Recently I have been giving thought to the potential of comedy as a profession. My pondering has left me somewhat dismayed at the state of the industry that could ultimately support a career. Everyone involved in comedy knows that for every Tim Minchin there are 342.78 (Source: “The Big Book of Made Up Facts”, McMillan,1998) Nigel Feather’s that don’t get anywhere! This is only fair as the comedic cream must rise to the top. However, I feel that our industry is filled with semi-lactose intolerant people who can only handle a small amount of cream, thus leaving a large amount to waste away in the hot oppressive heat, or to be given away to people who learn to get their cream for free and thus undervalue it!
By now you must be wondering just what is meant by my dairy based analogy? Simply put I believe the industry is ultimately responsible for its under performance. The three main groups who need to be held accountable are we as comedians, promoters and the audiences and consumers of comedy.
Let’s start with comedians. Now I support the notion that one must ”do their time” of open mic and unpaid support gigs, but does that mean it must continue for 3-4 years? People get less for manslaughter with good behaviour! Do we really want upcoming comedians debating whether it’s better to spend their next few years pestering a promoter for gigs or to just ‘accidentally’ back into them, coming out of the Comics Lounge? If we all collectively decided to charge for our talents and services, we would start seeing some financial benefits much sooner (Am I proposing a union or association for Comedians? I don’t know, but you can!) This however will never happen as long as someone is willing to perform for free. Comic A may charge $200 for a 30 minute headline spot, but the gig will go to Comic B, who’s slightly crapper and willing to do it for free. In the end Comic A looses a gig and Comic B $200. The only winner is the promoter. Or is it?
Promoters are an interesting bunch, coming in more styles and capacities than an iPod. They are the ones that Comedians grovel too, handing out stagetime like a theatrical Robin Hood distributing to the comedy poor. I suspect many enjoy the power that their position brings. I have experienced the life of a promoter through running rooms before. It has been an interesting, challenging but ultimately frustrating experience so far. I dreamed of running rooms where everyone on the bill got some cash, even if it was $10 for petrol, as well as a meal. I suppose my ideal was a bit like comedic communism! But everyone knows communism doesn’t work- that’s why monopoly, not its Russian rival co-opoly, is such a successful board game. By promoters getting free talent for their shows, they ultimately have lower costs. Lower costs mean lower door prices, teaching the audience or consumer to de-value comedy as an art form. But is it an art form? Ask most comedians and they will say ‘Yes’, but ask your average audience member and they will more likely see it as ‘Entertainment’. We can continue to have comedy run as an art form by artists, and have only comedians and hardcore comedy aficionados in the crowd. Or we can run it as an entertainment-based business venture, they way the audience perceives it, and reap the benefits of bigger crowds and a bigger industry, with more cash to go around.
Audiences are an integral part of, and a key indicator in, the success of growing the comedy industry. They must learn to value the entertainment they receive. This is not going to happen if clubs and rooms undercharge or don’t charge at all. Consider how the average person is willing to pay $13 to go see the hot new ‘comedy’ release at the movies, which gives them on average 8.67 really good laughs and lasts 90 minutes with no interaction. Compare that to a comedy night where you can see between 4-8 comedians for around $10, get over 2 hours of unique, interactive entertainment, guaranteed to exceed the movie laugh quota of 8.67! So maybe we could charge around $15-20 for a show. That increased budget then allows more paid comedians, a better production and increased promotion. Promotion when done correctly is always going to pay for itself with an increase in audience. And so the cycle continues…yet currently I find myself running a free room, with my costs subsidised by the Bar.
We all know how great live comedy is, and some of these principles may seem like common sense to industry insiders. But you are forgetting that people are lazy! They need to be told. So the comedy industry’s problem is a marketing one. We need to re-think and re-package how we go about selling our product. It is said that if you build it, they will come. And I think that we need to re-build a bit, because at the moment we look like a neglected holiday kit home at Werribee Beach. But the important part is- they won’t come unless you tell them how to get there!
So there are my blueprints for a comedic revolution. No doubt some of you will be interested in my ideals and will wish to subscribe to my newsletters. Others of you may see me as a political threat and move to have me assassinated. Either way it’s all up for discussion- Viva la revolution!