How to Get Your Own Show Started

The reasons to produce your own show are plentiful. It’s good comedy karma to create stage time. It’s a way to meet a ton of comedians, quickly. It’s a way to learn what energy level is best for what situation. It’s a way to better understand what bookers are looking for. Most importantly, you can only succeed when you give yourself room to fail – and that is what happens when you’re the booker.

So how do you set up your own show?

1) Producing a show in anything but a dedicated space is a terrible idea. You want to find a restaurant, bar, etc, with a back room, a basement, an upstairs, etc.

2) The best places for independent shows have foot traffic that a “Comedy Show!” sign could bring in a few heads (and so can barkers). Near a college campus, on a well-trafficked strip of restaurants/bars, etc.

3) Does the space already have equipment there? Venues that have live music often have their own lighting and sound. Saves you money and the venue already knows the value of live entertainment

4) Walk in to the venue and ask to speak with the owner. The manager may not want to make his or her job harder with more customers. The owner is the person who appreciates an increase in the bottom line.

5) Walk into every venue. Sometimes the coolest shows are in the back rooms of pizza places and laundromats. You never know what the venue is hiding around the corner or up the stairs.

6) Ask what day business is slowest. That’s the day you want to try to have the show. It makes your deal easy with the venue, and puts less pressure on you to fill it.

7) Try to get a bonus deal. You keep the door, they keep the bar – but if you get X amount of people, you get a % of bar (on a graduates scale – I recommend bonuses that take you to 5%, 10%, and 20%). Be fair about this – know that their gross profit on food and drink averages about 75%, but they also have to pay for staff, utilities, etc).

8) Know your own ability to promote. If you don’t know how to promote well, you need a smaller venue (and I’ll talk about promoting these shows in a future post). Venues with under 30 seats are usually worthless – and over 100 get very difficult to fill. The sweet spot is typically 60-75. Looks full with 30, but seats enough to make it a hot room if it grows into that.

9) Sound, stage, and lighting are NOT optional. If the venue doesn’t have any, buy your own – or don’t produce a show there. A clip-on flood light costs $10-$20 at Home Depot or Lowe’s – two of them light a stage very well. A portable PA and mic run about $50, and anyone who is handy can build a portable stage for $50-$100.

That’s how to set up a show. We’ll talk promotion another time.