Archive for the ‘Established Comedy Clubs’ Category

Finding stage time

November 4, 2016

Hey Dave – I have performed terribly at three open-mics in Kentucky. Could you point me in the direction of a “lower-end” establishment in Ohio? I’m looking for a place that does not require you to bring five friends. I don’t know five people. Thanks, J.

Open MicHey J. – Thanks for thinking of me when it comes to “lower end” establishments. Maybe I should start calling this the Blue Collar Column – NOT! But instead of worrying about how to get a “higher end” reputation, I’ll share some thoughts about how to get stage time at open-mics whether you’re in Kentucky, Ohio, or wherever.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about having to bring friends if you want to perform…

Usually if an open-mic (or showcase) night is not offered by a legit comedy club, they tend to be here one minute and gone the next. And to make a general statement, open-mics are usually in bars or nightclubs. Yeah, I know there are open-mics in churches and other places, but I’m talking in broad and wide and general terms right now.

If a “lower end” establishment runs a profitable comedy open-mic (attracts paying customers) chances are it’ll keep going. If not, then the owner needs to find something else that will bring in money, like investing in a giant screen TV for football season.

That’s why there are so many pay-to-play or bringer clubs where you have to bring x-amount of paying customers if you want to get on stage. This is a business deal. Comics get valuable stage experience to work on improving their performances and material so they can eventually move on to paying gigs in “higher end” comedy clubs.

From management’s point of view, that’s what they’re “giving” you.

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The trade-off is that the performing comics need to bring in paying customers. Making money is what keeps these clubs in business. From management’s point of view that’s what comics are “giving” them.

By the way, this is proof I didn’t sleep through all my college economics classes.

I can go into some of my stories about open-mics in NYC that always had an audience and comics simply signed up and performed. For the most part, it’s not like that anymore. Now you need x-amount of friends who are willing to drop a few bucks for a cover charge and a couple drinks to help further your career.

There’s some good advice on how to beat the bringer system in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers from my good pal and NYC comedy coach, Chris Murphy. I’d share it with you now, but my NYC publisher wouldn’t be too happy. You can check it out for free at your local library, or drop a few bucks on Amazon.com (it’s in paperback, Kindle, Nook and iBook).

Searching

Searching

And now that Introduction to Economics 101 is over, let’s get back to your original question – finding open-mics. After all, that’s the direction you want to be pointed in…

As mentioned, open-mics come and go. I used to hand out a long list in my comedy workshops to help everyone find stage time. And since I’ve done these in different states, it was quite a long list. I’d call the major comedy clubs to see what they had going, but for the local open-mic scene I’d rely on info from the current workshop members and add that to the list. But by the time I started the next workshop, that list was already outdated. The open-mics that were hot only a few weeks earlier had stopped and the comics had found new places to perform.

So instead of handing out a road map that sometimes led nowhere (a club that ditched comedy for a big screen TV) there’s a better way. It’s called research and networking.

If you have an eye on a certain area, in your case Ohio, do a Google search for comedy clubs. It’s easy – I do it all the time to see what’s going on and who’s appearing in other cities. If they have an open-mic it’ll be listed on their website. Remember, they’re in business and it’s always good business sense to promote whatever they have going on.

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Also, there’s always a phone number. Again, it’s good business sense.

From my experience, rarely will the club owner or manager answer the phone. That’s why they have people working in the box office, telemarketers and other staff. I only mention this because a lot of comics worry about making a lasting bad first impression on the person who ultimately controls who performs and who is banished to comedy hell for bothering them with annoying phone calls. I’ve also learned a lot of people who answer phones in comedy clubs are also aspiring comics.

Hey – if you want to be a plumber, you work with plumbers. If you wanna be a doctor, you intern with doctors. If you wanna be a comedian…

Make sense? And there’s no way you can argue with me about that. Too many of the former door-guys I worked with at the NYC Improv have gone onto successful comedy careers. They got firsthand experience on how this business works by being involved in the comedy scene.

Hint: Read that last sentence again. It’s a road map to where we’re going with this…

Even if you’re not ready to perform at a legit comedy club’s open-mic (trust me, you’ll need a lot more than three times on stage to even think about it) ask the person who answers the phone if they know of any open-mics in the area. Even if they say no, it won’t make a lasting bad first impression on anyone who can give you stage time. It’ll just make you do another Google search and find another club to call.

