keep the condos real nice. For example, in Nashville, TN last summer, this condo was two floors, two bedrooms, each bedroom had its own bathroom, hardwood floors, wireless internet and a private deck. It was much nicer than my house. If you have to stay in a condo…that’s the way to do it.

6. Where is it harder to get in for road work: colleges or with clubs?

For me it’s been colleges because I’m trying to go through NACA, the college booking agency. I’m trying to go through NACA just like 3,000 other comics and musical acts. The competition is fierce and it’s hard to get face time. So That’s been the hardest.

Some of the bookers, like The Funny Business Agency and Heffron Talent, when I first hit the road I was half way in with them. Then it took 2-4 years before I really established myself. Now I’m in and I get work.

The key to getting in with bookers and clubs is to have a headliner reference. If you can get that and have a decent video clip, it might be easier. When I started out, I didn’t know any headliners. I was just some kid trying to be a comedian. It takes a little bit more of a time investment when you do it that way.

7. Anything else comics should know about the road?

I’ve had several New York guys express how boring it would be to be out on the road and not have anything to do all day in a hotel. It can be boring, it doesn’t have to be. No matter what town you go to, there’s always stuff to do. You might have to look for it, but there’s always stuff to do. Unlike NYC, if you go on the road and work a town you’re the star. Tonight in Macalister, Oklahoma, I’m the man. People are coming to see me. It’s going to be a long time before that would ever happen in NYC. It’s a good feeling. It gives you a certain confidence on stage. I would encourage NYC comedians to start working on their road connections and start getting out on the road as much as they can to learn how to be funny for 30+ minutes and to get the life experience.

I worked with a New York City comic who has every TV credit a guy can have, HBO, Comedy Central, 2 national TV commercials. He’s done it all. And the questions he was asking me about the road were questions that a beginner would ask. He didn’t have any idea about bookers and how all of that worked. That really surprised me. I’ve noticed since then, a lot of guys are like that. It’s one of those things where living in The City, the comedy is always right there. It’s not a necessity to find other places to work.

Here’s another example: On Monday, I stayed with a comic in Astoria, Queens. There is a comedy booker named Linda Rohe who runs Coastal Entertainment. She books clubs in Pennsylvania, New York, and San Antonio, Texas.  She literally lived two blocks away from my friend in Queens, and he’d never heard of her. And she’s the type of booker, if you do live out in New York, you can walk in her office and introduce yourself. And plant the seed. It might be 6-12 months down the road, but then she’d be able to throw you work in PA or even San Antonio if you could do it.

For you New York guys, just go to Google and type in “comedy bookers”. Off the top of my head I can name five: Funny Business agency, Heffron Talent, Summit ComedyHysterical Management and Linda Rohe, because she books in your area. Between those five, they could get you 20-30 weeks of work a year.

Keith Alberstadt is a good guy to talk to. He’s a former road comic from Nashville. I was doing the open mic at the Nashville Zanies when I was 21 and I met Keith down there. He’s was a hard working road comic. Then he moved to NYC and has been on Letterman and gotten some writing credits. He’s really thrived in NYC, and a lot of that is really because of his road training. He knew how to be a comedian well before a lot of guys who’d been in New York.

And when he got to NYC, he was instantly getting road work in PA. On Friday and Saturday he’d drive 2 hours away and make $600. Take that list of bookers and start investing your time. Think of it as planting seeds for the future. You might not get any work in the next 6 months, but if you get it in a year that’s great and then in 3 years you might be their main comedian.

There’s also some great websites, I don’t know if you have websites where NYC comics go, but there’s a site, RoadComics.com. RoadComics.com is a forum created by a former comic, I’d recommend everybody get on that site. It’s basically a lot of road comics posting on there and it’s a wealth of comedy information. Anything you want to know about being a comic, I guarantee someone has already asked the question on that forum. That’s the perfect site. You don’t have to talk to anybody, but there’s been tons of questions asked about comedy, clubs and bookers. Anything you want to find is on there.

There’s also ComedySoapBox.com where you sign up there and you get to see every club in America and who books it.

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  • Overcoming Stage Fright
  • Producing a Show: Getting Audience
  • Producing a Show: Running The Show
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  • Road Work Tips from Danny Browning
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  • Hi-Tech Comedy: Danny Browning

    Today I’m interviewing Danny Browning. Danny has just started his 7th year as a full-time comedian.   He has performed in over 40 states headlining comedy clubs, corporate events, and colleges.

    miniflyer1. How are you using the internet / social media to promote your career?

    I use the internet and social media to make a name for myself. Facebook and twitter are both excellent ways to gain a following and get your name out there. On Facebook, I might mention that tonight I’ll be in whatever town and then link to my website. I have over 2,000 Facebook friends so when I do that I get a lot of website hits.

    I also use Facebook to advertise. I purchased advertising on there, created an ad, and I pay for however many times the ad is clicked on. I’m able to market those ads towards a specific area. For example, last night I was working in Iowa City and I marketed it the ad to 18-24 year olds who lived in Iowa City. That ad popped up only on that groups Facebook page.

    2. Have you noticed the payoff yet?

    It’s hard to say for certain. The first week of January is usually a pretty hard week to get people out. I used the Facebook advertising and Thursday through Saturday nights were packed. The club managers  said they’d only been averaging 35 people a show and they didn’t even sell out on New Years Eve. During the show, when I asked where all the Facebookers where, I got a rousing response.

