From AIN Conference 2017.
My comedy career began on October 21, 2004, with a shortform improv comedy show in Smith Hall on The Ohio State University’s campus.
On February 11, 2016, 11 years, 3 months, and 21 days later, I performed my 1,000th show as a stand-up comedian, improviser, storyteller, spoken word artist, and sketch performer.
Because I’m an engineer, I tracked all of those performances in an Excel spreadsheet and decided to analyze the data to celebrate the passing of the millennial performance.
Did I perhaps go too far in the analysis? Probably. Did I wish I had even more data to analyze? Absolutely.
To give you a sense of what all I analyzed, here are some tidbits of what I learned:
- I performed 1,000 shows in 4,130 days or roughly 1 show every 4 days.
- I performed 7 types of shows, though shortform and stand-up were by far the most frequent.
- I performed for 681 hours or roughly 28 days.
- I performed in front of an estimated 41,240 people.
- I performed in 104 cities, in 45 states, in 3 countries, and on 2 continents.
- I performed at least once every month from December 2007 to February 2016 (a streak of 99 months).
Now for the deep dive…
Performances by Type
The first thing I wanted to know was the breakdown of performances by type.
Over the 1,000 shows, I tried improv (shortform, longform, and musical), stand-up, spoken word, storytelling, and sketch. (I also acted in a few things, but this is all about the live performances.)
#1. Improv (673 shows)
Improv was the clear majority at 67.3% of my performances. This makes sense as I started my performing career by helping co-found the 8th Floor Improv Comedy Group at OSU, I’ve been a member of ComedySportz since 2008, and I was on multiple house teams at The Magnet in NYC.
#2. Stand-up (300 shows)
Next up was stand-up, which I began in 2005. A few of us in the improv group felt that if we could be funny when making things up, we should be able to be funny when we had a plan.
(Turns out, at least for me, stand-up is a lot harder than improv but with practice and time, it gets easier and is a lot of fun.)
#3. Spoken Word (22 shows)
Much further behind that was spoken word, which I didn’t really start doing until 2015, when I started performing at more music venues and poetry shows. Stand-up isn’t necessarily forbidden in these types of venues (though it sometimes is), it is certainly much harder to pull off.
#4. Storytelling (3 shows)
I only had 3 storytelling performances, but the last one was a major milestone: my 1,000th show in my 50th state on my 32nd birthday. To see the story, watch The Story of My Year as a Nomad.
#5. Sketch (1 show)
I did exactly 1 sketch show: a 5-minute sketch for a friends 30th Birthday party in front of 25 people on August 17, 2013. So far, that’s been enough.
Improv (Shortform) vs Improv (Longform) vs Improv (Musical)
I was also curious of the breakdown of the different styles of improv as defined by shortform (such as Whose Line Is It Anyway and ComedySportz), longform (such as UCB and The Magnet), and musical (such as Baby Wants Candy and my team, Mint Condition).
#1. Shortform (436 shows)
Again there was a clear winner with shortform at 64.8% of shows. This makes sense given that the 8th Floor was shortform when we started, my first touring group, Smarty Pants, was shortform, and I performed with ComedySportz in 20 of their 25 cities.
#2. Longform (172 shows)
Longform was next, where I performed at UCB, The Magnet, and on a number of different indie teams throughout NYC.
#3. Musical (66 shows)
I performed musical the least, where nearly all of my performances came at The Magnet in the form of class shows and the aforementioned Mint Condition.
Performances by Type (More Detailed Version)
Comparing the different styles of improv against all types of performances shifted the rankings.
Shortform improv was still in the lead at 43.6% but second was stand-up at 30.0%, ahead of longform (17.2%) and musical (6.6%). And still only 1 sketch performance.
Thoughts on Performances by Type
- Diversity of performance is good. Over the course of 1,000 shows, I did 7 types of performance: longform improv, musical improv, shortform improv, sketch, spoken word, stand-up, and storytelling. Trying different types made me an overall stronger performer (and person). There’s a lot a stand-up can learn from improvising, a storyteller can learn from spoken word, and an engineer can learn from all of the above.
- I’m most comfortable performing shortform. Shortform was the most frequent performance type; it’s the first type of performance I ever did starting in 2004 and I’ve been doing it every year since. When I first started out, I was incredibly nervous before every show. Now, 400+ shows later, I’m not nervous to perform, just excited.
- I’m not a good actor. I’ve only done one sketch show for a reason: I’m not very good at acting. Specifically, I’m not very good at making it look like I’m hearing something for the first time. Certainly I would get better at it if I did it more, but I prefer the other types of performance better so I haven’t given it much focus.
Performances by Group
Along the lines of understanding my performances by type, I was also interested in the performances I had by group.
Over the last 11+ years, I performed with 31 “groups.” In the world of improv and sketch, groups referred to the teams with whom I performed on stage; in the world of stand-up, spoken word, and storytelling, they referred to the type of show I did (I wasn’t all that interested in how many different open mics I’ve done).
#1 ComedySportz (333 shows)
ComedySportz was #1 with one-third of all my performances being with the family friendly, shortform improv organization. A majority of those shows were with my hometown CSzNYC, but there were tons of other shows with teams from all around the country.
It’s one of the biggest families of improvisers on the planet and I’m proud to be a member.
#2 Stand-Up Open Mics (224 shows)
Just about every stand-up comic starts out at the open mic level. It’s where you cut your teeth as a comedian and work on new material for future shows (it’s also where I prep material for speaking engagements). Those workout rooms made up 22.4% of my performances with a whopping 224 shows. That’s a lot of performing to mostly other comedians.
