I had an interview recently with a question I’m sure all comedians love:
How do you manage to sustain yourself just by being a stand up comedian? 😉
Now I’m not criticizing the interviewer. I’m honored to be interviewed in the first place and overall it was a great chance for people to get to know me better. Nor am I criticizing the general wonderment that a person could “just” be a stand-up comedian (or any performer) and survive- the term “starving artist” came about for a reason. I guess I’m criticizing the use of the word “just”.
Being a comedian takes hard work. It means sacrificing a lot of time and more often than not facing disappointment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a joke that I thought would be hilarious and then had it fall flat. Learning how to quickly recover from such a failure is crucial to stand-up. It also means pushing hard to achieve something and then watching that disappear for reasons entirely out of your control. You learn a lot about the world this way- just like in any other job.
That’s why I think “just” a stand-up comedian is not the right way to look at it. Whether you have a day job or not, you can get a lot of experience by applying what you learn on the stage to other aspects. I’ve already written about how comedy helps you as a professional businessman, but being a professional businessman also helps you as a comedian. Think of how many times you have had a project or report you thought would go well and it failed- you’ll be doing a lot of that as a comedian as well! And how about when you’re trying to set your budget for travel- wouldn’t it be better to have at least a basic understanding of credit/debt?
Yes, many comedians have a day job while starting out. And yes, many comedians will find themselves depending on that day job while pursuing stand-up as more of a hobby than anything else. But the comedians who commit themselves to comedy right out of the gate will more likely than not find themselves depending on agents, managers, bookers, etc. to handle the business/personal side. I firmly believe that by having a marketable day job (especially in a field you can use for your future career) you are growing yourself as a professional and standing heads above the rest of your competition. So next time someone asks how I sustain myself “just” by being a stand-up comedian, to me I don’t have a day job and a night job- I just have the one.
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