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.


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