"Covid is still a big issue that we're all just pretending isn't."

"Covid is still a big issue that we're all just pretending isn't."
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Today I’d like to share the first of hopefully many conversations with people working in and around comedy. This one is with Glen Tickle, a New Jersey-based standup comic. In 2019 he self-produced his first special, Good Grief, which he released the next year. In 2021 Dry Bar Comedy released his second special, The Hardest Last Name You Can Ever Have, recorded a few months before the pandemic. We talked about his experiences getting back into live shows as the industry reopened, what corporate gigs pay, why comedians need a union, and more.

Could you tell me a bit about you you were at with comedy before the pandemic?

I live in New Jersey. I live in the town I've lived in my entire life and there's nothing there. The nearest scene is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where Bethlehem Steel used to be. Now it's a big arts center. I started doing open mics there. And then I'm not terribly far from New York or Philly, so I would go in and do mics and shows in there.

It was a hobby for a long time, just a thing I liked doing and then start getting paid for once in a while. When I started doing college gigs was when it became a job. I was doing mostly college stuff as paid comedy work before the pandemic hit. I had a whole tour that I had booked at a NACA event that all got canceled the same week.

After it became clear that this wasn't going to be a two-week thing, Zoom shows started popping up. That helped. I lucked out because I actually self-produced a special. It was a one-man show I did about my brother, he died in a car accident and I wrote a bunch of jokes about it. We filmed that in December 2019, and then I filmed a special with Dry Bar Comedy in January 2020. So right before everything shut down, I had both of these in the can. The one I self-produced came out April 2020, and then Dry Bar didn't come out until July 2021.

When it came out, there was a dip in the numbers. It felt safe to, with precautions, be out doing comedy again at the time. Because Dry Bar is super clean stuff, I ended up getting a ton of corporate work out of it.

So at first a lot of it was still virtual, Zoom shows and stuff. And then as things started to open up more, I was doing a lot of these corporate shows, small groups that had been around each other mainly. I didn't know for sure what everybody's level of precaution was, but going to a conference room in Ohio to do an afternoon corporate gig for 50 people felt safer to me than just going in and doing five spots a night at various clubs around Manhattan.

Actually, I managed to avoid Covid until the first show I went back to in Manhattan. That's where I finally got it last year. And it's a pain because I 100% knew that's where I got it. After that, it was a question of—well, if I'm going to keep doing this as a job, this is just a risk I have to live with. So I still try to take whatever precautions I can, but I can't just stay home and be an accountant. This is the only skill I have.

I want to come back to that, but first, I don't know a lot about corporate shows. Could you tell me about what kind of gigs you do, what the companies are like? What kind of money do they pay?

The money is truly all over the place. It's going to sound like I'm just being cagey and don't want to pin down a number, but I'll do a virtual show for a hundred bucks, or I'll go—this guy flew me out to Denver last year and covered travel and hotel. I got paid four grand on top of it. I look at it the same way as any show, which is I travel to that location to pick that amount of money up off the ground. The comedy, that's not hard. I will do that basically for free. The job part of it is having to get there.

I had a few off-and-on corporate shows where companies would reach out because they saw a clip or somebody from the office came to a show I was on. But after my Dry Bar special came out, a booker who does a lot of corporate stuff reached out about working together and pretty quickly started filling up my calendar. Which was great, because this was late 2021. There was not a ton of comedy going on. When I started doing shows again, I did a show at a fundraiser at a zoo, and then I guess I claimed the income wrong that week when I was claiming unemployment, and New Jersey thought I got hired at that zoo so I didn't need unemployment anymore. It took six months to get sorted out.

My wife is a librarian and she was working from home or going into work pretty early on, doing curbside pickup and stuff. So she was basically working throughout the whole pandemic, which helped. A lot of people in different situations than me wouldn't have been able to ride that out. It was a huge inconvenience, but we weren't going to lose the house.

What was it like getting back into the New York scene?

I'm hesitant still to go back. I've done a few shows in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but not a ton. I think part of it is the first time I went back in to do comedy in Manhattan, I got Covid and then I almost had to miss an event that I was really looking forward to.

