Note to non-comics: The light is a signal from usually the back of the showroom to the comic telling him or her their time is almost up. Most comics get this signal with five or ten minutes left to go depending on what they setup ahead of time with the club.
In one of my shows this summer I saw the light around six minutes into my set. I had been doing twenty-five minutes all week so I was thoroughly confused. I did twenty and went straight to the manager to asked what happened. He was furious at a doorman who was “playing with his flashlight” for no reason. The light was a mistake and I shorted myself five minutes.
I was talking with Jeremy Essig (yes, I get my advice from the same 4 people in all these posts) about it and he said that if there’s a light that confusing he’ll pause and actually address it. This is probably something I should’ve done because between every joke I was looking back to see if another light was coming or worrying that I was supposed to be off ten minutes beforehand. It really threw off my timing and concentration.
I was a doorman for three years and sometimes the light is messed up (not by me of course, but by my fellow doormen). For a five to seven minute set I’ll get a light with two minutes left, but if it’s anything over that there’s an easy way to make sure that I stick to my time. I’ll tell the club that I don’t want a light because I have my own timer on my phone. Doormen seem to have a two to three-minute margin of error and you don’t want to risk that so it’s best to be in charge of it on your own. The important thing is that you ask the manager within ten minutes of your set how long he or she wants your set to be. That way there can be no confusion. It’s important to remember that if you’re ever given a second light, get the hell off the stage, they want to move the show on.
With smartphones it’s easy to set a timer. If I have to do twenty-five minutes, I set my phone to vibrate at twenty with the automatic snooze reminder five minutes later. That way at twenty, I’m notified I have five minutes left. Then at twenty-five I know exactly when to wrap it up. Leaving it to a doorman as most clubs do can be risky as they often have other matters to tend to (although with this week’s comedy club national controversies it sounds like some aren’t doing their job!).
For more tips about the previously unwritten rules of comedy, please check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage, which is available in multiple forms from Amazon, iTunes, Kindle, Nook, or straight through my webpage for an autographed version.