After last week’s interview with comedy manager/producer Reg Tigerman, I’m excited to have another exclusive interview for you today with Eric Yoder, a veteran comedy booking agent who works for the Funny Business Agency.
Here’s what Eric had to say about how he determines who to book, how the booking business has changed in the past few years, what comedians can typically expect to get paid for different types of gigs, and the biggest misconception that comedians have about booking agents among other things.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background, the Funny Business Agency, and what your role in the company is?
I’ve been handling club accounts and booking for Funny Business for about six years now. My job consists of new talent reviews, talent buying for clubs and consulting with club owners. Our agency books about 13-15 fulltime/weekend clubs and approximately 50 or so one-nighter rooms nationwide, as well as numerous corporate and college events. The majority of our work is in the Midwest, but we have a good amount of runs from Florida, to New Hampshire, to California, to Texas and many places in between.
I was born into comedy, visiting clubs with my Dad and meeting comedians since I was a little kid, and slowly moving up through the business from pulling headshots and bios for club promo packets, on to checking out new acts, then to sales, and finally into taking over the club accounts.
Funny Business is a family business. My dad, John Yoder, started Funny Business over 25 years ago and built the agency to one of the largest in the country. My brother, Jamison, handles college and corporate sales, and my other brother, Michael, now handles all our Internet and social marketing consulting for our clubs and for our agency. We have offices in Grand Rapids, MI – Asheville, NC – and Chapel Hill, NC.
As a booker, what’s the most challenging part of your job?
I’ve found that finding a good balance between your relationships with club owners and your relationships with comedians can be tough. I’ve always tried to stand behind and support the comedians that work for our agency, but because we work for the clubs, the club often becomes the priority when running into situations where there is a conflict between the two.
So there are often times my job goes from comedy booker to problem solver and finding solutions for conflict in a way that shows the talent and clubs are equally respected by our agency.
What do you think is the biggest misconception that comedians have about bookers?
I often get the impression that comedians don’t realize the amount of behind the scenes work that bookers and agencies put in when booking rooms. A lot of the times I think if a comedian works a room for us that maybe didn’t do enough advertising, or didn’t police the room well, etc., it’s because we didn’t train or consult with them on these things.
In reality, it tends to be that the club doesn’t choose to utilize all the resources we provide – a detailed 30-page comedy marketing packet, ideal room setup, how to properly run the show, and a ton more resources. It is as frustrating for us as it is for the comedians when the venue doesn’t utilize these tools.
Another common confusion I’ve seen more recently is comedians confusing the role of a booking agent versus a manager or an agent. A comedy booking agency represents the clubs, we are hired as talent buyers for them. Comedian agents, or managers, represent the comedians, whereas we are hired as talent buyers for the club, so ultimately work for them.
I see comedians coming to us wanting representation, or when we do decide to work with the comedian they think it is entirely on us to find them all their work and to promote for them, etc.
How do you decide who to book for a specific gig?
First of all, we look at what kind of crowds typically come to that venue. I will look at their age, demographic, what acts they’ve liked in the past, feedback we’ve gotten from them on how comedians do in their room, etc.
Then we go and look at avails for which comedians are open that week. We see what headliners are available and then we go through and see what kind of feedback they’ve gotten in the past and if they are a good fit for the room. We then go and look at a feature act and what kind of feature would work best paired with that headliner. If it’s a room we’ve booked for a while, then we also go back and look at the club’s previous feedback on acts and see which kind of comedians they liked in the past and who has done well for them.
What’s the best way for a comedian to get on your radar and get more work from your agency?
A lot of times referrals from comedians we work with and trust, or references from fellow bookers and club owners are a good start. When we get these we tend to take a closer look and move on to contacting them for videos, references and their work history.
We do check regular submissions weekly or bi-weekly, but the submissions with strong references usually get a closer look faster. It’s important to follow up on these every couple weeks after submitting, but be patient, since we receive approximately 30 submissions a week. It can take time to get through all of them and get back to the act.
Obviously it varies, but can you talk a little bit about the economics of booking these days? What does a “typical” gig pay for a comedian? What’s the range?
Well, I would say a typical weekday one-night gig (Sunday-Thursday) will pay in the $100-$175 range for features and $200-$250 for headliners. Friday or Saturday night gigs, $150-$200 to feature and $250-$400.
