It's funny that when comics send their open dates to bookers, they're called "avails," short for "availability." Most of the time, you send them to no avail. That's what's hilarious about it. It's extra funny when you're staring at a calendar full of white space, you have no money in the bank, and you fancied yourself a working comic at one point. A real stitch, right?
Like every comic and every room, each booker is a unique situation. The ones you want are the ones who reply to your emails, give you a chance in their rooms, treat you fairly, rate your work honestly, and bring you back on a regular basis. Once a year is good. I can build on that. No one gets sick of me, but I can develop a rapport with your town, make friends among the staff, and feel like that's one weekend a year where I know I'll have a place to do what I do.
On the opposite end of the scale, there's the ones who just never reply. You get new video, you post new open dates, you mention how someone who works there likes you, and those emails drop off into the ether like messages in bottles off a waterfall. You're pretty sure they're getting dumped into a spam folder, but you keep trying. Not too much -- you don't want to be a bother or anything, while you're starving at home and gritting your teeth when people you know get stuff you don't get.
There's the ones who you think have soured on you, who don't reply for a reeeeeally long time after you worked there before. You're convinced they groan in disgust every time your name pops up in their inbox, and you wonder what unremembered transgression crosses their mind. You rack your brain. Didn't you have a good set or two there? Didn't you handle the drunk heckler pretty well? Weren't you getting along well with the headliner? You waited till you got back to the hotel to get drunk and eat all that Taco Bell, right?
Meanwhile, that booker glances at your name, thinks 'eh, nothin' this month, pal' and deletes your email without sparing you another nanosecond's thought.
There's a few that you know aren't gonna book you. You send them messages more out of spite than anything. You resolve to kill them with kindness. You plot elaborate putdowns for when you're super famous and they beg you to grace their stage with your presence one last time. You secretly hope they change their mind and book you, every time you hit send.
You know - you rationally know - that none of this is the agonizing gladiatorial thumbs-up-and-down that you think it is. Bookers are just harried, tired human beings who get asked for work literally constantly. You don't stand out to them because you can't stand out to them. They don't hate you because they don't have the energy to give that much of a shit about you, and if they can get you in, they probably will at some point.
(Unless you're awful. Maybe you're awful. Would anyone tell you if you were? Oh God.)
Sometimes a crumb falls from God's table. I just booked a great weekend at a club I've been petitioning for over two years. I'd all but given up ever working there, I had no hope of getting booked, and now I'm on a special-engagement weekend with no idea why.
Sometimes the crumb goes away. I got work at one of my favorite places last year, and they didn't bring me back this year. I thought I was established there for good, and now I'm back to square one with no idea why.
It's a constant push and pull, and from what I've seen of headliners and more well known performers, it never ends. The stakes change and the numbers increase, but there's still the same anxiety, self-doubt, jealousy and agonizing twisting in the wind when you don't get what you want, or at least get answers.
It's all about the journey, and being grateful for what you do get. It's hard to remember that when you get blown off by the club that would rather give the busboy ten more weekends of stage time, or when the perfectly constructed run of shows you were so proud of falls out because the z-list celeb headliner insists his sponsor-slash-minder has to be the opening act. It's tough when your social media timeline is full of pictures of a showroom you killed in three years ago whose people no longer answer your messages. It's awful and unfair and no one cares because it's a super first-worldy problem and other people have real shit to worry about.
The only way to win is to not quit, so you don't quit, and every few Mondays you fire up Gmail, suck down some coffee, crack your knuckles like a sad piano player and play that song again. "Hi there - Keith Bergman is a feature from Toledo, he'd love to work your room, and here's a list of all the days he'd rather be telling jokes in your establishment than writing this blog."
Where I write about the stuff I do when I'm out doing the stuff I do.