Successfully Running Your Own Show

I have been involved in the running of shows in the Spokane area for about six months and from my experiences with that and my observations with other independently ran shows, I have seen what works and what doesn’t.  Here are some of those observations.

Everyone needs to be on board: If you are running a theme show or just a normal comedy show, everyone that is participating needs to on board with what you are trying to do.  If you are doing a show where you tell jokes and then dress like a dinosaur and then tell more jokes, you need everyone to be comfortable with putting on a dinosaur outfit.

Promotion: If people don’t know you are doing a show about telling jokes dressed as a dinosaur, how are they gonna pay you to see you tell jokes in a dinosaur outfit.  This goes with the first point:  Get people on your show that are excited to do the show.  That way, they will want to let their fans know about it.  This also means that you as the show runner need to be on top of things.  That means getting flyers ready and the events made.  Comedy is filled with folks that just want to get up on stage in front of a sold out crowd, and not do the little things to ensure there is a sold out crowd.  Don’t book those people!  Book people that will work with you to make sure it is a success.  I don’t know how many times I have worked with someone that did no promotion for the show, but then sat there and wondered why the pay was low.  This does not apply to out of town comics because they may know less people in that area than comedians that work in that town.

Properly review the venue: I have helped put on shows that were not suited for the venue we had access too.  If you have hints that your show involving dressing like a dinosaur and telling jokes is gonna be a small event, then putting it in a 600 seat theater is not good.  You loose money and you give off the impression that it is not a success.  If you would have just locked up a nice place that had 70 seats and you sold 50, you look better, and you don’t have the extra cost involved with renting a large venue.  Make sure that the venue has a competent staff.  The last thing you want is to have a great show, but the bar didn’t make money because the staff was too slow.  Can they handle an influx of people?  If they can’t then you might have to look elsewhere.

Keep your promises:  If you promise to pay everyone a certain amount, then you better have the money to pay them!  Nothing kills your rep faster than telling people one thing and then doing another. Not ever will be in it just for the dinosaur suits. I would rather leave the show with no money in my pocket then to short change the performers and have them tell people that I can’t give them what we agreed upon.  The reason this is an issue is because most people that are putting on shows like this have high hopes that it will sell out and they can pay people well.  What I have learned is to expect the worse and be surprise if it turns out different.

Make it an event: Make it seem like this is the show that you want to see.  Make it seem as though those are the only dinosaur costumes in the state and they will be set ablaze after the show.  You have to SELL the show!  If you are not excited about it, then why should someone that has to pay five bucks to get in?  Sometimes you have to put your modesty to bed and pull out your inner cheerleader and pom pom the shit out of your show.  The best promoters make their monthly shows seem like events that will rock the town to its core.  That is what you want.

I hope this helps.  I am not an expert promoter at all.  I just observe and see what works best and what doesn’t.  The biggest take away is that if you want to run your own shows you have to treat it like if you don’t make it a success, they will take your kidney.

 

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Reading The Crowd

We love to talk about stage presence and material as important aspects of a great comedian, but one aspect that is overlooked is the ability to read the crowd.  Reading the crowd, is a comics ability to see how the audience is responding to certain material.  When a comic reads the crowd correctly, they can taylor their material in such a way that they can get the best reaction possible.

One of the easiest methods of reading the crowd is by just listening to what the comics before you are doing.  That is why most shows have a host or MC.  While the host is up there warming up the crowd, the comedians on the show should be able to hear what topics are really working and what topics are dead on arrival.  If you are listening, you should have no surprises when you get up.  That is unless all of your material is about a subject that the crowd is hating with the MC (for the most part).

What if you are a host yourself?  No one is going up before you, so how are you supposed to be able to read the crowd.  That is when the demographics are the audience comes into play.  Are they a younger crowd?  Then they may not want to hear about how your hip hurts.  Are they older?  Then they may not react well to you saying that you are too old at 24. Now, this is not a concrete thing.  You are basically guessing for a bit as to where you can take your audience.

For years, I  have used jokes that I could throw up quickly to see if the audience will be into what I plan on doing.  I also have two sets that I can use incase I guessed wrong.  One show I was performing and I assumed by looking at them that I should do my family friendly material.  They were not reacting to it. They wanted to go in the gutter, so I whipped out some of my more “blue” material and they were hooked in after that.  The thing is, I don’t expect everyone to have that much material to pull from, so if you have material that can go a couple of ways this is a good time to pull it out.  This way you have a safety valve in case you go up and they are not feeling it.

Reading the crowd to see where you can take them material wise is often overlooked, I think, because most comedians have a set list that they can not budge to far from, so if it isn’t working then they are stuck doing that material no matter what.  That is why it is important to keep writing and performing. You can get really good at seeing what a crowd wants with experience.  Have you ever seen a comic go up after someone crapped the bed and see them kill.  They read the crowd and could see that the comedian before didn’t get the collective humor of the audience, and was able to kick ass.  Start paying attention and you can do the same.

