The 8 Different Types of Comedy Audiences

Most comedians and comedy fans agree that  “you wanna do well with the audience.” However, in some places, especially New York City where I perform most often, you’re performing for multiple audience types, usually at the same time. And what one audience type responds to, another may not go for as much.

Below is a list of audience types and what their main concern usually is. And of course, there are exceptions to each of these guidelines.

Choose who you play to at your own peril.


1) The Actual Audience

These are the people who have paid money and are buying drinks to watch the show. In NYC, there are a few standard types of actual audience:

  • Times Square Tourists – usually from the Midwest or a foreign country and bought comedy tickets on the street as a spur of the moment activity. They tend to like safer jokes (family, relationships, etc.) with bigger act outs and minimal word play and thinking
  • Greater NYC locals (NJ, CT, etc) – are okay with edgier material and some local references.
  • “In The Know Tourists” – did some online research and decided on a club or specific comedian to see, closer to a NYC local than a real tourist
  • College Crowd – doesn’t want to hear about your wife and kids
  • High School Kids / Prom Shows – responds to politics and family topics, but can get tight about sexual material or if they’re the “cool kids” in school, it’s the opposite
  • Hip Locals – aka “below 14th st” – aka “alt scene audience” – are down for dark humor and obscure pop culture references, more accepting of rambling, long setups and less punchy material
  • Urban Room – a predominantly non-white audience watching a show in their neighborhood. Similar to hip locals but some material may work better/worse depending on what you look like.
  • Friends of newer comedians – sometimes hate comedy, or are skeptical about the show, but were dragged out by their friend who’s attempting comedy, tend to think they paid too much for cover and drinks and sometimes are under the mistaken impression they should only laugh at their friend’s jokes to make that friend look better

2) Club Bookers

Want you to get big, consistent laughs. Also they want to make sure audience members don’t complain about your act / decide to boycott the club because of you.

3) Club Managers  

Primary concern is if you’re already approved to be working there / able to do the job / nobody will ask why they put you on the show if you weren’t already schedule to be on it.

4) Club Owners

Does your name help get people in the door and sell drinks? Are you doing something unique that may pay off for them later down the line? Do you seem loyal – aka will them giving you stage time before you’re famous ensure you keep dropping by their club later in your career.

5) TV Industry / Networks / Producers

Audience response matters less than whether you have a castable look and whether they find your material funny.

6) Talent Agents and Talent Managers

Do you have talent? Do we see you being worth ten million dollars? What’s your look? Can you write?

7) Wait Staff

Are you funny and different? Do we want to watch your jokes night after night? Are you pleasant and not annoying off stage?

8) Other Comedians

This is usually the toughest audience of all, but also the audience who will get you most of your work

  • Headliners – Are you funny enough and easy to hang out with for five hour car rides?
  • Next level comics – Do you run a show?
  • Same level comics – Are you funny and do you run a show?
  • Independent producers that are comedians – Do you run your own show and are you funny?
  • Newer comics – Are you funny and approachable?

Did I miss anything? Post in the comments and I’ll respond.

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Five Tips For Your Comedy Event To Run Smoothly

So you’ve decided to organize a comedy show as your next event, followed my 3 Tips To Planning a Successful Show and now it’s the day of the show.

Here’s five tips to follow before and during the show to ensure everything runs smoothly.

1) Make sure the sound, lights and stage are setup and working before the audience is admitted into the venue.

Comedy doesn’t require much equipment, make sure you have a working microphone with speakers, a stage area and lighting that draws the audience towards where the performer is. This doesn’t cost much, but not doing this, or doing it poorly, really hurts the show.

2) Arrange seating properly.

Stand-up comedy is an intimate experience. You can turn any venue into a comedy show, but making sure the audience is properly positioned makes a show much better. You want the audience to morph into one organism to have a communal experience and more energy. So the closer the audience is to each other, and to the performer, the better. If you have to have tables, the smaller they are the better. And if it’s not a sold out show, have a seater make sure the front of the room is filled first. Most comedians will not make fun of people in the front rows.

3) At minimum, have some water bottles for the comedian.

Snacks are nice too. If the show is at a restaurant, it’s polite to let the comedians order food and a drink or two from the menu without charging them / in addition to their performance fee. Of course, comedians should know to tip the wait staff anyway.

4) Pay the Performers Before The Show Starts

You’re going to be busy talking to people after the show, so if you’ve already agreed upon a fee, pay the performers before the show starts. They will relax and have one less thing to worry about. Of course, if you’ve booked them as a door deal, where their payment depends on how much audience shows up, don’t pay them until after you have the final numbers.

5) Keep track of introductions and how much time you want everyone doing. 

Ask the comedian if he needs a “light” as a reminder when his time is almost up. Comedians can get lost in the moment and lose track of time. A simple cell phone light from the back of the room will let them know when it’s time to wrap things up so the rest of the event proceeds in a timely manner.

If it’s an event that has multiple performers in different genres (musicians, poets, rabbis, priests, etc.), make sure the comedian is introduced as a comedian, otherwise the audience’s expectations may be confused.


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3 Tips To Planning A Successful Comedy Show

Thinking of planning a comedy show as your next event? Here’s some tips to ensure it’s a success.

1) Decide what’s most important: the location, the date or the featured comedian.

Unless you’re extremely lucky, the chances are you won’t get your first choice for all three of these. Of course, the further in advance you plan, the better your chances for getting all three. If you plan 6-12 months in advance, your odds of getting exactly what you want are much better than if you plan 6-12 weeks in advance.

