What kind of etiquette is expected from the feature act?

This week a comic buddy of mine asked me whether he should ask the headliner about selling merch after the show.  I’ll explain in a moment what my answer was.  There are a few other things that features should pay attention to while working with a headliner.  I’m sure some comics might say their only job is to try and bury the headliner, but if you overlook etiquette, you might be sabotaging yourself from getting a lot of future work.  So why should you show the headliner the following etiquette?

1.  They’ve probably known the booker/manager in charge much longer than you.

2.  They can get you more work as their opener.

3.  They know more important people than you.

4.  It’s the professional way to handle yourself.

Follow these tips and headliners will enjoy working with you.  It may not lead to more work, but it certainly will prevent you from losing any.

First, yes, it is expected that you ask the headliner if it’s okay if you sell your merch after a show.  99.9% of the time they’ll be okay with it.  They know how much less money you’re making.  My personal exceptions to this rule are if the headliner is a jerk OR if it’s a low-paying one-nighter you’re losing your ass on because of travel expenses.  Also, if you’re selling obscene t-shirts they have a right to not want that as part of the show.  It’s not fair, it sucks, but ultimately they have the control so defy this at your own risk.  They’ll like you for asking and it shows respect.

As far as being on stage, there are a few other tips (and this is especially true in clubs, crappy one-nighters can be different)… Don’t talk to the crowd.  You have 25-30 minutes, do your act.  Mark Lundholm once explained to me that if a feature talks to a crowd, the crowd expects the same from the headliner.  If that headliner doesn’t do a lot of crowd work it makes him or her less likable.  Not to mention crowds can get out of control if they’re trained to be a part of the show early on.  Yes, occasionally you have to silence a heckler or perhaps add a line here or there with them, but if you’re doing solid crowd work, that’s a no no.  When I wsa a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone I used to watch headliners absolutely fume backstage when the feature did too much crowd work.

Next, stepping on material.  It happens, so if you find a common topic in one of your bits, see if you can leave it off the setlist that week.  It’s the professional thing to do.  If it’s a bit you feel is vital to your set, apologize to the headliner for stepping on his or her material and that usually leads to a friendly conversation where they’ll tell you it’s okay if you want to do that bit (they’ve got more).

Remember, swallow your pride because it’s showbiz.  You like doing shows and making money, don’t you?

Speaking of, shell some out for a copy of my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage to read more previously unwritten rules/tips in comedy including a lot more on this topic.  It’s on iTunes as well.  If you’re a headliner, please feel free to share this or add any other comments on the matter.


10 great tips from a comedy booker…

A few weeks ago Steve Sabo shared some booking tips.  Here is more advice from another booker.  Connie Ettinger sent these my way to share with you.  Though I haven’t worked for Connie, I’ve heard nothing but good things about her over the years.  As always, there are always exceptions to rules, but these all make really good sense and are definitely worth sharing…

1. When you send your avails, make sure you indicate if the dates you are  submitting are open dates or booked dates. Don’t make me guess. List  the category with the fewest dates and indicate CLEARLY if those  are UNAVAILABLE or AVAILABLE.  Everyone seems to do it differently;  all I ask is clarity.  Make sure to include personal time off in your unavailable dates.  (Some comics forget to include family vacations,  honeymoons, etc., and then get stuck calling me and explaining why  their dates don’t work.)
2. I sometimes book rooms on what are usually “off” days.  Please send us your avails for the entire week.
3. Keep your avails up to date and in front of us.  I personally don’t  mind if you send them every other week. Hitting “delete” is very easy.   Please forgive me if I don’t send you an e-mail with each set of avails saying,  “Sorry, nothing this week. Best of luck in your future endeavors”  But  remember: Out of sight, out of mind.  If I have an opening, and I just got  your avails, chances are much better that you will get the gig IF you are  qualified and you haven’t worked that room in a decent interval.  And if I  get all amped up, thinking you are available from a list your sent me six weeks  ago, and you are no longer available, I get disappointed AND I wasted  my time.  So keep those avails coming.
4. I MUCH prefer e-mail to Facebook (I have about 2000 unread Facebook  messages; I don’t care what people had for breakfast or find pictures of  the last set of comedians you worked with informative; your civilian friends  might but I don’t have time to follow everyone, or even a few people, on  Facebook. ) Please also include your phone number in case I need to contact  you ASAP.  My e-mail address is cdettin@aol.com.  
5. Recommendations: I take recommendations VERY seriously, IF they come  from people proven reliable in predicting comedians who will work well in my  rooms.  I have about five or six people I trust not to steer me  wrong.  Pass recommendations out sparingly.  Some comics think  everyone who paid them a compliment is FABULOUS, and then recommend them without  thinking of the consequences.  The consequences are:  You send me a  dud, I use the dud, it will be a long time before I can trust your  judgement again, and I may have to bench you for a while to make sure you  learned your lesson.
6. Asking for a particular person to work with you:  This raises a red  flag for me sometimes.  Either you really DO work well together, or  you want a lightweight to open for you so you can blow them away.  I know  or know of just about everyone, or have ways of finding out, and I take great  pride in actually putting together shows that work well because of who I  book together. I don’t book rooms like sorting mail.  That’s why I get  paid the small bucks, but also why the shows I book pretty much rock. So don’t  ask for someone just because he/she’s your best buddy (remember, give the new  kids a chance, too, even if your BFF is funny) or you think they will set you up  to crush.  The shows needs to make sense as a whole or we all look  stupid.
7. Cancellations:  Simply put: DON’T CANCEL.  If you get  a WAY better gig (and by WAY better, I mean at least triple the  money or a chance to really break out in a new market) and let me know  sufficiently in advance (a month or more,) I can be very understanding.   Don’t say. “Pencil me in,” all the while looking for something that pays  better.  Stand me up for an extra hundred bucks and you will be dead to  me.  As in RIP, never again, nada, zip, zilch, bupkis.  Same thing for  lying about the urgent need to cancel.  I have caught a few people doing  this and they wonder why I’m being mean to them when I won’t rebook them.   I’m not being mean; it’s business, baby.  My time is valuable (and for what  I get in commissions for booking, barely worth the effort,) but I do it because  I love comedy and comics, so don’t screw it up for everyone else.
8) If you aren’t having fun, QUIT.  Too many comics phone it in  because they are unhappy with the business end of things.  If you aren’t  happy, do the right thing and let the others take the stage—and let them  have the opportunity to become disenchanted with a business that  has too many comics and too few gigs, thus lowering the overall price  anyone, good or bad, can get paid.  (That damn supply exceeding demand  thing never goes away.)   Comedy is about joy, or the rush, or the  challenge.  It is NOT a get rich quick scheme.
Sometimes it’s not even a break even scheme.  😦
9) IF I SCREW UP, try to understand that I, too, am human.  No pointy  hat and red shoes here.  I try not to let it happen but sometimes I get  interrupted with a phone call or a domestic dispute (it could happen; my cats  are always fighting) before I can write the date down, and I  think I have early onset Alzheimer’s .  I WILL make it up to you.  It  might take me a few months (hopefully not) but I have NEVER bumped someone to  book someone else and then used the double booked excuse, and I NEVER  will.  If I screw up, I own it, I apologize, and I work like hell to  find something to replace it for you.  Very often, it is a private show  that comes along and you actually make more money, but it is very frustrating  for you, as it is for me, when I find out I am out of a gig because a  booker screwed up.  I used to think a rhesus monkey could do this but I  think it takes a higher primate.  As I said, I apologize in advance if  any of you fall victim.  So far, knock wood, only one this year. 
10) That leads me to another point.  I tend to book pretty far out so  always check back in with me a couple of months before your gig to make sure you  are, in fact, in my book.   Likewise, when I send out e-mails before  the shows, RESPOND so I know you are still on board.  Don’t make me  call you and chase you.
Thanks Connie!
For more advice order a copy of Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.

