Most of the shows I do spots on are produced by other comics. They work to bring out a crowd, set it up with the venue, etc. I do the same so I know it's a pain. A fun pain, but still.
So, if you're an up and coming comic, is it your duty to produce a show? Is it fine for a standup to just perform for audiences other comics work to bring out but to never bring anyone out themselves?
I don't if it's a duty, but I definitely think it's a good idea. First of all, it seems kind of leechy to be someone who benefits from the efforts of your peers without giving back in any way. You're like a dude who likes getting head but refuses to eat pussy. Second, it's a great way to get on the map. People notice when you put on a show, especially if it's a good one.
I can imagine the counterargument: "But I don't think I can bring out a crowd." Then host a mic or something. Or team up with a few other comics to put on a group show so there's less pressure on each individual to draw. "But I'm a bad host." Then get someone else to host for you and just do a normal set during the show.
If you don't put on a show or contribute to the scene in some other way, then you better be so hilarious that booking you is an irresistible option. (Once you kill consistently, then it doesn't really matter if you're producing shows. You bring something to the table that ain't easy to find: consistent funny.) But if you're not bringing that and you're not putting on a show, why do you think others will reach out to you?
I guess it's a slippery slope though since this tit for tat mentality can lead to the whole "I booked you on a show so you should book me" thing. That makes me uncomfortable because, well, I want to do spots on other people's shows but not feel like I'm then obligated to book them on mine. So maybe I'm a hypocrite?
Sandpaper Suit is NYC standup comic Matt Ruby's (now defunct) comedy blog. Keep in touch: Sign up for Matt's weekly Rubesletter. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put on your own show
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Spot swapping is only hypocritical if you're presenting yourself as above it. Your show's audience may have a legitimate complaint if the spot-swapping is materially driving down the quality of the show. It depends on what you view as your duty to your audience--meeting a certain threshold of quality, or absolute quality maximization.
The trade-off with naked spot swapping is that you're trading the marginal quality of your show in exchange for stage-time for yourself. It's hard to calculate whether that trade is worth it generally, because both values change case by case.
Perhaps a useful shorthand in considering that question is to ask yourself what your goals for the show are in the first place. If your goal is for the show to be a brand of some kind (like ASSSSCAT is or Invite Them Up was), then you probably don't want to dilute that brand with much spot-swapping. If not, then maybe spot-swapping is just the comedy equivalent of a potluck supper, where everyone brings one audience, and then everybody gets to perform in front of more audiences than they can bring by themselves.
A topic near and dear to my heart. I'm against spot swapping as well.
I agree comedians starting their own shows is a good idea and the best way around the exploitative bringer system, but put on a good show, creating a bunch of terribly run shows doesn't help anyone. This potluck idea is a well poisoner.
We need to entertain audiences; if we, as a community of comedians, cannot consistently put on good shows, the people (including our friends and family) who attend these small shows will stop coming back.
Our #1 goal needs to be to add value to the comedy scene by adding quality shows (read: good comedians). Many small shows are free or only charge $5 covers. My goal at every show is to make the audience feel like the 5 dollars they spend at my show goes as far or further than the 20-30 dollars they spend at a club. The audience is spending time and money, and you need to repay that with quality, not just use it as a platform for stage time.
Bottom line: shitty shows equals the death of live comedy. Think about that the next time you go on stage unprepared, book someone solely for the sake of trading stage time, or blame the audience for not getting your jokes.
Let's man up and woman up here folks, getting booked is nice, but we all need to look at the big picture and think about what good comedy is. Part of that involves making ourselves funnier by hitting open mics and writing more, and the other part is a commitment to entertaining audiences by putting on quality shows.
--Matt, you're only hypocritical if you bomb a lot, which you don't do, I've never seen you bomb and I've seen you do really well at shows we've done together.
I appreciate when people book me, as we all do, but I always hope in my heart that they are doing so because they think I can add to their show and not because I put them on mine or because they want to get on my show in the future.
Enough from me. I hope this doesn't come off too assholish.
Two other things that ruin shows are 1. length and that's often caused by spot trading. When a host says "We've only got 2 comics left" and that 2 turns to 3 or 4 and there's just a huge dugout of comics who were all told they'd be on. I think a show shouldn't be longer than an hour and a half at the most. Nothing worse than a bored audience or walkouts. Short shows prevent that from happening as much.
2. Similar crowd work. You'll see this a lot in clubs when comics are jumping from place to place and the audience gets asked "Where are you from" a few times on the same show. It's insulting and causes audience fatigue.
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