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Worst Comedian Habit: Not Listening

Comedians are an interesting type of personality.

Out of all the performance professions, we’re the designated oddball and that works in many respects to the art form of comedy. Comedians need to be a little “off” to get audiences to believe in their overall performance (no one is interested in hearing from a perfect person).

While this tendency to be a bit “off” is helpful performance-wise, it can often manifest itself to one of the worst habits among comics: not listening.

How can not listening be bad for comics? Let me explain.

Not listening sets a negative tone.

Not many comics see it, but listening is so important for setting the tone of a working relationship. Not listening only creates a negative atmosphere.

I can remember a time when I was working with a comic almost two years ago. We were going to another state to perform for a charity event and everything had already been handled at that point: plane tickets, hotel booking, etc. Two weeks prior to the event we reached out to the comic to see if everything was in order. He responded saying he wasn’t sure his job was going to let him off because he hadn’t submitted for time off yet. This event and the comic were booked months in advance and he was instructed to handle everything well ahead of time. Him not listening to instructions caused for unnecessary stress that could have been avoided. He was ultimately able to go, but there was already an element of tension that (for me at least) made the experience a little less enjoyable.

Even with comics that I have worked with on our Gotham show. Several just don’t listen to instructions. They run the light, show up minutes before they’re supposed to go on stage, etc. Why they do this is likely related to ego, but it’ll never go over well in a professional situation. Behaving in such a way wouldn’t make any producer, agent, or casting director want to continue a relationship. They might deal with you at the moment, but don’t expect to be asked back.

People will question your legitimacy when you don’t listen.

When I first started comedy, I would always wonder why certain comics weren’t further along. What was the roadblock to them becoming successful?

It was their lack of listening ability.

You can be a brilliant writer and performer (many comics are), but when you accompany that with a personality that doesn’t listen, then it makes that brilliance shine less brightly.

So many comics also make the mistake of trying to sell themselves, but they don’t listen to what they need to do to satisfy requirements. I’ve even had comics send me booking requests only to be given nothing I ask for to move forward. For example, a comic reached out to me a few weeks ago to be booked on the Gotham show. After sending her elevator pitch, I asked the comic for a tape of her set to review; she sent me pictures of herself on stage and low-resolution headshots. Not exactly a tape, right?

Ultimately, I never received the tape I requested, and what was even more irritating is this comic was trying to sell herself by saying she opened for big-name comedians and headlined at major clubs. First off, those kind of credits are trackable so never falsely sell yourself, and with an internet deep dive, nothing of that nature was found. Not even a website. So I was right to question her legitimacy.

If you respond in a way that shows you don’t listen and that you only hear what you want to hear, don’t expect a relationship to move forward. It’ll usually stop and end right there.

The funny thing is listening in business isn’t really that difficult. Many want to say it’s difficult to listen, but for the effort it takes it doesn’t really pan out as being that way. Someone tells you what they need you to do for a job and you do it. Maybe some parts are a little more detailed, but for a comic, you should be able to deliver what is expected of you both on and off stage.

No one is expecting you to be perfect (hell, we ARE comics), but a visible effort to make the working relationship a good one will make a better impact on your career. Listening is just part of the equation.

Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!

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