When should you send your avails?

This week’s entry is a cut and paste of an email from booker and comic Steve Sabo.  Steve was the first booker I had in my career and has been helpful with any questions I’ve had since I’ve known him.  A lot of what I learned from him ended up in Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  While his advice might not be 100% universal with all bookers (I’m sure Enrique Iglesias probably sent his avails Saturday morning and it worked for him), I believe the concept of his message here applies to a great majority.  

Steve writes…

Comics, I will keep this very simple.  This applies to ALL bookers, including myself:  If you are sending your avails or asking for specific dates, you should ONLY send them on Tues, Wed or Thurs if you don’t want them to be ignored.  I have received HUNDREDS of avails on Mondays, Fridays and Weekends, and thusly I am sure other bookers have as well.  Mondays are bad days, because Monday is the day we deal with everything that has built up over the weekend, and when we get settled and try to get out act together.  Your avails will just get lost.  Fridays are useless because we are trying to get all our business off the table, we won’t have any interest in looking at things for you.  And the weekend?  If the booker is a comic, he is off doing comedy, and if he isn’t, he is probably trying to enjoy the weekend with his family.  Most if not all of those will be deleted.  I know you do things then because you have the time, or you think of it, or it fits YOUR personal agenda.  BUT, as the adage goes, work SMARTER, not HARDER.  If you send your things at times that are more conducive for them to be looked at, you will have much, much better chance of success.

Next week I’ll be posting additional advice from bookers.  I’m not turning this site into a guest writer blog, but it’s a busy time of the year for me and the advice was too good to not share.  Thank you again to everyone who has written, commented, and given the book a review on Amazon.

What should I know for a casino gig?

When it comes to thinking back to the worst shows I’ve ever had, #1 and #2 were both on the same night at a casino.  The toughest part about casino gigs is that no one goes to the casino to see comedy.  Often, the people who are watching you have found your stage accidentally.  They may also be hundreds or thousands of dollars in debt from the past hour.  People will also come and go during the show.  Your show is just a pit stop for gamblers.  So the first challenge is audience.

The second challenge is the stage area.  It’s often not sealed off from the main floor meaning you’re going to hear slot machines, background music and various other noises while you’re performing.  You’re just a sideshow that the casino can easily afford.  The comedy show is just a compliment to the casino visit.

The third challenge is that they’ll usually want you to be clean.  Casinos don’t want to risk people getting offended and taking their money elsewhere.  If you’re opening for a headliner there’s a good chance he/she will be squeaky clean.  Mentioning the audience again, there will be old folks.  They won’t get a lot of your act anyway.  Material about gambling is a good way to start your set.  I have a joke about lottery tickets which suffices for the situation so I open with it.

So why go perform in tough conditions in front of people who often don’t even want to see comedy?  The money.  Get to these gigs early so you can go through security and take some long hallway through the set of Ocean’s Eleven.  It becomes clear how much money the venue makes.  Those two awful sets I mentioned at the beginning?  Each one was eight minutes long and I still made $400.  I performed at another casino (in Missouri) on Friday night.  The conditions were tough but I plowed through, kept a smile on my face, stayed clean, and used plenty of energy.  It actually turned out to be a really good show.  They don’t always go this well at casinos, but the checks always clear.

For other show tips oh how to make money in comedy check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.