How Social Media Changed Comedy Promotion

When I first got started in comedy, the most popular social media network by far was MySpace.  In my opinion, Myspace wasn’t built for promoting your services and events, but people made it work.  Some of the best examples of this are Dane Cook and Kevin Hart.  They became huge names in comedy using social media and now everyone thinks this can happen to them.  The problem with that however is what I will coin the “ground floor effect” That is when a new service  or platform comes out, the ones on the ground floor have an easier time making a name for themselves on the platform and when it gets flooded with people trying to duplicate what made the first few successful, it doesn’t work as well.  So when Cook and Hart got huge from promoting on MySpace everyone thought they could do it.  This has lead to a lot of promotion solely on social media and a lot of assumptions made because of a lot of our misunderstandings of how people operate.  I will go through some of those in this article.

Let’s talk about the good first.  Social media has made it so any comedian can get the word out about an event in seconds.  You can also target groups of people.  Want all of your followers in Indiana to know you are coming through?  Done!  Don’t want your ex to know you will be in town Thursday?  Done! You can potentially save money on flyers by not having to print them out.  You can have your flyer guy make it up and you can throw it up on your favorite social media site and all those people (minus your ex) can see the event.  It can be a better solution then taping flyers to poles and hoping people will see them.  There is also an extra layer of engagement when you can talk to people interested in your show.  You can also do more as far as promoting because you can add video and chats and all this stuff to drum up excitement about your event.

Ok.  Now that I have talked about what makes social media a good thing for comedians, I want to now discuss why it is bad…well, not bad, but has changed the way we promote and get the word out about shows.  I think because it is easier than ever to tell many people about our shows, we have a tendency to lay off on the duty of promoting.  Here is an example:  We put on a monthly show that involves at least 12 comedians.  Every month nothing happens in way of promotion until the last couple of days before the show (if that).  There are a couple of things at work here.  First, is the bystander effect.  That is when there are so many people involved in something that they all assume that someone else will do the work.  What usually happens instead is no one really gets the word out, and then everyone is saddened that no one is at their show.  The other thing is that because someone is going to be promoting the show, the other comedians just assume that is enough.  It usually isn’t.

Comedians also make weird assumptions about the people they are promoting to on social media.  They create an event and then count the number of people that said they were coming as a sold ticket.  NO!  You can’t do that.  Until that person has bought a ticket, or sat their ass in a chair, they should not be counted.  People will say they are coming and then anything can happen.  They don’t have a babysitter, they are broke, they have violent diarrhea, or they could just be lying to make you feel better.  I have talked to many comedians putting on their own shows and they will say the same thing when it is ten minutes to show time and only seven people in the audience: “70 people said they were coming to the show!” Well, you know about 70 liars.  If you post your flyer on a social media platform and it gets 100 likes or hearts or whatever the hell they are doing, that doesn’t mean those are anything other than likes or whatnot. Those are not people coming to the show!  Even if your post about your event reaches 10,000 people it doesn’t mean a single soul is coming to the show.  It means that maybe 10,000 people saw your thing about that thing.

Comedians also tend to assume that people are just waiting to go to comedy shows.  Maybe, but you have to assume that your comedy show is on the bottom of their list of entertainment choices.  This is not the 1980s or 1990s.  There are a myriad of other things people can do.  They can watch TV, listen to podcast, play video games, and if they are going out, there are many movies, concerts, and other events that you are now competing with, so it is silly to assume that they will choose you over all that if the first time they found out about your thing is the day before.  You have to give people a chance to choose your event over all the other things they can be doing instead.  That is why a flyer is important, but also why making sure as many people as possible know about it by putting it out there as much as possible (without being annoying of course).

I am not a promotion guru.  I experiment with how to get the word out about a show as much as anyone at my level.  You have to understand the market in which you are working.  If you are in Seattle, it may be a tough sell to put on a show at the same time the Seahawks are playing.  You may have a hard time selling a show that happens at 8pm on July 4th.  You have to do more than just make a flyer and put it up at the place of business and post it on your social media platform of choice.  People get flooded with ads constantly from all angles.  Legit companies, bands, movie studios, and also local services.  You have to be persistent in this day and age to get your event seen. It is tough, but if done correctly, you can maybe end up like Dane Cook or Kevin Hart…or at the least have enough money to get an Lyft home.

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Controlling an Audience

Controlling an audience is one of the key things a comedian has to do in able to be successful on stage.  Controlling, in the way we are going to be using the word, means to get and maintain the attention of the audience.  You would think this is very simple, but it is a skill that many comedians do not pick up. The best comedians on earth all possess this ability to more or less keep every audience member transfixed on them.  We will talk about a couple of ways comedians keep the audience listening.

I am of the belief that you, as the performer, should not have to tell the audience to pay attention.  You are the performer, not a grade school teacher.  On the other hand, I think it is up to bar staff and especially the MC to set a list of guidelines before the show starts.  The MC should be making sure that they have wrangled any rowdy tables and has gotten the entire room on the same page.  That is why you have the MC!  They go up and deal with the headaches and put out the fires so the show can go smoothly once she steps off stage.  Now, that isn’t to say every MC is good at doing this.  I have performed with Hosts that will invite talking, but never tell the audience that the rest of the comedians may not be into that.

So, you are now on stage.  How do you control the crowd?  Well, it seems simple, but you would be surprised by how many comedians can not get an audience that paid to see them quiet.  Some comedians have never really done loud and hostile environments like sports bars or a room that is just generally disinterested, so when the audience isn’t paying attention or into what they are doing, they tend to strike out at the audience and things only get worse from there.  A tried and true technique is to tell the audience to give it up for the host or the previous comedian.  The audience will start clapping and that gives you enough time to do a couple of things (if you weren’t paying attention earlier).  First, you can scout real quick and see the tables or places in the room that are being disruptive to the show.  If they are in the back of the room, sometimes it is best to let them be if you can’t pull them in with the people that are paying attention.  Why?  Because if you focus your time on them then you are ignoring the people that are paying attention and that can lead to a room of folks not liking you.  Second, if you don’t have a planned first joke, it gives you time to throw out something that will instantly get the crowd on your side.  I have seen everything from a quick one-liner to a quick call back to a previous joke.  This is to get them focused on your performance.

Another method is to just get up and with your voice get the room’s attention.  Nothing says you are now performing like getting the mic really close to your face and filling the room with your voice.  This may not work for you though if the rest of your set is you being meek up on stage.  You can also start with a strong joke that will immediately get the crowd listening to what else you have to say.  It could also be that your mere presence makes the audience want to hear what you are talking about.   If you are a white person in a room filled with people of color, they may just listen long enough to see if you are going to make them laugh.  This will be your chance to get them on your side.  If you are a comedian of color, and the room is mostly white, getting on stage and immediately saying the n-word may not be a good thing.  I am not saying don’t do your act, but if you are trying to make sure the room is paying attention you want them to be on your side long enough for them to follow you down any nook and cranny you wish.

Some comedians are just gifted.  They can get on stage and within twenty seconds have the audience eating out the palm of their hands.  Not all of us have that ability, so I hope the tips above will give you a little bit of an edge the next time you are trying to get the room under control.  Make sure you are not screaming at the audience to shut up and things of that nature.  That isn’t your job.  Get the staff or security to handle that.  If you have to keep everyone in check then you should be getting paid for comedy as well as security.  If nothing else is working just find that one table or group that is paying attention and play to them.  Guess what?  Most of the time, if you get a group paying attention to you they will tell the rest of the room to shut up and listen!  I think next time we will talk about when we as comedians should be the bad guy on stage.