Being A Professional with Mark Masters

INJ 66 | Being A Professional

 

Mark Masters is a comedian based in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in clean material and has performed in showcases in New York City and Miami. He is just kicking off his career and recently published a book, Not Good Yet, that addresses his first six months as a comic.

Listen to Episode #66 here:

Being A Professional with Mark Masters

Our guest is Mark Masters. He is a comedian based in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in clean material and has performed in showcases in New York City and Miami. He’s kicking off his career and published a book, Not Good Yet that addresses his first six months as a standup comic. Welcome, Mark.

It’s great to be here.

If you weren’t working as a comedian, what would you be doing?

I’d be making a lot more money and have a healthier ego probably. I’m completely focused on the comedy. I love that bumper sticker that says, “My life is better than your vacation.” I would probably do something around vacations because I’ve always envied people who work in resort towns, vacation stuff, maybe run a Bed and Breakfast or something along those lines.

Is that your final answer, you’d run a Bed and Breakfast somewhere? Where would you run it?

A ski town in Colorado.

How about steamboat? I like steamboat.

Yeah.

Why say that? Tell me more. Why would you run a Bed and Breakfast? Why would you want to do vacation stuff?

What motivates me is seeing people have positive experiences that I helped create. That’s part of what got me into comedy. It’s fun to make people laugh. It feels good to generate that experience. Similarly, when I do my standup routines, a lot of times I talk about being an Airbnb host. That’s something I do. One of my favorite things about that is when guests have a great time. It doesn’t necessarily need to directly relate to something I did but I enabled that experience. If they come out and a boyfriend proposes to his girlfriend, “We had the most magnificent hike and we saw this elk. It was unbelievable.” It warms my heart and it makes me happy. That’s fun in a way that money isn’t.

You’re an Airbnb host. What kind of property do you have?

[bctt tweet=”In comedy, it’s fine if there’s a lot of laughter; but if it’s quiet out there, it is scary.” via=”no”]

I have a small condo up in the mountains and I have a place in Denver, my house that I sometimes rent out the whole thing when I’m traveling.

Is there a secret to being a good Airbnb host?

It’s the same secret, preparation and experience. People will ask the same questions over and over again. You can be a pretty good Airbnb host on day one but guaranteed an Airbnb host who’s been doing it for five years is better than a starting host. It’s very similar to comedy.

What are the three big questions that you get?

“How do I work on the television? What’s the Wi-Fi password?” I would say something about the kitchen and the question varies. “Do you have a grapefruit spoon? Do you have popcorn kernels? Do you have olive oil?”

I’m starting to realize that I might be the world’s easiest Airbnb guest. I don’t ever ask questions, although I will give you my one huge pet peeve. It says that there’s an iron and it’s barely an iron. It’s the cheapest possible iron that you can purchase. The ironing board is one of those tiny ones that you have in a dorm. I had this experience. I traveled for business a lot and I’m trying to dress well. Admittedly, I’m a tidy individual and I like to look crisp. I went to an Airbnb. They had one of those things and it doesn’t work very well. If you’re hunched over, it’s too small. I’m 6’5”, my pants are crazy long. It so happened fortunately for me that the apartment was nearly above a Bed, Bath & Beyond. I went down there and I bought a full-sized iron.

That happens. Guests leave things all the time for improvements. I’ll say as some advice to everybody, part of being a good Airbnb guest is asking some questions. The host appreciates some questions. They’d rather hear that you couldn’t figure it out how to get CNN to work then to later find out in a review that the TV wasn’t working. A pretty common question I get is more about hairdryers. A lot of women will want to clarify that there is a hairdryer. They see that there’s one in the listed amenities but sometimes they go to places and it’s not there. They always want to double check to see if they want to fly with it. I’ve had people checking with me about my irons. In one place, I have a huge, very nice iron and ironing board. In the other place, I’m very upfront, it even says it in the description that it’s a dormitory-style.

When I told them I’m going to buy one, they said, “We’ll keep the receipt and return it when you’re finished.” The thing that killed me was I bought the cheapest big ironing board. It was $20. The dormitory one was $10. The choice was I was going to save $10.

