Posts Tagged ‘headliner’

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.

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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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January Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

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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.