Archive for the ‘opening act’ Category

Is local television worth promoting?

June 4, 2018

Hi Dave – I recently passed the audition at a local comedy club. The booker said he probably wouldn’t have anything for me for the first year or two other than a last minute fall-out. I don’t mind because we all come in “at the very bottom of the list.” Then I got a letter from a local television station to help out on camera during an auction. They always ask if I’m doing any shows locally, so I’ve learned to contact another local club to see about getting an MC week or a one night feature spot. That way I get the word out on TV and everybody wins.

This time I emailed the new booker to see if he has anything available right after the TV appearance. I wondered later if something like this (local television) even matters to a booker, or if they may look at it and say, “That’s not really TV… why are you bothering me?” You’ve been on the other side of this equation – what do you think? – DG

Hey DG – First of all congrats on passing the audition. And second – another congrats on sending in longest question (so far) for FAQs And Answers. You warned me at the beginning of your email you’ll “try to be brief, but that’s never been my strong suit.” You were right… ha!!!

So after editing down your ten pages to the few paragraphs above (okay – I’ll stop with the jokes since it was only five pages) you’ve asked a very good question. You also have the correct game plan.

Make the most of every opportunity.

Is it you?

I think it’s a great you sent the new booker an email with the local TV info. It may work – you never know unless you try. But even if it doesn’t result in an immediate MC week or guest spot, it keeps your name in front of him for a good reason:

It shows you’re out there doing something.

Everybody should know marketing, networking and promoting are important if you want to work in this biz. You don’t want to be a pain in the you-know-what by sending emails to a booker every day or constantly calling. But you also can’t afford to be invisible to the point that they don’t even know who you are. It’s best if you fall somewhere in the middle.

For instance, when you’re on the roster of performers it’s pretty common for the booker to ask you send in your avails at least once a month. Avails are the dates you’re available for work. This is how you stay in touch with someone you’re already working with – without being a pain or the risk of being forgotten (invisible).

Excuse for a postcard

If you’re not on the roster and want to be, an email every few weeks or once a month as a reminder to watch your promo video or schedule a live showcase is not too much or too little. And for anyone that thinks postcards are old school – I still get them from comics and speakers looking for gigs. Sometimes it’s good to mix it up a little during the staying in touch game.

A lot of these messages are just simply, “Hello, how are you? I’m just staying in touch. Keep me in mind for work, etc…

That’s fine – again, you don’t want to be invisible. BUT when you share news about something you’re doing career-wise, it carries a little more weight than just asking about a booker’s health.

If you pass the audition at a great comedy club you want other bookers to know you’re working. Same thing if you win a contest, schedule a big corporate or college show, perform at a benefit – or appear on local television. These are achievements and a good excuse to stay in touch.

You’re marketing, networking and promoting that you’re doing something besides sitting home sending emails and writing postcards.

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And yes the business puts emphasis on TV because it’s exposure to a potential audience (paying customers). The bigger the show – the bigger the exposure. This is free advertising for wherever you’re playing next. If a comic does a great set on a nationally broadcast late night television show and the host announces where that comic is performing over the next week or two, it’s worth more than any amount of local newspaper ads the club might be paying for promotion.

Television builds an audience

Local television can’t be considered too trivial if it’s broadcast in the same market as the club. Whenever headliners appear at major clubs, part of their job is to promote their shows in that market. Usually it’s written in the contract.

They’re up at 6 am and driven to most of the local morning drive-time radio shows. After that they’re driven to the television studios to appear on local morning and early afternoon talk shows. When they’re finished getting the word out to more potential audience members the comic can catch a nap, have something to eat – and then hit the stage. Hopefully with all the PR work they’ve sold some tickets while they were sleeping and eating.

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If a comic that is MC’ing, featuring or doing a guest set has a chance to drum up some business by appearing on a local TV show, it’s another free advertising opportunity for the club. Whether they take advantage of this is totally up to the booker – and also if he truly feels you’re ready to play the club. Since you’ve already passed the audition and on the club comedian roster, he obviously feels you’re ready. A local TV spot with an opportunity to plug the show is as good an excuse as any to stay in touch. It’ll pull more weight than a simple, “Hello, how are you?” in an email or on a postcard.