A good host will reimburse you. That’s what I do when things break. That saves me a lot of headaches. If I don’t have to drive over and drop off a new supply and you’re willing to go buy it, send me a picture of the receipt. I’ll round up to the nearest $10 and send you that money through Airbnb.

You are new to comedy but you’re not new to life. You’re not a 23-year old right out of college pursuing his dream.

INJ 66 | Being A Professional
Not Good Yet: Lessons From The First Six Months and One Hundred Comedy Performances of a Denver Open Mic Comedian

I’m in my early 40s and had a full career but just on a lark, I decided to check out comedy. That’s a story in my book, Not Good Yet. That’s how I got into this. It seemed to me like something that’s very difficult and challenging. I love challenges. We were talking about how I enjoy long books that I get into. If you get into a short book and you really enjoy it and then it’s over in a couple of days, you’re sad. Like when a Netflix season ends and there are no more episodes, you’re ready to binge watch the next thing. When you get into a book that’s really long and you’re enjoying it, that’s one of the greatest thrills for me. I felt like getting into comedy there was the potential for that. This was going to be something so difficult that it would keep my brain engaged for a very long time.

We’re both reading the same book, The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy by Kliph Nesteroff. It’s a history book more than a comedy book.

I’m a super nerd about all things comedy. It’s a big book. I’m excited to spend time enjoying it and learning from it.

As an adult and as someone who’s had a career before, I’ll be honest with you, you have your shit together. Let me tell you the ways that you do. One, you answered my emails promptly. Two, you showed up early. Most of my guests, I have to get a message from them, meet them at the curb, get them to the room, get them to the bathroom and do all these things. You took care of all of that yourself. You showed up five minutes early. The fact that you’ve found this office is impressive. Which means that you’re here really early. You also found the bathroom. I was actually on the phone with a previous guest and I was chatting with her and I said, “I’ve got to get going. I have a podcast guest coming. He’s a new comic and has already written a book.” She said, “You don’t have to ask him if he has a bed frame.”

I have a lot of disadvantages to comedy. I get tired late at night. These mics are miserable sometimes. At 1:30 in the morning, I’ve been waiting for three and a half hours. I love watching other comedians. Any open mic hosts out there, I’m not complaining at all but it is exhausting to be up that late and you’ve got to put in the time and the time sometimes is very late. That’s a disadvantage sitting in these uncomfortable stools for three or four hours. I’m older, in my twenties, that would have been easy. I’m always sore like I played a game of ice hockey right before just from sitting awkwardly for three or four hours.

I’m not as up to date on all the memes and whatever’s the current zeitgeist of young Millennials. That’s the audience. I need to talk about those topics but I don’t necessarily know them. It happens all the time that I have to ask a comedian later like, “I didn’t get your joke. Can you explain what this word means?” A lot of times they’re really dirty words. Bukkake was the word. I heard that joke three or four times and I had no idea what it meant. Finally I asked the comedian, “What does bukkake mean?” He was, “I had no problem explaining it to you.” I was like, “I get the joke now.”

This is a caveat for the audience, if you do not know what that word means, be careful before you Google it. Do not Google it on your work computer.

There are advantages too. I run shows down in Denver. I’m very familiar with your challenges, herding cats, hurting comedians but one of my advantages is I’m very organized. I have twenty years of professional experience, phone calls and emails. I ran a show and it’s called Duck Duck Deck. It’s a TED Talk with less preparation. I had a comedian, Sarah Benson, who was running late from work and let me know. I was pleased and impressed. She was only running 30 minutes behind and it was no problem for the show but the fact that she reached out and did that was terrific. It’s very unusual in the world of comedy.

For The Humor Code, my co-author and I went to New York. We met with Chris Mazzilli who runs Gotham Comedy Club. It’s a great comedy club. It’s a tight ship and he’s a total pro. We were asking him questions about advice and so on. His advice was like, “Don’t be an asshole. There are plenty of funny people. If you want to come back, be nice to the staff, show up on time, communicate and be a professional.”

The being nice thing is really important to the ethos of being a good startup comedian.

