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Starting a new career: Industry veterans provide valuable feedback on career change

Since I decided last year that I needed to make a big career change, trying to become a standup comic so I can stop working as a lawyer, there have been many great shows and a lot of laughs.

There also have been nights when the most memorable sound was silence and my own labored breathing.

As a lawyer (Im still working part time), I know that precedent and experience are very important, so I decided it was a good time to check in with some experts about my efforts.

I consulted with folks from the Gotham, Comix and New York comedy clubs, 92Y Tribeca and with two comedians who also produce comedy shows.

When we talked about whether its become more difficult to start a career in comedy, my experts split. A key factor in their debate: the Web.

I think with the evolution of the Internet and places like YouTube and MySpace, it actually may be easier to get noticed these days, said Chris Mazzilli, Gothams owner, though he added, I think what most people dont understand is how difficult it is to be a comedian.

The two comedians wondered if the Internet has made a career in comedy tougher, since it is so cheap and easy for anybody who believes theyll be the next superstar to post a video of themselves, Buddy Flip said.
But the reality, said comic Jeff Lawrence, is youve got to hit the stage night in night out, and write jokes everyday for years. Lawrence estimated that he began to notice improvements in his routine only after about 500 shows.

A complicating factor is the bleak economy. I can say that its been difficult getting friends to come to my shows because of their financial worries and the costs of attending.
Some of my experts also noted the importance of being a good marketer in addition to being my own chief creative officer.

Bart Coleman, comedy programmer at 92Y Tribeca, said comics should have a good Web site. (Mine is at Other musts: a high-quality video reel, bio, press materials, show calendar, blog and mailing list, Coleman said.

A great DVD [is] your ticket to get an agent, manager, booker or comedy festival, added Andy Engel, director of new talent at Comix.
Whats the biggest mistake an aspiring comedian can make?

My experts were nearly unanimous: auditioning for industry professionals like agents, bookers or club owners before youre truly ready.

First impressions are more important than most young comics realize, Coleman said. Swing and miss before a group of decision makers and it may be a year or more before you may get a second look, the experts warned.
If its so difficult and pays so poorly if at all! then why do it?

Because when a show goes well and I make people laugh, theres nothing like it in the world.

For now, my long march continues. And, I guess, Ill hold off on choosing the theme music for my HBO special.

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Starting a new career: Industry veterans provide valuable feedback on career change