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

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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!

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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 Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs, The Omaha Funny Boneprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Personal request from headliner to open shows

January 15, 2018

Hey Dave – After a recent showcase the headliner came up to me and asked if I’d be willing to open for him on his upcoming shows. What’s the best way to approach being a featured comic or host at this (major) club? I have the manager’s email and a video of the showcase set as a sample of what I can do. I also have a website with my headshot and resume and can burn the video on DVD and post on YouTube. Sincerely – L.S.

You’ve got this!

Hey L.S. – That’s great news! As I say in way too many articles, that’s your Golden Ticket. A personal recommendation from a headlining comic is ALWAYS better than trying to do it all on your own through blind mailings and emails, or hanging out at the club (topics we’ve talked about in past newsletters).

Of course I’d never discourage comics or humorous speakers from promoting themselves with good business methods (website, video, postcards, etc.). But when you have someone that actually works in the club as a headliner putting in the good word for you, it’s always easier to at least be seen (given a showcase).

And if you already have a track record – meaning decent performing credits – you might just end up with a paid booking. I’ve seen that happen a lot, meaning a good headliner will have his own opening and feature acts on the road with him. Clubs book the “package” – which makes the talent booker’s life a bit easier.

My advice is to stay in touch with the headliner about this. Ask him exactly what he has in mind. For instance, would it just be for his upcoming shows at this (major) club? Does he want you to go on the road and open for a string of clubs for x-number of weeks?

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Includes an evening performance at The Improv

Upcoming 2018 Chicago & Cleveland workshop dates TBA

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By the way, you should be able to find out what he has on the schedule by checking out his website. Most comics keep their online calendars updated not only for talent bookers, but also their fans. I always talk a lot about promoting and there are more than a few (smart!) comics who buy advertisements on Facebook and LinkedIn (there’s more about that technique in the updated version of How To Be A Working Comic) aimed at the cities / areas they’re playing a week or two in advance. Clubs love it when comics help to promote their own shows. And since (smart!) comics also attach their websites to these ads to help build audience interest through their videos and credits, you can check out their touring schedule.

Making the call!

Preferably you’ll want the headliner to personally contact the club booker or manager requesting you open his shows. He can tell them to expect your call or email, or just call you back to say it’s a done deal and fill you in on the details. Either way, he has to be the one to do this.

The headliner (or his agent) needs to personally mention this to the club booker. That’s what will cut through all the red tape. All it takes is one phone call from the comedian or his agent.

That’s important because otherwise the booker might not believe you if you’re the only one calling to set this up. And I don’t mean to single out just YOU – it’s like that with all comics they don’t know. You’d be surprised how many comics “drop names” but don’t actually have that comic’s recommendation. I’ve had that happen to me in the past and it never works in the “name dropper’s” favor.

I’m sure there are more than a few club bookers who can relate to that last statement. And I’ve also read some recent online posts from a few comics who’ve tried it – and ended up regretting it.

If for some reason the headliner doesn’t follow through on this or just suggests you make the contact, then go to Plan B. Send an email to the club booker that the headliner talked with you about being the opening act for his upcoming shows. Ask for the “correct way” for you to submit a video and promo. Hopefully the booker will request you send a link to your website and video.

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If you don’t hear back from the club booker wait a couple weeks and send a reminder. The goal is to stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what. Know what I mean?

I’ve talked about how to promote and market your career via emails, postcards and phone calls in past FAQs And Answers so no need to repeat it all here. There are also marketing suggestions in How To Be A Working Comic. And yes – that was another blatant book plug.

Did I mention I’m into marketing and promoting? Ha!

But again, if the headliner puts in a personal request for you to open his shows, chances are everything should work in your favor. This is your Golden Ticket – so use it.

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

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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January 2018 Comedy Workshop

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Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

Please use the contact form below to receive an email if space opens!

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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!

