The Comedy Business: Types of Shows for Beginners

People are always curious how a comedian gets onto any given show, especially a newer comedian. The three main types of ways for getting on stage as a new comedian are:

Bringer shows

What is it: Each comedian has to bring X number of people (between 2 and 15 at most places) who are willing to pay a cover charge, order at least 2 drinks and listen to a lot of different comedians, a good amount of whom are not that funny. There are usually a couple of professionals in this kind of show to ensure that the audience gets at least some laughs.

Pros: You get a real live audience, and since part of the audience knows you, they’re more likely to laugh at your jokes, which may help the people who don’t know you to start laughing as well, that whole laughter is contagious thing.

Cons: You run out of people to invite to shows really quick, the audience can be too supportive to the point that you don’t learn what’s truly funny, and you end up stressing about all your people showing up instead of concentrating on your act.

Barking for a Spot

What is it: You stand outside of the club, usually on a busy foot traffic corner, trying to stop people, hand out fliers and convince them to come watch stand up. You usually stand outside or “bark” for 1-3 hours in exchange for 5-10 minutes of stage time.

Pros: You don’t have to stress about bringing people, most clubs will pay a couple of bucks for each person you successfully convince to come to the show, the audience doesn’t know you so the laughter is genuine, and you learn cold calling skills, which can be useful at winning over a tough crowd (and lots of other situations).

Cons: You have to stand outside for 2-3 hours, you get rejected 99% of the time (although learning not to take rejection personally is good), and if the club has more than one show that night, you’re outside the entire time except for when you perform, so you can’t learn from / listen to other comedians.

Open Mic: 

What is it: You pay $5 for five minutes of stage time. Some places say you just need to buy a drink instead, and most cities outside of New York / LA / Chicago don’t charge you money to get on stage. Actual stage time ranges from 3 minutes to 8 minutes depending on club.)

Pros: Anyone can get stage time and if you plan it out, you can do 2-3 mics a night (in NYC at least).

Cons: Anyone can get stage time. You know those guys that weren’t funny at the bringer show? Well they’re better than many of the people at the open mics (this varies from city to city though). Also, in NYC the only people that come to watch open mics are other comedians, who are not very helpful when you’re trying to learn what a real audience will find funny.

Stay tuned for my next post about this which will cover: Guest spots, Self Produced Shows, Paid Spots and different spots during the show (Opener, Check Spot, Emcee, Headliner, etc).

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Other Comedy Tips:

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Three Mics One Night

No this isn’t exactly a parody of two girls one cup. Tuesday night, I met up with a fellow comedian, Joseph James, and we got the brilliant idea to do three open mics in the span of four hours. At first we thought we were doing it as a form of self flagellation, but it was actually the most fun I’ve ever had doing open mics. For anyone interested in seeing how jokes evolve over time, this is the sped up version. I feel my New Years joke in particular really evolved from the first time to the third.

Me at Mic One


Me at Mic Two

Me at Mic 3


Joseph at Mic One


Joseph at Mic 2

Joseph at Mic 3

New Camera and New Dates

Great news for all of you that have been complaining about the video and audio quality on my recordings: I got a new high definition 1080i digital video camera. Recordings from now on should be much better quality… until someone swipes the camera at least.


Also, I have three great shows coming up in the next few weeks:

Sunday December 7thRutgers University: Perry Hall on Cook Campus (I’m hosting and it’s free) (map)

Flyer for the Rutgers Show

Thursday December 11th – 10 minutes @ The Grind (free show) (map)

Thursday December 18th – 10 minutes @ New York Comedy Club ($10 cover + 2 drinks) (map)

Come see me live, it’ll be even better than seeing me in high def!

I Killed

“Stand-up comedy is more a sport than an art — like a boxer, you know exactly how the fight went by the time you get off stage.” -Jerry Seinfeld (poorly paraphrased)

“In football, you’re never as bad as you seem, and you’re never as good as you seem.” -Greg Schiano, Rutgers Football Head Coach (less poorly paraphrased)

On Saturday I had my best response from a crowd to date. I was so pumped with how well I paced myself and how many laughs I got that I spent the rest of the night drinking to the point where I couldn’t speak.

The next morning I reviewed the video. While it confirmed that I did great, I noticed a bunch of places where I could’ve done significantly better. I’ve heard top notch professional comics say that if you can get big laughs at 80% of your shows, you’re doing great. My long term goal is still 100% but 80% is the new road marker.

Posting all my material

“Only post a small preview of your material online” seems to be the accepted truth about stand-up comedians website’s and how they should do their marketing and promotion. The thinking is, if all of your material is online, nobody is going to want to see your show. I disagree with this for a few reasons:

  • Videotaped performance is not a substitute to the live thing, it’s a compliment. Taped performances can also be turned into a souveneir for fans to take the performance home
  • For every person who might not see you live because they see your video (and I’m sure there’s a few, but they probably wouldn’t have come out anyway), you may get two new people to see you who wouldn’t have otherwise
  • It forces you to keep writing new material
  • If the purpose of your site is to get a person to come to one of your shows, then you don’t want to post the whole show online. If your purpose is to develop a relationship with fans, and maybe even lead a tribe, then you want to show your fans how you’re growing and improving, and leave room for their suggestions. (Just one example, the broadway musical Cats was so successful because there were people who’d seen the show ten, twenty and even sixty times. This in turn generates an additional buzz and awareness among people.)
  • Some of your fans may live far away or be unable to make shows live, the more they can see of you, the more likely they’ll want to come by when you’re live and in their area
  • Information (even humorous information) wants to be free

My philosophy, until proven otherwise, is to upload as much of my material and sets as possible.

Before anyone calls me a hypocrite, let me do it myself: I don’t post all my sets onto my homepage, I have 2-3 good videos there and post the rest of the videos to this blog, where I think the true fans will go. If someone is taking a 2 minute look at me before deciding to come out and see me, they don’t need to see the videos of me trying out new material and bombing.

Comments, especially those calling me crazy, are welcome 🙂