Other stand-up related groups included guest spots (#5 at 49 shows) and being the MC (#9 at 23 shows).
A side note on stand-up: Though stand-up is generally perceived as a lonelier performance type (at least compared to improv), I found that I stuck mostly to a core set of organizations, which allowed me to build relationships with other comedians and not feel alone in the process.
Of the 300 total stand-up shows I did, 69.7% were with just four organizations:
- Laughing Buddha Comedy – 125 shows (41.7%)
- Comic Strip Live – 46 shows (15.3%)
- Funny Bone Comedy Clubs – 27 shows (9.0%)
- Monday Night Mirth – 11 shows (3.7%)
#3. Mint Condition (66 shows)
Mint Condition, the musical improv group I was apart of at The Magnet, was #3 with 66 shows. It was one of my favorite groups to perform with because every member brought a different skill to the table. And we made each other mixtapes.
At the time of my retirement from the team (I had to step down due to travel), it was the second longest running musical house team at The Magnet.
Rounding Out the Top 10
The 8th Floor was #4 at 60 shows, 34 of which were from when I was still in college and 26 were as an alumnus of the group.
I was in 43 class shows (#6), 22 improv jams (#10), and participated in 9 auditions, including callbacks (#15). Side note on the auditions: I made 50% of the things I auditioned for.
- 2008 – ComedySportz NYC (made it)
- 2008 – House Team at The City (group never happened)
- 2009 – Harold Team at UCB (didn’t make it)
- 2009 – Stand-Up at Comic Strip Live (didn’t pass)
- 2011 – Musical House Team at Magnet (made it)
- 2011 – Longform team at Magnet (made it)
The remaining Top 10 groups were Smarty Pants (#7), the first professional group I was apart of, and Grappler (#8), my first longform team at The Magnet.
A few shout-outs to groups not in the Top 10:
- The Danboys (#13 with 16 shows). Another indie group but this one comprised of 8th Floor Alumni who had moved to NYC. As the first alum to move to NYC, it was a great feeling to be joined by fellow talented people in the Big Apple.
- Slapstick Picknick (#18 with 7 shows). My first indie group and the most diverse in terms of performance, covering longform, shortform, and sketch.
- Speechless Live (#20 with 3 shows). One of my favorite shows to do as it combines improv and presentations and seems to be right in my wheelhouse for performance.
Thoughts on Performances by Group
- Comedy doesn’t have to be lonely. Regardless of performance type, I’ve found a community of welcoming performers wherever I’ve gone. Yes, there are unfriendly people in every type, but if you can find the people who you connect with, it makes the process a lot more fun.
- The audience has fun when you have fun. When I reflect on my favorite groups, they’re often the most successful ones and the ones where I had the most fun when performing. I don’t think that’s a coincidence; I think when you have fun on stage, either because of the material you present or the people you’re performing with, the audience feeds off that energy and has fun with you.
- You have to start somewhere. I was surprised to learn that 43% of my performances with my college improv group came after I graduated from college, in the form of a post-graduation summer run, special event shows, and alumni shows. When we started the group, we had no idea how long it was going to last, and it’s still going 12 years later. We just started somewhere and decided to see where it would take us.
Performances by Duration
The next thing I became curious about was how long I actually performed each type of comedy.
In total, I performed for roughly 681 hours (or 28 days), with 95% of that time doing improv. The average duration of each performance was 40 minutes, though it varied greatly by performance type.
The longest show I did was 2 hours, which I did multiple times. The shortest show was 4 minutes, which also occurred multiple times (thanks to some open mics). 41.3% of my shows were for at least an hour; 28% were for 5 minutes or less.
#1. Shortform (556 hours)
I performed more hours of shortform than all of the other performance types combined (556 vs 125). This was partly due to the number of performances (436), but also due to the fact that my shortform shows were the longest of any performance type at an average of 75 minutes per show.
#2. Longform (67 hours)
Despite performing longform half the number of times as stand-up (172 vs 300), I had double the number of hours (67 hours vs 30 hours). This was due to the fact that my average longform show was nearly 4x longer than my average stand-up show (23 minutes vs 6 minutes).
#3. Stand-Up (30 hours)
300 stand-up shows led to 30 hours of stand-up, or an average of 6 minutes per set. This was weighted heavily by the fact that many open mics are a mere 5 minutes. It can feel like an eternity when the set isn’t going well, but it is only 300 seconds of performance at a time.
Thoughts on Performances by Duration
- The type of performance matters (for duration). To do a 90-minute shortform show is relatively easy, especially when given a strong format such as the one used in ComedySportz. Doing a 90-minute stand-up show would be nearly impossible for me (I could do it, but I’m not sure people would enjoy the whole thing).
- Getting stage time in stand-up takes a long time. Just about every stand-up comedian on the planet agrees on one key to getting better at stand-up: get more stage time. The challenge is that time can be hard to get because stand-up shows, particularly in the early stages, are for just minutes at a time. Despite 30% of my shows being stand-up, it only accounted for 4.4% of my total stage time.
- I’m far from a master performer. After 12 years of performing and 1,000 shows, I was still 9,218 hours away from the supposed 10,000 hours it takes to reach mastery. There’s been a lot of research contesting this idea, and my numbers don’t take into account practice time, but just for fun, let’s say I wanted to reach 10,000 hours of performing experience. At my current pace of 40 minutes per show, that’s only 14,118 more shows. If I average 100 shows a year, I’ll reach mastery sometime in the year 2157 when I’m a spry 173 years old.
