“At the end of the night, thank the comedians, the venue, the audience, then…grab a broom and get cleaning”
I am a huge fan of Stand Up Comedy! When I returned to Vermont from Cleveland Ohio I said “I am going to get involved in Stand Up”. Then I waited, for almost eight years while nothing happened. At that time, there was little comedy happening in the Green Mountain State. I am proud to say that we have an active Comedy Scene now but it was developed over time by people like myself who got tired of waiting to perform and started booking their own shows. The most difficult part about booking a comedy show was getting started. Just how does someone do this especially in a rural state? Will anyone come out to see this show? What do I do? An open Mic or Showcase? I want to offer just a few pieces of advice that I have learned to help others book that first comedy show.
Open Mic or Format?
First a word on show format. There are many different varieties but two of the most common are the Open Mic and The Showcase.
Open Mic: In this type of show comedians arrive at the venue, sign up for a five minute slot. A host will move the show along keeping track of each performers and introducing the next performer.
Showcase: In this type of show comedians are “pre-selected” by a producer (who is often the host). The Showcase features a Host, Opener, Middle Comedians and a Headliner or someone who closes the show. Each performer gets about ten minutes and there is not a sign up (comedians are do not sign up at the door for an open space).
In my experience, the Open Mic format works well in a small city or urban setting where a large amount of comedians might reside. College towns tend to be great settings for Open Mic’s. I have typically booked Showcases where I invite local comedians and guest comedians from neighboring cities or states. Either format works well. I suggest looking at the demographics of the town you reside in, assess what other forms of entertainment already exist prior to deciding on a format.
Pick a Venue
Now that you know what type of show you want to start, its time to pick a place to have that show. The beauty of Stand Up Comedy as opposed to is that it can be performed in any setting unlike Improvisational Comedy that requires a Stage (see here for booking Improvisational Comedy). There are multiple types of establishments that might work well. Bar’s with a small stage space, Restaurants, Coffee Shops. I am particular fond of having a Showcase in a Coffee Shop Setting. They tend to have a polite clientele who are not typically drinking, and they tend not to have wide screen televisions playing sports during your set.
When speaking with the business owner it is important to let them know what type of show you are promoting, what to expect, content (some venues will shy away from profane material where others want the dirty stuff, its important to ask, the show needs to compliment the venue’s image or you wont be asked back), and provide them an outline of what they will be getting out of hosting an evening of comedy (paying customers, business on an off night, publicity, laughter etc.)
Lastly, pick a date with the venue owner. Get your I-Phone out, set the date. Create a Facebook Event Page and Tag everyone you know. For a first show I suggest giving yourself two months for booking. Check back with the owner once or twice to let them know what progress you are making.
Invite Comedians…But not too many Comedians
Ok you picked a type of show you want to produce, you have the venue and a future date set. Now its time to get those Comedians. I have found that comedians are flattered when you ask them to be part of a Showcase. If you have a network of comedians in your state, reach out to them on Facebook. If you are new to the Comedy World and unsure who is available for booking contact the nearest Comedy Club. They should have a listing of local comedians who participate in Showcases and would be willing to travel to your city. The more you book comedy shows the broader your network will become. My first few shows were Comedians that I had worked with over the years. They gave me referrals and I increased my network quickly.
One caution: Do not book too many Comedians! This is a mistake that I made early on. I wanted to have a great show, I wanted everyone to be able to come to my town to perform, I booked my first few shows with eight comedians. The show was great at first but dragged on for over two hours. The comedians at the close of the show had to perform in front of a audience who was asleep sitting in their chairs and the employees at the venue were standing with their brooms ready to clean up quickly and get home. Six Comedians doing about Ten Minutes of Comedy each should be sufficient.
Speak with the Local Newspaper
You need to let your community know that you are having a show. You can do this through posters but getting an article in your local paper is a fantastic way to get the word out to quickly. Newspapers are always looking for articles to fill their local section highlighting community events. Contact your local newspaper and find out who covers events like yours
Invite them to interview yourself, the venue owners (they will love this, anything that puts their businesses name in the newspaper in a positive way is always welcome), ask a few of the Comedians to do phone interviews. Invite the reporter to the event. Create a good contact. Also, go on the local radio station. They love to have Comedians on their talk shows. They make great guests, add levity to a program and they are skilled at highlighting you and your event. Obtain contact information from your media contacts. They will be your friends for feature stories on follow up shows.
Make Sure you have PA Equipment or Buy Some
Once that show is booked and you have started the advertising you need to make sure that you have an adequate sound system. Does the venue have one? If they do ask if you can take a quick look at it. Fortunately Stand UP Comedy does not require an intricate PA System but you need to know that there is a quality microphone, speaker, amplifier and how to use it.
If they do not have a PA System you might want to consider renting one or purchasing one of your own. My suggestion is to purchase one. After your first show you will be hooked and having a PA System will allow you to set up a show in a variety of settings. Look on Amazon. I have a very simple self amplified system and a Sure Microphone. It has served me well for over three years costing me a little less than $250.00.
“Do I need a PA System? I have done a lot of acting and I can project”. Yes, a PA System is vital to Stand Up Comedy. You should not be shouting at the audience. The microphone can pick up subtle moments which would not he heard if you were not amplified. There will be laughter which is loud and will drown out all other sound. Stand Up Comedy and Microphone go together like Mac and Cheese. You can have them separate but that leaves you feeling disappointed and a little sick to your stomach (I have no idea if that metaphor works but it is the best that I could think of in the moment, buy a PA System that is the message I want to impart here).
Start on time Finish Early
Let the comedians know what to expect. The lineup. Who is first, second, headlining. How many minutes each performer gets. When to arrive. The comedians should arrive about 1/2 hour before the show. You as the host and primary contact for the venue? You should be there at least one hour before the show. Hopefully with a comedy buddy (ie: performer who knows more about the PA System than you do). Set up the PA System, do a sound check, let the venue know that you will be rearranging chairs and tables so the audience can see the performance and that the tables, chairs and everything will be put back in its place before you leave. Do not just leave and let the employees clean up. You will find that this will be your first and last showcase.
If the Showtime is at 8:00pm, start it right then. It is ok to call five minutes and let people get their seats but start it on time. Know that some people arrive late and that is ok. Do not do an intermission, just run the show straight through all six performers. It should be around 90 minutes of comedy if you run a tight show.
Thank the Comedians, Thank the Venue, Thank the Audience and say Good Night.
Grab and broom and start cleaning. Even if the venue says “no, its ok, we can do that, you have done enough” keep helping. If you are a good guest you will be asked to come back again and again.
Evaluate and Set up a Follow Up Show
Take a little time to bask in the glory of your first showcase! You earned it. Meet with a Comedian friend who was in the show. Discuss what went well, what might be a good change for the next show. Meet with the venue and ask how they thought it went. Be open to feedback. Make adjustments as suggested. Set a second date and start booking those comedians.
I hope this helps anyone looking to book their first Stand Up Comedy Show!