Archive for the ‘Opening acts’ Category

Promotional videos need an audience

February 12, 2018

Dave – Does the promotional video have to be in front of a live audience? Most open-mics are restricted to 5 minutes and my bits are longer. Also, many open-mics are poor venues to make quality video. – ET

Hopefully more than this!

Hey ET – If you’re promoting for a live performance gig you need to show the talent booker what you can do in front of a live audience. Maybe if you’re sending in your “reel” for an acting gig – commercials, TV or film – I doubt it would matter. Then again, since we’re dealing with comedians and humorous speakers and not actors (well, not necessarily) the answers to your questions – in order – are:

  1. Yes
  2. Tough
  3. Figure out another option

Okay, I know the last two sound kind of harsh, but I’ll explain my reasoning in a moment. But for right now I’ll fall back on a standard reasoning that this is a business. Yes, it is a creative business that survives on talent and continues by discovering new talent that is different, innovative and sometimes not afraid to push down a few established barriers. But when it comes to the business of promoting, there are some established thoughts I don’t think are going to change anytime in the near future.

One is submitting a promo video filmed in front of a live audience.

When you want to be considered for a performance gig – you need to show the talent booker a performance in front of an audience. They want to see how you work on stage and an audience reaction before they’ll take a chance on you. There’s no other way outside of a live showcase to do that.


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Think of it like test-driving a new car. A buyer wants to know how it runs on the highway, rather than just taking the seller’s word on it. It’s the same thing with live performers. A good talent booker wants to know what he’s buying before putting the comic (or speaker, or musician…) on stage in front of a “live” audience. If the audience enjoys the show they might come back for another (clubs like returning customers), but if it’s a bomb they might just go to a movie or another club next time.

It’s pretty much impossible to get an accurate feel for a comedian or speaker without an audience. Yeah, I know the television show Last Comic Standing used to have comics perform in front of only three judges in the first round, but those three people were still an audience. I’m sure most comics know what I’m talking about from doing open-mics in front of only two or three people. They’ve learned that you still need to perform for them.

I remember getting videos for A&E’s An Evening at the Improv from aspiring comedians that were filmed in their living rooms, basements and bedrooms, and even outside. No audience – just them in front of a camera. Honestly, they were laughable because they came off as amateurs that really had no performing experience (an experienced comic would know better). And as I’ve been known to say…

They may call it amateur night, but no one wants to hire (pay for) an amateur.

So don’t even consider sending a promo video for a performance gig that was not filmed in front of an audience. The talent booker will be wondering why you couldn’t get on stage anywhere and had to do it this way.

Now as far as a time limit of say… five minutes. Again, it’s the business.


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Talent bookers get a LOT of video submissions and simply don’t have the time to watch a string of comics doing… well, a LOT of time. Usually most of them know within the first 30 seconds if the comedian has the experience and material to maybe be hired. It’ll show right away. Most also know how to fast forward and stop at random places to see if the comic is getting laughs from an audience. I’ve sat and watched promo videos with more than a few very influential talent bookers in NYC and LA and have seen this happen. So whatever the length of the video, it should be your best and filmed in front of a live audience.

But saying five minutes is not enough time for your long bits could hurt you BIG TIME when you’re just starting out. An important part of the club business is keeping comics “within their time.”

Headliners – the acts audiences are paying to see – have the most flexibility when it comes to time. I’ve seen many do an hour or more if there’s only one show that night and the audience is really having fun. But the opener and feature need to “stick to their time” so the headliner doesn’t go on too late in the show or in front of a burned-out audience.

Sometimes an opener can be given 15 minutes. But other nights, especially when there are two or three shows and maybe a guest set thrown in, the manager might tell the opener to do 5 minutes or less.

Can you do that?

If they manager says, “Do five minutes” and you go over your time because your bits are too long, chances are you won’t work that club again. I also remember a former member of my workshop calling me to say he’d had his best set ever during a contest at The Improv but was disqualified. Why? Because comics were given five minutes – and he had done five minutes and TEN seconds.

