April 16, 2014

Day Jobs & Stand-Up

I was having a bad day at work. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I work as a leasing agent in one of the towers downtown, which is a lot of talking to strangers and being excited for their new job or their getting engaged and moving in together. I was upset I had to use my time at my 9-5 instead of creating art.

And then I decided to shift my attitude. This was my art, talking to these strangers and trying to sell them on an apartment is very similar to doing crowd work and selling yourself to the audience. A lot of the times my rentals end up picking our building over one of the very similarly priced ones because they like me. That human aspect we explore in art is what makes one product stand out from another that is very similar, and maybe even a better price! You have to make people care. The same is true with stand-up. Even if you are a more abrasive comic, in order to make people want to hear your point of view you have to make them care. There are A LOT of comics and other artists out there. The market is saturated, but why should they listen to your podcast, your album?

Another great thing about my job is that I get exposure to an audience, daily. My dad was in real estate as well, and he always said “everything is a tax write off, because I meet clients everywhere!” I am not qualified to give tax advice, but he is right. Every person you encounter in life is a potential fan. If they like me and I mention I do stand-up it makes the elevator ride more enjoyable but it also means I get to give one of my fliers to someone who now likes me as a person and wants me to succeed.

Here are some of the other things I have learned at my day job:

*How to keep material fresh & how to talk to the audience not AT them

After taking seven tours in a day and showing all of them the pool and grill area, I don’t care the grilling area is open “even in the winter” but these people do. This is their first time seeing the building, just like a lot of your audience is seeing you for the first time. Be part of their excitement and discover it with them.

*The importance of prompt follow up

With apartment sales if you wait a week to check in with someone, they have already rented elsewhere. Same applies with booking a stand-up show. If they have forgotten about you, it’s too late.

*Punctuality

With any job you can’t be late, but with a 401k kind of job you get fewer chances than working at a part time fast food joint. Treat your stand-up career to the same professional standards that a corporation would expect.

*Scheduling my day

A lot of stand-up comedians say they are bad at writing x amount of time or having consistent habits. Even if you aren’t the desk job type you need to have some discipline or your professionalism will suffer.

*Annunciation & Stamina

Sometimes when I’ve taken seven tours and talked about the same thing multiple times I get lazy, I slur my works and don’t project or make eye contact. I don’t perform to my best ability and then the client misses the most important part, whether that is the punch line or the application fee.

*Keeping the energy up

Some showings you can tell the people don’t like it, they are not going to rent with you. They have a baby grand piano- that isn’t going to fit. Keeping the energy up on that showing is hard when I know it isn’t going well, essentially it is the sales version of bombing. But you have to “do your time” and finish the tour.

*Thank others

I have gotten many gifts for helping people move in, which is what I am paid to do. But, they thanked me, and that stays with me and that affects our relationship. I am more likely to pull maintenance aside the next time their light bulbs go out even though it isn’t an emergency and see if they can quickly fix it. They went the extra mile, so I will too.

*Negotiation skills & Understanding Net Worth

You have to know the worth of the product you are selling. If I am trying to rent out the bottom floor unit that is next to the train and faces the street, asking my manager for an extension on that move in special is more likely than the top floor unit that overlooks the lake. Be honest with yourself as a product and know how much you are worth to the owner of a club. Some people like living on a lower floor, but it happens less frequently. If you are a comic that likes to do jokes about rape & dead babies, you are probably more like that lower floor apartment than the one that faces the lake. You are a harder sell to a club than a clean performer and it doesn’t mean you aren’t as good, you just aren’t as universal of a fit.

Even though it sucks that we have to go through having day jobs, every job you work has some skill that transfers over to stand-up if you link them creatively. When I got my finance minor in college (to make my parents happy) I remember thinking "I'm never going to remember or use half of these equations”, but the idea of “more risk, more reward” really hits home now. And I think of that concept every day and it is why all of us are performers. We might end up poor forever, but we also might make it and achieve our goals and be happy. Not everyone gets to work towards that kind of reward. So smile and be happy that everything you do in life helps your stand-up career and if you alter your attitude and look at each opportunity as a blessing and a learning experience the journey will be a lot more fun.

Much love

Contributing Writer - Melissa Richelle
Melissa is a comedian, writer and producer living/working in Chicago.