I had a previous guest. She’s a newish comedian, not as new as you are but we’ve gotten to know each other while she was getting into comedy. Her name is Vally D. One day, we’re on the phone and she and I started talking about all the things she does. She’s really embraced this professional attitude. Tipping the bar staff and introducing herself to different people, letting the host know that she’s arrived, taking notes, following up with people and sending thank you notes. I was frantically writing down all the things that she was talking about doing before, during and after her working on her material. It was 20 to 30 things at which I think is interesting. Laughter’s the currency but there are all these other things that matter in terms of getting invited. When you think about, “Who am I going to have again?” You’re like, “I can rely on this person.” You clearly have your shit together. You’ve already written a book. When did the book idea happen? Did it happen before you started?

It was probably four months in. There were a bunch of reasons I wrote it. One is to give back to the community. For comedians who have been doing this for years, that seems ridiculous. The things in this book will be so trivial and obvious to them but there are a lot of people that don’t know, who have never gotten into comedy, that you’re supposed to introduce yourself to the host or even had a sign up at an open mic. I have a whole chapter on how to do your first open mic and a whole other chapter that explains my first open mic, which is a hilarious story of failure. Doing the schadenfreude like laughing at other people, you can laugh at all my failures.

[bctt tweet=”It feels great to get real genuine laughter which you’ve been seeking forever in your own comedy.” via=”no”]

It’s actually tough for a ten-year veteran to write a book about starting out in comedy because you forget.

You don’t have that context and that was another thing I wanted to capture a snapshot in time. I’ll never really be at that point again. I’ll never be that bad or that not good. The title of the book is Not Good Yet, which is optimistic.

I have this thing about writing. I’m not a good writer but I’m not a bad writer. I get that idea. Do you journal?

I’ve started free writing. I have this thing where I get up early and I do twenty minutes of meditation, twenty minutes of writing and twenty minutes of reading before I start my day. Are you familiar with the intermittent fasting? I’ve been doing that with my smartphone or trying to where I don’t look at the smartphone before I go to bed. I’m less good at that but in the morning, I’m getting better at it. A lot of people sleep with their smartphones and I don’t want to look at it very first thing when I get up. I want to do some stuff, remind myself what life was twenty years ago because I lived fine without that thing. That twenty minutes of writing, it ends up turning into a little bit of journaling because I write as quickly as I can, as much as I can spit out. Sometimes it’s jokes, sometimes it’s memories from the night before, and sometimes it’s just a free form on a sheet of paper. I like the individual pieces of paper because it’s like a blank slate every day. I don’t feel like it’s a continuation of anything.

I’m moving to Los Angeles on a sabbatical. I’m using that as an opportunity to change some habits. My morning habit is get up, get out of the house as quickly as possible to a café and do my writing for the day. The reason was I started doing that ten years ago. I’m doing more and more non-academic writing and I’m doing more and more non-writing projects, for example, podcasts. It’s a little more admin than I used to do and used to have but I’m working on a new book. I’m starting to make that more of a priority where I’m working on the book first thing in the morning.

Fiction or nonfiction?

It’s nonfiction. Moving to LA, first of all, the coffee shops aren’t as good a place to work as in Boulder, Colorado. This is an early rising town. LA is not an early rising town. It’s a bigger city, a little more of a late-night place. The co-working space I signed up for doesn’t open until 8:00 AM and I’m an early riser as I imagine you are. I want to tell a story about this because you wrote about the open mic. I love this story that I found out and it has to do with an open mic. Jamie Foxx his name is not Jamie Foxx. It is now but it wasn’t back then. He was having your experience of going to open mics and having to sit through some terrible stuff. The main thing that you’d want to do in an open mic is to work on your material. Listening is helpful but working on your material is primary.

I’d interject for the benefit of new comedians that it is really important to watch the terrible comedians. You can get something out of anybody’s performance even if it’s like how they’re holding the microphone and you’re like, “I don’t like the way they’re holding the microphone. Let me make sure I don’t hold the microphone that way.” Take copious notes, etc. It will keep you engaged.

