Over on the Connected Comedy Facebook page, a reader recently asked a question about how he could get more bookings since he was having a hard time getting stage time in his town. I suggested that he consider starting his own stand up comedy show, to which he replied that he had no idea how to do that.
So, in addition to throwing the question out to the other Connected Comedy Facebook fans (who contributed some great advice on the Facebook page), I decided to take a moment to share some of my own advice here on the site.
Because every situation is different, rather than just tell you what to do I thought I’d give you 9 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Launch Your Own Live Comedy Show. Giving some thought to these questions will help you figure out what will work best for you when it comes to launching and running your own show.
1. What Do You Hope To Get Out Of Running Your Own Show?
As with most things you undertake, I think it’s extremely important to take a moment to think about why you’re doing it and what you hope to get out of it. Answering that one simple question can help guide every decision you make in terms of how you put together the show.
For example, if you’re starting your own show because you need more stage time then you really just need to focus on creating a show that will be big enough to sustain and justify its existence in order to continue to give you more stage time. If you’re starting a show to make money, then you’re going to need to focus more on the economics and size of the show in order to do that. Most shows that fail probably fail in part because the person who created them didn’t really know what they hoped to get out of them and without a goal, they lost their way.
2. What Will Make Your Show Different?
This is a tough one, but it’s also one of the most important things you have to figure out when starting a show. In just about every city, there’s lots of different comedy shows that you’re going to have to compete with for performers and audience members. But oddly enough, most of those shows are pretty much the same – they have no hook, and there’s nothing setting the experience of attending them out from the crowd. You should try to avoid being “just another standup show” at all costs.
As I’ve written about before in my post about the value of creating unique experiences, you want to create a show that is unlike any other that your audience has seen. The more unique, the more likely it will be to catch people’s attention, the more likely they will be to check it out, the more likely they will be to come back, and the more likely they will be to tell their friends about it.
3. Who Is Your Audience?
Before you can find your audience and convince them to come to your show, you’re going to need to take a moment to figure out who you think is the right audience for the show you’re creating. It’s not good enough to just say that your audience is “people who like comedy,” you’re better off trying to think about exactly what kind of people like the kind of comedy you will feature in your show.
Is it family friendly? Is it filthy? Is it about couples and relationships? Is it about college life? Understanding what types of people will be most likely to enjoy your show is an important first step when it comes to finding your audience. Which leads me to my next question…
4. How Will You Find Your Audience?
Once you know the kinds of people that you think will enjoy your show, the next step is to start figuring out where you can reach them and how you can get them to know that your show exists. There’s lots of different ways to do this – everything from flyers, to online ads, to good old word of mouth. But I think that you’ll find that the more specifically targeted your audience, the easier they are to find. Once you know the community you’re going after, you can figure out where to find them.
For example, several years ago I produced a show featuring stoner comedians that I knew I was planning to launch as a monthly event in Los Angeles and then eventually take on the road across the country. Since I knew my show would appeal to marijuana smokers, I also knew how to find my audience. I did a deal with High Times magazine and pot legalization organization NORML to help promote and sponsor the show (having a defined audience – in this case pot smokers – also can help you get sponsors that want to reach that audience), and often promoted the local shows through medical marijuana clubs and marijuana-related websites.
5. What’s In It For The Venue?
Deciding on an appropriate venue to host your comedy show can be difficult and there’s lots of obvious factors that you need to take into account: size, location, cost, etc. But one thing that people often forget to think about is to ask themselves what’s in it for the venue? Before you approach a venue to discuss using it as a location for your show, you should know exactly what you are bringing to the table for them and be prepared to explain to them why they should let you host it there. Maybe you’re bringing an audience that will buy the venue’s food and alcohol. Maybe you’re exposing people to their business or other interest. Maybe you’re providing entertainment to their existing customers. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it’s a question you should be prepared to answer.
6. Are You Doing This To Make Money?
In my opinion, you’re either launching a show to make money or you’re not. If you’re not in it to make money (which is perfectly acceptable and in many cases a better idea), then you shouldn’t bother charging money for tickets. If you’re running the show for exposure or stage time, then give the tickets away, give away free beer (if you can), and give away as much as you can to make it a great experience for the audience. After all, you’re not in it for their money – you’re just hoping they’ll come out and support you and your show.
If you are in it for the money, then you should remember that with every decision you make. If you’re going to charge somebody $20 to come to your show, then you better make sure that you give them $20 worth of entertainment. And that may mean telling your buddy he can’t perform if he’s not really ready yet. And if the show’s about making money for you, then you should look for every possible way to monetize. Is a comedy club better for your personal career exposure? Maybe. But if you can make more money holding the show in a local bar, then do that. Again, if you’re starting a show to make money as your main goal, then remember that it’s your main goal and proceed accordingly.
7. Why Should Somebody Come Back To Your Show?
Assuming you successfully manage to get people to come to your show, the next big question is to figure out a reason for them to come back to the next one. Truly successful shows build up their audiences over time and ultimately about 50% of the crowd is probably a return visitor – maybe even more. To do this, you should think about why somebody would want to repeat the experience – maybe it’s new comics every time, maybe it’s returning comics who they loved doing new material, maybe it’s some kind of discount for “regulars.” Whatever it is, there needs to be some reason to give people to come back.
8. Are You Prepared To Put In The Necessary Time To Succeed?
Running your own comedy show can be great, but let’s be honest – it’s a LOT of hard work. It’s not the kind of thing you can half-ass, and it’s also the kind of project that takes some time to make successful. If you’re not really prepared to put the time and effort into running and promoting a show, then it’s probably not a good idea to start one. If you still want to start one and know you can’t do it on your own, then consider teaming up with somebody else who can help shoulder the load. Because it’s not going to be easy.
9. Is This Going To Be Fun For You?
It’s a simple question but one that too often people rarely ask themselves. Is launching and running your own live comedy show going to be fun for you? Are you passionate about doing it? If you’re not, it’s probably not going to work. And besides, why would you want to do something that’s not fun anyway?
For a look at what can happen when all of these things come together, check out this recent Carson Daly profile of the Comedy Meltdown show in Los Angeles which has become one of the best shows in town.