Why Being A Great Show Producer Is Important

It may seem easy to just throw a couple of your funny friends on stage and rack in the millions, but it is much more difficult than that.  If you are going to put on shows there are some things you have to be aware of.

You would think that being a comedy show producer is all about gathering talent and making a flyer, but that isn’t the case.  At the very start, the producer has to make sure that the place they are performing is suitable for what they envision the show to be.  Are you looking for intimacy? Then doing it in a large theater is not going to work.  Are you planning on bringing a person that has a following?  Then you will be be served to not pick your uncle’s bar and try to charge people $25 bucks.  The venue is very important to how people perceive the product before they even get to actually witness the product.  It’s important that the producer see the venue.  That is hard to do if you are several states away, but if you are producing a local show, it is pretty simple to just walk into the place and see if it has functioning lights, or if the stage has dark spots (places left unlit on stage). Does the audience sit far away from the stage?  That is important to who you bring in.  Does the venue even have a stage, or are you just huddled in the corner of a dark ass bar?

When it comes to talent on the show I have always been of the mind set of leaving them wanting more.  There is no need to have 10 comedians on a stage if three or four will do. When you load a show with talent, it does several things to the audience.  It can wear them down because they are seeing comedian after comedian, and it makes it seem as though this is the only way this show could have been pulled off is with a bunch of comedians doing five to ten minutes of material.  You want to make the audience want to see your next show, not wish the current show is over.  Make sure you know the talent getting on stage.  Don’t give someone you have never seen before enough time to tie a noose around their neck.  Don’t pad the show with a bunch of open mic comedians thinking that it adds value to the show because it doesn’t (not ragging on open mic comedians, but they tend to be less experienced and thus should be dealt with carefully).

If you are going to do advertising, please ensure you proofread!  I know this blog has mistakes in it all the time, so I am not saying I don’t do it, but when you are making something that is supposed to attract people to your event, you have to make sure that the venue’s name is spelled right at the very least!  Do you have everyone’s name spelled right on the flyer?  Does it have the date and time?  These are things that separate the  professional from the unprofessional.

Let’s talk about the show itself.  This is a huge pet peeve of mine, but START THE SHOW ON TIME!  If you say 8pm and you don’t start until 8:30, you now have an uneasy audience that has probably been drinking for those thirty minutes and by the time the last comedian gets up, people have been waiting to leave.  Don’t do your audience like that!  They made it to the show.  The least you can do is give them the show in a timely matter.

I think the last thing to discuss is compensating the comedians.  There are a myriad of ways to go about paying comedians, but one thing is for sure: Pay the comedians!  Nothing will shorten your comedy producing career faster than not paying comedians.  That is why it is important to tell them up front what they are going to get.  Do they get a couple of drinks or a meal?  Let them know beforehand.  You are the producer it is your job to make sure the talent feels like their time was valued.  We had an incident here where there was bad communication between us, the show producers, and the talent.  They thought that a guest set pays, and they were upset that we did not pay them.  I offered to pay the person because they do not live nearby, so they may not have wanted to do it if they knew they would not get anything like gas covered.  I also let them know for future reference what a guest set meant.  These are things you have to do because nothing spreads faster than negative news.  You want to make sure you have a good reputation with comedians so sometimes you may have to take a bullet, but it is better than being the type of person that is screwing over the talent.

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Mic Etiquette

For 95% of comedians, the mic is the only tool we have on the stage (unless you’re a stool humper, you have two).   The thing that makes our voices carry over the drunk masses should be treated with respect and dignity.  Here’s a bunch of rules I made up.

Stuff about the Stand:  The stand holds the mic, but some comedians use it like a stress ball.  Some comedians don’t like to remove the mic from the stand.  Some fiddle with it and slam it around.  That is fine, but if you notice when you have the mic in the stand, that the noise is travelling to the mic, then you should leave it alone.  It is distracting to hear ever tap on the stand while you are trying to tell  jokes.

