Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Comedy Biz: Before Booking Your Own One-Nighter

Parody of first-time comedy room poster
Over the last 5 years I have booked a lot of shows.  In doing so I have made a lot of mistakes as a comedian that produces and promotes rooms.  The following article discusses some of the do's and don'ts to booking your own one-nighter in a non-comedy club environment. 

Why Are You Considering Booking Your Own Room?
Many comics make the mistake right off the bat on this one. I couldn't tell you how many comics I see booking rooms simply because another agent or comedy club in the area will not give them stage time or has refused to book them altogether.  Hell, I have been guilty of this in the past.  It's an easy mistake to let your emotions take hold and to try to do some type of damage to the club/agent that decided against booking you.  Your motive to book comedy should never be retaliation.  You will choose the wrong room because of how bad you want it and the only comics you will have available are the comics that agent or club won't book just like you.

The real reason to start booking a room is when it has been demonstrated that a need exists for live comedy in a given market.  In Knoxville, Tennessee I started booking shows myself for a few reasons, first was just that, one comedy club existed in a metro population of almost 500,000 people.  Secondly, I wanted to give local comics something to step up to from the open-mic to help nurture the local talent to grow the local comedy scene.

Common Mistakes Made by First-Time Room Bookers
This list could go on fucking forever because I have made most of these mistakes. However, I am going to approach it first from the agent/comedy clubs point of view. I spoke to a few different agents and the general consensus about comic booked rooms focused on a few different gripes. 
Your Comedy Night Is What It Is...
First and foremost agents expressed that comedians booking their own rooms don't tell the truth about the level of comedy they are booking at their show.  They will say stuff like "Nationally Touring" when a comic has only traveled across a region or they will attribute false credits to their headliner (Example: If you were an extra on One Tree Hill, saying 'As seen on One Tree Hill' is a flat out lie).  Often these same shows are full of open mic comics and people that are not of the level of professionalism that the agents and/or comedy clubs would book. Want to book a legit show, say it is a "New Talent Showcase" or "Alternative Stand-Up Comedy Night". Neither of these things lie about the final product you are offering. The agents complain because the venues might be perfect for comedy, but since that 'rape-joke fist fight' night, the venue never wants to try comedy again.  
Stepping on Dicks since 2006
Another complaint from agents is how comics will set up shop within the proximity of where they have long standing rooms thus affecting their show negatively.  Only problem with this is a lot of agents have unrealistic ideas about how close a comedy show can be before it is really 'competing' for the same crowd.  If more agents understood that their true competition was things like movie openings, rock concerts, large college events, then they would be better prepared to market their shit accordingly and worry much less about your 'New Talent Showcase' down the street that isn't even on the same night.  It is best to play nice with agents when you first get started. They can be the savior of a comedy scene but also can be conniving cunts that have unrealistic demands when it comes to the area in which shows would compete with their rooms.  Tread lightly. Because 99% of the time they will pretend everything is cool and not come out and say that it's fucked up you are doing a show just down the street.  They will simply black list you and talk shit about you until it gets backs to you.  Trust me, I know this one from experience... Learn from why they feel like they do.  Producing comedy shows are a risk.  Every day other agents are calling on their room to try to undercut them and steal from them. Do not bad mouth their room, just put yours in a different area/town/city where you truly won't be competing and produce a kick-ass show.

Top 5 Things Necessary for a Successful Comedy One-Nighter
5.) Pick the right fucking day of the week.  Fridays may seem like a great idea, but if the venue is already making bank on Friday with just a juke box playing, you are not really helping them out as much with your comedy show.  Pick a night that the owner wants to bring in more business and where a unique entertainment offering like comedy might get some people in the door that otherwise would not normally come out to their place.
4.) Don't book assholes- Book comics that are talented, punctual (Yeah right) and most importantly, respectful to the staff, the customers and even the stage.  If you have a comic that is more interested in making a statement or staying true to the art, he is often not going to give a shit that his Jesus Crucifiction joke just cost you the gig.
3.) Understand the Law of frequency- Don't do comedy too frequently.  People in New York City can take stand-up comedy every night, however, people in Newport, Tennessee may only come out to see a comedy show every couple of months or less.  Get with the owner and if he knows what the fuck he is doing he will be able to help you with this. Always resist the urge to go weekly right off the bat if you feel it would be hard to keep putting people in the seats as a gut instinct.  You want this room to go as long as you can, not a flash in the pan.
2.) Location is good- You are in the right area for comedy.  Walk up traffic is helpful if you are in a downtown area, visibility of the location is important if in an suburban area.  This also applies to what the place is.  Are people USED to paying to see a show here or are you forcing them to pay when they have always been able to come to the spot for free, etc... This one is quite complex and not simple enough to give a few bullet point do's or don'ts.  You kinda have to live and learn on finding a good location.
1.) Venue has to be 150% on board- This means they are excited about it, their staff is informed about it, they provide exactly what you ask for when they are supposed to.  They promote it and don't rely on you to do it solely. Every single other element could be rocking, but if you haven't made sure the venue gives a shit and is on board, when folks call about the show they will be mislead, told nothing, or worse yet, TOLD NOT TO COME OUT!!! Believe me, this happens when the venue staff hates your shows but feel obligated to keep them going because the owner agreed to.

This has been the first of several Comedy Business articles I will be writing and posting on KnoxComedy.com.  Keep in mind these lessons are from combined experiences and are meant to be guidelines, not steadfast rules.  Take what you will from them and go out there and make some people laugh!
Matt Ward is the founder of KnoxComedy.com.  He produces the Cape Fear Comedy Festival, Port City's Top Comic, The Rocky Top Comedy Contest and runs several open-mics and one nighters in Eastern Tennessee.