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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.
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
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.
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:
Put up fliers around campus 5 to 7 days before the show
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)
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).
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.
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)
You’re waiting your turn to go up on a show and suddenly you hear a bit that sounds real familiar. You’ve never seen this comic before but you know the next three punch lines. Hell you don’t just know ‘em, you wrote ‘em. “Hey, I’ve been doing that joke for weeks. What the hell?”
Many comic fear having their material stolen. I think it’s more rational to fear the microphone exploding in your eyes and blinding you than it is to be afraid that your precious jokes will be stolen. Sure this happens occasionally, but it is not as often as some comics like to think. Two of the most ridiculous statements I’ve heard over the past year are: “I don’t do open mics because they steal my jokes” and “LA open mic comics go on youtube, watch NYC open mic comics and take their material.” Both statements are excuses. The first is to excuse a comic’s laziness or lack of motivation to get on stage as much as possible. (Although I do think open mics become less valuable after you’ve been on stage a few hundred times.) The second quote is an excuse usually said by someone who doesn’t have a good video to post. It’s much easier to say “I’d post a video but I don’t want my material being stolen” instead of saying “I don’t have a video where the audience is laughing for five straight minutes, I need to get funnier.” Which of course begs the question, why are you worried about your unfunny material being stolen? If you’re afraid of getting your jokes stolen, you should put ALL of your videos online. What could make for more convincing evidence that you did a bit first?
If your jokes are being “stolen” something else might actually be happening: You’re writing hacky material or are being too topical. There’s only so many ways to do a marijuana joke and every comedian and their mother has written a Tiger Woods, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton joke. Your punch line about “eighteen holes” or “a hole in one” wasn’t stolen, it was just so obvious that five other comics thought of a very similar joke. I remember reading Lisa Lampenelli’s book and she mentions how at the Comedy Central Roasts she’d have a pen with her to cross out the jokes on her set list that the other comedians had already done about the guest of honor. Did all those professionals steal each other’s jokes? No! There’s just only so many Pamela Andersen fake tits and Tommy Lee has big cock punch lines one can think up.
So how do you solve this joke overlap? Make your material more personal. Very few comedians can steal my Russian family material because it would be inauthentic and make no sense to their stage persona. So focus on your life and find the funny in it. Hint: It usually involves pain. A comic, I forget who once told me, “comedy = pain + time” and “until you’re at George Carlin’s level, nobody gives a shit about your political opinion.” I agree: focus on your unique life situation and figuring it out how to get the audience to connect with it. Should you still write Tiger Woods jokes? Yes, because that’s still working on writing a joke, and if you get picked up by a TV show, you’ll need to be able to generate topical jokes daily. Just don’t be surprised when you hear three very similar jokes from comics you’ve never met. (And yes, I know I need to make my material more personal too, it’s a work in progress.)
Ok, let’s say your jokes are personal and they’re actually being stolen. In a fucked up way, it’s an honor to get your jokes stolen, that means you’re getting funny! And you should only be afraid of getting jokes stolen if you’re not planning on developing as a writer and performer. Fear of jokes being stolen means your jokes are coming from a place of scarcity, not of abundance. It shows you believe there to be a limited amount of jokes you’ll be able to write and that one of the 10 or 12 jokes you were able to come up with has been taken away. This usually means you’re not writing enough.
Jon Stewart, David Letterman, Conan and all those guys deliver ten to fifteen minutes of new jokes every show (sure they have a whole writing staff, but that’s not the point). If you’re trying to be around the comedy business for a long time you’re going to need write hours and hours of good material. Having one bit stolen here or there won’t make a huge difference. If you’re so funny that all your material is being stolen, start lifting weights, then say something. A comedian may have had your joke go into his subconscious and come out months later as a similar joke. Talk to them first and figure out who’s been doing it first. Comics don’t want to be known as joke thieves because once they have that reputation, everyone avoids them and 95% of your gigs are through other comics.