When you find even ONE “lower end” establishment, call and ask if they’re doing open-mics. Word of warning: I remember two comedians from my workshop that followed through on the fist step, but skipped the second. They didn’t find out the open-mic was history and now a sports bar until after a four hour one-way drive. Even worse, the two comics I’m talking about didn’t like either of the teams on the big screen TV.

If the open-mic is in business – go there.

The deal is, once you find one open-mic you’ll meet other comedians and can start learning about the area comedy scene. It’s called networking. Be supportive and watch the other comics. Do your time on stage and get to know these people. After all, you share the same interest – comedy.

Don’t be a user and don’t be annoying. Both are good ways to keep the number of friends on your list under five. Ask if they know of any other open-mics and make a point to be there. If you know of open-mics in your area, share the info.

Be part of the scene!

Be part of the scene!

It’s all about becoming a part of that particular comedy scene.

I know it sounds simple. But you know what? It usually is if you’re serious about doing this. I’ve been waaay involved in the comedy scenes in three major cities and I’ve seen how this works. I don’t just make this stuff up during television commercial breaks.

Comics can be very supportive of each other and it’s a tough business to go at it alone. It can be good to walk into a new club and see a few familiar faces. Ride share with other comics or start a writing group. There are all kinds of ways to get involved and that’s what you need to do.

And yeah, to off-set any emails I might receive about that positive outlook, you’ll also run into others who are complete jerks. But you know what? You’ll find that in any business. Just deal with their negativity the best you can and focus on where you want to go as a comic and how to get there.

Okay, that might have been long-winded, but here’s the business deal.

Once you get involved in a local comedy scene you’ll get to know the other comics. You’ll learn about other open-mics and that’s how you’ll know where to go for stage time. But remember to be supportive. If you can help someone get on stage, there’s a better chance they’ll help you. Simple? From what I’ve seen, it usually is.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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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 Chicago, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Getting started as a comedy talent booker

July 11, 2016

Hi Dave! Great article about talent agents. I am moving in the next few months to pursue a career as a comedy booker. I am entry level right now with nothing but passion and probably an unhealthy dose of optimism. I can’t seem to find any information anywhere about where or how to start out…or even how much money bookers make. What is your advice? Thanks for your time – SR

Hey SR – Thanks for the compliment and great question. As I replied to you earlier, being a comedy talent booker can be very rewarding. But since it’s “showbiz,” there will always be a few surprises around every corner.

Show BizFirst of all, how much you can make scheduling performers (comedians, musicians, speakers, variety acts – basically “talent”) depends on the venue and budget. For this FAQ and Answer I’m going to talk in general terms for live comedy shows because there’s already a wide range within just that career focus. If we were to add booking comedians for television (think HBO or Comedy Central Specials)… well, those are full time jobs. From my experience I never knew anyone that booked high profile national TV gigs and comedy clubs at the same time.

Of course I’m sure there are exceptions depending on where you’re located. I know there are very good comedy bookers in smaller markets booking their club comedians on local shows. But what I’m talking about was the case when I worked in NYC and LA. The television comedy bookers would call the comedy club bookers to set up showcases to audition comedians. Both were full time jobs.

Okay, let’s get back to starting out…

If you were booking shows at a small club (think bar or local social club) I wouldn’t plan on quitting your day job just yet. To make it a career, you should think about putting together a network of clubs running shows on different nights to earn a regular income for yourself and the performers. I know large talent agencies (bookers) that started this way. The different networks would be separate “tours” and each club would be charged a fee that would cover pay for the comedians and the talent booker.

How much? Again, it would depend on the market and size of the club.

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For a VERY small example that goes back MANY years ago, I had four bars in four different towns within a couple hours driving distance from each other that did comedy shows on “off nights.” This meant they didn’t want to compete with established clubs that were doing shows Thursdays through Saturdays, but also wanted experienced comedians (not open-mics). I’d put together a “tour” of Sundays through Wednesdays at these clubs and book two comics – an opener and headliner. Each club paid $300 per show plus accommodations and a meal for both comics. Again, this was a long time ago and dollar figures have changed, but that was an acceptable asking price given to me by friends working at more “established” Midwestern booking agencies.

