Obviously it’s not a good idea, but what if you have a one-nighter booked and you’re offered a week on top of that? In St. Louis we usually have the luxury of having someone cover us for a show, but in a different town you probably don’t. It’s best just to say you can’t do the week. Bookers understand and it shows them that you’re a working comic. They hate it when comics back out on them, so they shouldn’t hold it against you. You should be offered another week in the future if you have to say no. Just like when you send avails, you want to show them you’re busy and at least somewhat in demand.
Here’s what else can happen–you cancel one gig for a “better” one, and then the new one gets canceled and now you’re out both gigs.
So when should you? Consider what’s going to lead to a better future. Will it affect future working opportunities? Are you willing to burn a bridge with whoever you’re canceling on? 99% of the time it just isn’t worth it. If it’s a working comic taking you on the road with him or her it might be considered a wise choice because it will ultimately result in a lot more work. Just be sure.
Some comics swear by never canceling. This is probably the best way to go, but if you’re financially pressed or have the opportunity of a lifetime, it’s hard not to. Big names do it often, but they’re benefited by the club needing them more than they need the club. There have been a lot of big-named headliners who I was supposed to open for who canceled for TV appearances, etc. (The biggest being Jim Gaffigan back in ’03.) They have that luxury, most of us don’t.
So when the temptation comes, don’t cancel a gig for another one. It’s easy to get a bad reputation for this. Give the booker other available dates and be persistent on following up to get a different date.
For other tips on how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage (available on Amazon, Kindle, iTunes, Nook, Kobo, etc.).