Comedians and clubs find woes, not laughs, in the business of comedy.

Dylan Houston has always been a funny kid. No matter the situation, he has a knack for getting people to crack a smile.

When he moved from Kansas City, Mo., to San Francisco at age 18, he saw it as an opportunity to turn his gift into a career and decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy. He spent a few weeks writing his material and practicing his delivery with a friend who shared his dream of working the Los Angeles comedy club scene.

But at their first open mic performance, reality set in.

“I had five minutes of material, and I got exactly zero laughs,” Houston said. “I kind of realized then that maybe comedy wasn’t the career I thought it would be for me.”

The first hurdle in stand-up comedy is the one Houston couldn’t overcome: Actually getting into the business. But the difficulties of stand-up don’t stop there, a variety of obstacles exist in the industry for both performers and comedy clubs alike.

After finally breaking into the business, comedians are immediately confronted with a new challenge: Making money.

A study by Connected Comedy, a business that provides marketing and career advice for comedians, surveyed 137 comics to see how much money the average comedian makes. Of those surveyed, 66 percent said they make less than $100 a month.

“The money problems are definitely tough starting out,” said Brandon Murphy, a 23-year-old comic from Kansas City. “I mean, one time I drove six hours to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for a gig. I did five minutes and didn’t even end up getting paid.”

Murphy started doing stand-up at the age of 19. After honing his act at open-mic nights for more than a year, he is now a featuring act at multiple clubs in the Kansas City area, but those only pay $20-$40 a night, he says.

Money aside, Murphy says the most challenging aspect of the industry for him was his age.

“Being 19 and trying to get work was hard,” he said. “Many clubs want you to bring your own friends for an audience, and since all my friends weren’t 21, of course they weren’t going to pay money for me to bring in people that couldn’t even buy drinks.”

The difficulties of the comedy business aren’t limited to the performers like Murphy, though. Managers of comedy clubs struggle to deal with audience’s expectations as well.

Jeff Glazer, the co-founder of Stanford and Son’s Comedy Club in Kansas City, Kan., said people’s lack of knowledge about how the stand-up industry works can be frustrating.

“A lot of people just want to see comics who they’ve seen on television, but what they don’t understand is a lot of those comedians command $25,000 to $250,000 a night,” he said. “It would be like people out at a small concert shouting that they wanted Elvis or Michael Jackson on stage.”

To combat this way of thinking, Glazer tries to bring in up-and-coming comics who have something to attach their name too, like a movie or a special.

“We’ll bring in guys like T.J. Miller so we can say ‘Look, he was in She’s Out of My League’ and that gets people in the seats.”

Houston’s disappointment in his first and only stand-up experience was made worse by the performance of his friend, who won the event and gained the upper-hand in the industry. But even with the bitter start and end, he says his attempt at comedy was still worth it.

“I know I failed and it wasn’t for me,” he said. “But if I would have paid attention to all the reasons not to try it, I definitely wouldn’t have gone on stage. I couldn’t live my life knowing I didn’t at least give it a try.”

Video: Stanford and Son’s Comedy Club Director of Operations, Jeff Glazer.

https://vimeo.com/63373534

 

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University professors find that improv provides more than just laughs

Professors at the University of Kansas say improvisational acting extends beyond comedy and jokes and into everyday lives.

Transcript:

Improvisational acting is commonly associated with the kind of hijinks you might see on a show like this one, “Who’s Line is it, Anyway.” But theatre professors at the University of Kansas say it provides much more than just laughs from Wayne Brady.

For instance, Nicole Hodges Persley, a teacher of improvisational acting at the University of Kansas, leads an improv group who do much more than work with funny props.

The group, which is made up of students, create and perform skits designed to teach employees how to deal with social issues in their work place, like racism.

Hodges Persley says adding humorous improv into the serious topics they work with helps make them more personable with their audience.

“We use comedy because it helps people relate. No one wants to be labeled as a person who engages in acts of discrimination, even if everybody does and everyone has. But i think when you add a little bit of humor to it, it kind of makes people feel, ‘Okay, someones laughing about the fact they did that, maybe I can do it now.”

Leslie Bennet, who is also a theatre professor at KU, says learning how to improvise can teach beneficial skills to those outside of comedy and theatre as well.

“One of the first rules of that kind of improv is always say yes. What a skill to have in life, you know? If you are in a situation where life always throws mega curveballs at us, to be trained in ‘yes and’ helps us to be more resilient.”

This has been Cody Kuiper, for Funny Folks.