Performances by Audience Size
I was also curious about how many people have seen me perform. This data is nowhere near exact. I tracked audience size since near the beginning (and my first few shows were light enough to estimate), but they were always rough estimates (e.g. around 80 people, not 83 people plus a baby).
In total, 41,000+ people saw me perform live, an average of 41 people per performance.
My biggest show was for 1,200 people, a ComedySportz show for a Gildas Club event in Hackensack, NJ on November 3, 2011. We had Rachel Dratch as a guest performer that night, and needless to say (and yet I’m still saying it), it was an incredibly fun show.
My smallest show was for 4 people, which I did more than once, first with the 8th Floor, once with ComedySportz, and a few times in stand-up. These were some of the hardest shows I did, but if you can perform confidently in front of 4 people, you can also do it in front of 400.
11.8% percent of my shows were for audiences of 10 or less; 10.3% were for 100 or more.
#1 Shortform (22,703 people)
55% of the people who saw me perform saw me do shortform improv. That was 22,703 people, or roughly the entire population of Yukon City, OK, a 26-square mile city just outside Oklahoma City.
#2 Stand-Up (11,804)
28% of my total audience saw me do stand-up at 11,804 people, or about the population of Baffin Island, a Canadian Island that resides mostly within the arctic circle.
#3 Longform (4,047)
10% of the 41,000 saw longform at 4,047 people, or the approximate number of people living in Chunking Mansions, a building located in Hong Kong.
Audience Size by Group
I also took a look at audience size by group.
The top groups by total audience were ComedySportz (15,000+), Smarty Pants (nearly 5,000), and stand-up (open mics at 4,800, MC at 3,500, and guest spots at 3,200).
The groups that were best at attracting an audience were being an MC (average of 150 people per show), followed by Smarty Pants (118), and Speechless Live (108). My indie improv groups didn’t do as well, with an average between 10-13 people per show.
Thoughts on Performances by Audience Size
- People who have seen me live is a fraction of who have seen me online. 41,000 people saw me in my first 1,000 performances. Compare that to the more than 1.8 million people who have seen my work on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, reddit and imgur. My Microsoft Office Pun has been viewed 1.4 million times (and has been stolen more times than I can count).
- I’m mostly seen as an improviser. Though I’ve done 7 types of performances, 70% of the people who have seen me perform saw me do some form of improv. So to a majority of the people who have seen me, I’m an improviser (not a stand-up or storyteller).
- Stand-up audience size varies drastically depending on type. The highest average audience size for any group was being the MC at a stand-up show with an average of 155 people. An average of 21 people were at stand-up open mics, one of the lowest averages per show. This makes sense as you’re not typically going to get a big audience for comedians working on new material.
Performances by Location
I was also interested in the number of places where I’ve performed. With my 1,000th performance, I had spoken or performed in all 50 states (and in 18 countries on 3 continents), but that included places I’d given a speech or led a workshop for Humor That Works, which I didn’t count in these performance totals.
For just performances, I hit 45 states (missing Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, and North Dakota) and two non-US countries (Norway and Netherlands).
#1 New York (707 shows)
The top state was New York, where I performed 70.7% of all of my shows. It was the only state where I did every performance type, and was home to 61% of my shortform shows, 70% of my stand-up, 94% of my longform, and 100% of my musical shows.
None of this was surprising given that I moved to New York for more performing opportunities and it’s home to some of the greatest (albeit smallest in physical size) stages in the world.
#2 Ohio (131 shows)
Next was Ohio, where I first started doing comedy, with 13.1% of my shows. A majority of those shows took place prior to moving to New York, but a number of shows came after the move, either for 8th Floor Alumni events or performing while in town for other reasons.
#3 New Jersey (20 shows)
The next closest state was New Jersey with a steep drop to just 2% of shows.
Performance Types by State
I was interested to see how many locations I did each performance type and I found a large discrepancy between the types.
I did stand-up in the most locations at 27: 25 states and 2 countries (both were English speaking shows).
Next was spoken word at 21. With only 22 total spoken word performances, every spoken word performance occurred in a different state, with the exception of Ohio, where I did two events.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I only did longform in 3 states and storytelling in 2. I only performed musical and sketch in New York.
Performance Locations and Audience Size
After seeing the breakdown of locations by number of shows, I took a look at the locations by audience size.
The top 3 states by audience were the same as the top states by number of performances, though the percentages were skewed (New York had 70% of the number of shows but only 44% of the audience).
Starting at #4 it got interesting, particularly in the average audience size. Kentucky, West Virginia, Illinois, and Virginia all averaged more than 100 people per show, with Kentucky averaging 175.
New York, where a majority of my performances took place, averaged 26 people, the lowest average of any state where I performed more than twice, and 25th overall.
Performances by City
If I looked at the state level, it seemed natural to also look at the city level.
I’ve performed in 104 cities around the world (well mostly the US plus two countries). 63% of cities were for a single show; 8% of the cities were for 10 or more performances.
Manhattan (as in New York, NY) was the clear winner with 64.6% of all performances taking place in the big apple. Next up were Columbus (7.2%), Cincinnati (1.8%), and Dayton (1.7%).
That means 75.3% of my performances happened in roughly 381 square miles (22 for Manhattan, 80 for Cincinnati, 223 for Columbus, and 56 for Dayton). That’s 0.01% of the United States.
As a side note, I’ve also performed in a city beginning with every letter of the alphabet except for E, G, X, and Z. I know my next tour will have to take me to El Paso, Grand Rapids, Xalapa, and Zaozhuang.
