When I started the kates eight years ago I was a struggling comedian. I just finished my first one woman show and loved the idea of writing and performing solo material but didn’t know what to do with that skill. My heart wasn’t in sketch and improv anymore. I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t want to move to a coast. I felt stuck. So like most lost performers I hung out with my friends and complained. A lot. A super lot. A super duper lot. That got boring.
So I decided to do something. I figured the only way to get unstuck was to work. I was going to become a better comedian and since no one was handing me gigs I decided to make my own. I found a free space at an indie bookstore, invited other lost (talented) women to perform, invited a few folks to watch. One performance became two - which became three - which turned into a monthly showcase called Comedy at Kate the Great’s Book Emporium. When the small Edgewater bookstore closed, I took the name the kates to our current location at The Book Cellar. I called it the kates to remind myself that no matter what happens in my comedy career I will always have the power to create my own opportunities and that I can choose to be surrounded by supportive, sparkly talented people. That’s how I became a producer/performer.
But here’s the rub. Producing and performing is a tricky balance. Sometimes producing absorbs all of your time and energy and doesn’t leave anything for the page or the stage. So how the heck do you do both? Well, I’m still trying to figure it out but here are a few tricks I’ve learned.
1.) Don’t Do It Alone
I don’t know if it’s because I grew up in a small farm town with German-Irish drunks but asking for help is ballzin’ hard. I still struggle with it, a lot. But reaching out and finding fellow hard working, loyal people with the same drive and passion is a shiny dream, a miracle! Asking for help and building a team can turn a show into a SHOW.
2.) Get Organized
Between writing press releases, booking the show, managing social media, creating a brand, churning out flyers, communicating with the space and organizing payment for your performers YOU ALSO have to write your own material and have the energy to put up a show that is unique and highlights yourself and everyone on the line up. That doesn’t just happen, you have to make it happen. You have to schedule your time wisely or your time will be sucked away from you.
Make deadlines, stick to the deadlines, use a calendar, use tools like Hootsuite to schedule your social media so it doesn’t overwhelm you. Use tools like Doodle or Google Forms to help you efficiently book your show. Reach out to your talented friends to take press pics or create art for your show. PAY THEM! The best performer-produced shows are organized. Organization isn’t uptight, organization is professional.
3.) Use Your Show
You are producing a show so you have more stage time. Don’t forget it. Use your show to try new bits, to take chances, to do crowd work, to get weird. Ideally, your room is your safe space. It’s your home, use it to grow creatively. If producing is taking away from this growth you need to either ask for help or think about what's more important to you - being a producer or being a performer.
4.) Check Your Ego
Your show is not going to be an overnight sensation. As a producer you need to understand that it takes time to build both what the show is and its audience. Don't compare your show with others. Don’t get pissed because some show is listed in the Red Eye and yours isn’t. If you love your show, hold on. White knuckle it if you have to. Keep at it. Get better. People will start to notice.
And now a note to my fellow angry comedians. If you are a performer who has specifically started a show to let everyone in the comedy scene know that you’re the shit and they are dummies, you may need to rethink your motives. Professional producers don’t create shows as leverage to declare who is “in” and who is “out". Having a crushed ego hurts. Believe me, I get it! But your frustration should be your motivation, not your weapon. When used well your umbrage can help you create amazing things but don't let your anger turn you into a dirtbag. We don’t need dirtbags, we need professionals. You know how you “show them?” By becoming a better performer and a solid producer, not by becoming an asshole.
5.) Don’t like Producing? Don’t Do it.
You don’t HAVE to produce your own show. I know it seems like you do because there are so many comedian produced shows in Chicago but being a producer is not a requirement. In fact, it can be a huge distraction. If running a show is getting in the way of your larger stand-up goals, stop running shows. There are still a ton of rooms that will book you and butt loads of open mics to hit up.
There are tons of opportunities in Chicago but balancing them can be tricky. Producing the kates is one of my greatest accomplishments and I am so proud of it.
But I’m not going to lie, it’s a lot of work and sometimes being a producer-performer makes me want to take a two week long nap. Hey! That’s a great idea for a new show. NAP TIME. Who wants to produce it?! <WINK>
Originally posted in Comedy of Chicago
Staff Writer - Kelsie Huff
Kelsie is a producer, writer, storyteller and stand up comedian based in Chicago. You can catch her performing at top clubs and showcases all over town as well as at her own showcase - the kates a bi-monthly show in at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square and now at Laugh Factory Chicago.