EDMONTON, Canada - If you're trying to convince someone to come and watch your little comedy show, you probably want to be kind, charming, friendly and possibly even witty, right? Being a condescending a-hole is not the way to go about it, right?
I bet that's what they teach you in the first minute of the first day of Marketing 101. "Good morning class. Don't be a jerk. Now then, let's open our textbooks."
I'm in Canada at the moment, finishing up the run of my "Me, My Stuff and I" show at the Edmonton Fringe Festival. This is a big theater festival, with close to 200 acts from all over the world competing for audience, so you have to work to get the word out. And the best way to do this is to hand out postcard-sized fliers to people as they wait in line for other shows. I've been doing this all week long. Extreme pimpage.
If you really want to give your self esteem a run for its money, you might want to try spending a long week handing out promo material for your deeply personal autobiographical solo comedy about saving stuff. Some people are interested, some mildly interested, some refuse to even take your flier, some like to make fun of you, some will continue to read the paper while you talk to them, and some will just stare at you with dead, dead eyes. And this is all in the course of about 5 minutes. Repeat endlessly for 10 days.
It sounds painful, and it is, but I'd recommend it. I think of it as self-esteem sit-ups. If you can keep your composure while people consistently ignore you, well, you've gained a skill that will serve you for life. Especially if you spend your life handing out fliers, as I currently seem to be doing.
The 1,000 slick, glossy, postcard-sized fliers I had printed up before I arrived were gone by the first weekend, so I took to handing out photocopies of the reviews I just got. One reviewer wrote that I'm "darkly scintillating with brilliant sardonic wit." Cool! I'd make sure to read that part aloud to people as I handed them my makeshift flyer. "And according to my review, I'm darkly scintillating, etc. ... ha ha ha ... please come and see my show ... please?"
The past few days have been getting harder and harder. I remember turning to another performer who was also handing out fliers and commenting that I was tired of offering my show to the glassy-eyed bovine masses. Such observations are a sign that it's time to take a break, but I pressed on.
One woman takes a look at my review and says, "Oh, I heard about your show." Promising. Then she looks at the first few sentences and says, "Oh, the show is about your stuff - I thought it was about collecting stuff in general." Then she folds the sheet in half and puts it in her pocket.
That's when things went horribly wrong. Days of frustration suddenly came to a head, and this woman was about to get the passive-aggressive brunt of it.
"Well, by exploring the personal you reveal the universal. You know ... it's called art!"
And I turned and walked away.
Now, I don't really know much about art. I probably read about that whole personal/universal thing in a comic book at some point and it stuck in my head. I don't really know much about anything. I handed out my review for several days before someone asked me what "sardonic" meant. I didn't know. Oops.
So to give some poor innocent bystander a snippy lecture on the nature of art was obnoxious, hypocritical and a good example of being a bad human being. And, even worse, not a good way to self-promote.
I sat on a bench and realized that I needed a walk. And a nap. And a punch in the face.
I saw this woman again later that day in another line. I apologized to her about as profusely as I ever have to anyone. She told me that I was rude and that I had judged her based on nothing. I agreed. She told me that she was a novelist so she knew more about art than I ever would. I agreed. She told me that she bought a ticket and was coming to see my show tomorrow night. I ... what?
You mean I could have spent the week being rude to people and getting them to come to my show? What a waste.