Thoughts on Performances by Location
- Great performances take place all around the country / world. I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of shows in a lot of different places and I’m consistently impressed with the talent and diversity of performances. I’ve done open mics in tiny towns where performers have blown me away with their skill and passion. There’s certainly a greater number of talented performers in the big cities like NY and LA, but there’s no monopoly.
- Some performance types are easier to travel with. Stand-up is by far the easiest type of show to do as I travel. I can call up a club or find an event to see about getting a guest spot, and they either say yes or no. Improv is a lot harder as most groups aren’t open to a stranger joining their group for a night … Except with ComedySportz. I can contact a CSz city and see if they’ll let me join their show and they’ll often welcome me as a guest player (which I’ve done a number of times). It’s one of the many awesome things about the CSz family.
- The “big stage” has smaller audiences. Something most people don’t realize about moving to NY (or LA) to pursue comedy is that often you’ll end up doing more shows but for less people. This was true for me where I went from performing in comedy clubs (or on campus) in Ohio for 50-300 people, to performing in basements in NY for 10-20 people at a time.
Performances by Time
The final area I analyzed were my performances over time. Admittedly, I got a little carried away… I started first with performances by year (and ended up doing month, day, and time of day).
Performances by Year
My comedy career started with 3 performances in 2004 and grew steadily over time, reaching a peak of 154 shows in 2014 before dropping off. 42 days and 14 performances into 2016, I hit the 1,000 performances milestone.
#1. 2014 (154 shows)
The most performances I’ve done in a year was 154. That’s an average of roughly 3 shows a week or 1 show every 2-3 days. I know there are plenty of performers who top that total, but that was quite a year for me.
#2. 2012 (134 shows)
2012 had the second most number of performances with 13.4% of all of my shows. Perhaps I was worried that the world was going to end so I tried to get all of my thoughts out before that happened.
#3 2011 (119 shows)
2011 was an incredibly busy year for me as I was still at P&G and was in the early stages of Humor That Works, yet I still managed to perform an average of 2+ times a week for 119 shows.
Performance Types by Year
Taking a closer look at the performances yielded an interesting story of my evolution as a performer.
Over the course of 12 years and 1,000 performances, I had a number of shifts in frequency of performance types.
My 3 shows in 2004 were all shortform shows for the 8th Floor, all in Columbus, OH.
In 2005, I did 11 more shortform shows and tried out stand-up for the first time, averaging 1 show a month for a total of 12 for the year.
In 2006, the year I graduated college with a degree in the comedy-friendly Computer Science & Engineering, I made my first big leap, both in shortform shows (39) and in stand-up (18), jumping to a total of 57 shows that year.
The next 4 years were surprisingly consistent, starting with 63 shows in 2007. I say surprising because I moved from Cincinnati to NYC in 2008 and, despite being around a lot more comedy opportunities, my performances remained relatively steady.
With the move to NYC in 2008, I started doing longform and split most of my time between taking classes and doing stand-up (for a total of 76 shows).
In 2009, I started Humor That Works while still working at P&G and had to make a choice on what to focus on. I decided to continue taking improv classes and performed with ComedySportz while putting stand-up on the back burner, and ended the year with 76 shows (38 shortform, 36 longform, 2 stand-up).
In 2010, I focused exclusively on improv. I did 50 shortform shows and 27 longform shows for a total of 77 for the year.
By 2011, I had been introduced to musical improv and performed on 2 house teams (one musical and one longform at The Magnet) and consistently with ComedySportz. I did stand-up once. It was the first year I broke the 100 show barrier at 119.
In the middle of 2012, I left my job at P&G to focus on Humor That Works, which gave me more time to perform. I was in my groove on all of my improv teams and started to inch my way back into stand-up. I did 134 shows that year.
In 2013, I did my first (and only) sketch show, took a storytelling class, and tried spoken word for the first time. I also started traveling more for my business. As a result, I had to retire from my longform and musical teams because I consistently missed practices and shows, which was unfair to the 6-7 other performers on the team. To compensate, I did more stand-up again and just barely eclipsed the century mark at 102 shows.
My busiest year for any performance type was in 2014 with 95 stand-up shows to go along with 57 shortform shows and 2 longform shows, for a total of 154 performances for the year.
2015 saw a decline across most performance types as I embarked on a nomadic journey. With fewer performance options, I performed at poetry and music open mics which led to more spoken word and storytelling performances (and tremendous growth as a performer). Despite the travels, I still hit 113 shows.
In 2016 I focused on hitting 1,000 performances and reached the milestone with 8 stand-up shows, 2 shortform shows, 3 spoken word shows, and my 1,000th performance, a storytelling show in my 50th state (Hawaii).
Audience Size by Year
From some of the other analyses I realized that number of performances didn’t necessarily correlate with higher total audience, so I took a look at total audience size by year.
My best year for total audience size was actually in 2007, when I “only” did 63 shows. Many of those shows were for high schools as part of Smarty Pants, some of which were in front of upwards of 900 kids. That was also the year I did my first paid stand-up spots as MC for a couple of different Funny Bones, each show averaging between 150-300 people.
2014, the year with the most performances, was third in audience size because many of those shows were smaller stand-up venues in NY.
Performances by Month
After I looked at the performances by year, I was interested in the breakdown of performances by month (both on average and each year).
The busiest month of the year for performances was August, with 12.3% of my total performances.
My slowest month immediately followed (September) with only 4.0%. Perhaps I got tired from all of the shows in August and took some time off.
Every other month was in the 7-10% range (70 to 100 shows).
The reason August was the highest month was largely driven by stand-up, with 54 shows, beating the average number of stand-up shows per month (25.2) by almost 29 shows.