I think that’s fine. If you could do it for 45 minutes and then perform, it’s better than going for three hours and then performing. Jamie recognized that there were very few women at these open mics and the hosts would often want to space out all these white dudes usually with some diversity, whatever that might be and women being very diverse given the base rates of open-micers. Jamie Foxx made up a name that sounded like a woman’s name. It’s a little diabolical but it’s also very smart. He would get called up earlier and then the name stuck. I like hearing that you’re doing this 20/20/20 thing. I came across it in a book called The 5AM Club, but I’m going to do a different 20/20/20.

What I’m going to do is I’m going to get up, brush my teeth, drink some water and then there’s a gym that’s going to be in my building, I’m going to do twenty minutes of movement. This might be a little yoga, jumping rope, some weight stuff, stretching or whatever I feel like my body needs to get going depending on what I had done the day before. It’s twenty minutes of move then twenty minutes of reflect, that’s journaling or meditation and then twenty minutes of growth. That might be reading something, listening to a podcast, reviewing your to-do list or making your to-do list for the day or whatever that might be. First of all, I’m not going to listen to a podcast because I’m not going to turn my phone on. It’s incredibly important because it’s such a distraction and I turn my phone off when I go to bed. I’m lucky I don’t have anybody that has to get ahold of me and I can afford to have my phone downstairs turned off.

INJ 66 | Being A Professional
The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny

Almost anybody, unless maybe in some extreme situations of parenting, we can disconnect for ten hours. We used to do it all the time. It should be possible.

How long have you been doing that?

A couple of weeks.

How does it feel?

It feels good. I didn’t have enough time one day to do all the reading and I was disappointed in myself. I’m not very strong on meditation. I have no idea what I’m doing but I feel like I’m sleeping better because my brain is looking forward to the meditation the next morning. I’m getting up a little more energized. I feel like it’s my brain telling me, “It’s time for that twenty minutes of quiet. Let’s go do it.”

I know that mine will take some time because I have to unlearn ten years of habit. The good news is I’m going to a new place. I’ll have different cues. I haven’t had her on as a guest but I’m sure I will at some point for my forthcoming podcast, Wendy Wood. She’s a USC professor who does work on habits and her research shows that the best way to start new habits is when you start a new lifestyle, starting a new job or you move to a new house. Let’s chat about the book a little bit. It has a little memoir element to it but it also has a little bit of how-to. Someone who’s like, “I’m thinking about doing this,” this would be a good resource.

My ideal sale would be parents of an adult who’s been considering open mic comedy for a while and they buy thousands of them and send them to their kids. They might never do anything about it as most people do. A lot of people think, “I’m going to go to an open mic this year,” and a whole year goes by and they never do. When I talk to people who have gotten off stage for the first time, many of them this has been a long time coming. They’ve been thinking about it for a long time.

Hit me with a few pieces of advice you would have and then I’ll see how I did. I’ll reflect back on my open mic experience. You can tell me how you would grade me.

The most important thing is to introduce yourself to the host to make sure the host knows who you are and reintroduce yourself. We talked about sometimes these mics go three to four hours. The host is not going to remember your name an hour in and your face. If it’s the very first time you’d been there, even if you’ve only been going there a month, you’ve been there four times, they’re mostly weekly, remind the host. It’s polite. You don’t have to be aggressive about it like, “I wanted to remind you, this is my name and I’m excited to be here.”

Check.

Record your set and analyze it afterward. If you can, do video. I don’t video record all my sets but I have a little tripod and a not super expensive GoPro that is very handy to video record my sets. I get a lot out of analyzing my movements on stage and I pick up a lot of bad habits like I still play with the microphone cable, which is distracting. Even as I’m watching it, I can see what a bad habit that is. I’m trying to cut that out.

[bctt tweet=”There are plenty of funny people, but if you want to be a good startup comedian, be nice to people and show up on time.” via=”no”]

Half a check. It was recorded but it’s so painful to watch.