    So the short answer is I don’t know if it works yet, but it seems like it does. I definitely get more feedback on my website and I have more people who know my name. The thing with Facebook is I’m friends with some comedians who I look up to and there have been times when I might be going somewhere , see that those comics are going there or have been there and I’ll drop them a note. This opens up a dialogue with a comedian that I’d otherwise never get to talk to. And that’s another way to spread your name. There’s certain comedians now who know who I am strictly because of Facebook.

    Also, when I ran an open mic in Louisville, Kentucky I always got at least 10 people from Facebook to come out to the show.  I know this because I’d post the info on people’s Facebook page and they’d have to print out the ticket to go to the show. The night before Thanksgiving we had 360 audience members.

    3. What do you think about posting videos of your material online?

    Overall, it’s good. It’s an excellent way to showcase yourself to fans and anyone who might be interested. People can get a taste of who you are. Bookers and club owners can also get a taste of who you are and what you do. Sometimes, I’m a little bit worried about other people taking those jokes. And once those jokes are out there, they’re pretty much done. You can still use them in your show, but if 25 people went to myMySpace page and they’ve seen my video and they hear the same jokes at the show, then you know… that’s not necessarily good.

    4. How do you think digital tools will change comedy?

    From a business stand point it makes it a lot easier to get in touch with people. Since I deal with comedy club bookers from across the country, it’s a lot easier to email them. It’s also nice that any comedy club I go to, I can go to their website and see who’s on their lineup, I can get their contact info. Before the internet, all you knew about a comedy club was what you heard other comics say. Now it definitely opens up the world. It makes it easier for comedians. I just picked up a headline week at a club in Michigan all through email. I sent him a link with my video and he sent me back an email with dates. That was the easiest thing in the world.

    Back in the day, all comics had was telephones. Ever since I’ve been a road comic, I’ve had the internet. There’s still a lot of phone work, but I can’t imagine what it was like before the internet. When I first hit the road seven years ago, I had to send out tapes and DVDs. In the past two or three years it’s been a migration towards digital video and email. I’ve had clubs watch my link and ask for a full length DVD, and I’ll go ahead and send it, but now, almost everybody wants instant gratification. Here’s his video clip, is he funny? Wham, bam!

    5. How much information do you tend to share on the social networks?

    I usually have one liner jokes up there or I’ll tell them about the road. For example, on my drive from NYC, I left at 3:30am and I had 740 miles to go so I kept everybody updated as to where I was and what I was doing.

    That’s another thing, I use Facebook to keep a photo road diary. I use my phone to take photos of stuff I find amusing on the road, and I send it to Facebook to an amusing album called “scenes from the road”. It’s just another way to promote myself. I just put up a photo of a gas station called “Kum and Go” and I have five comments already. Once someone looks at one picture, they usually look at others. It’s just another way to remind people of Danny Browning and what I’m doing. I do try to stay away from super personal stuff on the Facebook and use it as strictly a business tool.

    6. What’s your weirdest online experience involving your comedy career?

    One experience was a pain in the ass. I was working in Minnesota, and after the show my girl and I had an argument so I went out to a bar. Then I started taking pictures with these two girls. Nothing happened with them, I was just taking pictures, but they posted their pictures on MySpace, tagged me, and then it popped up and my girl saw it and it looked like I was really partying with these girls, which didn’t look good for me. I had a lot of talking to do to get out of that one.

    7. Your website is a .biz instead of a .com, why is that?

    When I first hit the road I was broke. I made $9,000 my first year on the road. I needed a website, .biz was $2.99 a year and .com was $9.99.

    People have always told me I should change it to .com and I never have. I’ve grown to like the .biz. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about that before. When people Google me, my website is the first thing that pops up. That’s what’s important. So I’m not worried about people being able to find me. Between myspace, facebook and my website, if people want to find me online, they will.

    8. You’ve been doing road work for 7 years, how has technology changed the road experience?

    With all the traveling I do, it’s pretty convenient to go on the internet and find the map from where I’m going to where I need to be. The Tom Tom navigational system is the best thing a guy with my job can have. I didn’t have one when I started, I got one last year and I could’ve kicked myself in the ass for not getting one sooner. That should’ve been the first purchase I made. Satellite radio is nice to have in the car too.

    There’s also no such thing as being off the grid anymore. With webcams you can see and talk to your significant other and family. Text messages, cell phone, Facebook, it’s a lot easier to stay in touch with people. And it’s a lot harder to hide from people…

    9. Do you use an electronic press kit?

    No but I’ve been told I should get one. I don’t know if they work or not. I know guys who use them who have been successful, and I’ve seen guys who do corporate events have an online press kit. I asked one booker, Eric Yoder at Funny Business Agency what he wanted to see on the screen, and he said he wants all the info right in front of him.  He didn’t want to go through a lot to see who you were. He said, “the simpler the better.” So I always make a link to my video clip and a link to my website. Anything I would put in an EPK is either in the video or on the website.

    I don’t think it’s a necessity but anything that makes you look more professional is good. To be a comedian, especially on the road, it’s all about professionalism. When you present yourself to a club or booker, when you get to the gig, when you tell your jokes. Be professional: do what you’re told, don’t get drunk and make an ass out of yourself. And be professional afterwards, a follow up with the booker or the club goes a long way. If an EPK can make you look more professional then do it.