For each show the headliner was paid $200 for a 45-60 minute spot and the opener $50 for 10-15 minutes. I kept $50 per show for booking the comics and taking care of the arrangements (contracts, making sure they knew how to get there, where they were staying, etc…). So for four shows a week, the headliner made $800 and the opening act $200. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember these were not established big-name clubs. They were places to “start.”

The headliners were normally “feature” or “middle” acts at the major comedy clubs on weekends and openers were just moving from the open-mic scene and into doing paid gigs. All were glad to have the work and would contact me on a regular basis saying they were available to do the clubs again (and again, and again…).

$200 bill

As the talent booker I earned $200 per week. Not enough to be considered a full-time job, but if I had continued and eventually ran five of these tours every week, that would’ve been $1,000. Quite a few talent booking agencies started this way.

Again, that is just a very small example of how you might want to start.

Depending on your experience and networking skills – which are majorly important in this biz – you could look into booking comedians for the college or corporate markets. I consider these more lucrative than the clubs and have experience doing both. But to keep this from continuing for pages and pages, I covered these topics in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers. Here’s the link on Amazon.com.

How you would go about getting into these markets depends on your experience and connections (also very majorly important in this biz). You could jump right in – or look for a job or internship with an established college agency or event planner to learn the ropes. Eventually you might find you have a great job with them or could branch out on your own.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this can be a very rewarding and fun career. But just like any other business there are surprises around every corner. Some of these you’ll inevitably have to deal with if you do this long enough include last minute cancellations (by both club owners and talent) and comics that don’t think they’re paid enough and club owners who think they’re paying too much. These are only a few examples that every talent booker has dealt with at one time or another. I don’t want to be a downer, but keep your people skills sharpened and ready to use at any time.

But the one thing I want to say is that a lot of success in this crazy business depends on your reputation.

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I’ve known talent bookers in the past that thought they were meant for the stratosphere of “big business,” only to be out of the business completely because they were rip-off artists and taking advantage of the comedians. What goes around usually comes around.

In other words – keep things honest.

One way to ruin a career as a talent booker is to be caught “double-dipping.” I had no idea what this meant until a good comedian friend I was also managing told me I was doing it!

While booking the club tour mentioned above, I scheduled one of my comedian clients. My contract with him as manager paid me 10% of his income for all bookings. But each of these clubs was also paying me $50 per show. That meant I was taking an extra $20 from the total show cost that should have been paid to the comedian I was managing. In other words, he would’ve only made $180 per show.

I wasn’t doing that with the other comedians.

I was being paid by two different sources for the same job, but only when the comedian I managed was playing the club. That’s called double-dipping. When he pointed it out I felt… well, “duh.” It was a good business lesson and why I’m pointing it out to you. It’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes before you make them on your own.

I kept my pay from the club and made sure the comic was paid his full $200 per show.  After all, since I was his manager, it was important both his career and income continued to grow.

Some talent bookers still try this and need to be called out for taking advantage of newer talent hungry for any paying gigs they can get. But when it “comes around” and the comics are in demand for attracting bigger audiences and making more money for club owners, the “double-dipper” is the last talent booker they would ever work for again.

So my final bit of humble advice (is there such a thing from me?) is to start small – if you’re planning to book comedy talent on your own. Just like the comedians do with open-mics, check out the local scene and get some experience. Get to know the comedians and what they do (example: are they family friendly or x-rated). Schedule a fundraiser or benefit show. Network with club owners to see if they would be interested in a comedy show with you as the talent booker. There might also be local business parties or special events that would like entertainment. You’ll have to network to find out.

shut-up-and-take-my-money-300x225And don’t be afraid to ask to be paid. Freebees are good to get your name out and make contacts, but you’ll never quit your day job doing that. When my first business partner (hey buddy if you’re reading this!) approached our local bar and proposed a weekend comedy show, our idea was just to get stage time for ourselves and our comedian friends. We were shocked when the owner offered to pay us $150 per show. Yeah, we took it – and it became a launching pad for much bigger things.

If you’re lacking in experience, connections or anything else that might hold you back, search out talent agencies and event planners and see if there are any jobs or internships available. It would be starting at the bottom – just like going at it on your own – but the learning process could be the launching pad you’re looking for.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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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 Chicago, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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