Something you often hear about in business is branding. Whether it’s a SkinnyGirl Cocktail or your wireless provider, branding is how we create an identity.
How does this relate to comics?
Comedy is the one entertainment profession where you aren’t hiding behind a script or a song to perform. It’s your recent breakup, experiences with depression, or your highbrow opinion on AMBER alerts being judged and picked apart.
For comics the concept of branding can be confusing because we go on stage saying what is on our mind. How exactly do you call that a brand?
This is where comics often find themselves at a disconnect because many fail to think of comedy as a business. You need to remember that you are always selling yourself (your brand).
Here are some simple strategies to begin building your comedy brand provided by yours truly.
Create a stage persona.
How does one exactly create their stage persona?
You have to ask yourself several things: what are you trying to convey? What/who inspires you?
One of my best tips to start building a persona is to watch stand up comedy religiously and analyze your favorite comics.
For example, I have three favorite comics: Chris D’Elia, Tom Segura, and Tommy Johnagin. On certain levels I identify with their stand up styles. I enjoy the in-your-face nature of the topics Chris D’Elia discusses while Tommy Johnagin’s and Tom Segura’s stage presence is something I identify with because mine is similar energy. Watching your favorite comics will help you shape your own stand-up indefinitely.
Once you have done this, you need to figure out what you want to discuss and what point of view you want to take. Are you someone who wants to discuss politics, race, current events, dark comedy, etc? Do you take a concerned viewpoint or are you more of a tell-it-like-it-is comic?
Honing this persona also emphasizes the “trial and error” approach of going on stage and practicing. Maybe you thought something could work for your persona, but it really doesn’t? Doing this helps you fine tune things so you remain authentic to yourself.
Figure out your audience.
This step can be tricky especially in the first years of comedy. For the most part we are only thinking about getting better on stage.
However, it’s incredibly important to know your audience to further shape your brand and see what types of audiences work for you. To find your audience you pretty much have to try your stand-up everywhere, whether it’s your hometown, on the road, or right here in New York City.
One of the best things I’ve learned is that you should never underestimate your appeal as a comic. Case in point, I recently went to Levelland, Texas, with Comedians on the Loose for a charity fundraiser to benefit the Wallace Theater. I’ve built upon my brand as the “Gay, Mexican comic with a knack for dark humor and a tell-it-like-it-is persona.” I have even been described as “the person who no one can admit they truly are at their core.” Not sure if that’s a good thing, but oh well.
This persona works for me in New York City where diversity is immediately welcomed and I know I’ll always have an audience in bigger cities; however, Levelland is the exact opposite of NYC: conservative and small town.
I had anxiety about whether my comedy would work in Texas or if I’d be hunted down; much to my surprise, after cleaning up a few bits and tailoring to accommodate a more conservative crowd, my comedy worked for the Levelland audience and it was a lesson to never limit where you can show yourself.
Maybe your path to a mainstream audience is starting with small towns on the road? Maybe it’s college crowds or even the prison system (believe me, it’s possible)?
Finding your audience is not easy but the rewards are endless once you know where you fit.
Own it and know when to evolve.
Once you have identified your stage persona and audience, it’s your job to own what you have and know when to change it up.
This requires an understanding of our audience and evolving with them so they keep coming back to see you. Comics like Joan Rivers and Chelsea Handler have done this effortlessly by evolving their personas gradually and not doing a complete 180 on us. They maintained a consistency on their path to success and consistency is key.
For us that can mean what we talk about or how we present ourselves. No one’s life ever remains the same for too long and that’s the beauty of stand up: sharing our experiences.
Got questions or thoughts? Comment below and let us know what you think!