New York is one of the two main destinations that most stand up comedians are ultimately fixated on. In a lot of ways, if you are talking about purely stand up, it is “the” destination. Most comedians know this, and that is why so many have made plans to move here…some comics’ plans are firmer than others. I meet a lot of comics coming through and checking it out with intentions to move, and most of them have some misconceptions about what doing comedy in NY is like day in, day out. Here are a few things I have learned in my time here that might help those who are planning on moving, or at least thinking about it.
1. In many ways, you will be starting over. I can’t stress enough how much being a big fish somewhere else does not matter. This city is filled with big fish. To the surprise of some, no one is keeping track of the comedy rankings for other cities. You are not going to be able to hop on a bunch of shows right when you get to NYC. You are actually going to take a big hit in the stagetime department, even with everything going for you. I visited NY a bunch of times before moving and was able to do several of the good shows (I strongly recommend visiting btw), but it is a different thing once you make the move. Everything is on a larger scale, so it takes more time for people to know who you are and that you live here. This is why the most valuable thing you have is your skillset as a comedian. Good sets beget future shows. The more consistent you are with the shows that you do, the more people see that you are consistent. Keep in mind it takes being out every night for months before people get it in their head that you live here and are out a lot.
Most shows (and I mean smaller booked shows. Not open mics, which I will get to later)…most shows are not what you would consider optimal conditions. Very small crowds. Uninterested people barked in from the street…it is very important to remember not to throw a set and basically say “fuck it” because you’d rather look like you’re not trying. These are the type of shows that make you better. My friend nate puts it like this: “a lot of shows in NY are like swinging 2 bats.” It’s true, because after a bunch of the 2 bat shows, a regular show with an attentive crowd feels like no problem. I personally love going up to a dead crowd and seeing how much I can elevate the show. Not caving goes a really long way. Acting like you are too cool for shit comes off really bad.
2. You Might Be Pleasantly Surprised. The scene is not as “cut throat” as you might think. There are so many really supportive people who want to see the scene thrive as a whole. I am always overhearing comics talk about other comics while they are not around, and in a positive way. One of my favorite things is that there are so many really funny comics that you have never heard of, and that work really hard. I have really enjoyed being surrounded by comics who are clearly as “all in” as I am. You can’t just coast on being good. You gotta be constantly progressing. Your act talks, bullshit walks.
3. You Can Get Stuck In a Corner If You Aren’t Careful. It’s a really big scene, which is broken up into a bunch of scenes. When you first move, it is easy to decide you are comfortable in a specific scene and then end up not venturing out because other places were seemingly not as welcoming at first….That is just how it is kinda. It isn’t that people are snubbing you, they just don’t know you yet, and you could be gone tomorrow, or you could be insane. Over time, your act will speak for you, and everyone will see you are alright. Steer clear of people who don’t venture out of their zone, but have strong opinions about everyone over at such an such being dickheads. You don’t wanna hang around those goobers. Give everywhere a chance, and after a while you’ll see where you like or don’t like hangin.
4. Open Mics. Open mics in NY are exactly how people describe them. They are comprised of 100% comedians, and at most, you get 3 minutes or less. This isn’t the end of the world or anything. Just accept them for what they are. In all likelyhood, you will be doing open mics most of the time for a while, and you never just stop going to them completely. Certain things are a waste of time at open mics. There is no need for the same type of trickery that works with actual crowds. Think of it as “pretend time” if you want, or some kind of meet up… and definitely don’t get yer panties in a bunch if a line you thought was a sure laugh gets nuthin. It may well be a sure laugh, just not in a room of comics. No one has it out for you, so don’t have a meltdown or somethin. At first, you are gonna totally get stonewalled because no one knows you. As people get to know you and see that you are around, they will make an effort to listen and play audience member, and you might get some worthwhile feedback. The open mic scene is its own sort of subculture. There are a tons every night. Some are super shitty and filled with weirdos. Some have a good vibe with cool people. Over time, you figure out which ones are productive for you and you go there to get an idea how somethin works. Just be sure to use the mic to work on material and not get caught up in inside jokes and commenting on everything before you for your whole three minutes. And btw, 3 minutes is plenty of time to figure out a new thing at one time. Just be sure to respect the room. This isn’t a crowd of shitty people. They are comics who don’t know you yet, so don’t act like you are above them or something because you are used to doing better shows…everyone is.