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Start Your Own Damn Comedy Show
Performing stand-up comedy is difficult. Duh.
Navigating the complexities and personalities of the comedy scene only adds to your list of challenges. There is no road map, and the keys to success are few and far between. Despite this, you’ve decided to make a go of it anyway. Every comic will tell you the only way to improve is to get on stage. Every. Single. Night.
But what if you can’t get enough stage time? Open mics are a wonderful resource, but you’ll rarely find an audience that isn’t composed entirely of comics. “Bringer” shows (a show where you bring an audience in order to perform) are another option, but do you have 10 friends who will pay to see you perform? Do you have 10 friends at all?
If you’re struggling to get booked, book yourself. Don’t sit around waiting for the opportunity to be on someone else’s show — start your own. Applying a DIY mentality to comedy will be your quickest path to progress.
This guide to producing your own comedy show will cover:
- Finding a venue. (In times of war, any hole is a trench.)
- Booking talent. (Facebook is your best friend.)
- Naming your show. (Puns suck.)
- Building an audience. (How to motivate people to get off their couch.)
- Creating a vibe. (What makes you so fucking special?)
Finding a Venue
Before anything else, you’ll need a space. Choose your venue strategically. Is there a bar near your apartment with cheap drinks and lots of foot traffic? Great. A coffee shop looking to increase sales at night? Excellent. An abandoned supermarket with unlocked doors? Perfect!
Any space can be transformed into a venue with a microphone and an audience. However, the key elements that make a great room are low ceilings, darkened lighting, and an established crowd. If you can’t secure these elements initially, that’s fine. Just get a space and make the most of it. I’ve witnessed some of the greatest comedy in venues that would make most adults sick.
Think outside the box and look into every raw space, pizza parlor, plant store, or car wash until you’ve found your spot. Once you have, it’s your job to keep the owners happy and fill their room with happy people who want to spend cash. If you can help the venue increase business while providing their community a service, you’ll have a home for as long as you’d like.
Now that you have a location, you need performers. This is an opportunity to invite the best comics in your city to perform on your show. Don’t screw it up. If you play it right and ask graciously, you’ll be pleasantly surprised who will agree to perform on your show. A few things to keep in mind when curating talent:
- Don’t invite top tier comedians right out of the gate. Chances are your show will not have the legs it needs (that is, an audience) to support premium talent up front. A nightmare scenario is booking your dream lineup and not producing the show they deserve. Build up your show, and then consider reaching for those bigger names.
- Do invite your peers and comics who are moderately more seasoned than your current circle. The goal is to have a continually manageable level of talent as your show evolves.
- Don’t be afraid to invite comics you aren’t personally familiar with. Cold-calling isn’t always a bad thing, and it can help grow your network of bookable talent. You might even make a friend or two if you’re not insufferable.
- Do diversify your lineups. The best shows feature a wide range of styles and personalities. The obvious differentiators are gender, race, and age, but you’ll also need to consider the comedic tone of each performer to have a truly diverse lineup. You want your show to resemble a great dinner—nobody wants six courses of soup.
Naming Your Show
Every comedy show has a name, and most are straight-up awful. Too many are puns, a good amount rely on alliteration, and most are just the name of the venue where the show occurs. The last one is okay if you are entirely uninventive and content living a life of mediocrity, but chances are you want to throw a little personality into your show. Give your show the attention it deserves and bestow it with a beautiful and memorable name that will entice your audience.
My most successful show was called “Van Halen,” which has nothing to do with comedy but is undeniably memorable. And yes, I know “Van Halen” is already another thing. Stealing is okay as long as it ain’t jokes.
Building an Audience
This is the most crucial aspect of any comedy show. Without an audience, you have nothing. There is a unique sadness that comes with booking the perfect show at an incredible venue and having nobody attend. If you have too many flops in a row, comics will be less enticed to perform on your show, and you’ll likely lose your venue. You need to become obsessed with packing your show. Post flyers, invite co-workers, tell every stranger you meet about your awesome and unmissable show. Create Facebook events and invite your entire network and encourage that group to do the same. If you aren’t talking about your show, neither will anyone else.
This is, frankly, the most difficult part of producing a show. Due to the fickle nature of the general public, it’s challenging to convince people to leave their house. Then, if they decide to be social, why would they choose your show over the innumerable other experiences they could have? You need to constantly ask yourself this question and provide real answers.
Creating a Vibe
No two shows should be alike. There are far too many formulaic comedy events — why add to that? After all the logistical work of booking venues, performers, and gathering an audience, this is where you’ll identify your show’s X factor. Does your show take place in a laundromat? Congratulations, you have the seed of a vibe. Invite your audience to bring their dirty clothes, do detergent giveaways, run with the theme.
Ultimately, there are no rules or limits to what your show can be. Embrace it and have some fucking fun, okay?