Mark Breslin is the CEO and Founder of Yuk Yuk’s, a chain of 15 comedy clubs across Canada, and a comedy entrepreneur who has spent decades building an empire. On a recent episode of the Industry Standard with Barry Katz podcast, Breslin discussed a wide variety of topics ranging from how he got into comedy in the first place, what he’s learned, and what advice he has for up and coming comics today.
It’s a great conversation and you can listen to the full episode here or read up on some of the highlights below.
1. It Helps To Start Outside Of New York Or LA
At around the 19-minute mark, Breslin shares some interesting thoughts on the role of the town in which a comic first starts their comedy career.
“It’s very advantageous to be outside the center of action to develop,” he says, referencing the upside of honing your craft some place other than comedy business hubs like New York or Los Angeles. “Most comedians in New York and LA got great somewhere else first.”
But Breslin also acknowledges that it’s become much more difficult to develop outside the spotlight because of the Internet. “It’s harder now…there’s no such thing as an outsider artist any more,” he says. “Everybody has 7 fans.”
2. A Good Comedy Venue Is About What’s NOT There
Even though it’s unlikely many of you will be buying or building comedy clubs, Breslin’s thoughts about what he tries to do in his clubs are still relevant to anybody trying to produce a good show – or analyze potential venues for shows. At around the 43-minute mark, he says that when you buy a comedy club, “You’re buying what’s NOT there, not what’s there.”
He goes on to explain that you want a venue that has no distractions and as much focus as possible on the stage. He said his early clubs were similar to simple small theaters with all black walls and nothing to distract people from the stage – he even tried to minimize the noise from people making drinks.
3. Most Headliners Sell As Many Tickets As A Dead Person
At around the 60-minute mark, Breslin shares an interesting perspective on the Canadian comedy scene and the inability of most comedy club “headliners” there to actually draw a crowd. He says there is no “star system” in Canada due to the lack of local TV exposure available to comedians and that as a result only 4 or 5 comics can sell out clubs on their own.
He goes on to explain that’s why his clubs rarely give Canadian comedians percentage door deals (they typically receive just a flat fee regardless of ticket sales) and it’s also why most Canadian comedians wind up leaving the country to seek bigger exposure.
While that scenario may be unique to Canada, his thoughts on the struggles of “headliners” to actually draw their own crowd are more universal. “Nobody really draws,” he says. “The club draws. The concept draws.”
He then explains that he previously ran experiments where he would run his comedy club ads with the names of random dead people (non-comedians) as if they were performing at his club to see if it had any impact on the ticket sales for that weekend’s show. He found that it had no impact on ticket sales and that essentially most headliners were selling as many tickets as a dead non-comedian would.
4. You Have To Take People Some Place New
Early on in the podcast Breslin says that he believes a comedian’s role is to tell the truth, but at around the 89-minute mark he elaborates on what he believes young comics should focus on. “Originality, finding and having your own voice,” he says.
He explains that there’s no shortage of funny comics out there, but when he’s analyzing acts he comes back to the same question: “Who has 10 minutes that takes me to a place I’ve never been before? Do you have anything to say?”
5. Don’t Just Hang Out With Other Comics In Comedy Clubs
I’ve written before about why it’s a good idea to hang out in comedy clubs, but Breslin warns that you shouldn’t spend all your time there. At around the 91-minute mark, he stresses the importance of exposing yourself to other forms of art and a set of influences that have nothing to do with comedy.
“Don’t hang out with other comics,” he says. “Go to the theater, art galleries, music. [An original voice] doesn’t come from watching comics and imitating them.”
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