Behind the mic: Comedy careers and starting out

When you think of comedy in the Pacific Northwest, Tacoma Comedy Club is probably what comes to mind. Located downtown near the Theater District, Tacoma Comedy Club hosts some of the best comedians on the West Coast — from big names like Pablo Francisco and Greg Fitzsimmons to comedians just starting out on “New Talent Tuesday.”

I got to sit down with none other than Andrew Rivers, a comedian from right here in Washington. Rivers has been around the comedy circuit for some time now, but says he is still relatively new to the career.

He, like many others, ended up on a new career path after the 2008 recession. Rivers was given the advice by his father to “do anything because that will turn into something.” So, he bravely got up on stage and launched his comedy career. Rivers said that when he does this he feels like he belongs, “because comedy is just like a bunch of misfits.” This is something that a lot of comedians seem to relate to.

Rivers drew inspiration from comedians like Mike Birbiglia and Chris Titus. These comedians and many others talk about very personal problems and real world issues in a way that can reach many different people, making them think with how laughably true it is. Rivers acknowledges that he is not changing the world with what he does, but believes that this doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, “the goal is to brighten someone’s day.”

Comedy seems to be one of the hardest jobs to truly succeed in. Many of the comedians seen on Netflix and Comedy Central had to work at their craft for years to get to the level of success that they have now. Louis CK, for example, has been doing stand-up since 1985. Kevin Hart, a comedian that’s exceedingly popular with the younger generation, has been active in comedy for 15 years and has recently reached a level of fame unknown by many others.

Most comedians start their profession by attending open mic nights and local showcases for amateur comedians, performing anywhere possible. After years of hard work, Rivers says that the objective is “to get people to see you on purpose.” In other words, being sought out by people is a major step in any comedian’s career.

Washington is home for Rivers, but he spends time in many other places as well. He says that every city and state is cool and different but, “it’s all about the friends you have in the city.”  This brings up an aspect of the job that most are unaware of — the constant travel that’s necessary for a fruitful comedy career. Rivers, for example, has been to 40 states and Canada, but says “the road becomes less lonely because [he] has like 15 friends in each city.” Comedians, like those in many other entertainment industries, should travel and perform as much as possible to build a brand for themselves.

But what about amateur comedians who keep a day job in addition to their comedy career? Evenings and weekends are usually how these aspiring comedians put themselves on the map. Local aspiring comedian Brad Carr says, “It’s about getting to know others and reaching out to audiences you’d never thought you’d reach, much less get applause from.” When asked about managing a comedy career with responsibilities of everyday life, Carr said, “Setting a few days a week to go to open mics and work on your stuff with other people that know the struggle” is most helpful.

Tacoma is a great place to try to launch a career in comedy. In addition to the Tacoma Comedy Club, there is an open mic night called Peeled Bananas that is hosted in the local B Sharp coffee house. The Comedy Underground and Bob’s Java Jive also have weekly comedy nights. Whether you’re a comedian just starting out or a comedy enthusiast, these are all great places to check out — or even get up on stage!

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