How long should a comedy show run?

Sometimes I get calls from people who have never put on a comedy show who want to hire me for a gig.  The thing that surprises them most is when I tell them that the show shouldn’t go over 90 minutes.  No matter how great a crowd is, they start to tire (or get too drunk) at the hour and half point.  Yes, there are exceptions.  I’ve heard Bill Cosby does two-hour sets.  Well, he’s funnier and does stories that work well enough.

Ninety-minute shows aren’t always possible, especially for open mic night.  If you can, experiment from week to week at early and late spots in the show.  Ask whoever runs it if you can go earlier or later if you’re in good standing with them.  (That’s a big if)  At some bars, the crowd tires, at others it fills up.

So this week’s tip, if you’re planning a show, try to keep it at ninety minutes.  If you’re planning an open mic, two hours is probably unavoidable, but if you can trim it down, please do.  Or put the comics who still need to pay their dues at the end after the two-hour mark.  If you want to up your game, take on the challenge of going later in the show.  (I will be doing this more often in the summer when I’m not getting up at 6:00 a.m. to teach the chil’ren all day.)

**If you’re want to give a few guys some longer sets, try this:  Keep the comics at 5 minutes or less when you have a dozen on the list.  I know the math calculates that at 12*5 = only one hour, but then you have time for an MC to warm the crowd up and then let a couple of comics do closer to ten minutes at the end of the show.  (Having a longer set in the middle of an open mic by a strong comic can drain the crowd’s energy.)

I know there are a lot of comics who want to try a ten minute set so gauge how well an MC set would go.  The thing is, most guys in their first two years waste a minute or two with useless/wordy setups.  Knowing you only have five minutes will shave your jokes and make you funnier than having a few throw-away jokes for a seven-ten minute set.  The audience will stay more attentive as well.

For more tips on everything comedy, read Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

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About Rob Durham

With an English Degree, three years as a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone, over a decade of stand-up experience, and a recent certification in teaching high school English class, writing a book seemed like the next inevitable step for Rob Durham. The son of a coach, Rob has an excellent ability to teach and explain things in the easiest and most direct way possible. His (often labeled ridiculous) memory allows him to think of every possible situation that a new comic might face because at one point he was there too. Rob gives an inside look at comedy that doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges every performer faces. Without ego and the myth that “anyone can do it” Rob gives the reader a true feel of what living the so-called dream feels like, from preparing for that first open mic night to touring the country. View all posts by Rob Durham

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