You need to decide how you are going to market yourself. You are selling yourself, after all. So who are you aiming your act at? What style are you going to present to your audience (bearing in mind that styles do evolve over time)? And what kind of material do you intend to do?
Apart from television, the Internet is where many people access comedians, and we need to maintain a web profile to capitalise on this.
Nowadays there are plenty of social networks and free packages to use as contact points and social-networking sites like Facebook are easily accessible. Rather than having cumbersome and corny business cards we can now say to interested folk at gigs ‘I’m on Facebook’ and sign them up as friends whom we can keep informed of our current activities. We can build a community of interested people and also share information on gigs, experience and other comedians (though no gossip – it may come back and bite you). Facebook helpfully suggests other ‘friends’ and comedians often pop up. Keep in touch with people all round the world: you never know when the information will come in useful.
YouTube is an excellent source for comedy geeks to find obscure clips and rave about them, and it is also a site on which many people surf. The tags that people put on their own clips will mean they pop up when someone is looking for something else, which is when we find comedy gems from past and present. Setting up a YouTube account and putting clips of you performing is easy. You can film them on a cheap digital camera (in fact, some venues do this anyway, so get a copy).
You can edit a five-minute performance down to a couple of gags that are the highlights of your set and that got a good reception. Even if you have only recorded the sound (remember that digital dictaphone?) then you can still make a clip using footage or stills of things that complement what you are talking about. Use your imagination. It is also useful to read what people have said about your clips. Hopefully these will be supportive or useful and if they aren’t, well, what do the public know anyway? Use the clips to emphasise your style.
In 2002, bored at work and turning thirty, American Julie Powell decided she wanted to write a blog but didn’t know what to write about. She quickly realised that she needed a long-term project to use as her subject matter and decided to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Childs’s classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, ‘for the servantless American cook’. Powell decided to cook all the recipes one by one and write up the experience every day in her blog, giving herself a one-year deadline. This gave the blog a purpose as well as a structure. Each daily entry for the blog was a single episode that gradually built up to an overall narrative. Each episode involved a task with a high risk of failure but it also included her feelings about how she was faring, both in the kitchen and personally.
The reader not only learned about her culinary endeavours but also developed a relationship with her as she faced struggles similar to the reader’s own in her everyday life. Eventually, Julie cooked her way through all the recipes and along the way built up a dedicated readership. Her readers could relate to the subject of food as well as the difficulties that preparing a successful meal entails: it was not just about food but about human endeavour. The blog was a success and became a book, and the book was a success and became a comedy film, starring Meryl Streep.
But what can we learn from Julie? Although we cannot all hope to replicate her success, we can pick up a few tips to help us maintain our public profiles as well as improve our writing skills. If we keep a blog for a year, say, that documents our development as a comedian and writer, then there is an overall purpose. Potential readers are curious and naturally want to see whether our career succeeds or fails, or even just whether we can actually keep the blog going for a year. If we document every writing session and performance, then each entry becomes inherently interesting, like a gag, that fits into an overall narrative, like a set. It has a purpose, a process and a climax. For us, the blog involves the discipline of writing every day. There is a commitment made to ourselves as well as our readers which we have to stick to.
Writing every day will improve our skills as a writer, as we learn to write economically, succinctly and accurately. We set ourselves short-term, achievable goals, like a gig or even just a joke every day, as well as a long-term goal which gives the blog narrative sense. Being in the habit of writing regularly, even if what you write is just an exercise, can only help. The great American writer John Steinbeck suffered from regular writer’s block. To combat this he used to write ‘poetry for throwing away’: it was meant as arm exercise rather than for public consumption. The blog is a good exercise in this respect.
A blog is easy to set up, even for the biggest techno-klutz, and requires very few design skills (Wordpress does a free version that is suitable for this purpose). It doesn’t have to be flashy, just interesting to read. It needs fresh material to justify people coming back, so charting your progress, gig by gig, writing session by session, and asking for input on what readers think of new material are all extremely useful.
A bonus is that it will give you an idea of how far you have come, from the trembling neophyte before the first gig to a hardened, widely experienced comedian a year later. And if you carry on writing the blog, it will continue to document your progress as you build up your career performing live comedy. Adding links to clips of your act on YouTube, and to any other website you have been on or you just like, is also useful. This again helps build up a community of friends whose feedback can become invaluable. Every time you send an email, put the blog address at the bottom of the message to encourage traffic. Be active on the web. At gigs, talk to other comedians and keep in touch via these free mediums. Share information, such as warnings about dangerous audiences or smelly venues (or indeed smelly audiences and dangerous venues).
The blog is a good way of getting information to potential audiences on where you are going to perform in the future. Blogs, like Facebook, YouTube pages and Twitter, are also invaluable for the comedian because people browse them and can come across your name easily. Just remember the gimmick, a good profile name and photo that people will recognise. Ed Aczel’s befuddled face makes him look like someone who would wear their trousers inside out and not notice. His unusual name and style of delivery are examples of good marketing. As is Jimmy Carr’s publicity material, which is slick and neat. Like him.
From Performing Live Comedy, Methuen Drama (Bloomsbury)