Get familiar with the stand:  Is it a normal stand with a base and a straight pole, or is it one of those musician nightmare machines with eight joints and a bunch of knobs?  Well, get there early and give it a look so you don’t look like a fool playing with it.  All you have to do is walk to the stage and look at it.

Mic holding: I am not about to tell you how to hold a damn mic…ok I am.  Hold it somewhere near your mouth.  That is why you are holding a voice amplification device.  If you have it down by your waist, you will not be heard.  Now, sometimes the mic is “hot” (turned up too high) and the sound guy, or bar tender, isn’t around to fix it, so you may have to keep it away from your face, but that is the only case.  Also, if you are holding the ball of the mic, covering most of it, then you will probably sound mumbled. Rappers do it to look cool.  The eight people at this open mic already know you are cool.

The mic is your friend, don’t hurt it!: I don’t know why this is a thing, but people beat the hell out of mics.  They slam em against their legs, they pound on em.  They throw em, and swing em around.  Don’t do that! Microphones, good microphones, like almost every comedy club has, is not cheap.  If you have a bit where you beat a microphone up, then just go to Amazon, and buy a three dollar mic to abuse.  The mic should not be an expense for the club.  This is extra true for bars and other places that may only pull out their mic but every once in awhile.  If you mess that one up, they may not have another one, and you are left with a dead mic.  Look, I get that you saw you favorite comedian beat a microphone up, but they can probably pay to get it replaced.  You probably can’t afford to do a mic drop, so don’t do it.  Mainly because you are not the only one that has to use it later.

It may seem like a silly thing to write about, but people have been asked not to come back to a spot because of how they beat up the mic.  That is like being a janitor and destroying the floor polisher.  Show the people running the place that you have respect for their equipment.  You don’t want that to be the reason you are out of future work.

 

Comedian Pet Peeves: The Third One

If you haven’t read the first one, or the second, you should check those out to see if I hit something that bothers you as a comedian.  Here are some more of not just my pet peeves, but a lot of comedians I have talked to over the years.

The Attention Whore:  We are talking about audience members with this first one.  This is the person that can’t stand that their friends are enjoying someone other than them.  They always thought they were the life of the party, but are too chicken shit to get on stage.  They will do any and everything to get inserted into the show even if it means making an ass of themselves.  They don’t care that they are embarrassing their friends because fuck their friends who suddenly paid money to hear this person tell jokes!

The No Notice Cancellation:  This sucks donkey balls.  This usually happens with bar shows where they either don’t give a damn about the entertainment, or the establishment caught the manager embezzling money and they are so busy with that they forgot to tell you they don’t have money to pay you.  It sucks more if you are trying to connect shows together so you don’t have to sleep in your car or call up that one night stand from three years ago, and beg to sleep in their garage.

Over Promisers: That may not be a word, but this is a thing.  Usually involves a promoter that has never promoted anything before.  They want you on their show because you are one of three comedians they know.  They say you will get a meal and a ton of money and a BJ, and 400 people said they were gonna show up.  You get there and there and only his family shows up, you get a lukewarm redbull as a meal and the BJ he promised was from is asthmatic aunt.  You have to blame yourself a little bit for this. You got suckered in by the promise of sexual favors and now you have to drive four hours back home.  At leas the redbull will keep you up.

The Promise Of Exposure: Can’t pay your rent or car payment with it, but people love to try to pay you with that.  I am not getting exposure from a bar in the remotes of South Dakota.  A talent scout isn’t coming to Medford Oregon. Some times it is a real possibility that something else will happen if you do the show, but mostly it won’t. People who ask you to work for exposure must have the largest assholes.  Only someone with that much shit in their lives can possibly think that exposure is this thing that artist eat up like Ramen noodles, which is what you will be eating a lot of if you keep doing all this work for exposure.

 

 

Beware of Predatory Comedians

This world is filled with unscrupulous souls just waiting for unsuspecting people to get within their grasp so they can screw em.  Show business is no exception.  Lets discuss those uncaring bastards that call themselves comedians.

