One of the challenges of doing stand-up is performing at venues that aren’t comedy clubs. Most of us can’t be that choosy with our stage time, especially if it’s going to pay money (or at least free drinks). What people fail to realize is that a successful show is dependent on more than just the comic. The crowd takes on a responsibility for the show’s success as well. If they’re not up for a comedy show, it can fail no matter who’s on stage (and by stage I mean corner of the bar by jukebox). There are even some instances where you should not take the gig. I list and describe these types of challenging venues as well as how to make the best of them in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage. No one likes to be “high maintenance” but here is a small checklist of things you can ask the venue’s manager to take care of before you perform.
1. Have the bar televisions and all music turned off. You’d think this would be a given…nope.
2. Make sure the only lights on are for the stage. Dimming the house lights is extremely important.
3. Have someone (the DJ or bar manager) introduce the first comic onto the stage. No MC should have to go up and interrupt conversations from the patrons to start a show.
4. Make sure all audience seats are facing the stage. You’d be surprised how many backs I’ve performed to…even in the front row.
5. Ask the manager to regulate hecklers. They’ve known them since they were kids, and you don’t want to take on an entire room/town of rednecks.
6. Be sure the staff knows how long the show will run (anything past 90 minutes is pushing it but sometimes they have illusions of three-hour shows).
7. Get paid in cash. Checks from Mikey’s Pin Haven don’t always clear.
These are just a few of the guidelines to follow when performing at a place other than a comedy club. Most of them will be small bars in small towns who don’t exactly understand comedy, but if you can get the room in the ideal condition, these shows can be some of the most fun in your career. Small-town hillbillies can make you feel like a rock star just as easily. (Rock star treatment = buying you a pitcher of Busch because they think you like it too and letting you line-dance next to the blonde with 80’s bangs).
If it’s a venue’s first time hosting comedy, expect a few bugs. The good news is that the longer a venue hosts shows, the better (and easier) they’ll become. The St. Louis open mic scene has skyrocketed in the last year with shows every night of the week. (Click on that link and scroll down to evening hours). Over time, a lot of these rooms have developed regulars which are often the best thing to have at a show. By the way, if your city doesn’t have an online open mic calendar, get around to making one because strengthening your scene strengthens you and builds your stage time. Here are other examples… (I’ll add as I get them, please feel free to submit.)
D.C. area comics stay in touch here.
San Francisco Bay Area: http://sfstandup.com
Kansas City area: www.kccomedy.com