The most popular month for shortform was July (often when ComedySportz World Championship takes place) at 59 shows (vs an average of 36.3).
June was the month for longform (24 shows vs 15.9 average, when DCM is) and spoken word (7 shows vs 1.7 average, the month of my two-week road trip in 2015).
Musical was pretty evenly distributed, and sketch and storytelling were too small of a sample size to focus on.
The most shows I ever did in one month was 40, back in August 2014 (also the most stand-up shows I’ve done at 38). The next highest month was 20, which I did twice, in November 2014 and May 2015.
The most improv shows I did in one month was 19 in July 2012, where I did the most shortform shows I’ve ever done (13) along with some longform and musical.
I performed in 8 longform shows in a month twice (June 2011 and March 2012), and the most musical shows I did in one month was 5 (November 2011).
I also performed at least once every single month from December 2007 to February 2016.
Performances by Day of the Week
After I saw the monthly breakdown I was curious about the daily breakdown.
It was no surprise that Friday and Saturday were the two most popular days of week for me to perform as that’s when most comedy shows happen.
After which it appeared I liked to take a few days off, as Sunday and Monday were my two least popular day for shows.
#1. Saturday (309 shows)
Saturday was the top day for shows with 30.9% of all performances coming on that day. The popularity of Saturday was driven primarily by shortform shows at 245 performances. I suppose that’s what happens when you perform a weekly Saturday show with ComedySportz NYC for 8 straight years.
#2. Friday (180 shows)
Friday was the second most popular day for shows at 18.0%. It was also the most popular day for stand-up specifically (72 shows) followed by Wednesday (55), Tuesday (47), Monday (36), and then Saturday (32). It appeared hard to do stand-up on Saturday when I did so much improv that day.
#3. Tuesday (157 shows)
Tuesday was #3 with 15.7% of shows. This was a bit surprising, I would have guessed Thursday or Sunday would be more popular. However, 97% of my musical improv shows came on Tuesdays (that was musical improv day at The Magnet), which bolstered the numbers.
Monday and Sunday were my least popular performance days at 72 apiece.
The majority of people saw me perform on Saturday (28%) and Friday (23%), though average audience sizes were bigger on Sunday (55 people per show) and Friday (52). It appeared to be the hardest to get people to come out on a Monday (only 23 people per show and 4% of my audience).
The most shows I did in a single day was 4, which I did 4 times. Interestingly all 4 times were either all shortform shows or all stand-up shows. When I wanted to perform a lot in a day, apparently I didn’t switch up type of performance.
I did 3 shows in a day 14 times (with diversity in performance type) and 2 shows in a day 100 times. 86.3% of the time it was just a single show that day (742 shows / 742 days).
Performances by Time of Day
I had already reviewed yearly, monthly, and daily data, so I figured I might as well jump into the time of day for each of my performances as well.
I didn’t keep track of when exactly I performed so I had to go back and add time-of-day to my excel sheet (Note: this is start time of the event, not necessarily the exact time I was on stage).
Once I did that (and figured out how to put the data into buckets), the obvious trend emerged: I performed more often at night.
#1. 4pm to 8pm (549 shows)
54.9% of my shows started between the hours of 4pm-8pm, the earlier side of primetime.
#2. 8pm to 12am (345 shows)
34.5% of my performances started between 8pm-12am, the later side of primetime. Of the two primetime slots, I clearly favored earlier rather than later.
#3. 12pm to 4pm (63 shows)
A distant third to primetime was the early afternoon timeslot, when a lot of remote shows happened.
Similarly, the hours of 8am-4pm were dominated by shortform, a popular timeslot for private shows through Smarty Pants and ComedySportz. I did do stand-up once at 10am at a corporate event and it went about as well as you’d expect a 10am stand-up show to go.
I never performed between the hours of 4am-8am (perhaps a late-night bit show at DCM or a poorly planned stand-up show is in my future).
Getting a little more specific (and using a log scale to see more data) showed the typical performance times, with a peak from 6pm-8pm (when 66.5% of my performances started).
The most number of people saw me at 7pm (9,500 people), then 6pm (nearly 8,000), then 8pm (6,500). In fact, 77% of people saw me perform between the hours of 6pm and 11pm.
Average audience per show was highest at 9am at 156 people per show, followed by 10am with 107 people per show. Which makes sense in a way; the only time you’re going to convince someone to do comedy at 9am is when it’s a paid, private event for a large group of people.
For the evening hours, 9pm saw the biggest audiences at 64, then 7pm (56). Weirdly I did smaller shows at 8pm (36 people) than I did at 10pm (48).
Thoughts on Performances by Time
- My performance types varied by year. There’s a natural ebb and flow to the different types of performances I did. Performance opportunities were driven by what was going on in my personal life, where I had been taking classes, and what I had been focusing on. I’m currently doing more stand-up, so the next 1,000 performances might look very different.
- Performance burnout is real. I love performing but it does require energy, which means it also requires resting. My busiest month of shows (August) was followed by my slowest (September). My two busiest show days (Friday and Saturday) were followed by my two slowest (Sunday and Monday).
- A lot of my work happens at night. I am not a morning person which is probably a good thing if part of my job is performance. A majority of shows happen at night and it’s tough to do a show at 10pm if you’ve been up since 6am (that’s also why Friday late shows are notoriously more difficult to do, because the audience gets tired from being up all day).
Summary of Analysis
The analysis of 1,000 performances started just because I could. I had already tracked the data (I used it as a way to motivate myself to perform) and decided I might as well look into it.