That gets easier but it never gets super easy. It’s fun when you actually do well and get to listen back to that. I know the sets that I’ve done. I did a set at VisionQuest Brewing in Boulder. I don’t often do out of town open mics, but I love them. It’s totally a different scenario being an out of towner. I would watch that mic sometimes when I need a confidence boost. I have a video of it and I did really well, which is unusual.

I’ve done this with professional talks. I don’t have to do it anymore because I’ve really settled on one keynote that I have a script for that I wrote and performed enough times that I pretty much have it. Early on, I would watch old talks to jog my memory in part because I wasn’t doing enough regular speaking. Even on the professional side of talks, I’ve had that experience. What’s next?

Find out how many minutes you have and how the light works and you will be told one thing but in practice, it might be something else.

What do you mean by how the light works?

Not all mics work this way, sometimes you go as long as you want but that’s pretty rare. Usually, the host wants you off the stage because you’re not very funny. Let’s say it’s a three-minute mic, they might light you at two minutes letting you know that you have one minute left. That light could be anything from a waving hand. Most frequently, it’s the cell phone light and they’re flashing it at you. It could be a red flashlight. There are a number of ways it works. You can tell by observing the comics who go before you because if it’s your first time, there will be a lot of comics before you. Sometimes somebody will tell you, “You have three minutes and the light will come at 2:30.” Then you’ll observe that they are not really lighting people until 3:15 and everybody’s going four minutes. If you’re a newer comic, that’s a big difference. First off, you can get off stage early, you can do 90 seconds of material. People will applaud you for giving time back to the room. If you’re up there awkwardly hemming and hawing and trying to make up material on the fly because you didn’t have an extra 30 seconds of material, you should know that going in. You can tell by watching the comedians before.

There’s another thing, the nuanced version of that. In some places, if there’s good lighting, you won’t be able to see into the audience. If you’re in a theater, sometimes you can’t see the light and if you watch the comedians before you, you can tell whether they can see the light or not. If you keep your eye on the host, you see when they light the comic, oftentimes you’ll see the comic nod or point a finger or make some gesture that they’re letting the host recognize that they are aware that they’re supposed to be wrapping up. At some mics, you’ll notice the comics are never acknowledging the light. They can’t see it for whatever reason. That’s helpful in two ways. It lets you know when you get up there you probably won’t see the light and it’s a hint that when you get up there, you might not be able to see the audience, which is a little bit uncomfortable if you’re used to seeing the audience.

It takes a while to get used to that. That came up in The Humor Code. When we were in Los Angeles, we visited the Comedy Store and the belly room has very bright lighting in your face. Maybe you can see the first row but otherwise, you’re not seeing anything.

It’s fine if there’s a lot of laughter but if it’s quiet out there, it is scary. Getting back to taking notes on comedians, I will write down their names, maybe a couple of highlights, funny words I heard or premises that were interesting to me. Words like bukkake that I don’t understand but everybody else clearly understands. Maybe a habit or something they did that I liked or didn’t like. Both are equally valuable to me as a comedian that’s starting and very fresh and moldable. I still have an opportunity to change all those habits. I want to see what people are doing that the audience likes and the audience doesn’t like.

I’m sure you have lots more, but people have to read the book if they want those.

Yes, NotGoodYet.com.

INJ 66 | Being A Professional
Being A Professional: If you’re a struggling, one of the best things you can do is go out of town to an open mic.

 

Speaking of having your shit together, you also have a good website, a good landing place.

I’m way ahead of my comedic skill with my marketing skills other than I’m not on Facebook. You can’t be a comedian and not be on Facebook but I’m trying to break that mold. I have a whole chapter in my book called Not on Facebook. I do want to let everybody know there are a lot of comedians who are friends with some Mark Masters in Denver, which is not me. It vaguely looks like me online but if you think you’re Facebook friends with me, I am not on Facebook.

Why are you not on Facebook? I can imagine why you’re not on Facebook. I’m barely on it but despite the fact that a lot of comedy invites and promotional stuff is happening on Facebook, you decide to persist.

First off, I’ve never been on Facebook my entire life. When it came out a few years ago, I was like, “This is a silly idea, I don’t like it and I’m not doing it. I’m resisting.” Only lately has the tide turned where people are like, “You’re on to something.” A lot of comedians will confess to me that they’re jealous that I’m not on Facebook. I’ve never seen it but it sounds very toxic.

