Producing a Show: Running The Show

runningCongratulations! You’ve got a venue, you’ve booked comics and there’s lots of people in the audience. Now the real headache begins! One hundred things can and will go wrong every time you run a show.

Before getting into any specifics, if you remember nothing else about running a show, remember to:

Be flexible and don’t freak out!

With that said, here is a pretty standard to do (or have someone else to do) list when you’re running a show. (Some of these steps aren’t necessary depending on the venue.)

  • Set up and test the equipment, rearrange furniture if needed
  • Work the box office selling tickets (if you’re charging cover)
  • Seat people (towards the front when possible)
  • Make announcements before the show starts (turn off pagers, any drink minimums, etc)
  • Introduce and bring up the MC (or if you’re MCing, have someone bring you up)
  • Decide the order of comics and how much time each comic is doing
  • Keep track of how much time each comic is doing
  • Light the comic when they have one minute remaining
  • Let the waitresses know when to drop the checks (if applicable)
  • Make an announcement to clear the room after the show ends (if applicable)
  • Put the room back how you found it

Here’s some common problems and possible solutions, add your own experiences in the comments

The line up needs to be changed

You should have a line up in advance that states the order of the comics and how long each comic is doing. However, unless you’re producing a MC – Feature – Headliner format, the line up almost always changes at the last minute. Look at your original line up as a starting hypothesis and not like the ten commandments. When making line up changes the most important thing to keep in mind is if there’s a hard stopping time that the show must be over by. If so, always work backwards from there. And don’t forget to add 30 to 60 seconds between comics for the MC to have time to bring up the next comedian.

The show has to end earlier than scheduled

All your comics are on time and don’t run the light, but suddenly management decides you only have 70 minutes instead of 100. The most important thing to do, is not get pissy at management. Asking them if they can do anything about giving the show more time is okay, just don’t get into a yelling match with them or anything. When this happens, be ready to cut everyone’s time. Most comics will be understanding about this. If this happens, a better move than cutting into everyone else’s time is to take yourself off of the show (assuming you’re not the MC). When producing and running a show, your first responsibility is making it a good show, giving yourself stage time is just a bonus.

Comics go longer than you want

Comics run the light way too often. If you’re a comic reading this, you’ve probably run the light a few times yourself. If the show is running tight, make sure to remind comics not to run the light. If you stress how tight the show is, they’re less likely to do it (although it’s not guaranteed). Be ready to keep waving a light until they come off stage.

You run out of change

If you’re charging a cover, you’ll need to break change. It’s best to have at least one person helping you run the show so that you can send them on errands like this one, while you stay and run the rest of the show. If you can’t get help, either ask them to hang out until someone else can give you change or if they’re waiting for more than a few minutes, comp their cover.

A comic doesn’t show up or cancels at the last minute

This is a bigger deal if you have 3 or 4 comics on a show and two of them have already gone up. There’s a minimum amount of time most places will want a show to run, and you don’t want to give someone more time than they can handle doing, especially if they’re already on stage. One way to solve this is to have comics check in by a certain time, and if they’re not there, take them off the show so you can split the remaining time fairly from the beginning. Another solution is to always book one comic that you know can do a lot of time if needed, and don’t put that comic on until the other comics have shown up.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? I teach a Comedy Class in New York City. I also do private one-on-one comedy coaching (in-person or via Zoom).

More Stand-Up Comedy Tips:

Producing Your Own Show: The Audience

I’m not an expert at producing shows, but I’ve put together four of my own and have helped out with a bunch of other shows. Producing a show is one of the best ways to get stage time before you’re “passed” at a club or booking consistent road work. When you produce your own show you need to be able to manage four equally important parts: the venue, the comics, the attendance and the actual show. This post focuses on the audience and getting them to come to the show.

Congratulations! You’ve booked a venue and you have great comedians booked to your show. Now you have to worry about getting an audience. Comedy isn’t any fun without people in the seats. While part of how you promote your show depends on the venue it’s at, most of it depends on you and your willingness to sell the show (even if it’s a free show).

Here are some common methods to let people know your show exists and that they should come to it:


This is current the most popular way to promote an event. Because it’s so popular, I find it to be the least effective. I get 10 event invitations a day on Facebook and I’m not that popular. I’ve found that for every 100 people I invite on facebook that are in the area (don’t invite people living in NYC to a show in LA, that just shows your laziness and pisses people off), it’s a good day when two show up. While it’s not that effective, I still think you should create a facebook event because it will help build awareness over time for a recurring show. Just don’t let facebook invites be the only way you promote your show.

Timing: If you invite everyone a month before hand, they’ll click “yes” then forget about it before the day of your show. If you invite everyone the day of the event, they already have plans. I think 2 to 5 days before the event is a good time to put it up a facebook event.


A.k.a. Facebook for people with A.D.D.  While you need to be friends with someone on facebook for them to get invited to your show, anyone can read your posts on twitter. If someone happens to come across your post and is in the area, you might get random drop ins. Providing a discount code or mentioning it’s free will help here.

Timing: Post on twitter the day of the show. So much information flows through twitter that anything posted in advance is quickly forgotten.


