If you’re new to comedy or just new to a specific club, and trying to get on regular shows (especially in NYC), you’ll likely end up doing check spots.
For those that don’t know, a check spot is when a comedian is performing while the wait staff is giving the audience their bills/checks, running credit cards and bringing the audience change.
Here’s some tips I’ve figured out over the years that will increase your odds doing decently during check spots.*
- Start with material that gets a quick laugh, but check drop timing matters.
In the best cast scenario, you’ll get to do a minute or two on stage before the staff drops checks. In this case, do your best jokes first, to improve the odds people will continue listening to you.
In the toughest scenario, all checks are dropped as the host is bringing you up, and people don’t even bother clapping when the host says your name.
- Once it’s clear most people have stopped listening, acknowledge the checks are being dropped, ask for a round of applause for the wait staff (applause makes people pay attention again) and have a joke about the situation – but don’t make jokes about the drinks being too expensive. Keep in mind some clubs prefer you don’t mention checks being dropped at all, this isn’t usually the case, but if it is, adhere to that and don’t acknowledge it.
- Be ready to jump out of a bit early if someone says something so loud that you have to acknowledge it.
You want the audience to see that you’re present and in the room, or else they’ll ignore you. The more you’re open to improvising during a check spot, the easier it’ll be.
- Don’t get mad at the audience for paying their bill.
Make jokes, and if some table is taking forever, tease them, but never yell at them to shut up or seem actually mad. While most of the show, you should expect silence from the audience when they’re not laughing, there’s gonna be some talking during checks, and you can ignore some of it.
- Try to do shorter bits.
Even in the best case scenario, people will look at their check for thirty seconds, pay the bill and go back to paying attention to the show. If you have a five minute bit that requires hearing the first minute for the next four to be funny, don’t do it during checks.
- Focus in on the people that are laughing (or at least paying attention). Once a few people start laughing, other people tend to stop talking and focus because they think they’re missing something.
- Be aware of staggered checks, and play to people who didn’t get their checks yet, then switch.
If the right side of the room is getting checks first, talk and do material to the left side, then once you see the waiter going to the left side, start talking to the right side, who, ideally, have finished looking at checks by now.
- Save a quick, strong joke for the end. While you may not feel great about your set, if you go off on a good laugh, the audience will remember you as funny.
- Know that the first five minutes of a check drop tend to be the roughest.
You can get no laughs for the first five minutes and still bring the audience back once people start paying attention again. The key is to not panic.
- Set your expectations low and have a short memory.
The other comedians and staff (should) know that the odds are stacked against you during a check spot, so don’t compare the responses you get during checks with how other comedians have done on the show up to then.
*If you’re headlining and they drop checks on you during your 45 minutes, this advice isn’t as applicable.
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