I had the pleasure of interviewing Ian Coburn, the author of the soon to be released God is a Woman: Dating Disasters. Our interview was via E-Mail and Phone.  Ian is a talker, and he has strong feelings about many issues. He is a very well educated and eloquent person to interview, I could not bring myself to shorten this article.

Simon@BNN: My research shows that you are increasingly becoming a writer, rather than a performer. What brought this change on?

Ian: Standup comedy is typically a stepping stone to something else, although once a comedian, always a comedian.  Typically, comedians that stay in the biz try to go one of two ways: They look for a sitcom or some regular TV gig.  Or they get into writing.  The writers of “Frasier,” for example, were stand-ups.  Pete Schwaba, a former standup, has sold a few movie scripts. Lots of comedians become writers.  There tend to be more writing gigs, they have a knack for it, and they don’t have to worry about screen issues, like having the right look.  Lots of roles require certain looks.

For me personally, I didn’t want to do a sitcom.  I had agents who wanted to send me out as “the next Kramer,” simply because I’m skinny with a big nose.  But I’m not Kramer; it’s not my shtick.  But it’s about the look.  I also like to keep my anonymity.  Every big act I ever worked with told me, “Cherish your anonymity while you can; you never miss it till it’s gone and you can never get it back.”  Mostly, I had a lot of ideas that didn’t work on stage, mainly because of length.  For example, “God is a Woman: Dating Disasters” is basically a standup routine in a book.  The stories simply wouldn’t work on stage but work great in a book.  Writing gives me more ways to express myself and my background in comedy gives me credibility to land writing gigs.

Simon: You make home base in Chicago, why not LA, or New York?

Ian: It’s real easy to live in L.A and feel like you’re doing a lot when you aren’t. You’re surrounded by the industry.  Just being there makes you feel like you’re part of it, for no other reason than you’re there. As a result, there are lots of people in L.A who sit around and do nothing. Also, it’s hard to find variety in L.A. to inspire characters and originality.  It’s industry, industry, industry.  People aren’t waiters or bankers or teachers… they’re waiters who want to act, bankers with a script, teachers who want to direct…  I was meeting with a producer in L.A. outdoors at a coffee house once.  A homeless guy overheard our conversation and approached us with his script.  Even the homeless in L.A. have scripts!  In Chicago and New York, people are who they are.  A teacher is a teacher.  It makes for better writing of characters.  Also, in Chicago, to feel like I’m part of the industry, I HAVE to be writing. I have to be productive.  Otherwise, I’m not part of anything.  New York is further from L.A. than Chicago, which is centrally located.  Whether you live in NY or not, you HAVE to travel to L.A.  That’s where the industry is.  In Chi-Town, I can easily head to where I need, usually L.A., NY, or even Toronto.

Chicago is a much better location for comedians working the road than L.A. or New York.  There’s no money in L.A. and not much in New York.  You’re not near any cities with good paying clubs in L.A.  In New York, again, you’re too far away from the rest of the country.  Chicago?  All these cities with good paying clubs are within six hours:  Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Dayton, Toledo, Detroit, Des Moines… you get the idea.  And it’s not much further to hit Omaha, Kansas City, Atlanta…

Finally, Chicago is simply a better city than L.A. or New York, as far as I’m concerned.  I get all the balance I need in Chicago, which is something I mention as being very important in the book.

Simon: A question that I always ask authors is how difficult was it to find a publisher. Most say very difficult. They also talk about the lack of shelf space in bookstores. Why would a store owner use that valuable space on a newcomer when they can stick a Stephen King book in there. What are your
thoughts?

Ian: It’s the same old lame answer, but it’s true:  You must push, push, push, then push some more.  I’m still pushing.  Once you get published, you want a bigger publisher.  A bigger advance.  More advertising.  There’s always another step and you have to push to reach it.

Why should a store put newcomers on the shelf?  For the same reason Ford has to keep making new cars.  The same reason Microsoft has to keep updating their software.  Bookstores need to stay competitive.  You have to show them what you have is good enough to put on the shelf and that it is somehow original. Plus, since there’s a return policy in bookselling, there’s not much of a risk if the books don’t sell; the stores can literally get their money back.  Again, push, push, then push some more.  I let bookstores know where I’m going to be on TV, the radio, etc. to help them increase stock there.  Neither I nor them want to miss out on sales.  For me, I have to prove my worth by out marketing everyone else.