Through the process, I learned some things about myself, including:
- I’ll always want more data. As I began my analysis, I found myself wishing I had more data. In some cases, I went back and created it. I didn’t initially track the start time of my shows, but when I realized I wanted it, I went back through 12 years of calendar data to add it to the file. I really wish I had ranked my performances on a scale of 1 to 5; I’d love to see if there were any trends between performance rating and things like type, audience size, or time.
- I am far more experienced as an improviser. I knew I had done more improv than stand-up, but didn’t realize how big the gap was, particularly between the number of hours performed in each.
- I’ve thoroughly enjoyed (and benefited from greatly) being apart of ComedySportz. I knew emotionally that I’ve enjoyed being part of the CSz family, but the data showed logically why it’s been great for me. It’s given me a chance to perform frequently, in all types of spaces, at different times, and in different cities.
- I want to expand more online. Performing live is incredible, there’s nothing quite like hearing the sound of a group of strangers laughing at something you’ve said or done. However, I can reach far more people online than I could ever hope to reach in person. Luckily these two things are complementary. I can perform live, record the set, and post it for others to see. Or I can take bits I’ve worked on live and translate them to text or images to share with others.
- Laughter is universal, what makes people laugh is not. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been able to find a community that is eager and willing to laugh. What they’ll laugh at, however, changes based on where I am. Norwegians loved my material on the metric system, Alabamans did not. Spoken word audiences tended to appreciate wordplay, late night stand-up crowds not-so-much. Part of the fun of performance is solving the puzzle of each unique audience.
I’m excited to see how the next 1,000 shows compare.
A talk I gave at the AIN Conference 2015 on how I use improv to converse with other humans.
11 April 2015. Columbus, OH
I looked around the room at the 30+ people playing the warm up Kitty in the Corner. Everyone participating was at least 18 years old and having an incredibly fun time.
I was the oldest person in that room (by just a few weeks). I was also one of the reasons they were in that room to begin with.
I was in Columbus, OH, having returned for the 8th Floor Alumni Weekend. The 8th Floor, an improv comedy group me and 5 other friends started while at The Ohio State University, was still going strong. One of the many traditions, along with others like music making you lose control and unique birthday celebrations, was that every year there was a reunion weekend where as many of the groups’ alumni return for socializing, practicing, and performing.
As one of the founders, I try to return as often as I can, not just to see old friends and group members, but to also to check in on the group.
This was the 11th year of the group’s existence as the premier improv comedy group on Ohio State’s campus, and while we never really imagined it getting this big, we selfishly wanted the group to survive as long as possible. After all, it’s part of the legacy we’ve left at OSU.
The whole thing started while playing Halo (the video game). My best friend wanted to start an improv group… so we did. We started as 6 friends practicing in the basement of Residence Halls. By the time I graduated 2 years later, we were a cast of 16 performing twice a week at a black box theater on South Campus.
After the founders left is when the group really took off. Some very smart people came into the group and got them performing at Freshmen Orientation. Immediately every on campus knew who the group was. Now, 11 years later, it was one of the established things to do on campus, with shows selling out 150+ seat auditoriums.
Tonight was about celebrating that history. In just a few minutes we’d head upstairs to the theater in the Union, where we’d do long-form sets as teams mixed of all generations of the group.
But for the moment, kitty was in the corner, and he went that way.
21 March 2015. Turin, Italy.
Read Seattle to Turin in 5 Minutes Part 1
It was one month and a day since I had met Paolo in that cafe in Seattle. I was now sitting in the front row of a packed theater with 500 enthusiastic Italians. The final round of an improv competition pitting two teams against each other was about to start, and I was one of two Guests of Honor for the night.
I reflected on the past 24+ hours.
Just the day before I had arrived at the Turin Train Station from Milan. A young, skinny Italian guy named Giulio had picked me up from the train station. He was an energetic guy with a great command of the English language (he had lived a few years in London) and was eager to practice his English with a native-speaker.
He took me first to the place I’d be staying, the apartment of Paolo who I had met in NYC for a total of 5 minutes. We had exchanged Facebook messages and Paolo had arranged for me to stay at his place, even though he had to be out of town for the weekend for work in Paris. A man I had met for 5 minutes just one month ago was now letting me stay at his place an ocean and continent away from where we had met, and he wasn’t even going to be there.
Giulio took me on a tour of Turin, we stopped for an apertivo, and talked about a number of topics, none more enthusiastically than the NBA. Giulio was a big fan of basketball but didn’t have too many people who were knowledgable in the subject to riff with about it. We agreed that it was OK that I liked LeBron because I’m from Ohio, but that the San Antonio Spurs play the best team ball.
The next morning, the morning of the improv show, Mauro had picked me up around lunchtime and taken me to a delicious brunch place that doubled as a bicycle repair shop (yes, you read that correctly).
Mauro was a shorter Italian guy with dark hair and a personality that I definitely vibed with. He was the co-owner of the improv theater with Paolo and was the one helping me with the workshop I was leading that afternoon (not only had Paolo given me a place to stay, he had organized a workshop with some of his school’s students).
Mauro was there to act as my host and, I would find out later, my translator. After we finished our incredible meals (I had Eggplant Pancakes, which I felt a fitting synergy to what I had eaten when I had met Paolo), Mauro took me to workshop space. There were 12 eager Italians awaiting, only half of which spoke fluent English.
I led them through a character workshop, giving instructions in English which Mauro would translate into Italian. They would then complete the exercise or scene, Mauro would translate high level what they were saying into English, and I would give them notes, which Mauro would translate into Italian.
