Comedy Job is a monthly column where comedian, author, professional wrestling manager, and festival producer Chris Trew explains how he makes a living stringing together many different comedy jobs. We’re running the first edition today to celebrate the start of Hell Yes Fest, a comedy festival Chris produces with The New Movement.
I recently flew from New Orleans to Austin on a direct Southwest flight. In a pinch over an hour, I landed and headed directly for The New Movement. There was a rehearsal for a sketch comedy show that I was in. Immediately after rehearsal I taught an improv workshop to a dozen eager new students. Following that was a quick scoot to a grocery store for fuel then performing in three shows back-to-back-to-back. First was a comedy video competition, then a sketch comedy show and finally, an improv show featuring graduates who had just completed the year-long conservatory program at The New Movement. The night before I was in New Orleans, at The New Movement, doing a different sketch show, followed by a stand-up comedy show that I produced and performed in. After locking up, I went home, packed for Austin, and went to bed.
This is my job. Comedy is my life. When people ask me what I do I tell them the truth. I do comedy. For a long time, “doing comedy” meant you were a stand-up comedian. There’s people in my life who make a living solely off performing stand-up comedy, but that’s not my path – I’ve made mine through a series of comedy-related endeavors since 2007.
I run The New Movement, a comedy theater with locations in Austin and New Orleans. I teach improv and sketch comedy classes in Austin and New Orleans and occasionally for businesses or at comedy festivals. I wrote a book about improv comedy in 2013 called Improv Wins. I book comedy at other people’s festivals (FunFunFun Fest, Moontower Comedy Festival, Art Outside, French Quarter Fest), I run my own comedy festivals (Hell Yes Fest, Improv Wins Conference, The Megaphone Marathons), and I book tours for myself and my friends. Twice a month I manage professional wrestlers at pro wrestling shows in Austin. I’m doing standup comedy multiple times a week. I made a feature-length movie with my friends about the Air Sex Championships, a show I tour with every summer. I write for an ESPN basketball blog, host a weekly New Orleans sports podcast, and host oddball events like The Beard and Mustache World Championships. All of the above passions provide a level of income for me. A corporate improv gig where I’m teaching the nuts and bolts of improv comedy pays a lot more than doing 10 minutes of standup in the back room of a smoky bar, but they both pay and I’m grateful for every opportunity that comes my way or that I’m able to create for myself.
So when I say I “do comedy,” I don’t mean that I’m doing standup comedy at clubs across the country seven days a week. I’m doing comedy as many ways as possible. It’s difficult as I’m balancing my own career with running a comedy theater. I’m managing my own projects while guiding others with theirs. I’m making time to hone my own material with rehearsals while coaching improv and sketch groups during theirs. I’m booking shows I love at my comedy festival while hoping that comedy festivals love shows that I do, too. This week, at the fourth annual Hell Yes Fest in New Orleans, I will manage dozens of shows and answer emails from 100 comics about their set, while making time to prepare for my own set. Last weekend at FunFunFun Fest, I bounced between being backstage and being on stage at the comedy tent, as the producer of 8 different shows, while hosting 2 of my own. It’s not easy, but I don’t know any other way.
Some comics are perfectly happy with their office or restaurant job that allows them to pursue the dream afterwards. I felt like I would never get to the next level as a performer and producer until I forced myself to make it happen. In 2007 I quit both of my jobs (a pizza place in South Austin and another pizza place in East Austin) to make comedy my job. In 2009 I opened a comedy theater with my favorite person in the world, Tami Nelson. In 2010 I moved back home to New Orleans to open another comedy theater.
I’ll never be only a road comic and I’ll never be just a booker. There’s a way to make a living doing comedy. Comedy job is all about my way. See you next month.
Chris Trew is a comedian, professional wrestling manager,, and improv teacher based out of Austin, Tx and New Orleans, La. He runs Hell Yes Fest and the Air Sex Championships. He pens “Comedy Job” monthly for Brightest Young Things. Follow him on Twitter here.