What I’m Looking For in a Opening Act

This is not expected from me of my feature acts, but Jeff Oskay goes the extra mile.

I get a lot of comics asking me to bring them on the road.  I thought this would be a good place to discuss the reasons for why I choose who I do to come with me.

  • Let me begin by mentioning I get to bring my opening act less than 50% of the time. Very few places am I a draw, so I don’t have that type of power. Also, since I do my fair share of one-nighters, I sometimes need to combine 2 or 3 different booking agents’ rooms to make the week work financially. I might have the go-ahead to bring my opening act from one booker, but not the other, so when that happens I just let the agents put whoever they think will work best with me.
  • Now, the first thing I’m looking for is proximity. I want to work with someone who lives close to me so they can split the gas money. I will drive, since I usually have a better vehicle.  I have had a couple acts who have traveled with me bitch about paying more in gas than I did, because it ended up we had an odd number of fill-ups.  Stupid move on their part. I am the one who brought you in the first place.  You are working because I chose you.  I am putting all the miles on the car, so you are saving a 1000-2000 on your car for the trip. It’s a good deal for you, dumbass. Oh and my car is quite frankly too nice to be a road car (long story) and it has satellite radio, so it is way more comfortable than your 10 year old Corolla.
  • I want to find someone who is fun to spend time with. It’s a long drive and don’t want to be in a car with a dick. I consider myself a good conversationalist, but I have a contrarian streak, which can create conflict with some people. I’m fun, but I can be a a little too opinionated for some. It is good to work with someone who is easy-going, but willing to give back without coming off like it’s defensive. I know, it’s sounds like I’m asking a lot, but I’ve found a few different travel-partners that groove well with this.
  • I will be driving. With few exceptions, most of my opening acts don’t have families, so I don’t think they have as much responsiblity to others that I do, which makes it hard for me to trust them to value their life as much as I value mine. Before I had kids, I was a less careful driver.  Not saying you are less of a human than me because you don’t have a family, just that I don’t want to put my life in someone else’s hands. (Yes, I know this sounds nutty.)
  • Don’t expect me to party with you after the show. You might want to go out and drink with some people afterwards.  That is cool, but I’m not going to drive you.  I’ve been in this biz for almost 2 decades and I value my license to much to spend a lot of it drunk driving. I’m not perfect on this front, but I can only think of handful of times where I’ve been dumb enough to risk my career over this.
  • Now let’s get to your comedy ability. I want someone I have immense respect for as a comic.  I want them to be original. I want to bring people who I feel have the potential to be headliners.  Some comics like to bring an opener who doesn’t do that well, so they can look better. Not me. I want someone who is really funny, as my goal is to part of the best Overall show a comedy club will see for the year. Part of what makes it a great show is some diversity.  So I don’t want to follow an act who is really similar to me.  I would rather have someone who is a little less edgy, a little less likely to improv with the audience, and a comic who has a different comedy viewpoint than me.

So these are the factors that go into what I look for in my opening act.  I don’t have these factors broken down into some kind of mathematical formula, but I will say that the comedy part is number 1.  The person that fits these characteristics the most for me currently is an Indy-based comic named Jeff Oskay.  He is a great guy who is fun to travel with and most importantly, I like his act so much I usually watch most of it before I hit the stage, even though I’ve worked with him many times.

I have plenty of comics who ask me after just one gig together about wanting me take them out on the road more.  That just isn’t going to happen.  Now if you live close to me, I’m a little more likely to consider it. I have plenty of  friends who are good comics, but when they live 5 hours away from me, it just doesn’t make as much financial sense.  Now here is an idea for some comics who would like to work with me.  Find me a couple gigs and then I will be way more likely to help you.  A couple of comics have done this for me and since they went out of their way for me, I was much more likely to return the favor.  If I can’t make it work in regards to a roadtrip, I would definitely be more likely to say a good word in your regards with some booking agent.

Being a comic is such a narcissistic thing to do in the first place, so of course, it is a profession filled with self-absorbed people.  Unless you are a singularly talented person, you might want to consider being a little more giving back to your fellow comics.  It blows me away that so often, I will say something positive to a comic I’ve never worked with before and they never give me any of that love back.  I’m not expecting a circle jerk of kudos, but it wouldn’t hurt to find something positive to say about my show. Outside of a handful people, I have a very good reputation among other comics as being a good dude. I have cultivated that over the years, as it’s important to me to be respected as a person who is ethical in this business.  That would be as good of advice as any I could give to younger comics reading this.

FINAL NOTE: I was a feature act for a few years and I tried to be as positive and accommodating to the headliners as I could be. I never wanted them to give me a bad report to the booking agent.  Now, I did try to blow a few of them out of the water when I was on-stage, so I know there are times when we had an uncomfortable moment or two, but I never disrespected them off-stage.  It is a competitive business, which is why I don’t begrudge anyone who slams it out in front of me. Just don’t be an asshole off-stage.

7 thoughts on “What I’m Looking For in a Opening Act

  1. Scott, I really appreciate you posting these blogs. I learn a lot from them. You said you like to be a contrarian. Can a person respectfully debate you to a point where you just get sick of the person? I had an experience working with a group of road comics where one of them kept provoking arguments. The other guys pretty much laughed it off as did i for the first few days but on the last day, I finally engaged him and we had a very passionate and very very long debate. He said that I appreciated that I actually engaged him. Would you feel the same way if I engaged you when you were feeling contrarian, or after about 20 minutes of going back and forth would you just tell me to shut up? Just curious.

    1. Good question. I guess I would have to say I would take that one on a case by case basis. Even though I am a bit of a contrarian, I usually qualify my argument, instead of just telling the person they are way off.

      1. I can respect that. What I hate is when I politely ask someone why he feels a certain way or what perspective he’s coming from, and he starts getting angry saying he doesn’t have to justify his opinion. Ironically enough, that’s the type of thing that happens with my friends that I agree with on about 90% of issues. I definitely appreciate a qualified argument.

  2. I appreciated this article. I knew that our living 11 hours apart would prohibit us from ever road working together, but it’s good to know what’s appealing to headliners in general.

    I wanted to comment on your thought about not hearing props in return for your helpful comments. The first time we worked together at Goonies, you were great in your advice! I gave one piece back, and you were very gracious about it. Afterwards though, I felt like a jerk. Who the hell was I, an emcee, to give advice to a headliner?

    So now I’m entering feature level; working my way up the ladder these last three years. Last week I gave props to this new kid who I thought was really talented, and told him he should participate at a little coffee house event I’m headlining (I’m just doing 30 minutes though). He sent me this gushing FB message of thanks. And my first thought was, what is all this about? I’m just a newbie too. But then I realized, I guess I’m not anymore, at least to guys just starting out. They actually look up to me (some of them anyway!). Your article made me realize that almost none of the comics “newer” than me comment on my act, other then “good job, “great” etc. My contemporaries and those with more experience are the “helpful” ones to my act.

    Anyway, I think you’re amazinly talented, find your articles entertaining and helpful, and always look forward to you coming into town.

    1. Jeff, thanks so much for your kind words. I might be ahead of you in the comedy biz, but I see you as a contemporary in life. Just another middle age white guy like myself chasing a dream. I hope to see you again, soon.

  3. I blog often and I genuinely thank you for your content.
    Your article has truly peaked my interest.
    I am going to take a note of your website and keep checking for new information about once a
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