As far as full time clubs or weekend clubs, it varies quite a bit and would be difficult to give a range on. Almost all gigs provide hotel rooms for both feature and headliner, but some one-night rooms in or within 30 minutes of a major city like Chicago or Minneapolis try to save on the hotel rooms and use acts from the nearby markets.
The pay depends on many things – if it’s routed in a multi-day run, proximity to other gigs or back-to-back weeks, and a lot of other variables. Budget for a club to pay acts is determined by a few things – how many they seat, if they serve food, beer and liquor, market population, etc.
Our agency doesn’t take commissions from the comedians, since we are paid a flat-rate booking fee from the club. However, there are agencies out there that do both, commonly referred to as “double-dipping.” We have chosen to not to participate in that kind of practice for ethical and moral reasons.
I think that every booker would love if they could pay comedians more, but it’s about making the gig worthwhile for the comedians as well as making it financially do-able for the venue so they can profit and will keep the club running successfully in the long term.
What advice would you have for a comedian who’s interested in booking more corporate gigs? What about college gigs?
I personally don’t handle much of our college or corporate end, but I can tell you that CLEAN is one of the biggest priorities for these types of gigs. These are different than club bookings, because we “pitch” specific acts we find suitable for the event and they get a chance to take a look at the acts and decide which they would like to have.
This means putting together a demo that has professional quality sound, lighting and material. The client will be watching and reviewing your materials, not just us. I suggest having a minimum of one hour of squeaky clean material, and having great quaity video that showcases this best.
How do you think the booking business has changed in the last few years?
I would say that the Internet and social networking sites have made some big changes. Agencies are able to access comedian’s materials and websites faster. They can see the feedback and interactions comedians get, what clubs they are working, how many fans they have, and more by just looking at a couple pages on Facebook.
Facebook can be a dangerous thing for comedians though. Not seperating your personal account from a “Fan Page” is a mistake in my point of view. I see comedians posting overally emotional statuses or overly personal information not pertaining to their career, content or comedy.
I also see a lot of “spamming,” which inevitably leads to hiding posts from these acts. Then, when they actually post content , it no longer will show on a lot of people’s news feeds.
There has also been a steady growth of new comedians heavily flooding the markets. This allows for a lot of great new talent for us to familiarize ourselves with, but also makes the weeding out and review process much more time-consuming and difficult.
With so many beginning or new comedians, a lot of the time they are getting advice and feedback from other NEW comedians, which tends to not be the most accurate. I see comedians that get a two-minute clip on Rooftop Comedy and then use that as a clip they submit or an actual “credit” on their submission resume.
I think the comedy industry as a whole is consistently growing and changing as many new avenues for promotion, finding new talent/venues, and accessing new resources continue happening. It’s staying ahead of the curve and adapting to these new avenues that can really get comedians to take their career to the next level.
Besides putting on a good show, is there anything a comedian who gets booked can do to increase their chances of getting future bookings from that venue or promoter?
Many things. I’d say most importantly, be a professional. Show up early, be respectable and appreciative to ALL the staff at the venues you are performing at (you never know when that waitress you had may be the manager next time you come through…), share feedback and ideas on setting up their room and promoting. These types of small things go a long way.
Another is to be easy to work with. Know what you want to ask or book when you call a booker and be specific, be prepared, take feedback in stride – whether you feel it applies or not, learn the correct chain of command for who you need to contact for what types of info, share with the booker how the crowds and turnouts were for the gig you were at, etc.
When we see a comedian that genuinely cares about a venue’s success and wants to help make it better, it says a lot. It also helps you stick out in our mind. Don’t give us, or a venue, a reason to not have you back of course, but instead of just gliding by, give us a reasont to WANT to have you back.
How important is a comedian’s website, YouTube videos, bio, email list, etc. to their chances of getting booked?
Very. When we book an act, a venue will typically search the comedian’s name to see what they are all about. If it goes to a nice website that is easy to maneuver, easy to find content and is of high quality it does make a difference. Having many videos, blogs, etc. can be a great way for a potential fan or a venue to want to learn more and to access your other online content.
Having fans, videos, an email list, or even making your own posters to send a venue, goes a long way. If you are a great, hilarious comedian, and are consistently professional BUT don’t do much to help promote yourself, don’t have a nice website or work to make yourself have a strong Internet presence, well, there are MANY great, hilarious, professional comedians that do.
Guess who we will pick?