The Comedy Business: The Pecking Order On The Comedy Ladder

Like most professions, stand up comedy has a ladder that everyone wants to climb. I’ve listed out all the ladder steps as I currently understand them, starting from the lowest and going to the highest.

This ladder is most applicable for NYC and LA (and maybe Chicago / Boston) where there are lots of comedians and lots of comedy clubs. When you’re headlining or getting constant 15-30 minute spots in your local comedy club, it’s time to move to NY or LA, or go on the road, if you’re serious about a full time career anyway.

Some of these steps are lateral, but there are clear levels of separation along the way.

Level 1: You’re a Nobody

Open Mics / Bringers / Barkers

Level 2: Passed at a local club

This means you get real audiences to listen to you multiple times a week without having to stand out in the cold advertising for the show, paying money for stage time or bringing friends. 

2.1 Check Spot

2.2 Emceeing

2.3 Opening

2.4 Middle

2.5 Headlining

Level 2B: You Get Passed at a better local club

(This then follows the same five levels I listed out in Level 2.)

Level 3: Getting paid to perform all around town or the state

Level 4: Getting paid and getting gigs around town so often that you don’t need another job

Level 4 often occurs in conjunction with:

Level 5: Getting paid to go on a regional tour

and

Level 6: Getting paid to go on a national tour

You eventually want to work your way up to

Level 7: Headlining a regional tour

and

Level 8: Headlining a national tour

It’s debatable whether it’s better to be headlining a national tour (where you fly into a different city almost every weekend) or to be a consistent headliner in the best clubs in NYC or LA. Basically, levels 4, 7 and 8 can all be occurring at the same time. I’d call that combination level 9.

If you’re able to consistently headline on national tours and in the best NYC and LA clubs (I won’t name names) then your next step is to get on TV or in Movies. (Although, if you’re headlining at the major clubs, chances are you’ve already been on TV and in Movies multiple times.)

As far as stand up comedy on TV goes, here is how I would rank the desirability, from lowest to highest (for American TV at least).

1) 5 to 7 minute segment on a Comedy Central stand up show like Premium Blend or Live at Gotham.

2) Stand Up Spot on the 12:30am late night shows (Conan, Jimmy, etc)

3) Stand Up Spot on the 11:30pm shows (Leno or Letterman)

4) Your own Comedy Central 30 minute special

5) HBO Special

 

I’m sure I missed some levels and not everyone agrees with my rankings, I’d love to get a good discussion going on this.

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 I Got 100,000 TikTok Followers In 51 Days
  • 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
  • Q&A With A College Student
  • 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
  • DC Comedy Is Not New York Comedy

    For my day job, I’m going to be in Washington DC every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night for the forseeable future. Before accepting this role, I checked to see that DC had some sort of comedy club show or random open mics going on during the weekdays. I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole website listing the on goings of the comedy scene in DC and Baltimore that seemed to be regularly updated.

    I found a Monday mic online, emailed the contact person, got confirmation that it was still going on every Monday and so I went to it. I got there 10 minutes before show time (which was 20 minutes later than the email advised) and 4 other comics were waiting outside. The place was closed. Welcome to DC.

     And of course, this is the only mic in DC on a Monday night…

    In other news, I know I owe everyone a week’s worth of performance critiques. I didn’t go on vacation, I was just too busy performing to upload and critique my videos. Maybe missing this mic will let me do that right now.