  • If there’s a specific comedian you want, contact them or their representation and arrange a date that they’re free.
  • If your event has to be on a specific night, start with that, and then contact comedians, but create a list of the five comedians that would fit your event, so that you’re not stuck if your first choice is not available that night.
  • If you have to have the event in a specific location, see if there’s a few dates they’ll put on hold for you for a week while you contact your favorite comedian to see if they’re available on any of those dates.


2) When choosing the entertainment, decide whether to go through a booking agency or deal directly with a comedian.

Booking Agency Pros:

  • If one comedian can’t make it, they can find a replacement more seamlessly.
  • They may have a marketing person that can help with flyers for your event.
  • “One stop shopping” for when you’re not sure what comedian you want. An agency can make recommendations after listening to your requirements and help you narrow the choices.
  • There’s almost always a contract, and the agency knows how to write them.

Booking Agency Cons:

  • Depending on the agency, they can charge inflated prices and only give a small fraction of that to the performer.
  • An agency may send a different comedian at the last minute, sometimes without even warning you.
  • You may not have a chance to talk to the comedian ahead of time. Or some pertinent information (it’s a clean show, specific dress code, etc.) may never get communicated to the comedian before they show up.

Comedian Direct Pros:

  • You get the exact performer you want.
  • You can talk to the comedian in advance and tell them your specific requirements.
  • You can get a better deal, and all the money goes directly to the performer.

Comedian Direct Cons:

  • Your event may require a complicated contract, that the performer doesn’t understand as well as a booking agent.
  • If the comedian gets sick or cancels at the last minute, you may have to rebook the event yourself. (Although most comedians will offer you suggestions for suitable replacements.)


3) Specify Rules and Agreements Well In Advance

  • Specify whether there are any content or language restrictions when setting up the booking, not when the comedian shows up the night of the show.
  • Specify how long of a show you want. Comedy shows can range from thirty minutes to two hours. I find that audience attention spans tend to fade after an hour and a half. It’s usually best to leave them wanting more. When in doubt, make it a shorter show.
  • Decide on how many acts you’ll have. Most comedians like to bring someone along to warm up the room. So ask if they have an opener in mind. Or if you like a few comedians, see if your budget can afford more than one act.
  • Negotiate a payment and stick to it. Flat fees are common for most performers. Depending on the show size, the travel required and the comedian’s level of fame, flat fees can run anywhere from $100 to over $10,000 for a forty five minute performance. Less common but still used, is the door deal. Where the comedian gets the cut of the door (cover charge) for each audience member that shows up.


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Ten Tips To Succeed During a Comedy Show Check Spot

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.*

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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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Ten Steps to Become a Great Emcee (Host)

Fewer and fewer comedians want to emcee anymore but emceeing skills train you to become very funny on your feet, handle hecklers and sound more conversational. All skills you’ll need before you can headline. With that in mind, here’s some MCing tips based on my personal experience and numerous conversations with other professional comedians.

  1. Come in with super high energy. You want to get the audience’s energy as high as possible.
  2. Start by saying “Hi everyone, we have a great show for you tonight.” Make sure you’re smiling and that you sound genuine.
  3. Get the audience to clap again with something like “Clap it up for yourselves” or  “Who’s happy it’s a Friday night?”Unless you get an amazing response, say “You can do better, let’s try that again.” It (subconsciously) communicates to the audience that you’re in total control.
  4. Go into crowd work.Either ask the standard questions like “Where are you from?”, “What do you do for work”, etc or try to come up with more interesting questions (in advance). Try to make jokes about their answers, or joke about the fact that their answers are boring. Don’t panic if some of your improvised joke attempts miss.
  5. Don’t talk to more than 3 tables in a row, or people will get bored and/or hate you.
  6. Do a couple of your jokes.
  7. Repeat step 4 through 6 as needed, establish the pattern.Alternately, you can open with a quick joke or two (not longer than a minute) and then go into crowd work. This works better on shows where the audience is unsure it’ll be a good show. The best is if you have crowd work questions that will lead into your material. Example: “Anybody married in here? Oh yeah, how long? When’s the divorce? Just kidding. But I’ve actually been married for twenty years.”
  8. Get a final round of applause, then bring out the next comic.Example: “You guys are great. We have an awesome show. Are you ready for your next comedian?” Make sure the comedian’s name is the last part of their introduction. You want to say “This next comedian has been on Comedy Central please put your hands together for John Doe.” Do not say “Your next comedian is John Doe, he’s been on Comedy Central.” BONUS: This is a personal pet peeve of mine: Don’t ask “Who’s ready to get this show started?” or “Are you ready for your first comedian?” The show has already been in progress since you got up there.
  9. When you come on stage between each comic, make sure to maintain a super high level of energy to keep the audience in their seats and excited about the next comic.First say, “how about another round of applause for [comic’s name].” Then either go into a joke or two, or just introduce the next comedian. If there are more than 3 comedians on the show, I don’t recommend doing time between the first and second comedian, so that the audience doesn’t think you’ll be slowing down the show after each performer. BONUS: If you can come up with a quick one or two line joke based on the last act’s closing bit, that’s a great way to keep the show feeling connected and as one. Example: If the last comic said something like “Then I passed out in an alley, and woke up without a wallet,” you can come up there and say “So I was in an alley last night, going through Joe’s wallet…”
  10. Most important, the emcee has to be a person.You can’t talk at people, you have to talk to them. (This applies to regular stand up spots as well, but especially if you’re the host.) If you don’t get many laughs as a host, but your energy is positive and you’re smiling the whole time, the audience is relaxed and engaged and the first comedian does well, you did your job (even if you don’t feel great about it).

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Would you rather have someone else to host for you? Hire me. I’ve hosted hundreds of show including at The Lincoln Center.

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