Comedy bookers are the gatekeepers to a lot of paid work in the comedy profession. Bookers are the people that are tasked with finding, and providing talent for those that want comedy entertainment. Just like with everything there are varying levels and we will discuss them all (or the ones I can think of).
There are two broad types of bookers. There are those that book comedy shows and other forms of entertainment as a profession and then there are those that are seen as more like part time bookers. They book shows, but also have a career that they are trying to keep track of as well. Professional bookers are usually the ones that have access to clubs and rooms that book comedy regularly (I should have warned you that I am going to be using some form of book a lot in this blog post), as part time bookers usually line up a lot of one off shows. There are pros and cons to each though that we should go through.
One pro of the Professional comedy booker is that you can find a lot of work with them if you are deemed “good”. Since there is no empirical way of knowing you are good enough for them to use your services, you just have to send out your promo package and see if it lands (I should do a post on promo packages!). If you get in you can get decent work if you are available. Most of my dealings with bookers like this involve me doing last minute shows where someone dropped out and I can do it. That will usually build up a reputation that I am reliable and can be depended upon. After that I can usually get on their regular rotation. What I mean by rotation is the schedule in which he/she sends out their comics. They usually keep a certain number of comics that they use all the time and if you can get into that you can get work on the regular. That leads to one of my biggest cons about the professional booker though. Because they have a stable of comics it can be pretty hard to get into it. Especially if they book full time comedy clubs. Everyone wants to work in a comedy club (almost) because you are in one spot for a couple of days to a week and you can make more money, and these bookers know that, so they have a lot of leverage when it comes to that. Another con is that a lot of these guys are so busy that they can not possibly look at all of the submissions they get a week from comics just like me that want to work for them. That means that you may go weeks or months before hearing from them. If you keep at it though you may get a response. That is where having a great promo package comes in handy. Most of the time they may not even watch your whole video so you can send them a portion of you set where you are slow to ramp up because they will turn it off and go to the guy that juggles chickens. Some people would call them slack, but I will call them busy because I can only imagine all the people from all across the country (and out of it!) that want to be booked in a room have. Another con is that because they are professional bookers they are not always in the comedy scene so they do not really know of the up and coming comic that they can have added to their roster. Because of this sometimes a booker’s rotation can be…lacking. I have seen bookers put on guys that have not written a joke in 15 years and are just going through the motions, but because they knew them when they were “hot” they keep giving them work.
The part time booker’s biggest strength is that a lot of times they have seen the comics that they are booking first hand. That means that they have a better grasp on the acts and can book them more appropriately. They may not have as much work, but if you are on their good side you will get all the work they have! They are also comics a lot of the time, so they know what it feels like to be screwed over on shows or pay. This can be a pro or a con sometimes because since they know they could also try to mess you over because they know how much you get paid. The con to these types of bookers is that since they are also comics they will not always be working on getting new rooms or maintaing the rooms that they do have. A lot of times they have decided to book a room because they were not getting booked enough by more traditional bookers. What this means is that they will usually work the room first and sometimes often. That is another con. Because a lot of people aren’t sending them promo packages, they do not have the biggest stable of comics they will usually pick from the surrounding area which means that it can at times be slim pickings. Take Spokane for instance, we do not have the biggest pool of comics that are ready to get paid to do comedy. That means that you will see the same faces a lot in some rooms. That also means that the owners of the rooms know this so they will usually cut the cord on shows. That can mean not having that work to depend on.
You don’t have to decide one or the other. You can work with both of them and be successful. Just remember that they are people so that means you have to be patient. Hopefully you understand more about bookers.