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Comedy: The Scene vs. The Industry

Conquering the comedy scene is a crucial (if not the most crucial) step in becoming a successful comedian. The scene is where you learn about yourself, other comics, and audiences to hopefully mold yourself into the best comic possible.

While navigating the scene is an essential part of your experience in comedy, many forget that there is a fundamental gap between the scene and the industry.

What do I mean by the scene and the industry? This has been something I have been learning in the past couple of years and producing has helped me to understand it more, but the comedy scene is where you develop and the industry is a place where you better have your shit together if you really want to play.

It’s easy to get into the scene, but it’s difficult to get into the industry. Too often, I notice comics believing that because they are a regular on the open mic circuit, they are running a bar show, or the manager of a small club gets them spots (unpaid) on “professional” shows that suddenly they are industry.

The truth is they haven’t even scratched the surface and unless you are getting paid and there are contracts, detailed planning, and further levels to achieve, you still haven’t bridged the gap from the scene to the industry.

Here are my thoughts.

There are many different scenes, but there is only one industry

There are a plethora of differing comedy scenes just in this country alone and it’s often decided geographically. For example, there’s the New York comedy scene, but there are also tremendous scenes in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and so forth. Every major city has its own scene with different comics, styles, and audiences. It’s also a different mixture of venues that are usually smaller scale and at the local level. For comics, just because you’re well known in one scene doesn’t mean you’ll be known in another.

The industry is more interconnected. Think about agencies like CAA and networks like NBC that are seen as heavy hitters in the industry, especially for comedy. These entities have at least a national reach and often work together to produce the best talent for projects.

I like to think of the industry as all the scenes mashed up into one. There is no set physical location for an industry as the work can take you anywhere and once you begin making a name for yourself, it’s almost like wildfire.

Sometimes it can look like someone had overnight success, but the truth is it takes years on the scene to get to this level. Even comics like Kevin Hart and Amy Schumer had to wait years before they were considered industry level to hit their strides.

Being strong on the scene doesn’t mean you’ll make it in the industry

It’s a hard pill to swallow but the business has no guarantees for making it and it’s especially sad when you see people who have been doing things for ten, twenty, or even thirty years and they still haven’t been able to find their path to a consistent career.

One confusing element of the comedy scene as that there are really no rules as to what you can do for your craft. We’re all just figuring things out at the end of the day, but when it comes to industry where people in power have to assess if your brand of comedy can make them money, trust that they will be more selective in choosing who gets a special, who is headlining a professional show, or who they choose to represent. If your brand isn’t solid and you don’t have a plan, over time you’ll see other comics with more business savvy get the opportunity because they knew how to better market their brand.

The industry is NOT about you

This may sound a little cold and unfeeling, but the industry is not about you. The industry will always be about the industry. It’s a cutthroat environment that means you leave your ego at the door because you are there to work and everything you do will be for the good of the industry.

This is another contrast between the scene and the industry because I notice too often emotions are visible in the scene (someone’s feelings are hurt, you have a beef with someone, etc.). It can be summed up to high school level crap fabricated out of sensitive egos that is only seen as a hindrance for business.

Martha Stewart gave advice to women in business that I believe transcends to everyone: “you should never cry in business.” You can be passionate about what you do, but hurt feelings and tears mean nothing to an industry that is emotionless and doesn’t care if you’re upset you didn’t get into a festival, you perceived someone made fun of your comedy, or someone didn’t give you a spot on their show.

Even when it comes to friendships in the industry, you have to understand that industry people are colleagues. If you put too much emotion into the relationships, it will eventually backfire.

Theoretically, your audience at a comedy club represents the industry. You’re there to please them, not to make your sensitivities known. If you sensitive on the scene, then be prepared for a lot of heartache in the actual industry.

What are your thoughts on the scene vs. the industry? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!

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