No doesn’t mean never. It means “Not now” or “not this way. Unless YOU make it mean “never”. That’s in your hands, not the booker’s.
1) No one owes you stage time. Say that out loud, over and over again. Stage time is a privilege, not a right.
2) Bookers are looking for any reason to say no. They already have an active roster. Every new comedian they hire is another one they have to stop hiring. The only way a roster spot opens up is when a comedian outgrows a booker, self-destructs, or dies. At any club, there are 5-10 spots a year of turnover. That’s it. You may be hilarious – but you’re unproven to them. And they already trust their existing roster.
3) Like any humans, bookers have loyalty. After you work your way up with them, you wouldn’t want them to stop working you in favor of some fresh new act. So why do you expect them to do that to someone else for YOU?
4) Funny is a commodity, not a resource (thanks, Troy Alan, for that one). There’s funny everywhere (it’s like corn in that way). So our job is to convince bookers why our particular brand of funny is what they need. What makes your funny different? What do you offer in addition to funny? That’s what you need to communicate.
5) This is, above all else, a business. Everyone has bills to pay. Get the idea of the big comedy club making a ton of money off the backs of their artists out of your head. You could buy most comedy clubs for less than it costs to buy a Subway franchise. So bookers tend to book two types of acts – acts that can draw, and acts they believe will be able to draw in the future.
6) When a booker says no to you, thank them for their time. That’s it – nothing else. Don’t try to convince them they are wrong. That has worked as often as whistling at a woman from a construction site. The only thing it will do is anger them and make you look desperate.
7) Do not re-apply to the same booker too quickly. They are looking at thousands of comedians. You had your chance to make a great first impression and you failed. Maybe you didn’t send a tape reflective of your best. Who’s fault is that? Wait at least 6 months, preferably a year before you reach out to a booker who already told you no. Some say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I say squeaky wheels are incredibly annoying.
8) I have had people freak out when I’ve told them no. Personal insults, threats, questioning my integrity, etc, etc, etc. Anything they can do to blame anyone but themselves. That’s how you turn a “not now” or a “not this way” into a “never”.
9) Know that for everyone who says no to you, there may be someone down the block who’ll say yes. No one has a monopoly over a comedy scene, ever. Even at the same club or television show, bookers change frequently. Just put your head down and do good work, and you’ll be up in front of them (or their replacement) again soon.
10) Know that rejection is not just part of this business, it’s how you get better. When I was three months in, one of the bookers from Carson Daly was interested in me for a segment. I sent her some ideas, and I never heard back. And I am so thankful. Because I wouldn’t have been ready. She was good at her job, and that’s why she turned me down. If you are rejected only 99% of the time, you will be the most successful entertainer ever. So get used to it. Enjoy it. And learn from it.