A normal comedy show should run around 90 minutes. If it’s a later show, that time can even be shortened. A lot of this has to do with
how much how well the crowd is drinking. During the holidays, people are a lot more festive and a lot of the crowd is finally cutting loose (they don’t usually drink as often as comics). Therefore, they can get out of hand or just crash somewhere around an hour and fifteen if not sooner. Now, imagine it’s your job to close out the show with a forty-five minute set in the following situation…The emcee goes over his/her time by a few minutes after the show starts ten minutes late. The feature ignores his/her time and does closer to thirty-five minutes instead of the 25-30 agreed on before. At this point the headliner is taking the stage about a drink later (15-20 minutes) than he or she would have if everyone had stuck to their time. You know how it’s extremely difficult to be the first comic up on a show? Being the last has its own set of challenges. The point I’m trying to make this week is you have to stick to your time no matter the show or situation. As someone who is just able to do forty-five and close a show out, it becomes ten times harder when times have all been ignored. Just because you think you can do over a half hour doesn’t mean you should. Comics need to stick to their time for the benefit of the headliner. It’s the same courtesy as not opening with a lot of crowd work or extremely blue material.
This rule is important at open mic as well. Realize that when there are more than a dozen comics (or even two dozen) you’re screwing the other comics over by going over your time. Assume that half of the acts weren’t that great and that the audience is praying for the show to end by the 100-minute mark. It’s hard to fine tune or test material when the crowd is staring at their watches.
I know it’s exciting to finally get to do longer sets, but odds are that if you’re finally getting to do thirty, five to ten of that isn’t worth forcing into your act just because you can remember it. If your feature setlist includes almost every joke you’ve ever written, you shouldn’t be featuring yet.
So my message to the comics who are running shows, thinking about running shows, or are in shows: Aim for ninety minutes and hold each act to that (especially if there are guest sets involved). If you’re performing, stick to your time to the minute. It will drastically improve the quality of the show with every comic who goes up as well as the crowd response. I’ve never heard someone say, “That show was too short,” in the nearly fourteen years I’ve been doing this. You’re also likely to get more work from headliners you open for when you stick to your time.
This tip will help when you finally start working the road too. It’s one thing to go over your time in your buddy’s show at a bar, it’s another to violate that rule on the road. I remember getting reamed and almost fired from one of my first MC weeks for going over by two minutes. Get in the habit of fitting your set into the allotted time.
For other tips on the importance of gaining respect from other comics, club managers, and the crowd, order a copy of Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.