Notes On Stage

Notes on stage are usually frowned upon, but necessary in certain circumstances.  Lets talk about those circumstances.

One time I think you should not worry about your notes on stage is when you are at an open mic. Open mics are for you to work out material.  It is a great thing to be able to look down and make sure you are practicing the jokes the way you wrote them.  That way you can access the joke and see the areas that could be trimmed.  If you just guess the overall theme of the joke you could be going in a completely different direction.

If you are building a new set that is also a good time to bring your notes up on stage.  Here is the thing. You have to be very stealthy about doing that.  I have seen guys pretend to take a drink, so they will grab their drink that is on a nearby stool and while doing so, they will look at their notes.  It doesn’t look natural.  It looks like you are doing a terrible magic trick.  Either learn to make it look more natural, or just add it to your set so it doesn’t look like you are trying to pull one over on the audience.  If you are doing this at an open mic, you don’t have to say anything.  If you are at a paid show, however, you should really try to be a little more sneaky with it.

There are pros that take notes up on stage.  They also do it in ways that the audience doesn’t know that they are keeping track of their set with a set list.  One way that I saw was putting sheets of paper on the floor of the stage.  That way while walking about on stage, the comedian could look down and see what the next joke was.  The only issue with this is you need a stage with monitors or is higher than the audience.  Some comedians use telepromters.  As they tell their jokes, the words appear on a monitor in the audience.  This is expensive so if you are working at a bar, you may not have this available.

Notes are great if you need to keep track of your set or you need to work on new jokes.  Take your notes up, but be careful and try not to use them as a crutch.

Guide To Spokane Open Mics

Spokane is home to a great deal of open mics.  A variety of open mics are great to those comedians that want to see if their material will work in multiple demographics.  If you are in the Spokane area, here is a guide to help you navigate the open mic scene here.  If you are not in the Spokane area, this is still helpful because it gives you a sense of the many types of mics that are in a lot of cities.

Monday:

Red Room Lounge, 521 W Sprague Ave:  This is usually a music venue, and so the open mic reflects that.  If you are a comedian that wants to get up on a Monday however, you can do so here as well.  I have not personally been here so I can only tell you this much.

Wednesday:

Spokane Comedy Club, 315 W Sprague Ave:  This is one of the biggest open mics in the city, so if you want to get on here you will have to get there early. The show starts at 8, but sign up starts at 7, and trust me, by around 7:15 it will be full.  Because of the number of comedians, stage time is limited (usually around three and a half minutes), but there is usually a good turnout and they seem ready for comedy. This is a great place to go for your first time because the audience seem supportive.

Soulful Soups, 117 N. Howard St.: This open mic is a mix between musicians and comedians.  You have an audience, but they tend to lean more towards the musical side, but if you are still craving comedy after your set at Spokane Comedy Club, then you can keep the stage time rolling.  If this is your first couple of times going up, it may seem rough, but that is just the open mic life. Now just every third Wednesday. Showtime starts at 10pm.

Thursday:

The District, 916 W 1st Ave: This is a newer mic, and as such the crowd is slowly fulling itself out, but if you want more time than the Spokane Comedy Club can offer and you don’t want to go up after a musical act, then this is the place on Thursday nights.  Because there isn’t much of a crowd, some weeks it can seem like a terrible place to perform.  I think there is a trade off though.  If you are working on your first five minutes, then this is a great place to iron it out.  If it can stay running, it will be a great place to work on material. Showtime starts at 8pm.

Neato Burrito, 827 W 1st St.: This is the longest running open mic in Spokane, and one that has gone through many “forms”.  In it’s earlier days, it was known for having an audience that didn’t really appreciate comedy.  It also didn’t help that if you were a comic that was a little rough around the edges that you would not do as well here.  That turned around about a year or so ago, and it is a much more fulfilling open mic experience.  It  starts late, but it gives you time (unless a band is going to play after), and you get a discount on their awesome burritos. Showtime is around 10pm.

Friday:

Chan’s Red Dragon, 1406 W 3rd Ave: When this room started, it was the wild west of open mics in Spokane.  Because of it’s location, it was known for having a more…rough audience than any other open mic in the city.  I have seen comics come off the stage in tatters.  When it first opened, if you were not a hardened comedian, it was a rough go.  Audience members would scream things at comedians and curse them out, and tempers would flare. Now that it is a more mature open mic, it is great for the comedian that wants to work on material, but can’t get on shows that are going on that night.  There is still the odd person screaming obscenities at the stage, but not as often as it used to be.  Get there by 7:30 and when 8 gets around you will be performing in the belly of a Chinese restaurant.