At the Vent Haven ConVENTion, there was a lecture on working comedy clubs by two young ventriloquists: Jake LaMarca and Jeffrey Goltz.
Having worked some clubs and ran a room or two, I was anxious to get their take on things.
Unfortunately, I was doing a workshop at the same time. Mark Wade & I teamed to offer information for the Library market.
So I never got a chance to hear what Jake & Jeffrey said.
I understand they did a great job too.
But with all this said, I have been thinking about the comedy clubs a lot lately and wanted to share what I have learned over the years.
Today, good comedy clubs are few and far between.
At one time, there was a circuit. Comedians could go on the road, tour and make some cash.
But it wasn’t very glamourous.
Many of the clubs had condos to put the acts in. That saved on housing expenses. The problem was, you didn’t know if anyone actually cleaned the places.
Lying on the sheets at night was a risk.
I only stayed in one condo – that was scary enough, and I’ve heard the horror stories. If you ask any comic over 40, chances are they can share some.
One thing is certain, the only way you made money was to become a headliner.
The only way to become a headliner was to work your act to the point it was so funny no one wanted to follow you.
But with the introduction of cable television, Comedy Central, HBO & Showtime, the clubs started dying out.
People could watch their favorite comedians at home in the comfort of their livingroom.
With dwindling crowds, the clubs couldn’t pay what they used to.
And many people would jump at the chance to work for free. Open mics became rampant.
You could perform if you got there early enough to sign up. In some cases, you needed to bring your own audience. If you didn’t have people with you buying drinks, forget about going on stage.
The sad part is, that was often jealousy.
We could go out and work a banquet show and earn more in one night than many comics earned in a month. Thankfully most had other jobs.
I had worked very few comedy clubs, but was often hired to headline comedy nights. Comedy nights were usually held by an organization, bar or restaurant as a way to bring people in.
We’d have an MC/Opening act, a feature act and then I would close. The funny thing was all of the comedians I worked with respected me. Even though I used puppets.
I was asked by one establishment to “run their comedy nights.” Reluctantly I agreed.
I had run a room before. It was a lot of work and no fun.
My comedian friends asked me to attend their open mics to find acts. Some of these were really sad. The audience consisted only of the other comedians on the bill. Not the best of audiences.
I did find other acts to use in the “room” I was “booking” though.
The MC’s/Openers were paid $50. Several drove more than 3 hours to do that spot. I actually felt bad I couldn’t give them more.
Then I found out most promoters paid half that.
The Feature Acts did about 20 – 30 minutes. They got between $100 – $150.
Headliners tended to get about $300 – $400. In a rare instant, $500.
One headliner drove from New York City for $350. That is an 8 hour round trip.
There are so many comedians, they jump at the chance to get on stage. That keeps prices low.
Late last year, I was asked to headline a comedy club in a small Oklahoma casino.
I asked the booker what her budget was. She told me.
The rate was higher than I expected, although I would have to cover my airfare. I asked if I could get room and food vouchers. They agreed. So I accepted the rate.
When I arrived, I found out the opening act, a guest act and the feature act were all working for free.
My fee was their total budget for the weekend.
The casino had promised them a paid gig later in the year with the feature act as a headliner. In return, the comedians helped round out this show.
(They also threw in rooms and food for them.)
The gig was a blast. Great audiences, good people and new friends.
So when it comes to comedy clubs, I don’t recommend them as a market. There is no money there.
BUT, if you want to work with others, get instant feedback and aren’t afraid of putting yourself on the line, they can be excellent learning experiences.
Just make sure you are really funny. Otherwise they will eat you alive!
Want to be funnier? I highly recommend this course, I took it myself and it really upped my game!