I have been listening to Rick Rubin's 'The Creative Act: A Way of Being' on audiobook and there's a line that really stood out to me:
"The world isn’t waiting for more of the same."
The driving idea behind The Other Comedy Company was that we were going to be different than what came before us and ahead of what the mainstream currently understands.
What Came Before Us?
There's a large chasm between the reality of standup comedy in Canada and the perception of standup comedy in Canada.
Before, it was commonplace to leverage the venue's brand over the comedian's brand. The rationale being that comedians would be bad for business if they had negotiating power. There was a perception of permission created by the people who stood to gain the most from controlling the environment.
Can't be a comedian if you can't perform in a club, right?
This is drastically changing with the rise of independent comedy clubs or as I like to call them, "Incubator Spaces". These spaces are responsibly running within their margins, providing comedians with both stage time and paying their acts equally. These spaces are godsends to their local communities because they provide a space for comedians to actively work on their craft while fostering a community unique to their brand and vision.
If you're not actively touring the road, living in a city with solid incubator spaces is where you'll want to be because you'll instinctively challenge yourself to become a better, more well-rounded comedian.
On the flip side, if you are touring the road, there's a big change happening now that didn't exist before.
Comedians are starting to share their secrets.
American success showed the value of incubator spaces on a macro level where independent comedians started using the internet to teach each other how to scale independently. Comedians are being equipped with the tools to market themselves, cultivate their own audience, produce their own specials and generate enough income to employ others.
This is not a threat to mainstream brands who operate under old school models. If mainstream brands don't adapt to the fact that gatekeepers and kingmakers are a thing of the past then they'll die out but this can be easily rectified by improving the employee experience (for both staff and comedians) : provide benefit packages, clear contracts with a mutually agreed upon work agreement, clear expectations, growth paths, educational opportunities, skill programs and so much more.
If incubator spaces help comedians develop their craft, then mainstream clubs would be in a prime position to leverage their market power and resources to create a business incubator teaching comedians the business side of show business.
The problem stands that as long as mainstream clubs see comedians as hungry strays willing to sit for scraps; independent comedians will continue to struggle to scale their career in a direction that pays them a livable wage. They will also be more vulnerable to mental illness and addiction. Creating a vicious loop for the individual but a convenient state for the profiteer.
The world is ready for change. "The world isn't waiting for more of the same."
What Does The Mainstream Currently Understand?
The paying public is conditioned to purchase tickets to a comedy show where the comedians will tell jokes and stories that entertain them. It doesn't matter who's on the show. The product is the same: Show, Food & Drink, Entertainment, Go Home. The craft incubator model disrupts this by providing a space for the individual comedian to grow their individual audience. The business incubator model that I suggest mainstream clubs adopt would provide a space for comedians to work under the conditioned model while also equipping comedians with the education and resources they need to scale.
This also provides ample room and opportunity to educate the public, foster a larger appetite for standup as an entertainment option and set new expectations that raise the bar of both professionalism and experience.
No one is getting ahead by staying the same. We can grow together without fearing competition. We can choose to rise with the tide. Maybe it requires a smidge less greed, or ego, or selfish motives; but if we choose not to vilify that behaviour and instead understand it was a result of our education at the time, then we can forgive each other for whatever rifts were created within the confines of that system.
The commitment to build this business came from the conviction of doing things differently. I wanted to make the company I always wanted to work for. It also came from recognizing that our power isn't in our sameness, but in our differences. We're better to accept each and move forward together than fight over pieces of pie.
I do want to clarify that when I refer to mainstream clubs, that not all mainstream clubs exhibit the same behaviour. There are many clubs committed to fostering long-term employment and show quality that are going to bat for comedians and to those clubs I say God Bless Ya and keep up the good work.
If you're a comedian or a business-builder in the comedy space and you would like to meet to discuss these ideas further please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set up a virtual coffee chat.