When I first started MCing on the road, I would get to clubs before most of the wait staff. I had nothing else going on in my life and I wanted to be extra sure I was there on time (I didn’t have a cellphone because it was 2001). Getting to a show too soon often leads to fatigue, drinking too much beforehand, or even witnessing the manager have a shouting match with the head server. No matter how eager you are, you don’t need to get there more than an hour ahead of time. It’s the same courtesy as not showing up to a party before it’s officially ready to begin.
A half-hour is standard but it depends where you’re driving, if you’ve been there before, parking situations, potential traffic, weather conditions, and if the show is actually going to start when the say it is. Often, a 9:00 one-nighter won’t start until almost 9:30 as people finally start to file in. While these venues are only making it worse by training their regulars to not show up on time, it happens.
For a drive of three to five hours, it’s best to plan to get to the area at least ninety minutes before showtime, earlier if there’s a hotel room waiting for you. If there isn’t one, try to find somewhere to eat and get a feel for the town you’re in. You can write your first two minutes of local jokes over a cup of coffee.
One nice thing about where I live, eight minutes from the St. Louis Funnybone, is that I take a few side roads with three stoplights, no traffic and can show up ten minutes before showtime. There’s no green room there so it’s hard not to get in the way while the crowd is coming in. For a ton of other pre-show etiquette check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage. MCs have a bad habit of annoying the staff without even knowing it. I spent over three years as a doorman at a club and know what pisses managers off the most.
Getting to a one-nighter earlier than necessary can have disadvantages such as the person in charge trying to introduce you to half the crowd before you take the stage. A lot of times they’re tipsy and annoying and the last people you want to deal with after a long drive. You want to remain invisible to the crowd before the show (it just helps for some reason). If you’re in a buffet line with them thirty minutes before you take the stage, it cancels out the whole illusion of being a professional comic from a far away land.
Even when a booker sends you the show itinerary, it’s still a good idea to call the club/bar, talk to the person who’ll be in charge that night, introduce yourself, and ask him what time the show starts. Then you can just tell him when you’ll get there. And even though thirty minutes seems excessive sometimes, it’s a nice favor for the manager not to have to fret over whether you’ll show or not. If nothing else, give them a call to let them know you’re in town. The smoother you make their night, the more nice things they’ll say about you to the booker which leads to more work.