My opinion about Facebook has changed. It used to be fun. It’s less fun now.

There is one school of thought that when you’re early in comedy, you don’t want a big online presence. I’m very careful not to let my video out.

I went searching for a video of you performing and I couldn’t find it.

Even the stuff that I do send, I sent some to a comedy club for a road trip that’s coming up and I watermarked it. I said, “For this comedy club, May 2019.” If it ever gets out, I’ll know who leaked it.

Why not?

The common school of thought is that when I’m three years in as a comedian, I will be embarrassed by my best material right now. I’m very proud of some of my material. Apparently, a couple of years from now, I will think it’s terrible. You don’t want that video out there as bookers might look at it and get the wrong impression of you and see an older video. That’s a benefit to not being on Facebook. I’m not well-known to the community online and that’s probably okay. It’s probably for the better. I’m mostly an open-micer and it’s a real hindrance.

I’m planning a road trip to Seattle, Washington. I’m going to Denver, probably Grand Junction and then Salt Lake or Boise, Idaho, Missoula, Montana, where I’m playing at VFW Lodge and then Seattle, Portland and then back all the way. I’m trying to book comedy shows all along the way and it’s nearly impossible without Facebook. Every community has a Facebook group, where out of town comedians can find show bookers and get matched up. The Missoula story’s actually pretty funny. I’m very proud that I’m doing twenty minutes at a VFW Lodge in Missoula, Montana. I Googled comedy in Missoula, found a newspaper there that had articles and had people’s names and their phone numbers. I texted random strangers. Through a series of connections that led to an email that led to something else, I got booked on this show and I’m pretty excited about it.

[bctt tweet=”You will be told one thing but in practice, it might be something else.” via=”no”]

You’re deciding to keep this constraint and work around it.

For now. A lot of more experienced comedians tell me it will become impossible. I’d like to break that mold and prove that you can do it without Facebook, but I can see the disadvantages. There is a common saying, “To be undeniable,” which I am not yet but I would like to aspire to that and someday be so funny that people have heard of me through word of mouth. There’s another thing, I’m okay with being patient. I didn’t need everything yesterday. A lot of times I need to go to a town twice. I haven’t been to Portland or Seattle as a comedian. It’s okay with me if I need to go there and hit the open mics and get some names, a couple phone numbers and emails. The next time I’m coming into town I’ll contact them. They’ll remember me and hopefully, I made them laugh. I did this in Boston. I went there for the first time, made some good connections and was funny at open mics. If you’re a struggling open mic comedian, one of the best things you can do is go out of town to an open mic. It’s so fun.

That three hours of mind-numbing, watching the same jokes that you’ve heard hundreds of time, it’s all fresh material. You get to watch brand new comedians. Some of them are going to be bad but they’re going to be bad in unique ways that are interesting to you, which is an important piece of the puzzle. You need to do that to improve. The other thing is when you perform, you can show off material you’ve done twenty times at your local open mic and you’ll look way more competent than you should and way funnier than you should. Your materials are going to be fresh and new to that audience and you’re going to get real genuine reflects of laughter, which you’ve been seeking forever in your own comedy open mic scene. I have my own biases about certain comedians. I hear their name and I tune out. I look at my phone or I pick up a book or I’m like, “I’ve listened to this guy or woman 50 times. They’re not going to have anything new.” Occasionally that mold breaks and they’ll have a funny joke and I’ll be like, “I need to pay attention to that person more,” and that’s a bad habit I have. I should watch with fresh eyes to every comedian every time, no matter who it is but that’s human behavior.

I had this experience once with a comedian who shall remain nameless. He’s a funny guy but he kept telling the same jokes for years. I was like, “He’s never going anywhere. That guy’s not going to be successful.” When he would perform, I wouldn’t pay attention. One day, he showed up with new stuff and it was so good. It was so fresh and I lamented his loss of two and a half years of growth.