Design a flyer that states the date, time, location and description of the show. Photos of the comics also help. When designing a flier you need to pick a size. Will it be an 8.5” x 11” or bigger so you can tape it on walls in highly trafficked areas or will it be postcard sized so that you can hand it out to individual people wherever you go. Ideally, you should have both.

An example of a flyer I made for a college show
An example of a flyer I made for a college show

Timing: Design the fliers as soon as your comics are booked. Post large fliers at the venue as soon as they are designed. Post fliers around town 3-5 days before the show. Consider having someone pass out fliers for an hour before the show to get last minute “impulse” customers.


If someone has attended a previous show of yours, collect their email address and add them to your mailing list. Then send an email to your list promoting your show. Make sure you don’t do this too often, lest your emails get marked as spam. (I’d recommend sending an email no more than once a month, even if you have a weekly show.)

Timing: Once a month, preferably a few days before a show

Phone Calls

The good old human touch is most effective and most time consuming. Call your friends and anyone else who was dumb enough to give you their phone number (within reason) and let them know about the show. Better yet combine this with other methods for maximized effectiveness. For example, call everyone who has said they are attending via facebook and say you’re looking forward to seeing them at the show tomorrow. That will drastically increase the chances that they show up.

Timing: Call people a week or two before the show and just mention the show in conversation. Then call the day before the show to remind them. This is a huge time investment, but if you have the patience, this can be very worthwhile (or at the very least, provide for new material when people start giving you crazy excuses for why they can’t make it).

Have Comics Bring Audience

Tell some or all of the comics in the show that they need to bring _ # of people in order to be part of the show. This can motivate comedians to get their friends to show up. However, not all comics do “bringers” so this will be more effective with newer comics which might bring down the quality of the show. (But having no audience also brings down the quality of the show.) While instituting a bringer requirement will push awaymore established comics, it doesn’t hurt to remind the non-bringer comics that while it’s not required, if they did bring people, it would be much appreciated.

Timing: Tell the comics when you book them about their bringer requirement so that they have time to invite people and to decide if they still want to do your show. Then the night of the show, keep track of how many people each comic has brought.

Constant Pimping

Whenever you talk to someone, mention your show at some point during the conversation. Hopefully you have some social tact and this isn’t the first or last thing that you discuss with them.

Timing: Always, that’s why I called this “constant pimping”

Note on College Promoting:

College shows are the easiest to promote: If you can do the following three things, I’d be shocked if the event isn’t a success:

  1. Put up fliers around campus 5 to 7 days before the show
  2. Convince someone in administration to send an email announcement about the show to the student body on your behalf (write the email for them so all they have to do is copy and paste and hit send)
  3. Create a Facebook event and invite everyone you know at the school (or if you don’t go to the school, get a popular student to do it for you).

Next up: Running The Show

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? I teach a Comedy Class in New York City. I also do private one-on-one comedy coaching (in-person or via Zoom).

More Stand-Up Comedy Tips:

Producing Your Own Show: The Comics

I’m not an expert at producing shows, but I’ve put together four of my own and have helped out with a bunch of other shows. Producing a show is one of the best ways to get stage time before you’re “passed” at a club or booking consistent road work. When you produce your own show you need to be able to manage four equally important parts: the venue, the comics, the attendance and the actual show. This post focuses on the comics.

Congratulations! You’ve arranged for a venue. But unless you’re Bill Cosby, you can’t have a (good) show without other comedians. Even the most famous comics (besides Cosby) work with a feature and MC. Questions to consider when booking comics:

What criteria should you use?

Selecting comedians can be very difficult and highly politicized. Some key criteria to consider:

  • Do they have TV credits? Right or wrong, TV credits usually add legitimacy to a show and make it easier to convince the audience to show up.
  • Are they funny? This is pretty important but sometimes overlooked or purposefully ignored. Hopefully all your performers are hysterical but sometimes the other criteria in this list may override the “funny” factor.
  • Are they your friend? If you’re friends with someone, you might need or want to put them on the show instead of someone who’s funnier but who you don’t know.
  • Do they run their own show (or have a lot of connections)? The best way to get onto another show is to give that producer stage time at your show. This doesn’t mean they’ll put you on their show, but it certainly increases the chances.
  • Can you afford them? The same comic has different rates depending on the night and the show. Some will work for free. Other comics will do free spots on weeknights but not on Fridays and Saturdays. “Big names” can cost thousands of dollars per appearance but appear for free if your proceeds are going to a charity. Figure out how much money you can spend on comics before asking them to be on your show.

I recommend that you can answer “yes” to at least two of the first four questions for each comic you put on your show. And never hire a comedian you can’t afford.

What kind of show will this be?

The three most popular types of comedy shows are stand up, improv and sketch. When a show combines two or more of these, it’s called a “variety show.” Do you only want to have it be a stand up show? Will you have an improv or sketch group in the middle of the show? What about a musical act. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but you have to make a decision.

How many comics or acts do you want on your show?