I felt a slightly misplaced feeling of importance having a translator for my workshop but allowed myself to feel cool about it for the afternoon. A small part of me wondered if he wasn’t just saying “This silly American said you should all do this, so let’s entertain it for a little bit. Weirdo.”
A short dinner and drive later, I was at the improv show that evening, as a Guest of Honor. Reflection completed.
The host walked on stage and the crowd erupted in applause. For the next few minutes I had very little idea of what was happening as the host was talking in Italian. From his gestures, the audiences reactions, and general paralanguage, I got the jist of what is happening. The woman next me, also a Guest of Honor, stood up to give a wave as the audience erupted again. She was clearly someone famous (at least compared to me).
The host then looked at me and said, “And welcome Drew Tarvin, a special guest all the way from NYC.”
For a brief second I thought I had magically learned Italian before realizing he had just switched to English. I stood up awkwardly and gave a wave to the crowd.
He continued, “I hear you don’t know any Italian. This is the only English part of the show, have fun.”
And I did.
20 February. Seattle, WA
I was sitting in a cafe in Seattle, WA, around 12pm, about to order a delicious food-item from the eclectic menu. Across from me was Alice, a friend from The Ohio State University, who I had met when she brought me in to talk to the incoming Resident Advisors in 2012. Now, 3 years later, she was living in Seattle and we were reconnecting for the first time since the event.
As I looked over the menu, wondering if I was in a pancake or French toast mood, I heard my name called from elsewhere in the restaurant. I looked up and immediately recognized the face (I’m good with faces, just not the names they go with) but couldn’t place who it was. A few seconds later, as she walked towards our table, I realized who it was and why I was a bit perplexed.
The tall, skinny blonde walking our way was Amie, a fellow improviser at The Magnet Theater in New York City, 2500 miles away.
“Drew! What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I’m here for a couple of trainings. What are YOU doing here?” I replied.
“I’m in town for the Seattle Improv Festival, in fact this whole group of people are in town for the event,” she responded, pointing to the boisterous group of people at the table behind her.
I should have known they were improvisers. They were a little bit louder than most of the other tables and having a great time. The few snippets of conversation I had overheard now registered as bits on bits on bits (aka lots of joking), a telltale sign you have Yes Anders in your environment.
Amie and I caught up for a few minutes when she revealed some exciting news.
“Yeah, these peeps are from all over,” she said, gesturing back towards the group behind her again. “In fact, that guy is from Italy.”
My eyes lit up. “Really, where in Italy?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I could ask him,” Amie replied.
“Can you? I’m going to be in Switzerland next month and I’ve never been to Italy,” I said.
“Well then let me introduce you,” she said excitedly.
We walked over to the guy who she introduced as Paolo, probably because that was his name. I learned that Paolo is an improviser from Turin, Italy, which I learned is only a 2-hour train ride from Milan, which I learned is only a 2-hour train ride from Geneva, Switzerland, where I’ll be going for my event next month.
“You should come to Torino [translation: Turin]. If you do, you can stay at my place and we can find some improv stuff you can do,” Paolo said in his Italian accent.
I added him on Facebook via my phone and told him I’d be in touch before returning to my seat to resume my meal with Alice. Given the excitement for a possible stay in Italy and being unsure of French-Italian relations, I ordered the pancakes instead of the French toast.
Here are some stats regarding the performances:
- 54% of shows were shortform improv, 5% of shows were traditional longform improv, 23% were musical improv, and 17% were stand-up.
- I had 14 shows in July (my busiest month) and only 4 shows in September. I averaged just 8.5 shows per month (3 less shows per month than last year).
- I performed for approximately 6,100 people in 2013, including 1200 people at the Gilda Club benefit and 5 at an early ComedySportz show.
And finally, a show breakdown by team:
- ComedySportz – 56
- Mint Condition – 23
- Stand-Up – 17
- Other – 6
Congratulations! You’ve finished your first level of improv classes. You have 8 weeks of training under your belt, a new group of improv companions, and a rocking show that you did for friends, family, and strangers.
So, now what?
Here are 5 things you can do after you’ve finished your first improv class:
1. Take Another Improv Class
The most common next step after finishing Level 1 is to take Level 2 at the same school / theater. You’ll pick up right where you left off and start learning more advanced techniques.
Another option is to take a Level 1 class at a different theater. This can give you a different perspective on how to approach improv, as well as give you another chance to work on the basics.
2. Start a Practice Group
Unfortunately you may not be able to jump right into the next level of classes (because of scheduling, availability, or financing), or you might find that you want to improvise more than once a week.
If you’re in either boat, starting or joining a practice group can be a great way to keep practicing improv outside of the classroom. To get started, all you need is a group of people, a rehearsal spot, and a coach.
3. Find a Way to Perform
If your favorite (or least favorite) part of class was the show, then you may want to get on stage more frequently. In NYC there are a number of free jams / mixers around the city where you can show your stuff.
Or, if you do create a practice group, you can find venues where your Indie team can perform. Either way, getting on stage will help you apply the things you learned in class and help improve your confidence on stage.
4. Try Another Art Form
Trying improv might have sparked a passion for comedy or performance that isn’t limited to just making stuff up. You might be interested in taking a sketch class, trying stand-up comedy, or even giving acting a try.
These art forms all benefit from having strong improv skills and can be a great outlet for performance that’s not improv.
5. Take Your Knowledge Out into the World
Whether you continue on formally with improv training or decide to hang up your improvised boxing gloves, you can take the concepts of improv out into your everyday life.
Ideas like Yes And, supporting your scene partner, and really listening have tremendous value in the corporate world, in education, and in day to day life.
