No Pithy Title, Just Get Some Goddamn Professional Headshots
You'd think some things in this industry would go without saying, and yet...here we are.
For all the "up and coming" comedians out there, this is for you. The number one piece of advice you need to take on board right now. If you're going to be pushing for more gigs and a higher profile, YOU NEED TO GET PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOTS.
I cannot stress this point enough. That's why the capslock got involved.
Audiences are always looking for reasons not to like you. Australian comedy is hamstrung by the tragedy of the commons. The perception is that if a comic is on TV then they're good, and if they aren't on TV then they must be deficient in some way - good comics are on television, this comic is not on television, ergo this comic is not a good comic. As syllogisms go it's one of the worst I've seen and it's something we all have to deal with.
So right from the start, you have to convince the audience that you aren't some nickel-and-dime schmuck who just walked in from the open mic, even if you are. Especially if you are. You do this is by looking professional.
An audience's perceptions of you are contaminated long before you take the mic out of the stand (this is, of course, a figurative term - I never take the mic out of the stand). By the time you've gone halfway across the stage, they've already judged you and come to their own conclusions. You can play with those preconceptions, and we'll deal more with that later, but you never start a show tabula rasa.
More often than not the audience has a preconception of you as an individual and the show as a whole long before that show even starts. That preconception begins with the marketing.
There is an assumption that people will always make - that a professional comedian (and I use the term professional here to indicate a certain calibre of comic, because sure as shit none of us are getting paid what we're worth) will follow certain "rules". Whether these rules are logical or not isn't germane. Your average Joe Punter will just assume that when a comic progresses past the open mic level their talent is scouted and they're signed with a major agency to await their fame and riches. That, at some point, the Headshot Fairy will come by and deliver a fresh batch of 8x10 glossies to declare that you have "made it".
And, by transitive property, if you do not have a headshot then you have not "made it" and you are not an officially ordained comedian, sanctioned and sanctified by the Archdiocese of Lulz.
And it frustrates the shit out of venue runners.
I don't run a room at the moment because it's fucking hard work. Way more work than the payoff is worth. It's almost impossible to drag people through the door for a show that you can guarantee, with a 90% degree of accuracy, that they're going to enjoy. Back when I did run a room the hustle was nearly non-stop. I'd be dragging people in kicking and screaming until they were forced - reluctantly - to admit that they'd had a great time. And something that made this already Sisyphean task infinitely harder was when I (when I say "I" I mean Jacques, I don't talk to people) had booked a comedian who was up to the quality of the show I was trying to put on and they didn't have a goddamn headshot. They had no promo shots at all.
At best they had some Facebook profile photo of them looking "funny".
At this point I might as well have been putting out a press release saying "come on down to the Chuckle Hut and see 3 top-quality professional comics, plus some random clod that we dragged in off the street."
Get some goddamn headshots. It makes you easier to book. Does that light up the reptile part of your brains? Because if presented with two roughly equal talent comics and one of them has shots and the other doesn't, guess who's getting booked? That's right - the man.
Ha, comedy. But seriously, we're going with the one that's easier to sell. Comedy is like vaccination - no shot, no play.
As a final bit of sweetener, you should know that headshots do a lot of the character setup work for you. A photo of you in character saves you from having to do that establishment work on stage because the audience will already have a sense of what they're going to get.
Take a look through my headshots and see how many of them feature me smiling. There is exactly one, and even then it looks pained. I don't smile, I wear designer clothing, I've had my hair did, I'm wearing all black - I'm obviously not going to be telling dick jokes or doing pullback-reveals.
Yes, audiences still get the wrong idea and expect that I'm going to tell jokes or be funny, but at least I've tried to warn them. And it's given them an opportunity to do even a little bit of research. It doesn't always work, but every little bit helps.
So help us, help the bookers, and most importantly - help yourselves. Get some goddamn professional photos. That means you find someone that has an actual camera - not their iPhone - and you take a couple of thousand photos on the off chance that one of them makes you look like you give a fuck.
Because if you look like you don't care, why should the crowd?
Written to: X Gon' Give It To Ya - DMX