A lot of comics agree that the toughest leap to make is from going from MC to feature at comedy clubs. Granted, there are a few who were “blessed” enough to get there in the first year or two. (Please refrain from pointing out how quickly you were able to do it in the comments section on here or Facebook, good for you.) It took me around six years, but by the time I did, I actually had a feature-length set (25-30 minutes) of feature-caliber material. A lot of comics make the mistake of thinking that having a half-hour of material makes them a potential feature act. In St. Louis, I think the community who works the clubs knows better than to be delusional about this.
So why can’t you get past MCing? In some clubs, a good MC is hard to find. If they’re comfortable using you as an MC, and there’s a healthy supply of other features, you’re pigeon-holed. Venture out to other clubs around the state or region. Here’s the mistake I made while doing that. I labeled myself as an MC at these other clubs. I would have great guest sets and then “proudly” stated how I MCed for all these big names at the Columbus Funnybone which did nothing but backfire. Remember, your home club is the usually the last one to promote you. If you truly believe you’re ready to feature, then sell yourself as one to clubs who don’t know any different.
If you’ve been in comedy for over 18 months, your writing has definitely improved. Ask an experienced comedy peer which bits/jokes you should get rid of. Sometimes it can be one or two stupid jokes that you consider reliable that are actually holding you back. I’ve heard managers and bookers even say, “Yeah, so-and-so is okay, but they’ve got that stupid joke about…” Find out what you need to drop, and then work hard fill it with something better.
Along those same lines of jokes, maybe your material needs to grow up some. Clubs make a lot of their sales on date night which is the first show on Saturday. Have your jokes evolved past your mid-20’s so that married couples in their 40’s or 50’s can relate? They don’t have to be cleaner, but it doesn’t hurt to class your set up a bit. We get it, you’re single and you smoke pot. Older married folks aren’t and don’t.
So how do you even get a chance to do a longer set? Probably the easiest way is to organize your own show at a local bar with a promise to fill some seats. Whether you can get much of a crowd or not, it at least shows you what it feels like to be on stage that long. The second best way is to talk to a comic who does mostly one-nighters and ask him or her if you can feature for them sometime (offer to drive!). They might be able to arrange it as many of them book their own shows at bars. Finally, look at the calendars of some of the smaller comedy clubs. If their headliners are comics who normally feature, there’s a chance that they’re a low-paying club who can’t afford the average headliner. They probably don’t pay well for features either, but that means they aren’t as picky. You’ll get your first shot at a club like that. Mine involved a club that is notorious for having the worst condo in the country, had me do 6 nights of shows (including a midnight show on Saturday), and paid me $300 for the week. However, the stage time I racked up that week was well worth it.
For more tips on making money in stand-up comedy, check out Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage on Amazon (paperback), Kindle, iTunes, Nook, or just about any other e-format.