5 traits headliners look for in an opener…

Lately I’ve been booking fellow St. Louis comic, Nathan Ortan, to open for me at various one-nighters.  Opening for me is no great honor, but what I look for when I ask someone to work with me translates to others as well.  One-nighter gigs are often good money, especially when they’re local and don’t drain your gas tank, plus they make you a better comic which is explained in my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  They can be quite different than working in a comedy club.  So here are the reasons I can count on Nathan to be a solid opener for me.

1.  He can get there on his own.  I text him the address, he uses technology we’ve had for over a half-decade, and confirms the location with me the day of the gig along with the time.  Most importantly, he has a vehicle that will get him there and back.  He shows up on time every time.

2.  He can clean it up and limit crowd work.  This isn’t always a must, but recently Nathan did 10-15 minutes without disgusting or offending the crowd.  Nathan usually works with very little crowd interaction which is appropriate for short sets up front.

3.  He realizes the crowd is going to suck but still works through it.  There is no tougher spot than opening a show in a room that isn’t expecting comedy.  Usually they’re not seated, listening, or even facing the stage.  The introduction you get is awful and the sound system is even worse.  This happened and Nathan didn’t complain once.  Afterwards he was positive and thanked me for the experience and compared it to comedy weight-lifting.  Each one of these hell gigs gets a little better as you get used to them.

4.  As mentioned in #3, he’s thankful.

5.  He wears appropriate attire.  At a recent gig we did, I texted him that jeans weren’t allowed because it was at a country club.  No problem.  (No, he didn’t wear shorts either.)  Be sure you can clean yourself up and wear bigboy outfits when the time comes.

Note:  I’ve had a lot of other great openers as well who also were good examples of the above (this post wasn’t to suggest that any of them weren’t).

For more tips on how to make money in comedy, check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon, iTunes, Kindle, Nook, etc.

4 thoughts on “5 traits headliners look for in an opener…

  1. Hi, I’m assuming there’s no feature and the comic you bring to your one nighters is acting as the host. if that’s the case, why is it beneficial that your preferred opener doesn’t do a decent amount of crowd work up front? Doesn’t the crowd need to be warmed up at the start of the show?

    1. Good question! A lot of times one-nighters are with crowds who haven’t seen a lot of comedy shows. All they know about comedy is what they see on TV–which is heckling. It’s best not to train them that their role is to “give you something to work with” but instead, just sit back and laugh. Also, openers usually aren’t great at handling hecklers. If a headliner wants to just do his/her act, he/she should be able to make the crowd laugh without needing them to “chip in.” Ultimately, the venue is responsible for making the crowd aware that there’s a comedy show. As long as they’re listening, the opener should be able to get them to laugh without feeling the need to talk to the comic. Also–a lot of times the opener does a feature-length set of 20-30 minutes. Whenever that’s my role, it often takes 15-20 just to get them on my side. It’s tough!

  2. Number 3 and 4, and he was thankful. He kisses my ass for the no pay shit gig I allow him to be ignored at. Do tell why this is such an important trait, that it’s actually 40% of what you look for?

  3. It’s not logical of course, but most of comedy isn’t. He’s thankful for the opportunity to grow. He’s thankful for the opportunity to face an experience that next time he’ll be more prepared for. #4 has to do with actually saying thank you. I did a ton of these and occasionally still work the opening spot. In this situation I gave Nathan $80 for doing ten minutes.

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