I’m not kidding. Again – it’s the business.

So if most open-mics only give you five minutes and your bits are longer, then you need to find other clubs that will give you more stage time. You don’t want to break their rules if you want to be invited back.

And again, time limits are important to remember if you want to get hired in most clubs. If you can’t stick to five minutes and that’s what they’re looking for, then turn down the gig. It won’t work in your favor.

Not every open-mic is a poor venue to make a quality video (your comment above) and if these are the only places you’re performing, it’s probably time to expand your horizons if you want to start getting paid work. Actually some of the more popular open-mics I’ve seen in various cities would be cool settings for a promo video. They may not have “IMPROV” or another club logo on the back wall, but a stage, microphone and spotlight, and an attentive audience will usually do the trick.

This would be better!

The deal is that you want a real audience to make a decent promo video. A room full of open-mic comics who’ve probably heard your set a dozen times and are trying to figure out what they’re going to do on stage when you’re finished won’t be your best audience.

So this is where you figure out another option.

When you’re going to do a promotional video – promote the gig. Seriously. Invite friends, family, co-workers and anyone else you can get in the club. I’ve seen comics in NYC standing on the sidewalk handing out flyers not because it was a bringer show, but because they wanted an audience for their promo video.

Another option is to get a few other comics involved that also want new promo videos. Again, I learned this trick in NYC. Five or six comics would plan to do their videos on the same night and PACK the club with just about everyone they knew.

Once the scene was set – all they had to do was be funny (not an option – ha!) and film it.

At the end of the night they had new promo videos filmed in front of a “live” audience that (from what I remember) got them work from talent bookers. Then when they were booked in better clubs, they got better videos – and the cycle continues for anyone who wants to be a working comic.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!


Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs, The Omaha Funny Bone; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.


Opener vs. Feature vs. Headliner

January 28, 2018

Hey Dave – I was reading your newsletter today and I’m wondering… What’s the difference between a Headliner vs. a Feature Act? Thanks – DS

Who’s on stage?

Hey DS – Money. Next question?!

Okay… okay… sorry for trying to be funny. That’s actually a good question for comics starting out AND in certain areas of the comedy scene. And the above is only part of the answer. There’s more to it, so let me explain with a true confession.

When I worked in the comedy biz in NYC I didn’t know the difference either. In fact, there was never even a reason to bring up the term feature act. The comics worked their way through the open-mics and auditioned for the major clubs in the city. You can Google for a list – but off the top of my head from those days we’re talking about The Original Improv, Catch A Rising Star, The Comic Strip, Caroline’s, Dangerfields’, NY Comedy Club and Stand-Up NY.

I’m sorry if I forgot anyone…

Fab comedy fan outside NYC Improv Comedy Club

I was manager of The Improv, which in NYC (like the others) was a showcase club. Yes, most of our audiences were made up of locals and tourists (like the others) but comics knew it was an important place to be seen. On any given night there could be agents, managers, producers and casting directors watching. We also scheduled showcases (auditions) for The Tonight Show, The Letterman Show, HBO, MTV – and plenty of others.

As I said – it was a good place to be seen on stage.

Non-industry nights were Fridays and Saturdays. This means the audiences (2 shows Friday and 3 on Saturday) were pretty much local comedy fans and tourists. Instead of going to a movie, they could see a live show. So the comics were booked in advance and mostly “A-Acts.” In other words, they were our headliners and the industry people already knew who they were. They had agents, television credits, etc…

Let’s put it this way. You, me and everyone on the planet earth knows who Jay Leno is. So there’s no reason for him to showcase for industry exes. Just call his agent if you have a project in mind.

