Monthly Archives: January 2016

What NOT to do around a famous headliner…

As an emcee, one of the biggest thrills in your comedy career is getting to open for someone famous.  The shows will be packed, the crowds will be hot, and you get to hang out with a famous comic who might even be one of your heroes.  In your head you picture a post-show scenario where you’re now best buds sorting through all of the groupies while getting filled in on your new calendar because this famous headliner simply must have you emcee the remainder of the tour, but realistically it’s just another show for them and you’re just another overly excited opener.  So how do you get anywhere close to this ideal situation of them remembering you for future opportunities?

  1.  Don’t be a talker–After introducing yourself, be a listener.  Famous people usually want to establish themselves as a nice person, so let them do the joking (caution: inevitable name-dropping in this entry).  Upon seconds of shaking Bob Saget’s hand he was explaining to me that I should wash up because he had AIDS.  He was very talkative so I sat back and listened.  This is key when you’re just hanging out in the green room before shows.  Famous people usually don’t care about your story, listen to theirs. Babbling on and on about your short comedy career (which often leads to complaining) isn’t going to get you anywhere.  Ask a few questions and see if any advice comes out of it.
  2. Wait until afterwards for photos, autographs, etc.–A lot of headliners still get nervous before shows.  Famous comics (especially those whose fame came from something other than stand-up) still worry about how they’ll do.  There’s an anxiety when performing in front of people who paid way more than usual to see a show and the feature act is out there killing it.  They have high expectations to fill so after traveling all day, the headliner probably needs to get focused before a show.
  3. Don’t bring other people into the green room–Yes, introducing the person you just started dating to someone from their favorite season of SNL trumps Netflix n chill any night of the week, but backstage should be off limits, especially before a show.  The comic doesn’t want to have to be “on” before showtime.  A lot of times the green room is tiny and they need space.  It goes back to #2 as well.
  4. Minimize drinking–They probably aren’t drinking (half of them are recovering), so it’s hard to follow rule #1 when you’re even two drinks ahead.  You’ll just get too chatty and annoying.

So what can you do to build some sort of bond?
*Be patient–Ultimately it has to do with your act.  If you’re good, they’ll open up to you more and treat you with more respect.  If it’s a 2 or 3 night event, just back off that first night especially.

*Offer to pick them up from the hotel (ask the club manager, not the headliner)–with smaller clubs there isn’t always a designated person to do this.  As a doorman and emcee at Columbus years ago, I had a lot of rides with really famous people in my ’94 Escort (it sure humbled Joe Rogan).  Sometimes they’ll even throw you some money.  A lot of what I learned came from these short drives.  It also allows you to…

*Get their number–This shows they trust you.  Don’t just flat out ask, but management will give it to you if you’re giving them a lift.  Obviously you’re not going to call, but if you and the feature are going out to lunch during the week you can text and invite the headliner as well.  You could mention it after the last show of the night with the feature and see if the headliner is interested.  If so, that’s when you’ll get it.  However, keep it at lunch–they don’t want to write with you 99% of the time.

Progressing in stand-up has a lot to do with the off-stage social side of it.  The headliner will talk to management about you good or bad.  If you want to work with your hero again, follow the advice above and they may even ask for you next time through town.

For more tips on how to make money in stand-up comedy, order my paperback, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage, or get the ebook from Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, etc.

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Is a setlist on stage acceptable?

From the comics I’ve talked to over the years, the general consensus for this answer depends on a few factors.

The first and most important factor is whether or not it’s a paying gig.  If it’s a paying gig, it’s your job to be able to memorize your act.  However, if it’s open mic and you want to make sure you try out all of the new jokes you wrote, having a setlist is more acceptable.  Still, there are exceptions to this rule.  If you’re a newer comic trying to get booked as an MC, you should put forth the effort to memorize that five minutes.  In other words, if your set is being evaluated by someone in the business that night, memorize it.  If you’re already a working comic who management isn’t auditioning, occasionally glancing at a setlist to make sure you try everything is okay.  You’re basically auditioning the jokes, not yourself.

Years ago (2002?), Daniel Tosh was in town a day early, so he headlined our comedy contest in Columbus and brought up his notebook.  He did nothing to hide it and even thumbed through a few pages.  These were jokes he had most likely written in the last 24 hours, and it wasn’t officially part of his “week” at the club.  It was amazing how he had them fine-tuned and perfected by the weekend.  I’ve heard stories of Dave Attell going through pages and pages of new jokes at the Cellar years ago.  When you write as much as these comics, it’s perfectly okay to need help remembering to try everything out.

On the opposite end, Richard Lewis had a giant sheet of paper on stage with him with every joke in his arsenal.  I looked at it between shows when I was a doorman and could hardly make sense of it, but it fascinated me that he still needed a setlist.  He’s able to pull it off because he’s Richard Lewis.  One time he even showed it to the audience.  Anyone else doing this would probably look bad.

A setlist on stage can become a crutch when used too often.  So if you’re just starting out, don’t use one at all.  If there’s something you absolutely cannot remember, I suggest a tiny note on your microphone thumb.  Writing on the inside of your hand usually looks bad because it’s very noticeable, and you end up looking like a freshman cheating on a vocab quiz.  When I use a setlist for open mic, I set a piece of paper on the stool.  You can even put a drink next to it so you have an excuse to look down.

Do I use a setlist at open mic too often?  Probably.  My excuse is that comedy is not my main job (I teach high school), so I’ve limited my writing and memorizing time.  Most comics have other jobs too.  So if you’re openly using one, let the crowd know that you know that they can see it.  If a new joke bombs, you can pretend to scratch it out on the list.  If one works really well, you can acknowledge it on the list in a positive way. (Just one acknowledgment per set is enough.)  The worst thing you can do when using a setlist is to pretend that the audience can’t see it when they clearly can.  Some comics even incorporate jokes as an excuse to use one.  St. Louis comedian Mike Stranz used to pull his setlist out towards the end of his time and say, “You seem like a really good crowd!” as if he was reading that from the paper.  (Telling you about it doesn’t do it justice, you just have to see Mike.)

Still, there are purists who would never allow themselves to ever use a setlist on stage.  Good!  I’m envious. You’ve committed more time and effort than some of us.  You’ll succeed at a better rate.  Just be sure you’re trying plenty of new material too.

For more information on how to make money in stand-up comedy, read my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage.  It’s also available on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, and many other e-book outlets.