I have been a practicing writer and comedian for about five years now. I have enjoyed a lot of things about being an artist of this variety, including throwing joy around like candy at a parade, creating meaningful content that helps other humans to feel less alone, and the adrenaline rush that comes right before someone announces my name to bring me up on stage. When I made the choice to focus on growing my artistic career, it was partly in response to the frustration that I was feeling both in my corporate office and in the traditional structure of comedy shows and practices. Because of this, I was determined to create my own path. Although the "comedy scene" is artistic and independent, it can still feel like a corporation at times. (Read: lots of asses to kiss.) Because I'm not good at "playing the game," I decided to strike out on an even further independent venture: creating my own show.
I've had a lot of success with Babe Roar's UPROAR show at Wholly Craft in Columbus, Ohio. We've sold out every show, and although it is a small audience, tickets go fast and are in high demand. Before you call me out for bragging, I created this show from scratch, and I am proud of it. I think we should all be more willing to express pride in our accomplishments. Moreover, I succeeded in creating an environment that is highly ethical and sustainable for me, the venue, and the audience.
When I was considering putting my own show together, I started thinking about what I would want it to look and feel like. I have been around the comedy scene in my city for a long time, and although it has flourished in recent years, I still felt like some things were missing. I wanted my show to provide those things, such as a space where female comics feel empowered, a space where queer people felt comfortable to enjoy comedy, and a monetary exchange system that was fair and transparent. Since I've successfully created a space that I am proud of and happy that exists in my community, I wanted to provide a few tips for those who desire to create something new. If you don't know where to start, here is how UPROAR evolved from frustration to finished product.
Show Up. Be present in your community. When you are present, it's much harder to make snap judgments about motivations behind peoples' actions.
Meet "the players" and learn "the rules." Ingratiate yourself to the space. Don't show up with an attitude. Be a sponge. Your job is to figure out the way your peers/colleagues think and WHY they do the things they do. Be curious, ask questions, and don't talk shit.
Continue showing up. Understand that you must learn the rules before you can break them, and that it will take time. While you're in the process, make yourself known. Build a solid reputation that you can stand on once the time comes to be more independent. If your colleagues trust you, they'll also trust your intent behind your actions. This will help you when your next endeavor is still finding footing.
Discern how the players and the rules make you feel. By rules, I mean social or organizational guidelines set in place by the people who come before you. Be critical about which ones make sense to you and which ones do not. What makes you feel valuable? What makes you feel invaluable? Where do your role models succeed and where do they fail you ethically? For instance, when a showrunner puts a lot of time and energy into making sure I know all of the details of a show many weeks in advance, I feel valued. When a showrunner asks me to host or headline a show, gets paid beaucoup bucks from the venue and gives me a minuscule cut, that makes me feel invaluable. To me, those are also both examples of ethical successes and failures.
Break the rules. Some rules are stupid and meant to be broken. A good example is when I began to ask why I wasn't getting paid to feature on a show where they collected money at the door. Although it felt like a social faux pas, if someone is asking for labor and collecting money for an audience to enjoy your work, you are absolutely entitled to ask why you aren't getting a cut (or to ask for a bigger cut!).
Innovate old practices. Just because it's the way something has always been done doesn't mean you're beholden to a tradition. For example, I was tired of spending late nights in dive bars to perform comedy, so I explored an alternative space: a female owned craft store. They donate the space so that comedians can be paid more, and we bring in customers who discover the store and buy things: win-win.
Proceed with caution. At this point, you'll have learned a lot about the community around you. Some things will surprise you in good ways and in bad ways, but don't let them slow you down. If you encounter a difficult situation, take a beat and think about how you feel best about handling the situation. You've broken free from powerlessness and have moved on to strategically empowering yourself; don't take a step back.
These are the steps that I took to create a creative career that makes me feel empowered, happy, and sane. If you want to give them a shot yourself, let me know how they go! If they don't work for you, do your own thing. Remember, some rules are stupid and meant to be broken.
Find more about UPROAR here!