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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 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 www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Doing face time in comedy clubs for bookings

November 26, 2017

Hey Dave – Isn’t “face-time” (not the kind associated with iPhones) one of the most important parts of getting work hosting in comedy clubs? What I mean is, doesn’t it make a big difference in someone’s chances of being MC for a weekend (or more) when they frequent the club, chat up the staff and tip well, and demonstrate a willingness to do grunt work? I think that is universal. Didn’t you have a story about the guy who showed up outside a club and swept the sidewalk every day until they hired him inside and he then moved up the ranks? – DM

Hey DM – This is not an easy question because there are a lot of buts, maybes and depends that will go into any answer – from anyone. I know from experience there are some comics and club owners who will agree with what I’m going to say, and others who will grab a broom and tell me to get out of the way.

Check me out!

But you know what? This is showbiz, which is an industry full of gimmicks. If you don’t believe me turn on the TV and the highest rated reality shows. You may not want to hang out in real life with bachelors, housewives and Kaitlin Jenner’s ex-family, but you have to admit they know how to bring attention to themselves.

So keeping that in mind, it’s not a bad idea to call attention to yourself by being seen around the clubs you want to play. To break into your local comedy scene you need to have the local talent bookers know who you are and that you’re a comic.

The goal is to score an audition.

I’ve never heard of the guy who swept the sidewalk outside a club everyday and was rewarded with a paid MC (hosting) gig.  It’s not a bad way to call attention to yourself, but if you really do end up with an audition it will only pay off if you have the talent and experience to back it up. Otherwise the only winner will be the club owner with a clean sidewalk.

My first thought is that the time could be better spent getting stage experience somewhere else.

Earn a reputation as a good comic and then do some networking. It’s a lot easier to score a showcase when you have a track record and recommendations from other comics and bookers who’ve seen you on stage. When you have that going for you, there’s no need to bring a broom to the club.

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Starts January 13, 2018

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Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

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Showbiz has always been about being different and standing out from the crowd. If you have the experience and truly believe you’re ready to play the club and sweeping the sidewalk gets you noticed by the booker, who am I to put it down?

That’s why a lot of new comics are willing to hand out flyers for stage time or line up friends and family for bringer shows. Sometimes you have go the extra mile to get ahead in this crazy biz.

But your real question is about “face time.” That was always (and still is) a major networking opportunity and how a lot of newer comedians got on stage when I worked in New York City and Los Angeles. But I have to emphasize they were already experienced comics and not someone who only thought keeping the sidewalk clean would be their best career move.

When comics were experienced and funny enough to start performing at a club like The Improv they still had to pass the audition. Working the door, bartending, or even sweeping the sidewalk could open the door, but didn’t guarantee future paid gigs.

You had to prove – on stage – you could do it.

Hanging out for a late night set

Even after someone passed the audition, there was no guarantee they’d get regular performing spots. They were on the club roster, which meant they were welcome to come in and “hang out at the bar” as a comic. Now if they wanted to sweep the sidewalk instead of sitting around – yeah, they’ll be noticed over the others. But if they hadn’t passed their audition, then chances are they’d still be sweeping when the show is ending.

But face time does count. For example…

During a week night at The New York Improv we would schedule enough comedians to get us through until around midnight. If there was still an audience at that time (in NYC we could keep the shows going until 4 am as long as we had people in the showroom) then we would look around to see what comics were “hanging out.” They would make up the rest of the show until either the audience left or we hit last call.

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That was doing face time and we already knew they were comedians.

If they wanted to grab a broom and sweep up… well, thanks. But that alone would not have earned a performance slot. Were they on the roster? If not, was there another comic who was a regular performer at the club recommending they be given an audition? That’s the only way they were going to get on stage that night.

Playing broom for club gigs

Now I already know some comics and club owners will disagree and have examples to prove me wrong. I even have a story in one of my books from a favorite club owner who might trade performing spots for work around the club. So I’m not saying it won’t work, I’m just saying…

A great way to kill a show is by putting on someone – anyone – who doesn’t have experience and isn’t funny. That’s why there are open mics and why established comedy clubs have auditions and already know who the comics are. Gimmicks like sweeping the sidewalk might get an audition, but the time could be better spent getting known as a good comedian – even if you have to perform somewhere else to make it happen. If you come in ready to knock everyone out with your talent, then you can get quality face time with the other comics “hanging out” instead of doing grunt work.

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 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 www.TheComedyBook.com

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