When I started comedy, club owners wouldn’t book me because “there are only fifty weeks in a year. We have all the acts we can fit now.  Why book you?”  I wrote material for the local area to compete. If there was a gig for a convention of doctors, I told the booker I would write fifteen minutes of doctor material.  And I did.  And the crowds ate it up.  And I moved up the ladder quickly and got a lot of work. Lots of other acts didn’t do anything new to stay competitive.  There’s always an angle, always a push. FIND IT. Keep looking for new ones.

Simon: The Internet in many ways is the great leveler; operations like Amazon make books available to everyone. Is the internet an important tool to you?

Ian: The big I is a huge tool for the entire industry.  I see the Internet as a tool for expanding an author’s reach.  For example, I make more of a profit of the books sold on www.godisawoman.net than anywhere else.  Hence, I can donate $2 from each purchase to mentally ill children, a cause that is very important to me. I don’t have to be a big name to help bring attention to a cause, I can simply do it with the Internet.  It’s also a vehicle to reach more people more quickly within the industry.

Simon: It is a very funny book, how are sales going? Are they meeting your expectations?

Ian: Thank you for the compliment.  Sales are going well.  Even if sales aren’t going well, you always say sales are going well.  Since the book isn’t officially released until February, most of our marketing and reviews, articles, etc. haven’t hit the public, yet.  Once those start, that will help get a lot more sales.

Simon: Hindsight is 20/20, if you could play the last 10 or so years over would you have made a different career choice?

Ian: Nope.  I’d do everything the same with the career.  Comedy isn’t just a career; it’s a lifestyle that shapes the performer.  I’d be a completely different person without comedy.  I hate to think what that person would be like, because I really like the guy I am right now.

Simon: What is going to be your next literary adventure?

Ian: Right now I’m just focused on marketing the hell out of “God is a Woman: Dating Disasters.”  No matter who you publish with, YOU are responsible for the marketing.  I do have a really cool concept for a future book, and I’m debating turning some screenplays into books.

Simon: I have had a couple of jobs in my time that required extensive travel, I like to travel, but I have to say that I got really fed up with eating out! Do you ever get burned out, and just fed up with the road life?

Ian: Yup.  That’s one reason I got into writing.  I talk a lot about this in the last chapter of the book, again emphasizing balance as being very important in life.  I have the industry record of 106 straight weeks on the road. That’s some major burnout!
 
The second part of the interview was via the phone. Any errors are mine. I do not have a recorder, and do not do shorthand!

Simon: In the email interview you talked about donating $2 to charity for each book sold on your site. Do you know a child with mental health problems.

Ian: Yes, I have a cousin that is autistic, and another one with downs syndrome. There seems to be little help or understanding for these kinds of problem, the $2 might not fix the problem, but it is a start.

Simon: Quote “I do have a really cool concept for a future book”, would you care to share some ideas?

Ian: Well it’s a secret, but if you promise not to tell anyone… I am thinking about combining some of my screenplays into a book. Screenplays are very visual, and they are short. You can convey a lot of information in a small number of pages.

Simon: I love your positive outlook about bookstores needing to stock the new, not the old. I am not sure that I share your optimism, but it is great to hear. I recently interviewed a lawyer, his specialty was intellectual property, and his client list read like a who’s who of the entertainment world, but even he had problems with the bricks and mortar stores. His solution was to visit bookstores near where he lived and try to appeal to the owner.

Ian: It is difficult to break into the regular book store. As an author I push, push, and keep pushing. If I have a gig in a town, I try to get in touch with the local stores. Obviously TV and Radio helps. If the store owners hear about you in the media they are happy to stock the product.

Simon: Are you going to ever fess up to your mother about that red scarf?

Ian: Absolutely not. My mother is not a reader, I did read a couple of sentences from the book to her, and she was horrified. The concept of her reading the book is out of the question. Oh, and I am not giving you her phone number so you can talk to her!

There was a lot more to this interview. Ian is the perfect interviewee; he is articulate, and a very interesting person to talk to.

I give his book a five star rating, but do not keep it where your 12 year old son might find it! If books were rated the same way that movies are, this one would be hovering between an ‘R’ and ‘X’.

Ian made me an offer that I could not turn down. If you buy a copy of God is a Woman through his web site, he will donate $2 from each sale to charity. Oh, and you will save another $2 just by buying it from him and using the promotional code ‘2’.

Damn, with a deal like that I am ready to go buy a copy, oh oh, I already have one!

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com

 

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