Hey again. It’s me, Comedy Dad, bringing your Part II of Brokelyn’s two-part series on how to host a comedy show. In Part I, you learned why you should be hosting your own show, how to plan it, and where you should be looking for its home. Now, let’s get into the dirty details of producing it, and making it the hottest ticket in Brooklyn.
Once you’ve figured out format and location, it’s time to start booking comics. This probably seems like the most intimidating aspect of creating a show, but it’s pretty painless. Start by checking out other shows and see the comedians performing. If you like someone, see if they’re hanging out after the show and go talk to them (come on, you networking maven, you)! If you can’t catch up to them in person, try messaging them on Facebook. It really works! You’d be surprised how many comedians are really accessible and willing to do your show, no matter their level of acclaim.
The great thing about New York is that it’s overflowing with comedy talent, and everyone’s looking to do some time. Many talented, successful comedians are very approachable when you ask them to do a show, and will only say no if they’re insanely busy. And once you do get them on your show, you’ve made a connection that could turn into a working relationship at some point. It could even get you a reciprocal invitation to perform on a show that they host. You may get a few no’s, but they’ll likely also tell you that they’re happy to do your show some time in the future. And it’s not like dating at all; they actually mean it!
Just remember, comedians don’t look at you like some nobody who doesn’t warrant their precious time. They see someone who admires their comedy and is offering them performance time and an increased audience reach! But if you’re too intimidated, start by asking smaller names and friends of friends, and work your way up.
Promotion and Ticketing
Unless you’ve got the most committed friend group in the world, it’s pretty likely that you’ll have to build an audience of people who don’t know you and have never heard of you. How? Promote, promote, promote. Check out the Facebook groups for people in the comedy scene. Reach out to media outlets that have events listings and a big social reach like The Village Voice, Time Out, New York Magazine, the skint, and us, of course. Make an event on Facebook so your friends can invite their friends. And once you’re at the venue, bark the crowd at the bar to get some last-minute drinkers to come check you out. You can also try standing around in Times Square and call your show “a Comedy Central Showcase!” Seriously, anything helps.
Now, there’s also the question of whether you should charge for your shows or not. I don’t have an easy answer, because everything seems to work differently for each show. On the one hand, a free show is more likely to entice people to take a chance, but a paid show with a cover charge might look more valuable (and when someone has to buy a ticket to your show, they’re less likely to ditch it last-minute). If you’re going to charge for a show, ask yourself this: what are you offering that all the free shows aren’t offering? For example, if you charge $5-$10 for your comedy show, you might want to offer the audience free beer.
You’re clearly not in this to get rich, but charging money for your show can also be leveraged for goods and services to help it stand out from the crowd. Like beer sponsorship, or a publicist! Or, you can pay your performers and get more prominent comedians. Some surprisingly big names are down to do shows for $50 (for like, 10 minutes of work— it’s not like they’re giving it away). Personally, I’ve never charged for my show, and I like to keep it that way. Much like all the other considerations—format, location, regularity, and your performers—the decision is all up to you.
How Frequent Should Your Show Be?
The most successful shows at Littlefield and The Bell House perform every week or every other week, so you might be thinking that’s for you! But if there’s one thing you take away from this whole series, it’s this: reconsider. It’s not that you don’t have enough material to put on a fresh show week after week, or that you’re not driven enough. You just have to trust me on this.
When my cohost and I resurrected our show for the third time, he wanted to go weekly. He was getting big into standup and wanted to go all-out. I agreed, because why not? Well, I’ll tell you. What I discovered is that hosting a weekly or even bi-weekly comedy show is like constantly throwing a birthday party for yourself: your friends stop feeling any obligation to show up.
I may have made it sound easy, but hosting show is still a ton of work, with very little lead-time or downtime. You have to plan a few shows in advance and find a steady pool of comedians to show up. You have to keep promoting it everywhere, and many media outlets won’t promote your show more than once every few months. Lastly, you’re not the only one out there clambering for audiences’ attention. The comedy pie in New York is already sliced up into so many little pieces, and hosting a weekly show is like asking for 1/5 of that pie.
The bottom line is this: no one out there has time for a frequent commitment to your show, not even you. I’d say a monthly is the perfect amount of time. It makes your show into an event for your regulars, and keeps it fresh enough that your friends won’t feel like they’ve fulfilled their obligation by only going once.
Okay, guys. This may all seem like a lot to have to think about, and it is. But that’s kind of how it should be. After all, this is work. You’re asking friends, family, and strangers to give up a few hours of their time on a recurring basis. Even when you think you’ve done everything right, you could still have an empty house. (Don’t take it personally. Sometimes people just aren’t in the mood, or the Mets are playing in the World Series at the same time as the GOP Presidential Debate, which definitely never happened to me on a recent Wednesday.)
The important thing is to keep trying. Don’t let one crummy turnout get you down. Don’t take constructive feedback from your audience personally. Keep working to promote and develop your show. Stay humble. Eventually you’ll find your audience, and who knows? Your show might just become the next Night Train.
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