I look at it the same way I always have, which is I have young kids, so if I have to spend time away from them, I need to make sure it's worth it. And going to do a bar show for free and then getting home at two in the morning doesn't necessarily always feel worth it.

I have a ton of friends who are New York comics, so if I get asked to do one of their shows, it's like, “Oh yeah, I'll just go hang out with my friends, tell some jokes, it'll be a nice evening out.” That's a lot easier to convince myself is worth it than if I do get a rare spot at a club and find out it pays $20.

What are clubs paying nowadays?

Barely anything. Part of the reason I hadn't really pursued that—corporate shows aren't that fun to do. They're usually set up poorly. You have bad sound. It's all just a brightly lit Ramada Inn conference room or something, but they pay well so I keep doing those. And club shows are really fun, but I can't really make a living out of doing feature work in Nebraska for $400 a week. It's just not a feasible plan. I'm sure different clubs pay different amounts, but I've heard from people that have been at this longer than I have that the pay has not gone up in ages.

It's gone down in corporate stuff too—I'll talk to other comics who either currently or used to make a lot more doing corporate gigs than I'm making. Which might just be a negotiation thing, but I remember when I first started doing comedy, everybody was like, "Oh, you got to start doing corporate stuff. You'll make 10, 20 grand a show." I've never been paid that much for a show. If I get over a grand, I'm delighted. That's a great gig.

What do you see as the trajectory for yourself in the next five years or so? What kind of pathway still exists for comics to get to the next step, if there is a next step?

For me personally, I'm trying to—not even do less corporate stuff, I don't mind doing it, I'll gladly keep doing it. I just want to do other things besides just the stuff that pays well. I just recorded an hour in April. I think it’s the third hour I've recorded. And it's the hardest time I had putting it together because it's so hard to work out material when you're doing a corporate Zoom show for 20 people who are muted or you're the entertainment after they've been in meetings all day. That's not really the ideal setting to test new bits out. So it was really hard putting that together.

And then the other option is like, well, I'll just go do more spots and stuff in the city. And you're getting five, 10 minutes, but then you're playing to mostly drunk tourists. So it's a different set of challenges.

In your initial reply to me, you said you feel like things have sort of gone back to normal, but because people are ignoring big problems. What else do you see as the problems no one's talking about?

I think Covid is still a big issue that we're all just pretending isn't. And I mean, me too. I'm talking to you as I'm driving to Nashville to do a show that probably isn't going to be top-tier Covid priorities for most people there. But like I said, this is my job. I didn't leave a lucrative business to pursue comedy. I went to school for film, had a rough go getting work at that, and then started doing comedy and that went better. So this was basically the fallback plan to my film career, which is not the best planning on my part.

There's such a weird right-wing turn. I see people that I started out with that started to get some heat, but it’s with right-wing guys and stuff like that. It’s like, oh, I love that you're getting booked, but yuck, I don't want to go to that show or I don't want to share that clip. Even though we started out together and I think you're a great comic, I don't want to put any heat on that.

I think part of it too is there's an audience for it. There's people who just think comedy is saying offensive things, because the comedian's not going to get fired for saying the thing that you want to say. If you say your favorite racist joke at work, you get fired. So you pay to go see a comic Friday night and you get to hear them say it. There's absolutely people for whom that's the experience they're looking for at a comedy club.

And I think sometimes it becomes—you gotta play to the audience that's listening. So if you're a comic who has a bit of controversy and a bunch of people are yelling at you online, but then this other group is like, "Oh no, ignore them. We think you're great," that's who you're going to start playing to.

When you talk to your friends in comedy or around comedy, what do they they think about these things? Is there much desire to fix the problems?

It's pretty mixed. I have a friend—he's not a comedian. He runs an event space that I used to do open mics and stuff at years ago. He was telling me how much he liked Louis CK's latest hour, and he's like, "Did you like it?" I'm like, "I didn't listen to him. Why would I? He's a creep." And he's like, "Oh, it's really good though. He addresses it." I'm like, "It's too late."

