We all know this: comedians need to building a following.
There’s no way around it.
Building a following can be done in many ways (networking, meet and greets, getting consistently booked on shows, etc.) and it is often made to seem easy or to have happened overnight. Unfortunately, an overnight following for stand-ups is rarely ever the case and no one ever tells you the difficulties of building one. Here’s what I have learned.
How many followers you have will often be assessed before actual talent.
This is probably the saddest reality of this industry, but at the end of the day, it’s about business and getting asses in seats.
This was shown to us with the recent Stormy Daniels stand-up comedy revelation. She’s obviously not skilled enough to headline or even feature, but she has the advantage of gaining a following through spectacle. There are thousands of comedians that’ll get passed over for opportunities even if they have amazing talent because they don’t have as strong of a following as another comedian. This is just how it is with clubs, festivals, late-night, and so forth. If you don’t have a promising following that’ll actually come and watch you, talent means nothing on the business front. This is why we’ve seen an uprise in alternative acts (live podcasts, drag shows, YouTube comedians, etc.) at comedy clubs. They have that following that clubs can capitalize on and ultimately make money. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but this is what separates the industry players from the scene: your ability to show you have a measurable impact.
Starting a project doesn’t mean it’s YOUR following.
There is a big misconception that the projects comedians take part in or create themselves will get them followers. While this is true to an extent, it’s not as grand of a scale as we would hope. Think about something like a viral video. We remember the content, but over time, we typically forget who was actually in it or who produced it. The opposite angle of getting your followers to follow a project is likely more achievable, but hoping to gain a massive amount of individual followers through a project will only leave you disappointed.
Online followers don’t necessarily equate to actual followers.
Your true followers are the ones who actually come and see you perform. Plain and simple.
Social media might give some indication of online popularity, but social media has the habit of serving as a “best representation.” That comic that has 2,000+ followers on Twitter or Instagram will likely only be able to get a minimal amount (if any) to actually come and see them perform. Keep in mind, you can also buy followers (there are some cases I’ve felt are suspect); for newer comics, those online followers are probably more so your peers, which doesn’t count.
Cook rose to fame by using MySpace to promote himself and really was a trailblazer in social media marketing for entertainment. However, his promotion of himself didn’t stop there. He actually met fans that came to see him which further solidified his following. It really goes to show that both online and offline promotion for comedians is important and this is where many comics lack. Sure, we may not be at Dane Cook's popularity currently, but it doesn’t hurt to meet people after a set versus just doing a set and leaving. That meet and greet might make the difference for you further down the line because followers want to feel a deeper connection.
You have to evolve with your audience.
As performers, we are constantly trying to evolve in our careers and our craft, but to grow and maintain your following evolution has to be consistent. Your followers want you to evolve in a way that feels like if their tastes are changing, you’re matching what they “need.” For me, Amy Schumer is a prime example of not doing this. I used to like Amy Schumer about six years ago, but I feel like she never evolved as a comic. Her audience that she started with is for lack of better words getting older and she didn’t mature with a lot of her audience.
I was one of those people. What once felt like a smart comedian on a trajectory now feels more krass and over the top. All the jokes still seem similar to what she was writing six years ago, just written a little differently (oh and she’s a mom now). Some people may still be strong followers, but if I am just one who felt that way about her comedy, then imagine how many others feel that way.
Not being cognizant of your base audience is going to affect you down the line should you make it one day. Tick, tock.
Building a following is ultimately a process that takes a lot of work and can often take years, but it is something we need to actually work as comedians.
Be sure you have the talent to back it because the artform still needs to be respected. Otherwise, you may destroy what was built.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!