That’s a real struggle. I churn out new material all the time and I have some go-to jokes that work and I know and I’ll rely on them but I’m maybe too quick to throw away material. I never let jokes mature. I don’t perform them 25 times, partly out of politeness to the other open mic comedians.

That seems like a mistake to me.

I’ll figure that out in time.

It’s a good problem to have so much new material that you could throw away stuff that has promise and that you haven’t developed enough. You use this phrase, “Be undeniable.” The place that you hear about it is Steve Martin has the saying about, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” It’s a shorter pithier version of it. You do clean material.

Nancy Norton was at Comedy Works when I got to do a few minutes and I met her before the show. Here’s a tip for comedians. If you can find veteran comedians who will talk to you about comedy, do it. I introduced myself before the show, “I’m a clean comedian,” and I went up. I told a joke about Neverland ranch and I didn’t swear at all but I reflected on it later that it isn’t exactly clean material. I’m going to talk to her about whether I can call myself a clean comedian and where the line is because of your theory, the Benign Violation Theory, you need to have some violation.

A lot of times I think about PG 13 movies or what you can see on TV, it’s racy compared to what was on TV many years ago or whatever. For me, I don’t quite know where the clean line is but I try and do clean because I feel like it’s harder. It’s like a resistance training, running with weights on your back. Jerry Seinfeld said this many years ago that if you want to be really good in comedy, you shouldn’t swear and swearing is a crutch. It’s a shortcut to getting a laugh. I’ve adopted that philosophy. In my personal life, I swear. In fact, I have a joke about that how people will ask me if I ever swear because I never swear at the open mics and it’s, “Of course, around small children and frustrating experiences.”

INJ 66 | Being A Professional
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory

Because your website is so developed, you have a list of joke topics.

Frankly, it was a filler. I have appearances. I’ve been on showcases all around the country but when I launched it, there was nothing there really.

I wrote some down. If you want to tell the joke, I will welcome that even if you just want to tell the premise. Bitcoin?

It was a Boulder joke. I have a friend who’s an accountant in Boulder. She specializes in intergenerational wealth transfer.

This is basically rich people getting their kid their money without paying too much taxes.

She’s had some Bitcoin millionaire whiz into her office and she says the plans vary but step one is almost always the same, “Move out of your mom’s basement and get your first boyfriend.” It was the very first joke I ever wrote and it’s not great. It’s a little sexist. Why do they have to have a boyfriend or why does it have to be a boy or a guy? I have this problem, it’s a little sophisticated. Intergenerational wealth transfer almost requires an explanation for most people. At the South Club or in Boulder, the South Club being the Greenwood Village Comedy Works down in Denver, which is a different audience, wealthier than the downtown club, a little older as well. They’ll get it. People might have heard it and they’re vaguely aware that rich people do funny things with money. Bitcoin has been doing really well, maybe it’s in the news and people know what it was but a few months ago, it was doing terrible and it had a stink around it and nobody wanted to hear about it.

Consumer DNA tests?

I had an Airbnb guest who was upset about those consumer DNA tests you see on TV. I didn’t know a little tube of spit could tell you why you’ve always looked like your dad’s best friend. I would rate it a good joke, but the premise is hacky. Many people have done consumer DNA test jokes. I don’t know if it passes the level of being so original that it’s worth it.

What I love about what we’re doing right now is I don’t even need to critique the joke. You say the joke, then you critique yourself.

These are old things too. I made this list a long time ago. My very first open mic I told that joke as well.

Sammy Davis Jr?

This is one of my favorite openers. I sometimes travel to do comedy. I was in Las Vegas. I did a set at the Silver Nugget Casino, which gives me two things in common with Sammy Davis Jr. One, we both performed at the Nugget. Two, we both probably will never perform there again.

[bctt tweet=”You can get something out of anybody’s performance.” via=”no”]

Smurfs?

It had something to do with a beard that I grew out.

Mattress?

That’s a closer for me and I don’t want to divulge it.

Job titles?

That’s a silly joke about how people have complicated job titles now. When I was younger, people were just engineer and now it’s like Software Quality Advisor Engineer, whatever. It’s a nine-word title.

Swiss cheese?