The thing about Predatory comedians is that they have a lot of potential victims because of just how weird comedy is.  Every couple of months or so, there are a couple of new comedians hungry for stage time and fame, and that is when these assholes strike.  It is just like any con game, they gain your trust and next thing you know you are traveling the state with a chainsmoker that isn’t paying you or buying gas just giving you “experience”.  Now, there is a lot to be said for experience.  That is the one thing you have to go out and get, but no matter what, there are less expensive ways to gain it. Lets go over some of the major traits of Predatory comedians.

Praise:  Have you been doing comedy all of three months and someone is already coming up to you telling you that you are the best thing since slice bread?  It could be it’s true!  It could also be that they are just softening you up so they can use and abuse you later.  This is usually the first step.  They get you alone so none of the other comedians in the scene (who have seen them run their bull on others) can hear them talk you up.  Be honest with yourself.  If they are piling on the compliments when before they didn’t even talk to you, it could be that they are gearing up for the next step in their plan.

Promises they can’t keep: People are always working on stuff that just falls through.  I do it all the time.  The problem with these guys is that they make it too unbelievable.  Have you been doing it a short time and now they say they can give you 500 bucks for one show somewhere way out into the future?  Then what they are actually doing is setting your mind up to allow them to freeload off of you for a bit because you think you are getting a windfall in a couple of months.  People do this all the time in more classic scams like the Nigerian Prince scam that we all know about by now.  The old saying, “Too good to be true.” holds here.

Asking for favors really soon after meeting them: So you talked to the scumbag on Monday and on Thursday they are asking you to drive them out of town for a show and they promise stage time?  That may be really cool…unless they are not splitting expenses with you.  If anyone wants to mentor you that is cool, but don’t let someone take advantage of you with the promise of stage time in a bar somewhere.  Besides going out on the road may do you more harm than good.  You don’t want your mind destroyed at a bar show in the middle of nowhere only to then have to drive back home and pay for gas.

My best advice is to have your head about you.   Understand that there is no “get famous quick” scheme in comedy.  Those comedians that you see on TV have been doing it for years before they got to that point so you have to accept that your road may wind like others.  Now, there is nothing wrong with going out on the road and gaining experience with cool comedians.  It’s just that a normal, none douchebag comedian won’t make you pay for the gas and food just so you can do five minutes somewhere you didn’t even know existed.  Women have to be extra careful because there are some pervs in the industry that will make it seem like all they want to do is nourish your comedy, when actually what they want to do is put their penis in you.  Again, if you want to that is your thing.  Just be careful, and have a fun.

No-No’s For The Brand New Comic

This was an idea given to me by Mika Lahman.  Check out her Facebook page to check out show dates.

I love brand new comics.  They have all that hopeful glee, like people starting their first day as a social worker. There are just things that annoy other comedians and can get them to turn on you.  This is not what any new comic wants because getting in with the right comics can get you stage time and other opportunities.  Now before I go any further, I am not saying be a follower.  I am saying you can tone it down and be a normal human. Ok, let’s talk about some of the biggest don’ts.

Running material in casual conversation:  Nothing will get other comics to stop talking to you faster than trying to run your brand new material by them while you are just talking to them.  We will hear your material when you do it on stage.  If you need critiquing, then ask someone after the fact, they will be much more willing to provide you with advice then.  Not while you are outside smoking.

Giving other new comics advice:  When talking to comics that have been doing this for years, this is one of the biggest annoyances. I can see why.  If you have just been doing it long enough for other comics to finally know your name, and now you are giving out sage advice like you are a cornerstone in the community, it comes across as arrogant.

Being an encyclopedia of comedy: If you want to piss off a comic just tell them that the joke they have been doing is someone else’s bit.  Are you sure it is the same, or is it the same topic? Maybe they have been doing it for five years and the comic you saw on Comedy Central has been doing it for three. These are things that will get you punched in the face.  No one wants to be called a thief.  If you think they are performing a joke similar to another comic, it may be best to approach them and ask questions.

