Who Decides How Clean a Show Needs to Be?

In the last few years some of my highest paying shows have come from performing at fundraisers. How do you get booked by people outside of the comedy business for fundraisers? Be funny at other fundraisers. The same audiences are going to the same types of fundraisers. These are community volunteers or organizers of whatever small-to-mid-level association or town. They’re not comedy bookers, but I’ve heard numerous times: “We wanted to try something different this year so we thought we’d give comedy a chance.”

The challenge is that you’ll be performing in a venue often not suited for comedy, in front of a crowd who isn’t a regular at the comedy club. You cannot rely on these organizers to decide how much to censor yourself. They know little to nothing about stand-up.

The common organizer thinks very linear as to what “crosses the line.” If there’s a limit, they often say, “No f-bombs, but everything else should be okay. We’re all adults here.”  They’re thinking strictly about cuss words, not subject matter. They can’t even begin to imagine some of the creative descriptions you’ve derived from words that, by themselves, are much more innocent. Your act has words and phrases they didn’t know existed, and they’ve underestimated your “creativity.”

As a comic at one of these gigs, you must use toe-in-the-water jokes to see exactly where the line is. If they cringe at something instead of laughing, you need to be able to laugh at your own mistake, acknowledge it with a smile, and adjust accordingly. If you continue to push, you’re going to lose them for the remainder of your set and possibly destroy any chance of comedy ever returning to their venue.

Some of you might be thinking: So what? I still get paid. They said no f-bombs and I didn’t say one. That’s their problem for booking comedy. I’m never coming back to this crap town anyway.

As I mentioned earlier, the people in these crowds are often the ones who organize their own fundraisers or know of people in neighboring towns with similar needs.  Sometimes I exchange information with two or three people after each gig. A few months later I’m contacted for “something like you did for so-and-so back in November…”

Or, if you’re an opener, think about how you’ll affect that headliner’s set. Is he or she going to bring you next time? Or suggest you for someone else’s opener?

For those who want to make comedy their career, these one-nighters are going to become more and more of your income.  Clubs are becoming tougher to get into because the trend is to book big-name headliners while only choosing local openers (to save on costs). Accept early that the business is bigger than you and your First Amendment Rights. Until the clubs need you more than you need them, you don’t get free range.

For more tips on making money in stand-up, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage available on Amazon, iTunes, Nook, etc.


About Rob Durham

With an English Degree, three years as a doorman at the Columbus Funnybone, over a decade of stand-up experience, and a recent certification in teaching high school English class, writing a book seemed like the next inevitable step for Rob Durham. The son of a coach, Rob has an excellent ability to teach and explain things in the easiest and most direct way possible. His (often labeled ridiculous) memory allows him to think of every possible situation that a new comic might face because at one point he was there too. Rob gives an inside look at comedy that doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges every performer faces. Without ego and the myth that “anyone can do it” Rob gives the reader a true feel of what living the so-called dream feels like, from preparing for that first open mic night to touring the country. View all posts by Rob Durham

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