BEHIND THE MIC
Justin Wood took my class almost 5 years ago. Since then he's been traveling the road, doing shows for the military and even running his own show. I talk with Justin about how he started in stand up and what he loves (and hates) about running a room in LA.
TOM CLARK: Tell me a little about how you got your start in comedy. I know you lived in Ohio, is that where you started or was it once you moved out here?
JUSTIN WOOD: I started doing comedy in 2009 in Columbus, Ohio. I was doing comedy for a little over a year and one of my best friends invited me to move out to Los Angeles with him. I figured I would move out here for a few months just to see what it was like and learn a little more about comedy and then move home. Now 7 years later, I’m still out here.
TC: You're a military man, which is awesome! How does that play a role in your comedy? Also how do you use your military background to give back (I'm thinking of the various veteran shows you put on, but feel free to expand on that)?
JW: It helps out a lot, especially with material. I have also toured to different military bases and performed there. The troops really enjoy hearing comedians who are veterans because we’re relatable. I’ve also put together quite a few shows in the Los Angeles area for the homeless veterans out here to try and bring up their morale and it’s just a great way of giving back for myself and the other comedians.
TC: You took my stand up class a few years into your comedy career. I feel like many comedians don't have the ego to ask for help once they get started. What motivated you to do that and how did the class help you?
JW: I just feel like there’s always something to learn when it comes to comedy. I took your stand up II class twice because it’s a great way to learn and have someone hear your jokes and give you feed back. I know there is a certain stigma that is attached to comedy classes but knowing you, I knew that it would be worth the investment, hence the fact I took it twice. Still to this day I have used some of the notes and tools that you gave me in your class.
TC: I know at one point you debated about moving back to Ohio in order to get more stage time. Ultimately you were able to stay and make things work. Can you tell me about your decision and how you found a way to make Los Angeles and comedy work for you?
JW: The comedy business isn’t easy. I went through a phase where I was fed up with not being able to get bookings or television spots that others were getting. It’s something that no comic should ever do, but unfortunately we all go through it. I decided to stick it out and started doing more rooms around town. I also know that I’m at a weird spot in my “career” that if I move to another town I would have to start at the bottom of the totem pole.
TC: In addition to doing comedy, you're also running a room. FREE PLUG: The Bare Burger in Santa Monica. Every Thursday night at 8pm! It's a great room and the owner seems really behind it. What goes into making a good room? Also, from the booker perspective what do you love with comedians and what drives you crazy?
JW: It’s a lot of hard work, luck, and chance. I have tried to run 4 different shows in Los Angeles and this one finally hit. We just celebrated our one year anniversary show a couple weeks ago and continue to have a good turn out each week and it’s been a great thing for me to improve as a comic.
I think what makes the room great is that we’re not a comedy club and the owners of Bareburger have been extremely supportive of the room and realize that not every week is going to be a sold out show but even on our slow nights they’re supportive. When I first started I was weary of doing the show because of the fear of attendance and when the owner told me “We’re a burger joint, we make our money from that. For as long as you want to do a show, we will do one.”
From working as a booker, what drives me nuts is the last day call offs. I understand if there’s notice because I do tend to book comedians who are often busy on the road and other gigs so I completely understand that things come up. With the success of Grass Fed Comedy though, I have noticed that recently I have not had this problem. I can also tell you at least 10-15 comedians every Thursday who are “free tonight if you have any call offs.” haha
TC: What advice would you give to new comedians looking to book spots, not just in your room, but overall?
JW: Don’t be afraid to hear no. Don’t take any offense to it. A better way to get booked on a show is to go support the room and talk to the booker there instead of a Facebook message. Get in good with bookers who run respectable rooms. If a booker’s first question to you is “how many people can you bring?” Stay clear from that, be known as a comic not from a number. Watch a lot of comedy, I know a lot of comedians say they don’t like to watch comedy. For me, it motivates me. When I see comics continuously pumping out material, it’s amazing and inspiring to me.
Justin Wood is the founder of Grass Fed Comedy and has had the opportunity to open for Louie Anderson, Ian Bagg, and Tom Clark. Follow Justin on all social media @justin_wood_