The brand-new, career comic:  You are excited.  You just got on stage for the first time.  You want everyone to know that you are now doing comedy.  You go on Facebook, and change your job description.  You are no longer “Electronics specialist” at Fred Meyers, you are now a comedian!  Don’t do that.  You may go up the next five times and bomb and realize you may not be enjoying it as much as you did the first time.  I understand.  You want to do this forever, but give it time.  See if you enjoy it first.  This is the same as going on a date with someone and changing your Facebook status to: “In a relationship”.

The brand new show booker: More open mics get started by brand new comedians that want to start something they can call their own.  The problem is, most of the time, they have no context.  Comics just starting out look at the holes in a comedy scene and just assume that the holes are there because the other comics are lazy or they didn’t realize the opportunity.  They don’t know that the reason their isn’t comedy there is because that place didn’t want to pay for comedy, or that five comics where stabbed their three years ago.  I have seen this time and time again.  Some comic, that has been doing it for all of three months, wants to start an open mic where they can be the leader.  They do it in a place that isn’t really compatible with good comedy and they assume that it didn’t work  because other comics in the scene didn’t want it to work.  Instead of looking at it as maybe it didn’t work because it didn’t work the first four times it was tried.

Already ready for work:  If you want to piss a professional comic off, have a brand new comic walk up to them and start asking about how much they should start charging.  Don’t look at other comics as a guide to when you should be getting paid work.  Everyone is different.  Some comics get work after three months, and others have been doing it for three years and still haven’t gotten a red cent.  You need material, good material.  Work hard, write hard, and seize your opportunities.  Don’t look at comedy as get money quick scheme.  You could be going too soon and hurt any chance of making more money in the future.

Comedy is not like other professions.  You are not the rookie QB that will be winning games after your first start.  Calm down!  Get in the scene and observe what works and what doesn’t.  Find what works for you and go for it.  I hope the best for you.  Remember me when you are booking theaters all across the country.

How Your Comfort Zone Is Hurting Your Comedy

I have heard comics that haven’t been doing it that long, talk about how they will only go to certain places because the reception is better.  I will tell you why that is a terrible idea.

Most of the time, you hear this from comedians that haven’t been doing it that long and obviously haven’t been getting paid much to perform comedy.  The reasons these comedians want to only perform in front of favorable crowds are many.  Confidence is the biggest reason.  It builds up your confidence to be in front of only audiences that like you before you uttered a word.  The problem with that is you have no real idea if what you are saying is really funny, or the result of an “easy” crowd.  If the demographic of the audience swings in your favor, you could be allowed to do things on stage that other audiences may not accept.  If you tell a lot of jokes about weed in front of a crowd of weed lovers, they may love the material no matter how much it really sucks. This may be great for your ego, but not for your growth as a comedian.

If it isn’t confidence that drives younger comics to certain rooms, then its content.  A lot of younger comics are into certain material that may not ring true in certain places. So they go to the places where they can say what they want.  Here is the issue with that:  How do you grow?  If you are a young comedian, you haven’t figured out what you really want to do on stage.  If you are already pigeon holing yourself into “shock comedian” then it could be hard to get out of that when you ultimately decide that wasn’t working for you.  I know a comedian that was as profane as he could be on stage.  He was so bad he had to put on his own shows because no one would hire him.  After about 4 years of that, his material started to change.  I asked him if it was an attempt to get more work and he told me that it was just a natural progression, that the older he got, the way he saw the world changed.  He was still not getting the work he should though because he spent so long clinging to what he thought was his “stuff”.  Don’t limit yourself before you get a chance to grow.

One of the laziest reasons I have seen for why a comedian won’t do a certain room is because the room in question is “harder”.  In Spokane we have a couple of stages like that.  We have the Checkerboard, which is sparse on some nights, and we have Chan’s that has an older, more rowdy, audience.  Comics will avoid these rooms like the plague.  The reason is they are not willing to try to work for that laugh.  Every town has rooms that are great and some that are a little rougher.  The thing is, the rougher rooms help make the easy rooms even easier.  It helps you navigate a crowd and figure out what works most of the time and what doesn’t.  It helps you develop a backbone.  If you bomb in a bad room it brings to light what needs work in your act.  Is it too wordy?  Are you too profane?  Do you need to act out some bits more?  Tough rooms help you see that.