    The Alabama Road Trip

    I’m a huge Rutgers Football fan, so my buddy Chris and I road-tripped down to “lovely” Birmingham, Alabama for the bowl game. Here are the highlights:

    Bowl game

    • At the Pep Rally, they had a Papa John’s representative speak. This led to the single greatest non-sports heckle of the 21st century. As the rep gets up, Chris: “Boooooo! Papa Johns, Booooooo! (pause) You suck! Boooooo! (pause) Support your local pizza places!”
    • Accidentally walking into a packed gay bar on a Sunday night, and finding out there were actually 5 gay bars in Birmingham.
    • Having one of the nice gentleman in that bar refer to the civil war as “the war of northern aggression” in full seriousness.
    • That same gentleman admitting he voted for McCain/Palin although he’s gay – that’s like a slave voting Robert E. Lee for president – if they had been allowed to vote.
    • Next time you’re bored, here’s a fun game: Try to see how many different (hotel) objects you can use to open a bottle of beer. The iron was our favorite, although the TV remote came in a close second.
    • Three strippers were supposed to show up to the Rutgers Pre-Game Bar to dance on tables. Shockingly, strippers are not the most reliable of people and only one showed up. So the nice local girl working the front door got up on the bar and started dancing with the stripper. 
    • I specifically checked that the local strip club was open til 3am on a Sunday before 9 of us, including 2 girls, caught cabs there at 12:30am. As we pulled up, everyone was leaving and the place was closing. That is the single worst business decision of 2008. Worse than all that mortgage lending.
    • Chris drove 2200 miles in 70 hours. Both trips started at 7PM and ended the next morning. The 16 hour return drive back was referred to as “The Trail of Tears” or the “Nunna daul Isunyi” in Cherokee.  

    Suffice it to say I’m glad to be back in NYC. Have a Happy New Year!

    Philly Knows How To Riot

    So I was in Philly last night when they won the World Series. And based on my 4 hours of riot observation, Philly knows how to party! Some high lights:

    • A guy running with a large orange construction barrel towards the riot police
    • Looting taking place at an Italian Restaurant that closed
    • Rioters rocking the police bus and almost tipping it
    • Random dumpster fires with 10 foot flames
    • 100 people climbing on a firetruck and celebrating
    • Guy climbing the traffic light, hanging there for 20 minutes and then jumping
    • Ten different people trying to knock down the holiday liberty bell light display hanging on the corner and ten different people failing to knock it down
    • Bank window getting smashed (they had some nice bullet proof glass though, as it didn’t break, just had a HUGE spider web)
    • Lots of beer bottles getting smashed into the ground (and a few being chucked into the crowd / at the cops)
    • Me deciding that a wooden, ten foot, police “do not cross” board would make for a great championship belt to parade through the streets. And not seeing the cop three feet away from me. Good thing I know how to talk to cops or I’d be posting this from jail!*
    • Me spilling my coffee this morning as I was sorting through my riot photos

    I just hope Rutgers riots this good when we win a football national championship!

     

    *My conversation with the police officer went something like this:

    “What are you doing?”
    “I don’t know”
    “You don’t know?”
    “No ma’am”
    “Well you better put that back”
    “Yes ma’am”
    “That’s not how it was”
    “Sorry maam. Let me fix that. Have a nice night.”

    Traveling

    I hate traveling for my current day job and I’m wondering if I’ll like traveling for comedy any better.

    My current job’s traveling:

    I leave every Monday morning and return Thursday night, usually going to the same city for weeks on end. Most of the people I interact with are also traveling in every week, so there’s no social circle to plug into. I work 830am until 6 or 7pm, and by the time I go to the gym and grab some food, it’s dark and I can’t see anything in the city, except the bars, which are almost always dead on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights. 

    Comedy traveling, as I imagine it:

    You usually perform 2-3 weekend nights in a row in the same location. You either do some local radio/tv during the day to promote the show, or you get the day to sleep in, take in the city and prepare for the show. The bars are packed, you can bring a friend with you for the trip, go out with the other comedians, or since the bars are packed, at least have more people to strike up a conversation with in town. This sounds slightly better, but I can see it being tiresome. Especially if you go on a one or two month tour. Then again, you can treat these two months as an adventure, since you could rest for a few weeks before going on tour again. In my current business travel, you don’t get a month to take a break from traveling, ever.

     

    This post will be interesting to look back on once I’ve been traveling for comedy gigs to see if my expectations match up with reality.