I have spent over a decade trying to figure out a way to get more headlining work at comedy clubs. I’ve come up with 4 or 5 different shows during this period looking for a way to create buzz about my show. That has worked to varying degrees, but each time I found myself reaching a point where I didn’t see any more growth happening, I went back to the drawing board. Very few people can just stand behind a mic, tell really funny jokes, and expect that you are going to draw a crowd all over the country.
So am I saying you need a gimmick? No, though I can’t say it would hurt. Pauly Shore continues to sell tickets, even though I have never heard anyone who went to his show claim they thought he was great. There are a few other Pauly’s running around out there who have been selling tickets for 2 decades. I’m not sure why they are able to keep people interested in coming to see them, since they haven’t written a lot of new stuff, but being a C-level celeb is better for sales than being a B-level comic with little name recognition. Sad, but true. (Especially for someone like me: B-level comic.)
What I am saying is that you need to find some way to break through and connect with a larger audience. The days where you can do a TV spot and things will change the next day are over. I think one of the big mistakes that many comedy clubs make is paying someone who has done a Comedy Central special twice as much as someone like me, just because they have that credit. If the person is really funny and is really good on radio promoting, great, but that Comedy Central special isn’t going to add that many more tix to your week, unless it is accompanied by more. I did a show a few months back where I was paid decently as a feature, but then saw the headliners pay and noticed he was making 3 times as much as me, even though he wasn’t funnier and didn’t draw any more people than myself. I just don’t get that booking. If you bring in Pauly Shore and pay him 10 times as much as me, even though I do better than him onstage, I have no problem with that if everyone came out that night to see him. I understand the bottom line. My problem is with someone who has a credit that no one cares about, except for his management who got that comic on the special in the first place and is taking 15 percent to make it seem like they are worth the extra dough…Phew.
You ultimately have to create a show that gets a lot of buzz, then capitalize on it through marketing and social media. Keep in mind though, that this isn’t 2006 and Myspace is just taking off and you can use the net to be the next Dane Cook. Don’t think you can start up a podcast and reignite your career to new levels like Marc Maron did. They beat you to it–oh and they also were already accomplished comics with quality acts* and lots of TV and radio appearances, by the time they found a new marketing tool. Outside of very few good-looking comics who get big breaks early on, after being seen by the right person in New York or LA, it has to do with a mix of talent, experience, and some marketing skill.
*Yes, you read that right. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a Dane Cook hater. He didn’t deserve to be the best-selling comic in the world at the time, but he also didn’t deserve to be a total whipping boy. He should have been more cognizant of his deal with Louis CK, but he wasn’t Carlos Mencia, either.
Let me be clear of my meaning. For those of you that bitch about not getting headlining work at clubs, most of the time it comes down to can your show bring people in the door? Don’t just think you can do great standup and that will be enough. The clubs have to have a way to sell your show. I have some markets where I can sell tickets, so the club makes a lot of money off of me, and I get to play a higher quality room–without the credits or management that you usually would have to have to be 1 of the 50 comics they will use that year.
I’m try to never be delusional. Most A rooms in this country I don’t even try to headline at because I don’t know of anyway I could sell enough tickets to get them to pay attention to me. I’ve never been the type who would bother someone if I didn’t think they were interested. If I had some great management, maybe it would be easier, but I’ve found that even comics with some big agency only get to headline once or twice at A rooms, before they get kicked back to the curb, unless they demonstrate their drawing power.
Now don’t confuse A rooms versus B rooms. B rooms rarely bring in big names, as their formula is more about lower overhead towards salaries to help them make their profit. I actually think these rooms make more sense, especially in a smaller markets, as the majority of the audiences don’t want to see some hipster from LA bring his slant on comic books and sushi. Sure that is what is seen as amazingly artistic to decision makers in the entertainment world, but to people in most of Fly Over Country that doesn’t resonate. The major problem I have with these B rooms is that it doesn’t matter if you are at the top or the bottom of the list for headliners, you are going to make the same money. It the way the world of B rooms work. This is why I’m always striving to figure out a new way to breakthrough.
I realize this post is kind of all over the place. Here’s my wrap-up. When you are trying to get into a club as a feature, it’s best to not send some video where you are very unique. Just be funny. Clubs know that many headliners don’t want to follow someone who stands out. After you get in there, you do need to start amping your show up in someway, though, so the owner/booker realizes you need to be moved up. Remember though, that even if you are dynamite on-stage, you still need to figure out a way to sell more tickets than someone else on that A club’s calendar, if you are going to make that next step up there. That will most likely mean you need to move to LA or NY and get some TV credits and top management. Even with these, also remember there are only 45-50 slots each year on the stage at the IMPROV or Funny Bone or whatever other club that brings in big acts and pays real money each week, so don’t think being unique and funny is all you need.
I know this post has been a little confusing, but hopefully this clears up a little about how things work. During my time in the biz, I’ve seen quite a few flavor of the months coming roaring into the A room clubs, only for them 5 years later be 1 of those “hey, I wonder happened to them?” I’m still here. Some of these flavor of the months made more money in their hot 2 years as I did during my best 5 year stretch, but…I’m still here.
I mostly wanted to write this piece so I could express this: Don’t bitch about not headlining A rooms if you can’t explain why you will be a bigger draw than at least 20% of their current roster. You are a product. If they can’t make enough money off of you, they are not going to put you on the shelves, no matter how much they might like you personally. It has more to do than just taste, it has to do with packaging and being something people want and will go to the store to buy. I get that. I know I speak for a lot of booking agents in saying they wished you did too:)
Ultimately it has a lot more to do with Stand-out comedy, than it does Stand-up comedy. Like it or not. I’m still trying to find that magic in a bottle. If I finally find it, I suspect that will be the first time I keep something to myself about this business.