9 Things Not to Do as a Feature Act

In the comedy hierarchy, feature act is a spot of 20-30 minutes during the show’s sweet spot (crowd is settled in with booze in their bloodstream, but they’re not obnoxious or paying their check yet). Back in the day, you could be a feature act and full-time comic. It’s rare now as many clubs don’t have a place to put out-of-town feature acts (they do, they just don’t want to pay). A feature act usually makes anywhere from $50-$100 for a club show which is the same crap money they’ve made since the 90’s.

If you somehow get promoted from MC to feature, here is some advice:

  1. Don’t marry the label—Comics who wear it like a badge come off as trying to hard to establish they’re above MCing. Your act should establish this, even if you’re only doing a few minutes at an open mic. Don’t bring it up in comic conversations.
  2. Don’t record an album—Trust me, in a year or two you’ll cringe at half of your material. It’s not ready to be mass produced and sold at shows. If you’ve got a cheap way to slap it up on Spotify, it’s probably still not worth it.
  3. Don’t go overboard on merch—Selling merch is necessary for sure, but don’t order thousands and thousands of something you’re sure will be a hit. I’ve seen too many ideas fall short and comics getting stuck with boxes of merch they’ll never get rid of and then become too ashamed to even sell. Also, it’s a courtesy to ask the headliner if it’s okay that you sell merch. If they say no, they’re an insecure, selfish jerk OR your merch is so obnoxious (racist t-shirt anyone?) they don’t want to share a table with you.
  4. Don’t quit your day job—Featuring isn’t a profitable career. Find other means of income when you’re not on the road. I think 2020 made it apparent how important a backup hustle is.
  5. Don’t stop writing—If you get complacent with your set as a new feature, it’s going to age way too quickly. Odds are you’re in your 20’s, so a lot changes during this decade. Keep performing at open mics just as often as before so that your act won’t grow stale.
  6. Don’t turn down MC work—If a new club lets you host, don’t blow them off because you’re above it. They might be checking to see if you are capable of featuring. Perhaps another comic suggested you. While it used to be true, clubs will not pigeon-hole you into MCing anymore. They’ve got comics who will work for free a lot of times.
  7. Don’t do crowd work—You’ve only got 20-30 minutes, and it still bothers headliners when you teach the crowd that their interaction is vital to the show. The headliner has to entertain these people for a longer time 2 or more drinks after you were performing, so leave it up to him or her as to how much the crowd will be involved. While I’m at it, don’t get super-filthy either.
  8. Don’t become high maintenance—The first thing I did when I began featuring was make the sound guy play a CD as I took the stage (cringe). Featuring doesn’t give you a right to taking advantage of a club’s free-drink policy. Stay out of the way, don’t mess up the green room, don’t ask any special favors, and if you’re comping friends at the show make sure they behave.
  9. Don’t go over your time—Common sense, but nothing is worse than headlining a drunk room after a show started 20 minutes late, the MC did 15 minutes, a guest set killed for 10 minutes and the feature is still on stage at 9:15 at a show that was supposed to start at 8:00. Audiences have 90-100 good minutes in them, so be aware.

For more tips on how to make money in stand-up comedy, check out my book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage or subscribe to my YouTube videos for more advice.