I’ll start by first saying that even though it doesn’t pay my bills, comedy is a JOB. I look at a gig as a responsibility to the audience, comics and promoter. I have a job to do: Make people laugh. Paid or not, it’s still a JOB.
When you start a new job, you look to the people you work with who have been there for a long time. You ask advice. They’ve got experience, right? They’ve been with the company for years and *probably* know what they’re talking about, right?
When I started doing stand-up several years ago, I looked up to people I met who had been doing it already for quite some time. I could name names, but that’s not important. I still go to them for advice and I TAKE THAT ADVICE. I am ALWAYS willing to learn and SWALLOW MY PRIDE, even it it makes me uncomfortable. I’m learning. I’m growing. I WANT to learn and to grow. I will never be the best at comedy and really need to spend more time on my writing, but that’s something I’m focusing on more. It’s my duty to make a crowd laugh. It’s advice I’ve gotten from others who have been in comedy for years.
I don’t know if it’s that I’m not afraid to speak up, but I get a lot of comics who come to me to voice concerns, gripes, etc. I know not everyone wants to say things publicly, and I’m ok with that. Newer people still want to make a name for themselves and not ruffle feathers. I, on the other hand, have that luxury. Whether I’m welcome at a venue or not, I’m still known and respected for my hard work. Everyone recognizes that, even if they don’t particularly like me. I’m fine with that.
I’ve also run shows. I did it for a few years and it was exhausting. It was a TON of work. You have to line up the BEST talent for a show. That’s not to say that everyone will be a great comic, but that they will fit in with a lineup. You NEED a strong lineup to make a great show. If you don’t want a GREAT show, then don’t fucking run one. You have to promote your ass off because most of the comics don’t bother. Guess what? That’s the PROMOTER’S job anyway! I know I have a shitload of friends who come see me. I know I get booked sometimes because of it. Great. I’ll take it. But if you are such a terrible promoter that you book someone because THEY bring the crowd, quit. Quit now.
The number of comics in a lineup should be limited to 7. That seems to be a magic number and a general consensus in the comedy world. I did not make this number up myself. That gives newer talent some stage time and makes room for the better comics who are featuring/headlining. A show should NEVER go beyond 90 minutes. I’ve heard promoters say “Yeah, but they paid $5 and three hours is a great value for $5.” What? First of all, you’re asking your comics, who get there on time, to sit through three hours of (some of the time) horrible comics, just waiting for their slot. This is incredibly rude and disrespectful of a comic’s time. You want to keep a crowd (that’s drinking 99% of the time) quiet and in their seats for 3 hours? Not gonna work. It rarely does. I wouldn’t even want to sit through a national headliner for 3 hours. A GREAT comedy show is long enough for people to have a good time, but short enough that they’re not leaving before the REAL talent hits the stage. Don’t insult the AUDIENCE by making a show too long.
It’s a given that a show won’t always start on time. There are only a few in the Valley that actually do. Fifteen minutes late is ok. And hour and fifteen minutes? No. Way. Again, insulting and disrespectful. I know, going to most gigs, that I’m there on time and that the show won’t start on time. It’s a given in the industry. But don’t ever make people wait for over an hour. Ever. Totally unprofessional. Don’t advertise the time incorrectly.
The lineup should always have a feature and headliner WHO DESERVE THOSE SLOTS. Again, a maximum of 7 comics is going to give you a great show. Oh, did comics show up and ask for stage time, but they weren’t booked? Write their names down and let them know that you’ll consider them in the future. Don’t have the balls to do that? Too nice to let someone know THERE’S NO TIME FOR THEM? Then you shouldn’t be running a show. You’re doing a disservice to that comic. They need to learn to respect your show and the other comics. I’ve had to do it, on both ends. Your lineup should be mapped out BEFORE the show. Yes, there will be a comic who’s late or can’t make it. Those are CHANGES to a lineup. A CHANGE means the work has been done ahead of time but needs to be adjusted. Know the lineup. KNOW YOUR TALENT. If it’s a new person, they go up early. I just did a show for the first time a month ago and went up second. Did I whine about it because of my experience? Hell no. I’m paying my dues at a new venue and appreciate the time I’m given. Did I go up later the next time I did that show? Hell yeah. Because I had to prove myself to people who hadn’t seen me.
Your feature and headliner are the MOST important people in the show, along with the host. The host keeps a show flowing. SHOULD know that a quick minute or two are done between each comic. Nothing more. Your feature and headliner should DESERVE those slots. It’s not for your friends or someone who shows up a lot or brought the most people. It’s for THE BEST TALENT OF THE SHOW. Don’t insult the crowd by giving someone who doesn’t deserve 15, 20 or even 30 minutes that much time. YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE THE COMIC HAPPY. You are supposed to ENTERTAIN the crowd. They paid (or not), you do your fucking best to give them the best you have to offer. If you can’t do that, then you obviously shouldn’t be running comedy shows.
I have friends in other cities who are comedians. They always know about how ridiculous PART of the scene is here. It’s embarrassing. It’s insulting to know that there are those who SHOULDN’T be in the comedy scene at ALL are giving Phoenix a bad name. I take a LOT of pride in 90% of the comedy shows and comedians here. I am GRATEFUL to be a part of it. I am PROUD to be a part of what’s a great community, for the most part. I even defend Phoenix to my friends from LA, NY and Chicago. To some extent. When they come in to town, I give them a red flag list and a green flag list. Seriously. Because I don’t want real professionals, who tour nationally, to see some of the shit that goes on here. They are given the red flag list to see the trainwreck shows. I cross my fingers that they go to the ones on the green flag list.
I see a few promoters begging for new talent to come perform. Why? Because their shows are so rotten & shitty that veterans won’t perform there anymore. So what they do is put up ANYONE. People who obviously can’t get stage time anywhere else. If you’ve got a pool of the same 30 comics or so (out of the 400+ in the Valley. No lie.), then you’re doing something wrong. If you have a lot of newer (I call anyone doing comedy less than a year “new.” It seems to be the timeframe for weeding out people who had the balls to try, but realized it wasn’t for them. KUDOS to them for trying. BIGGER KUDOS to them for stopping.) comics performing for you, it’s because they just don’t know any better. And neither do you.
Not a lot of fun stuff written above. It sucks. But, as I always say in life: “Someone’s gotta do it. Might as well be me.” I’m not afraid to be the one that comics vent to, knowing I’ll say something. It might make me unwelcome at a venue, but there are over 40 shows a week in the Valley, not including the comedy clubs. I think I’ll manage to still get stage time. :}