Honestly, one of my favorite comedians was Louis CK. And then when the story broke, it's like, all right, well then he's not anymore. I don't want to hear what he has to say about anything. I did honestly hold out a little hope that maybe he comes back after he takes some time off and starts doing comedy, and he's like, "Here's how I fucked up. Here's how I am working to make reparations for what I did." I feel like if anyone could have stuck that landing, it was him, but he didn’t. And he's just really leaning into that audience that embraced him not in spite of what he did, but because of it. They're like, "Yeah, we actually love that you're a creep because we're all also creeps and we would love to just do the same thing and get away with it like you seem to have."

It's also wild to me that Dave Becky has gotten through this pretty much unscathed.

Me too.

That's not to try to diminish what Louis did, but everyone's like, "Oh, he tried to ruin those women's careers." No, that was Dave Becky. Dave Becky did that part of it. And the fact that he's producing TV shows with Amy Poehler is gross. Not that Louis CK has gotten really any repercussions, but Becky's got none. Most people don't know who he is. It's just because he's not the famous one.

It's disturbing and it’s fucking stupid.

I'm not well known. I'm not doing big club circuits. I do corporate gigs in Ohio a lot, I'm not trying to get signed by Dave Becky. I don't give a shit. Basically since 2020, most of the shows I've done have just been me. I occasionally bring an opener who's usually somebody I know or I get paired up with a feature for a corporate gig somewhere on the road. But now it's like, oh, if I'm going back in the clubs and I'm on a lineup with a bunch of people, do I have to do homework and verify that they're somebody I'm comfortable working with?

I'm friends with comics who are in marginalized groups and it's like, all right, let's say I have a friend of mine opening for me who is a person of color. Am I going to be comfortable bringing them to wherever I'm going? I remember years ago I had a show in North Carolina and I brought a friend of mine who is a Black comic. And I'm like, "Do you want to do this gig? It's up to you. I don't know how you feel about going to the south right now." [And they said,] “No—North Carolina, I'll go to. If you said South Carolina, I would've turned it down."

You have to let people make their own decisions; I don't want to act like I'm trying to be anybody's dad and decide whether I think they should do the gig or not. But it is now something I have to factor into where it's like, all right, if I'm going to go do a show in Tennessee, do I bring my trans friend to open, or is that genuinely unsafe for them? Or would they be insulted that I would even ask?

You've touched on this a bit, but how has practicing comedy—especially in the last couple years—changed your relationship with the form as a consumer?

I've been watching a lot of people's self-produced YouTube specials lately, because I’m in the process of editing the hour I shot in April that I'm planning on just releasing on YouTube. And I started doing it to just see what's out there. A lot of it's pretty rough. A one-camera-setup-in-the-back-of-a-bar-show getting released as a special. But there's also ones that look great, but then the content is questionable. I've been trying to make a point of watching comics that I've never heard of because I feel like that's what I am for most people.

It always feels a dick thing to say, but it makes me feel a little bit better about mine, because it's in-focus and you can hear what I'm saying and I'm not screaming slurs into the microphone. So that alone makes me feel pretty good about the set. The ones that I've watched from comics that I like, it feels like a lot of people's first post-Covid specials have been a little underwhelming for me. But it's just like, well, we've all been inside for a really long time. Maybe you just gotta get a B-minus one out of the way and then we'll all go back to doing our best work again.

Is there anything else that's been on your mind?

You mentioned it a little bit when you asked how clubs pay. The fact that they don't pay enough is a real concern. And while we're doing this, actors and writers are on strike. There's no comedian union. There was. They got it started with the Comedy Store strike when that happened. I forget what year that was.

’79, yeah.

But it didn't last. And I think part of the problem is I would love for there to be a comedian union, but I'm totally incapable of being the one to do it. I would love it if anybody else wants to get that ball going. They have my full support. I’ve talked about it with comedians off and on since 2009, when I started performing, but more in the past few years. But it's a thing where it's not just in entertainment. McDonald's workers are going on strike. I feel like now would be a good time if anybody wants to kick it off.

Do you want to talk about your experiences navigating the comedy industry post-pandemic? Please shoot me an email, I'd love to chat. Or if you already emailed me and I didn't respond, oh my god I'm so sorry, feel free to follow up and I'll get back to you asap. Thanks!

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