Do you want to have a standard “MC – Feature – Headliner” show? Do you want to have 5 or 6 comics doing 12-15 minutes each, or do you want to do comedy American Idol tryout style where everyone gets 5 or 6 minutes? I find it’s usually best to have 5-6 comics on your show. This is based on my experience in NYC and LA where there are thousands of great comics and very little stage time. Even pros with TV credit end up doing 6 to 8 minute spots so they appreciate longer sets. This also lets you select more comics which ups the odds the audience will have a good time if one doesn’t do too well. Also having more comics leads to you establishing or maintaining more relationships. Most of the bookings you get will be through other comedians, and they’re more likely to help you if you’ve already helped them. (Just don’t expect them to help you, I’ve found that more often than not, spots are not reciprocated, but that may just be me.)

Who will be the host?

Everyone wants to be the headliner, but the MC can make or break the show. If you’re trying to turn this into a weekly or a monthly show, you should host at least the first two or three times to give the show consistency. Also, the first few times you’re asked to perform in a new comedy club, you’ll most likely be the MC. You might as well build this skill before you need to use it, even if it means sacrificing being “the headliner”.

How many minutes will your show run?

I find that once a show hits the 100 minute mark (1 hour, 40 minutes) audiences start to get impatient and bored. Even if every performer is hysterical, there is only so much comedy one can watch before needing a break. You also don’t want to make the show too short: the audience may feel they “didn’t get their money’s worth” and the wait staff might not have enough time to sell the prescribed amount of drinks.

Are the comics you want available on the date of your show?

You’ve figured out who you want on the show, what you’re paying them and how much time they’re doing, but the comic might already be booked! Do you have an alternate plan, or are you going to change the date just to accommodate one comedian? Most comics that work at comedy clubs set up their gigs (“give their avails”) right before the start of a week or of a month. I recommend giving comics at least two weeks notice if you’re going to book them. Four to five weeks is much better.

Up next: How to draw a crowd

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? I teach a Comedy Class in New York City. I also do private one-on-one comedy coaching (in-person or via Zoom).

More Stand-Up Comedy Tips:

Producing Your Own Show: The Venue

I’m not an expert at producing shows, but I’ve put together four of my own and have helped out with a bunch of other shows. Producing a show is one of the best ways to get stage time before you’re “passed” at a club or booking consistent road work. When you produce your own show you need to be able to manage four equally important parts: the venue, the comics, the attendance and the actual show. This post focuses on the venue.

The venue is the first step. If you don’t have a venue, a date and a time, you can’t do much else. When choosing a type of venue you usually have a four main options:

A Comedy Club

Description: Many comedy clubs have nights or scheduled times where anyone can “rent” their room to produce a show. Most clubs keep all the drink money (the business model of a comedy club is to sell drinks), while you get to keep the cover charge (or a percentage of the cover).

Pros: You get to perform at a comedy club. This gets added to your “performed at” credits and it’s usually easier to get someone to come to “The Comedy Club” instead of “Moe’s Diner.” (Big exception: When you want Moe to show up.)

Cons: Until the owner or manager gets to know you, or until you have a consistent reputation for drawing a good sized crowd, most clubs will not give you a prime time spot which makes it harder to draw people.  (Prime time spots are usually considered to be Fridays and Saturdays and anything that starts between 7:30 and 10PM .) You also don’t have time to build up a following for the show. If your first show has 3 audience members, you likely won’t be allowed to produce another one at the same club for a long while.

A Bar or Restaurant

Description: Many bars have slow nights (Sunday to Thursday) and/or slow hours (after the happy hour but before the party crowd) and would be happy to get someone else to bring people into the bar.

Pros: It’s easier to have a weekly show while slowly building a following. There are times when the bar is completely empty and many mangers would prefer 3 patrons to no patrons.

Cons: Bars can get loud. Not everyone that’s at the bar is there for the comedy show, and they’re paying customers too so you can’t tell them to shut up. Also, if you’re trying to make money on charging at the door, this might be harder as bars won’t want to turn away other patrons. However, you can try to negotiate a cut of the drink sales.

A College (or other classroom like venue)

Description: You can rent or reserve a lecture hall or classroom at a college.

Pros: Lots of people that live in a small geographical area that are young and looking for entertainment.  There’s usually no alcohol allowed.

Cons: If you don’t have an “in” with a college, it’s hard to reserve a room “off the street”. If you’re going to charge money, many students are broke. And there’s usually no alcohol allowed.

Conference Rooms, Hotels, etc

Description: Any room with chairs can be turned into a comedy show. A hotel conference room, an office or your parents basement.

Pros: Depending on the specifics, you have full control of how to run the event.

Cons: Lack of credibility. It’s harder to convince someone to come to “12 Dark Alley Street” than to “The Comedy Club” or “Moe’s Diner.” This applies not just to audience members but to comics who will perform too.

Other thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Will you need your own mic, amplifier and/or mic stand?
  • Is there a stage? Can you bring one?
  • Does the manager or owner treat you with respect? Are they fans of comedy?
  • Is the venue easily accessible?
  • How much parking is there? Is it free? (You can ignore this if you’re in NYC)

Up Next: How to Select Comedians

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? Consider taking my NYC Comedy Class or booking a private one-on-one comedy coaching session (in person or via Zoom)

More Stand-Up Comedy Tips:

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