World Series of Comedy" (a week long comedy contest in Las Vegas) so I was able fly to Vegas and volunteer for the whole week. I had already performed in Canada earlier in the year because of this competition. Although I wasn’t one of the 101 comics that were competing for the prize, I figured I had learned a lot in Canada - why not test out Vegas? Even though I wasn’t in the running, I did get to perform at the late night shows, go to all of the seminars, and network.
It was a little like college for comedy in the time frame of overnight camp. Professionals came and talked about getting into the college market, finding your voice and marketing, all sorts of topics. The great thing was that you not only got to learn from people that know a hell of a lot more than you or your friends but they were there the whole week so you could actually have conversations with them without feeling terrible for trying to talk to a club manager when they are busy on a Friday night show in between the first and second show.
Since I was there for a week, I went a lot of comedy shows. And I noticed that unless you are Carrot Top (who was really nice and puts on an amazing show), it seems like it would be really hard to get stage time AND an audience in this town.
Vegas is not a walking city so people don’t just stroll into your bar show or mic- they have to have a car to get to you. I read a book called “Imagine- How Creativity Works” by Jonah Leherer and in the book they talk about how much creative stimulation happens when you live in a cramped city. People are forced to interact with each other. Even though we all complain about public transit being late or having urine-smelling homeless people- we are so blessed to have these interactions for our creativity and for the attendance of our shows. In Vegas people are there to gamble and see nudity. You have to have a great reason to distract them from those vices and sit in your audience.
Ralphie May puts on a free show there with amazing headliners like Alonzo Bodden. There was a good crowd but there were still some open seats. Really? Free and that amount of talent? All of the craps tables in the casino should have been empty.
In my week there I went to an open mic at a strip club, a dive bar, and the back of some store hosted by a drag queen. All were a lot of fun but the attendance of comics and audience members was worse than a Chicago mic where there is a sports game playing in the background at the bar.
The mic in the Dive Bar was so loud and unfocused on the comics I was amazed that I got the room to fall silent. I’m a decent comedian for being as new as I am, but in Chicago I am such a small fish in this pond. I don’t have anywhere near the same chops as some of the regular Laugh Factory and Jokes and Notes headliners that reside here. There however, I was at level with the people that have been in the game for eight years, because they don’t have as many opportunities as us to get up three or four times a night if they want to.
The fact that we have five to ten open mics to attend on any given night let alone all of the showcases and club shows happening here is amazing. My mind was blown when there were two mics a night and that was a busy night. I know I wasn’t there long enough to be immersed in their scene but I had two different Vegas locals showing me around and taking me to the “good mics”.
The mic at the strip club was crazy because they tried to charge me $45 cover because a taxi dropped me off. I told the woman at the front “I had my own tits, there was no way I was paying cover to see someone else’s” and was able to talk her into just charging me for an $11 drink after the $20 taxi ride (because there was no public transit to take me there and it was a 40-50 min walk).
Some of the professional shows I got to see there were Rita Rudner and Carrot Top. I learned a lot at both shows and the World Series of Comedy shows I went to. If you go to this week long competition - VOLUNTEER! Not just because it’s what a nice person would do, but it’s what a smart person would do. You get to befriend other comics, the people that run the event, you get to watch the shows for free and you get to learn about the business side of comedy.
Little things you look past if you are so stuck on the image of you being “a performer”. Things like seating people. You think you know, “yeah, yeah they want people in the front”. But until you try to politely force people in the front and not let them pick their own seats you don’t realize how important and hard this is. And because I volunteered to rip ticket stubs and seat people at The World Series shows this logic worked to my advantage when I went to see Rita Rudner.
Her show was on a Wednesday night and it was a larger venue that had tickets priced at different tiers so from really knowing how important it is to have us sitting up front I called the theatre and asked if the seats I was going to purchase were obstructed, they said “no”. Ok, if the show doesn’t sell out will they move people up front? The girl said yes, I then paid for the $60 seats and my family and I got moved up to the $120 seats. At Carrot Top I got the $70 ticket comped because I had networked with one of the performers earlier in the week.
Be funny and do your set but don’t be so focused on only doing that, that you miss out on other networking opportunities that involve you being in the audience or ripping ticket stubs. We have enough mics here where if you don’t get to work on a new four minutes this week, you can go to ten different mics in one night when you get back to Chicago because we are blessed with a great scene.
Contributing Writer - Melissa Richelle
Melissa is a comedian, writer and producer living/working in Chicago.