I want to take a moment to talk about how to be at a comedy show. If you’re at a show, whether it’s a mic or a bar show or an audition or a club show, get there 30 minutes early, and plan to be there for 30 minutes after. Stay the whole time. Whenever possible, be in the room, supporting the other comics. Stay off of your phone. Laugh when you think something is funny. I could probably write for 10k words on WHY to do this, but I’m going to try to keep it brief.
First, your physical presence indicates your emotional one, as well. So if you’re late, it tells me that you’re already disconnected from the show. If you’re hanging out in the hallway or the green room, it tells me that you are not 100% invested in what is happening in that room. A show is more than you. A show is a collaboration between the booker, the venue, the promoters, the staff, the audience, and the other comedians on the show. We all affect each other. Comedians who are excited about the show create an amazing energy before the show has even started. This is one of the reasons I like to work with new comedians. That excitement is spontaneous, genuine and infectious.
Second, the longer it takes for you to check in, the less sure the staff is that you’re going to show up. Yes, we know that some people just show up, expecting to do a set and then leave, but that behavior is self-indulgent. Imagine if the entire lineup does that? I have been to shows in which that is the case, and they are chaotic. I have had to look around and see an emcee and two comedians and be like, “We have 30 minutes of show right now. Let’s get started and if we need to vamp, we can.” I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve needed to add a comedian to a lineup in order to hold for someone we’re waiting for. That said, if the booker/producer can’t find you before the show, low-key alarm bells start going off in our heads, and we’re trying to figure out if we need to replace you. Is that the impression you want to be making before you’re even on stage?
Third, our friends are producing their own shows and mics, even getting their own sitcoms. They are looking to get us into their shows and shit. I have had people offer to try to figure out how to get me into shit, and I have no interest in being on TV and I don’t really do stand-up anymore, but it’s nice to be thought of. The point is, nobody wants to work with a flake, and with there being SO MANY funny and talented comedians, sometimes the thing that gives you that edge is being reliable. Personally, I would rather work with reliable and consistently funny over brilliant and flaky any time. There are headliners that I’ve stopped booking because they’ve flaked out on me so many times, and I’d rather give those opportunities to people who will appreciate them and take them seriously.
Do I blame these people for flaking on headlining a free show, over and over and over? Yes, to be honest. Do I see their point? Oh, absolutely. They are being completely undervalued and should never have agreed to do it in the first place. That said, they did say they’d do it, even often expressed some sort of excitement about it. And then I have to replace them last minute. If you’re ever too good for a gig, turn it town. Let yourself and the booker off of the hook. Let the booker find someone who is appropriate for an unpaid 20-minute set on a Thursday night in front of 20 people. The booker is not hurt, and in fact is surprised by the number of quality, experienced comedians who will say yes to that gig and who even seem grateful for it.
Fourth, In terms of being in the room during the show, there are several reasons for that, too. First, sometimes comedians have very similar jokes. But if you weren’t watching, you don’t know if your joke has already been told and then you wonder why you didn’t get the usual response to yours. Second, sometimes something weird happens, and you get to comment on it if you witness it. Also if something weird happens and you didn’t see it, you may have a joke that touches on the weird thing that happened, and again, don’t understand why you get an off response from the audience.
Finally, rushing off after your set doesn’t do you any good. You don’t get to thank the audience or the staff, two groups of people without whom you get no stage time. I often have people do their set at auditions or shows and then come and shake my hand, directly ensuring that I know that they’re leaving early. This always irritates me, but I am only the person who booked them.
I don’t pay for the electricity to their mics, I don’t pay for the food, I don’t hire the cooks or bartenders to prepare the food and drink, or the servers who deliver that food and drink. I don’t check in the audience or seat them (okay, sometimes I do, but mostly I don’t), I don’t make sure that the carpets are cleaned, replace broken or damaged equipment, buy the cameras, chairs or tables, and I catch as many shows as I can, but even with I do watch a show, I am not 10-200 people watching you.
Thank the audience as they leave. Let them know where to find you on social media. Exchange social media information with the other comedians so that if you want to hire them for a future project, or vice versa, you can find each other quickly and easily. It’s amazing to me the number of comedians who complain about not having a fan base, who also leave directly after their set.
The most important reason to be emotionally present for every show is that doing stand-up is all about being in the moment. If you’re checked out at any point during the show, it affects your performance. I know, why should you care if it’s just a mic or just a bar show or just 7 minutes or that you’re not getting paid or that you’re not getting paid enough? Here’s why: there is not a good enough gig to drag you out of that mentality. There is always a better show in your mind, the one that you’ll really give your all at.
Michael Rayner is Dave Reinitz’s favorite comedian, partly because Michael Rayner is BRILLIANT but also because he is a headliner who puts as much of himself into performing for an audience of one as he does for an audience of a thousand — and he has performed for both of those extremes. Why should it matter who Dave Reinitz’s favorite comedian is? Because when he opened up his own comedy club, he built the stage specifically so that Michael Rayner could perform on it. Be the comedian that people build comedy stages around.
On a personal note, I know that sometimes there is a small audience. We’re all figuring out how to market and promote shows in LA, and a small audience can feel like a betrayal of your expectations. Maybe it doesn’t feel worth it to stick around on shows like that. What’s in it for you? I get it. But, as someone who has sat through an entire show, and at the end of it the only people in the room were me, one other person in the audience, the emcee and the showrunner with the headliner on stage — please stay anyway. Comedians left with the one or two people who came to see them. Other comedians who had no one to see them left before that. There could have been sixteen people in the room, supporting each comedian so that everyone had their best possible set for that situation. I’ve seen that happen, too. But I still remember that show, like at least once a week. I remember that headliner too, who got up on stage for two people and rocked it out like a pro. It’s unlikely that I’ll ever open my own comedy club, but if I can EVER help that guy out in any way, I will.