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.