Make sense? Okay…


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Sunday through Thursday were showcase nights. There would be several A-Acts doing 20 minute sets to guarantee good shows. But this is also when industry exes and audiences would see the up-and-coming comics. They would be given anywhere from 5 to 10 minute sets and we could have as many as 10 to 15 comics go on stage in one night. Since we could stay open until 4 am the length of the show depended on how many people were still in the audience.

So what I’m trying to say is in NYC (at that time anyway) we didn’t deal with or use the term feature acts. They were either A-Acts or working their way toward becoming an A-Act.

The difference in terms happened when comics worked on the road – clubs outside of NYC. And since that wasn’t on my personal radar at the time, I never dealt with it.

It wasn’t until I got to Los Angeles and started working at The Improv that I learned about bookings in the other Improv comedy clubs. The venue on Melrose Avenue was a showcase club like NYC (and still a GREAT place to be seen), but the others Budd Friedman had across the country did shows with only three comedians.

Only THREE comics?

World View

Yeah – I was surprised too! My mindset was like the old New Yorker Magazine cover from 1976 – that was still a popular poster around Manhattan twenty years later (and probably still today). Basically, Manhattan residents could look west from 9th Avenue (BTW – The Improv was located just east of 9th Ave) and not really acknowledge anything until the Pacific Ocean.

Stuck up? Well, when everything you need is on one island it just becomes a way of life. But I regress…

Outside of NYC and LA, the clubs in other cities scheduled three comics – an opener (MC), feature (middle) and headliner (closer).

Every club I’ve ever managed or booked – including showcase clubs – has an MC. That’s the comic who opens the show and warms up the audience. They’re also the ones required to make the announcements. You know – tell the audience about drink specials, future shows, sponsors, etc…

The headliner closes the show. That’s the star act – the comic the club is advertising and the one most of the audience is paying to see.


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The feature act? You can guess – right? That’s the comic in the middle – between the opener and headliner. They do more time on stage than the opener – and less than the headliner.

And that takes us back to my first answer – money. The feature act is paid more than the opener and less than the headliner. And there’s never a mix-up over that cuz it’s in the contracts, which is another matter I don’t remember dealing with in showcase clubs. In NYC you showed up, did your set, got cab fare and a sandwich – and thanked the club when you got a special on Comedy Central.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!


Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs, The Omaha Funny Boneprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Getting an MC gig at an “A-List” comedy club

December 11, 2017

Hey Dave – My goal for 2018 is to host a show at one of the top clubs (like The Improv). I have video that I can submit and if nothing else, it will be good to get some feedback and be told what I have to do to get work there. In saying that, do you know how to go about submitting videos to the clubs and what should accompany it, i.e. bio, pics, etc? If you know who the contacts for the club may be or how to find that info that would be great as well. Thanks for your continued support in the comedy scene and I hope you are well. Talk to you soon – CC

Checking the list

Hey CC – Thanks for the support and well wishes. In answer to both I can say I’m trying my best…

And another thanks for your question since it gives me a chance to combine two recent articles into a (hopefully) working answer. Make sense? Again, I’ll try my best…

Usually with the major clubs, the headliners and most features (middle acts) are booked through a corporate office. They have a talent coordinator who books all the clubs in their chain. Opening acts are mostly local or within driving distance and are booked by the club’s in house manager. The opening acts don’t get flown in or put up in five star hotels, if you know what I mean.

When you’re going for an opening (host / MC) spot at an “A-Room” (pick the top club in your area) it’s about the total package. Yeah, of course you have to be a good comic with experience. But you also have to show that in your submission to even be considered. These bookers are not going to hire someone who’s not ready to play their club. The audiences pay for and expect a professional comedy show. And even though the openers won’t have the television and/or film credits the headliners or some features have, audiences are also not paying big $$’s to watch an amateur night.


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Know what I mean? You should have experience and a list of credits from playing smaller clubs first, before you approach the “big guys.”