When young comedians ask me what I think they should be doing, I tell them they should be writing what they think is funny at that time and to get to as many stages as possible.  That way you can speed up your growth as a comedian, and you can learn how to tackle many different environments.  If you want to only perform in front of an “alt” crowd, or a “redneck” crowd then I guess go for that.  The thing is that if you are looking to comedy as a career you will not be given your choice of venue very often.  You will have to do a cleaner show and you will have to do a bar and you will have to do a theater.  Do you want to cut out potential money because you wanted to keep your ego in check?

The Exposure Myth

If you have dealt in anything artistic, you have had someone come to you for services and in exchange, they have offered “exposure” in return.  Let’s talk about it and why it isn’t a good idea to take them up on this offer most of the time.

When someone comes to you and ask you to do a show for them and they offer you exposure, or the promise of more things down the road, most of the time they will say, “We don’t have anything to pay you, but there will be a lot of people there.” or “I can’t give you anything now, but in the future we can hook you up.”  Think about that.  If they are a business or organization, they are paying people. Staff, vendors, coke dealers, even non-profits pay people to run the non-profit.  What they actually mean is, “Hey, we see you are a gullible comedian so we will make money off you while we can.”

Exposure is a myth.  It is a thing that people say to not have to pay everyone involved.  I have seen it from both sides and have experienced it myself.  I have had people come to me, wanting me to do a show and they were not willing to give me anything even though they were making money off of the endeavor. They wouldn’t be able to get away with that with the beer vendors.  They couldn’t ask the electrician to wire up the place and they will tell everyone who did it.  So why do they use this exposure thing on performing artists?  The reason is simple:  we are dreamers, and dreamers can be suckered easily.  We dream of walking into a show and getting discovered and then being whisked away to hollywood to star in a buddy cop movie opposite John Cusack.  What will more likely happen is they will put on the show, not pay you, and then either never call you again, or try to do the same thing to you in the future.

Another reason why we get hit with exposure instead of money is because a lot of people just do not value the arts.  When they see a band, they do not see the hours it took to learn the instrument and the hours that was put into practicing those songs.  When a comic steps on stage they only see a guy up there telling dick and fart jokes.  They don’t see the open mics and writing and all the damn driving.  They think it is easy, or that since you are local you are not really worth it.  Well, you are.

With anything there are exceptions.  I perform at a couple of charities a year. I don’t expect to get paid a nickel. There are also shows like showcases that many clubs hold so they can see what talent they may bring in. Those are really the only exceptions I see, and honestly I wouldn’t do a showcase unless I knew the details beforehand. You may think that a club that is offering you to do time in front of a big time comic is awesome because you think that something will happen that will lead to more work, but in all honesty it won’t, so get what you are worth now instead of hoping that you will get work from all that extra exposure you are getting.

When I first started out, I would do shows where the booker or whatever would say I would get seen by a lot of people and that will lead to a lot of work. It didn’t happen, and they made money and the other comics, who were smarter, made money, but I didn’t get anything and they never called to book me for that paid show they promised.  I had to learn quickly to ask people what it was paying up front, and if they told me it wasn’t then I just told them I couldn’t do it.  Now, if you are just starting out, you will feel like you have to do it because that is how you get in the door.  That might be true, but then a booker or promoter knows that is messed up and would ask you to do a five minute quest set, not do your entire show for nothing.

With all of these articles about comedy, I try to give it to you from my perspective, which may not be a good perspective for those that are working consitently in comedy.  I am speaking from the view point of a comic that gets work, but not enough to get a new car or buy a plane ticket a week before I am suppose to go somewhere (damn they get expensive).  I hope these things help, and if you need a comic, and are gonna pay more than in exposure…get at ya boy.