Applying these concepts can be as simple as keeping them in mind as you go about life, or may include deliberately using the concepts in what’s called applied improvisation.
Regardless of what you do next, congratulations! You’ve experienced the first level of improvisation; go out and use your new found knowledge for good, humor, and funny.
So you finally decided to sign up for your first improv class? That’s awesome, congratulations.
Over the years I’ve taken a number of classes; some of have been incredible, others not so much. Here are a 10 tips I’ve learned on how to make the most out of your maiden voyage into classes on improvisation.
#1) Have an open mind.
Let’s be honest, some improv exercises are weird. Organic openings, honest emotional monologues, and even Bunny Bunny can seem weird at first. But they all have a purpose in making you a better improviser.
Keep an open mind and allow yourself to truly commit to the exercise.
#2) Don’t try to be “right.”
I like to be right. I also like to do things right. As a result, improv can be a challenge. When doing improv exercises or scenes, I used to have a mentality of “I want to do this exercise correctly” or even figure out the purpose of it and then do it “perfectly” to impress the instructor.
Improv doesn’t work like that. First, the exercises are not meant to be done perfectly. You’re going to forget a word or two when jumping into Hot Spot–that’s more than fine. Second, the beauty of improv is that there is no wrong choice, but that also means there is no right choice either. There’s only the choice you make in the moment and what you do with it afterwards.
#3) Leave your judgment at the door.
You’re going to do bad improv scenes. Your classmates are going to do bad improv scenes. Heck, your instructor may lead you into bad improv scenes (or “stupid” exercises or “dumb” sidecoaching or countless other things you may want to criticize).
In fact, if you aren’t doing any bad scenes or exercises that challenge your style of play, you probably aren’t pushing yourself.
The point is, leave any type of that judgment at the door. If you want to critique your own play later, after class (as I often do as a way to see where I need to make improvements), fine. Just don’t do it in class. It takes you away from the moment and distracts you from what’s important–being present for your other classmates.
#4) Be confident but humble yourself.
Some people enter into an improv class with loads of experience. Maybe they were in an improv group in college or have performed in theater or have done a number of shows as a stand-up comedian. Some people enter class never having done any type of performance before.
Whichever group you fall into, be confident in your ideas (they’re already awesome, they may just need to be tweaked as you go), but also be humble about your skill.
This second point is especially true for people who have improv experience. You may start to think “I’m too good for this” or “I already know all this.” Sure you might already know concepts like “Yes And,” but it can be hugely beneficial to take a step back and review the basics from time-to-time.
Use a return to basic improv as an opportunity to work on a new style or challenge yourself in a new way. Be confident in your abilities but humble yourself and do all of the exercises with 100% commitment.
#5) Get to know your classmates.
In all the classes I’ve taken the one thing more important than the instructor has been my classmates. And I don’t mean who the people are, but what’s my relationship to them, how well do I get to know them.
The classes that I’ve hated or were ambivalent about were the ones where I didn’t get to know the 15 other people who I’d be spending 8 weeks with. They were just acquaintances I saw once a week.
The classes that I’ve loved have been the ones where I got to know the people I was learning with. We would go out together after class, see shows together, or even just do bits over email. Not only does it make the class more fun, it also makes the improv scenes better.
And a bit of forecasting for you: it’s the people you stay connected to that will likely make up your first Indie team (an important next step after your first few levels of classes).
Note: The first 5 tips were more on the mindset and attitude to have while in class. The next 5 are more practical in nature.
#6) Bring a notebook (and pen).
You don’t have to take extensive notes (like I did), but write down key phrases or ideas that your teacher says that you like. Some of my favorite improv quotes include:
- “Treat your fellow players like geniuses and poets.”
- “Be more brave than impressive.”
- “We want to see the t-rex with the backpack.”
#7) Bring a bottle of water.
It’s always good to stay hydrated and you’ll likely be talking and/or moving around a lot.
#8) Eat something before class.
You don’t want to be distracted by hunger while you’re focusing on becoming a better improviser.
#9) Wear appropriate clothing.
While you may look great in that suit or stunning in that dress, it will likely restrict your choices as an improviser. You want to wear comfortable clothing that you would be fine rolling around in–you never know when your improv scene is going to require demonstrating “stop, drop, and roll” or re-enacting an army “crawl-through-the-trenches” scene.
If you’re coming directly from work (as I so often did), either bring a change of clothes or be willing to spend a little more on dry-cleaning in case you get dirt on your business attire.
#10) Most importantly, have fun.
No matter what your reason for taking an improv class, you should have fun. Not just because, “yay, fun!” but because it will make your improv scenes better. When you’re enjoying your time on stage with your classmates, you’ll make moves that excite you and your fellow players. And isn’t the whole point of improv to have fun? I think so.
For the second year in a row, one of my goals was to perform at least 100 times. Last year I hit 119 performances, this year I hit 133.
Here are some stats regarding the performances:
- 41% of shows were shortform improv, 36% of shows were traditional longform improv, 18% were musical improv, and 5% were stand-up.
- I had 19 shows in July (my highest) and only 5 shows in both September and October (my lowest). I averaged 11 shows per month or 2.5 shows per week.
- I performed for roughly 5,000 people in 2012. My biggest audience was in front of 400 people (our CSz Championship Show in Chicago); my smallest was in front of 4 people (at a stand-up open mic).
And finally, a show breakdown by team:
- ComedySportz – 51
- Mint Condition – 29
- Silver Fox – 18
- Grappler – 18
- Stand-Up – 7
- Other – 10