A while back I wrote about the preliminaries for the second Bud Light "Ladies of Laughter" comedy series. Since there are far fewer outlets for women to shine in comedy (let alone opportunities involving large cash prizes), I wanted to keep you posted. One hundred women performed in the preliminary event at clubs in New York and New Jersey. Twelve finalists were then chosen to perform at Resorts Atlantic City, in front of a packed audience and judges from Comedy Central, The Rosie O'Donnell Show, ABC Television, and Resorts Atlantic City Hotel Casino.
The winner in the "Professional Comedienne" category was Patty Rosborough, who was awarded $2,500. A comedienne I've enjoyed in the past, Kerri Louise (this tri-athlete has great material about being fired from almost every job she's ever had), was runner-up, receiving a $1,000 award. I'm excited that comedienne Wendy Spero, who was also one of the panelists on the last Back Stage comedy panel, was the winner of another $1,000 award in the "New Comedienne" category. I've found Spero's quirky, but also brainy observations very refreshing, from her meeting her imaginary friends years later (and now being jealous of their imaginary lives) to the angst of realizing her baby sitters were only staying with her for the money. Spero's mom is a sex therapist, which I'm sure gave new meaning to take-your-daughter-to-work day in that family, and she uses that background giddily in her act. Newcomer Jessica Kirson was judged the runner-up, receiving $500. MC Sherry Davey should be cast as one of those great sidekicks or quirky characters on a sitcom. She shows the same versatility as another talented character Brit, Tracy Ullman.
So, whether you've been doing sets for awhile, or this season will be your first, you can now put yourself in training for the next Bud "Ladies of Laughter" event. Even if you're not a comedienne, show support to one of the women you know in the business and get her psyched to prepare a solid set for next summer. Why plan for next year's event already? Because it's important for all of us to have doable long term goals. This is crucial for those of you writing me in September (that back-to-school month where children of all ages wish for a fresh start) about how beaten you feel and how difficult it all is. When you've also got full time survival jobs, find being in clubs expensive and demanding because of the bring-your-own-audience requirements, or for whatever reason can't get into a consistent rhythm of regularly doing stage time, you need to set your sights on possibilities, and not on negatives. Look at what you can do.
If you aren't performing nightly, are you performing weekly? If not, are you at least out there in clubs watching others, and putting yourself in a position to hear what's new on the circuit? That's how you'll discover where people are finding open mikes, schools, and coaches. It will also help you weed out the opportunities from the rip-offs. Make it a realistic goal to get yourself doing time once a month, whether it's joining a stand-up or improv class, sketch group, open mike, doing time in someone else's club or cabaret showcase, or even performing in a show you produce yourself.
Comedy headliner Sunda Croonquist, who recently opened for Ray Charles, began her Femme Fatales comedy nights in NYC because she rarely got as much stage time as she needed. By creating her own showcase, she also gave many other performers their first regular sets, and they then featured her in their projects. (It is important to acknowledge producing is hard work. Eventually, you will be expected to get stage time in other venues where you aren't producing as well.) Working once a month, it may take you longer to get experience, but you will get it, plus you can still always be writing and refining.
If bringing audience is your problem, create a small support circle of good friends, family, significant others, and, particularly, other comics (who you can then also promise to support). Don't try to impress club managers by bringing scores of people until you need to. Save your big audience gathering 'til you're ready to go to a club with audience requirements that will also provide you with a good-looking audition tape. If you don't know anyone, find a survival job that provides access to more people (such as office temping, or waitressing and bartending in venues that have loyal regulars).
Now, I want you to ask yourself honestly whether you've really looked into every possibility for an outlet for your comedy. September is the time I get the most calls from people who have a friend interested in doing comedy, looking for my suggestions of where to start performing. Nine times out of 10, that person is only looking for clubs near where they live, or with shows at times convenient for them—that's not my idea of someone who really wants to be in this business.
My favorite example to use about longterm comedy commitment is the very funny comedienne Jane Condon, a magazine writer as well as a suburban mom. Over the years, she has gathered other writers with an interest in doing stand-up (especially those well known in the political arena) and presented wonderful shows called "Boomer Humor." When I first started booking Jane back at the Duplex in NYC, she performed once a year, opening for a choir she'd connected with in Connecticut, where she lives. Now, years later, she does her Boomer shows once every month or two.
Condon is also one of the smart comediennes joining their material with illustrators. She currently has two cartoon calendars out, and you, too, can follow the lead of other comediennes involved with comic strips featured in major women's magazines and on the Internet. It's just one of the many ways you can use your comedic talent when you can't get stage time.