Posts Tagged ‘stage time’

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 (it’s in paperback, Kindle, Nook and iBook).



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!


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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Comedy contests offer stage time

July 25, 2016

Hi Dave – I did a Tuesday Amateur Night and saw the club was hosting another round of their “Best Amateur Comedian” contest. I want to enter, but not sure I’m ready. What’s the deal with comedy contests overall? – L.P.

Hey L.P. – Here’s a big chunk of personal opinion. I like comedy contests in clubs for one simple reason – stage time. Otherwise I’m not a big fan. Winners are usually decided by audience applause and the person who packs in the most friends (voters) will win. I’ve seen this happen over and over and can’t remember ever seeing the funniest comedian (another chunk of personal opinion) actually win one of these contests. Whoever can coax in the most paying customers will be awarded, “Funniest Comedian.”

Not FairDoesn’t seem fair – does it?

Of course the club owners and management have no problem with this because they make money from paying customers. And you know what? I also have NO PROBLEM with that because it’s show BUSINESS and if the club doesn’t make money, then comedians have one less place to perform. That’s the business part that comedians and performers in general need to understand. So from that point of view – I’m a BIG fan of comedy contests.

But since you’re a comedian, let’s stick with the comedian’s point of view…

There are other ways to decide contest winners. Similar to the format used on the once popular television talent show American Idol, there might be a panel of judges making the award-winning decision. That seems fairer than performing in front of a loaded audience, but then you need to impress the judges. Depending on what they personally enjoy (clean comedy, dirty comedy, etc…) this might compromise your comedy voice and material.


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This is also true if you have to play by their rules. For instance, I’ve seen comedians disqualified from contests because they accidently dropped the F-Bomb (against the rules) or went 10 seconds over their allotted time – even though the only reason they couldn’t get through their set in the given amount of time was because of audience applause and laugh breaks. But you need to follow their specific contest rules and if you don’t – then you just blew it in front of the judges.

Again – doesn’t seem fair, does it? The losers will tell you that, while the winners will add the award to their resumes.

Enter to WinHere’s the real scoop about comedy contests. A BIG name, BIG time comedy contest is a BIG deal and will open up BIG opportunities for the BIG winners.

Think BIG – like the winners of Last Comic Standing or contests associated with a major city or festival like Montreal, Boston, New York or San Francisco. Win one of those and you not only will be seen by many important entertainment industry movers and shakers, but you could even wind up with your own sitcom.

No BS – I’ve seen it happen.

Of course there are always two sides to everything. Some of the best comedians I’ve worked with and respect the most never won a local comedy contest. And you know what? I don’t think any of them really care. They were simply dedicated to being good comedians and losing a contest never stopped them from working toward their goal. They also would never have considered changing who they are on stage or what language they use, and instead develop material that the judges would approve of next time.

That’s not why they got into the biz in the first place.

I’ll also make an assumption and say that during the early days of their careers they might have entered a local contest or two. But I’m sure they only did it for the same reason I’ll tell you to do it – stage time. I remember a few comics at the NYC Improv going to other clubs for contests and not even staying to see who won. That wasn’t important – getting on stage was.


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Any time you have an opportunity to get on stage and work on your act, grab it and use it to your advantage. As you should know, improving as a comedian (humorous speaker or performer in general) can only happen through performing experience. And you know what comedy contests offer?


blog-photo-loserYeah, they may also offer cash prizes and more stage time, so of course you want to win to reap those benefits. But if you don’t, there’s no reason to sweat it or feel bad.

By the way, that’s why I’m not a big fan of comedy contests. Not everyone starts out in the business with a thick skin. That has to be developed if you ever plan to be serious about a comedy career. Newer comedians might put too much weight behind a comedy contest and feel if they don’t win, they’re not talented. No – it just means you didn’t bring enough friends, didn’t cater to the judge’s sense of humor, or haven’t had enough stage experience. There are no short cuts – sorry.

But you still win because you get stage time. So contests are good for that reason.

If you win the contest – that’s great! I hope it leads to more stage time. But if you don’t…

Like I mentioned, a lot of top comedians have never won a contest and never lost any sleep over it. They took advantage of the experience on stage and used it to become better comedians.

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.


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