That was a dumb joke about fondue. It was about the melting pot and America being a melting pot of a bunch of cultures. That was a bad joke. That was not good, not one I’m proud of.

About job titles and that notion about names and stuff, I started on a book. I actually think that many books should be an essay on Medium and in many essays on Medium should be a Twitter thread. Things tend to be a little too long. There was a book that came out called Bullshit Jobs, that you might get a kick out of knowing your work. These are jobs in which even the person who’s performing the job can’t justify its existence. It came out of a really provocative essay. The essay’s quite good and you get the gist of the book. What I like about it is, the takeaway of the book is that it turns the normal status system sideways. For example, a comic is not a bullshit job.

A lot of people think being a comedian is a bullshit job but it’s not because comics create value in the world, at least the decent ones. People in exchange for money, do comedy. They create value. A janitor is not a bullshit job. A window washer is not a bullshit job because if they stopped doing their job, the world becomes the worst place as a result of it and yet there are people in corporate structures who are vice presidents if their job went away, the world changes in zero ways. It’s a profound idea and it’s worth asking yourself, “Do I have a bullshit job or not?”

Since you mentioned Medium, I do have a very untrafficked Medium account with a couple of essays on it. It’s a giveaway on there. If you can find my medium page, it says that I will mail you a copy of my book signed if you send me a note. Nobody has redeemed it yet. I’ll send you an audiobook as well.

I’m excited for you because a lot of people don’t realize that getting good at comedy, that talent matters, being smart, witty and observing the world matters and being able to string together words in a way that are funny matters. There’s this whole underlying system that really matters that allows people who may not be a Dave Chappelle to get good.

It’s been fascinating to me to see behind the curtain of the magicians that are quality comedians in the Denver open mic scene. These are people who get genuine laughter from me. The first time they made me genuinely laugh, I felt like I could never reach that level. I was so surprised to later see them do the same exact material. I thought they were coming up with it on the fly and then I go out to lunch with some of these comedians and find out that they take copious notes as well. I keep spreadsheets of all my performance. I know that I’ve done 247 open mics since I started on June 25th. Exactly how many minutes that is. It’s 18.6 hours or something like that. I haven’t even worked three days yet in almost 51 weeks. There is a lot of hard work and science to use something that you would relate to comedy.

I want to close with a question and this is related to our conversation about books. Beyond that, what are you reading, watching or listening to that’s really good?

City of Thieves is a book that I read by David Benioff. It’s terrific, available in paperback, it’s quick and it’s short. It’s a great story that taught me about the importance of storytelling. It’s beautiful and it’s well done. The other book is called Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday. It’s the story of Hulk Hogan and Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley millionaire. It’s fascinating and it got optioned for a movie. In the movie side, I thought about this because I listened to a lot of your episodes. I’m into these indie Sci-Fi movies. I have two that coincidentally came out ten years apart. One came out in 2004 and the other in 2014. I can’t wait to see what 2024 we’ll bring. 2004 was a movie called Primer, which was made for the unbelievable amount of $7,000. The other one is Time Lapse that came out in 2014. I saw it on Netflix a long time ago. I don’t know as much about it but it was really good and impressive.

Mark, thank you for making this easy on me and thank you for contributing. This has been a fun conversation.

Thank you. For me, it’s intimidating to be here. You’re very accomplished and your guests were Neal Brennan and Wende Curtis, etc. I shouldn’t be here right now. It feels like some imposter syndrome but I hope the audience enjoyed it and check out my book at NotGoodYet.com and MarkMasters.co if you want to book me. What it says on the back of the book is, “Mark is available to perform at your showcase, work event or dog’s birthday party.” I will do comedy anywhere. Look me up. I’ll make you laugh.

I like having new comics on here. It’s an exciting time.

Thank you for giving back to the community as well.

Resources mentioned:

About Mark Masters

INJ 66 | Being A ProfessionalMark Masters is a comedian based in Denver, Colorado. He specializes in clean material and has performed in showcases New York City and Miami. He is just kicking off his career and recently published a book Not Good Yet that addresses his first six months as a comic.

 

 

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