One-nighters are a great way to profit in stand-up. With more and more comedy clubs closing, the days of Wednesday through Sunday night at the same club are over in most cities (although not in St. Louis!). So in your first few years, you may get a majority of your paid work doing one-nighters at places that aren’t comedy clubs. Some pros–You get paid more for per show than you would at a club, and if you don’t do well, it’s only one gig. Cons–These aren’t comedy clubs and bar managers often mistake their knowledge about running a comedy show with hosting a cover band.
I wrote this list to hopefully reach a lot of bars who host comedy nights. I’ve been fortunate in the last few years to have some much better gigs than I did starting out. I wish I could go back in time and relay this info to a handful of bars around the Midwest. There are probably many others to add to this list (feel free to add them on the Facebook comments), but with our short attention spans here are the five I thought were worth sharing. Hopefully it reaches someone who has booked you.
1. Lighting is extremely important–Rent a spotlight if you don’t have stage lighting (or a stage). Audiences who are sitting in regular house lighting are self-aware, distracted, and less likely to laugh at the comics when they can see the whole room. I don’t know all of the science behind this, but trust us on this. Darken the room as much as possible and get a spotlight on the comic. It makes a dramatic difference in the experience of watching live comedy. (Surprisingly, most sound systems aren’t bad these days.)
2. Leave the MCing to the comics–You should have at least two comics in the show. They both have experience MCing a comedy show, and it’s a skill that’s just as difficult as performing stand-up. We know you’re familiar with all 45 patrons and therefore aren’t shy around them, but introductions phrased properly and a few solid minutes of material (not jokes you read and regurgitate from the internet) can set the tone for the entire show. Openers (features) are always happy to pass this duty off to the manager, but as part of paying their dues, they should take the challenging responsibility of breaking the ice. Or, better yet, find a third comic to work for $50 or maybe $25 and a few drinks and they’ll take care of this for you. If all else fails, maybe the bar’s DJ (if you have one) has some experience behind a mic.
3. No kids–It’s a bar, or some sort of adult venue. People are drinking and us comics have grown-up stuff to say. When there’s a kid in the room it cripples the crowd because they feel awkward knowing a kid is hearing everything whether it’s a big deal to the kid or not. Additionally, you have a responsibility with crowd control and hecklers (although I find most one-nighters are a lot more tame these last few years).
4. You take care of the promo–We most likely don’t know anyone in your town, so sharing it on our Facebook wall will reach no potential ticket buyers if its our first time in your town. Your promo needs to extend beyond posting a flyer above the urinal in your own bar. You need to invest in advertising outside of your venue. Reach out to the comics well ahead of time and ask for a headshot and bio. This can be taken care of in a simple email exchange. (Comics, be sure to follow through promptly.) Also, plan your event around your town’s other priorities. Most of us aren’t famous enough to compete with your chili-fest.
5. Seat people in the front of the room–Rearrange your bar as best you can to put butts up front. Put some “reserved” signs on the tables in the back until the front fills up. Arrange tables and chairs so they’re all facing the stage or at least can be with a 90-degree turn. I know your patrons are afraid they’ll be teased, but most great comics don’t go out of their way to be rude to the audience. It’s not like what they’ve seen on television. We’re just happy there’s an audience there to enjoy our show.
To learn more about how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage which is available on Amazon, Kindle, Nook, iTunes, etc.