I was on a panel at a comedy festival a few years ago with the manager of a major club and an owner of another. One of them – in a very polite way – talked about the smaller clubs being like the minor leagues. He was comparing it to baseball. Get your experience there first to prove you can do it before trying to move up to the major leagues.

Assuming you’ve done that – here’s a game plan for your question.

Last week I talked about doing “face time” (networking) in comedy clubs. Before that the topic was promotional material. Now it’s time to combine…

Make the call

I suggest calling the club and asking the proper way to submit a video for a showcase (audition). The people answering the phones will know – because this is a question they get all the time from comedians. Follow what they say.

Based on the two major clubs in my area, there can be two different scenarios. One is doing face time. For instance, one of the clubs has a bringer showcase once a month. Bringer meaning you have to bring x-amount of paying audiences members to get stage time. I won’t discuss the pros and cons of that now, cuz I’ve also done that in past FAQs And Answers. Let’s just agree it is what it is – and the only way you’ll be seen on stage at this particular club.

Play the game (pay the admission for your friends if you have to) and get on stage. At least you’ll be seen by someone connected with the club. Afterward do some face time and network with whomever is in charge of the show. Ask them what your next step is (you asked about getting feedback so this is your opportunity) or how to be considered as an opening act during one of their regular shows.

Who knows? They might offer you a gig based on your performance (best scenario), say you’re not ready (worst scenario), or ask you to send them a video for more review. That last one’s okay because you’re still in the game. It’s also what you’d have to do for the other club I’m thinking about anyway, so here’s how that’s gonna work…

Again, you might want to consider starting with some face time. Go to a show and keep an eye out for a manager. Another hint – from experience – do this on a “one-show night.” Fridays and Saturdays usually mean multiple shows in the major clubs and everything is more hectic. Go on a Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday and chances are better you’ll get a minute or two with the person in charge.

Then ask. What’s the best way to get a showcase or submit a video? And again from experience – because comics ask all the time – they’ll tell you. Follow what they say.


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If the club doesn’t offer a showcase night ask if they accept submissions via email and get the email address.

I also suggest you have a dedicated website for your comedy submissions. A certain comedy club I’ve worked for won’t even consider booking a comedian – including an opening act – without one. If you’re working off a Facebook page or other social media site, it doesn’t show them you are serious about your career if you haven’t taken that step as a professional. And if you’re not sure what to include on a website, just check out websites by “working” comedians or pick up a copy of my book How To Be A Working Comic.

Stand out from the crowd

Some comics might tell you this is not necessary since all the booker is interested in is your video. But here’s another hint from experience. To stand out from the crowd (and they get a lot of videos) you should make the extra effort. It makes you look more professional and that’s how you want them to see you.

Again – none of these top clubs are interested in hiring an amateur.

If they tell you to submit a video via email, send a link to your website that includes your video. Yeah, you can probably just email a link to your video on YouTube – if that’s really how you want to play this opportunity. But again, it won’t look as professional.

And for some of you, don’t let the idea of having a website throw you off your game. They’re easy and inexpensive. Check out WordPress and some of the others available for this.

Talent bookers will understand (they should) that you’re not a headliner or feature act because you’re asking for an opportunity to be an opening act (MC). They shouldn’t expect all the “bells and whistles” of a big-time headliner website. But since these are “A-Clubs” we’re talking about, they will expect you to be further along in your career than doing open-mics and using a Facebook page as your business site.

If you don’t get a response from your submission, stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what. An email or postcard every couple weeks should work.

But again, networking REALLY helps. If you’re part of your area comedy scene you probably know some of the comics who open at these clubs. If you see them at the open-mics or some of the other clubs – and they like your sets (important to know first!) – ask if they can throw in a good word for you with the booker. As I’ve written in the past, a personal recommendation from someone who already works at the club can be your Golden Ticket. That can either get you a showcase or have your video watched a lot faster than anything I just mentioned above.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!


Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs and (comedy soon!) The Omaha Funny Boneprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.