Getting road gigs

A reader writes in:

One thing I was wondering is, do you have any old postings about how to go about getting road gigs?

Nope, haven't written about that before. For the road gigs I do, I usually have a fellow comic from that town (e.g. Boston, Chicago, or D.C.) who knows I'm decent put in a word for me at the good show(s) in his/her hometown. If more followup is needed, I'll send along an email with a brief bio and a link to a set online. That usually works. Then I go to the show and try to kick ass so 1) the comic that referred me doesn't look bad and 2) I can get booked again there.

One way being from NYC helps: Audiences here are as tough as they get. To paraphrase ol' blue eyes, if you can make 'em laugh here, you can make 'em laugh anywhere. (Well, unless your jokes are all about riding the subway and how dumb people in the south are.)

So if you show up and have a great set, you can prob get booked again pretty easily. But if you're not confident about your ability to do that, it might be a better idea to hold off before getting out there. You don't want to do a shitty set and wind up blacklisted from the place.

Other comics I know have actually set up their own tours which is a cool, DIY way to go about it if you're willing to put in the time to set all that up. From what I've heard, these shows can be pretty hit or miss though.

Of course, if you have an agent, they can set up shows for you. But that's a whole different can of worms...


myq said...

I think part of the answer depends on what is meant by "road gigs."

Do you mean paying gigs? That you can use to make a living as a working road comedian?

That might take more than just knowing someone in another city or two.

There are some bookers in other towns that will accept recommendations from other comics that they trust and respet, and some that watch tapes or DVDs, some that only have live auditions at their club that you have to travel to no matter how far it is from your home, and others that won't talk to you ever anyway.

I don't particularly consider just performing for a couple nights in other big cities like Boston or Chicago being "on the road," as opposed to working a week at a club, or longer in multiple places.
(Though I also started in Boston, so maybe that's partially affecting my judgment of the terminology.)

But back to what the goal is, and what a road gig is.

Does the person who asked the question mean working a weekend in Jersey (performing at the Stress Factory could easily be considered working the road, depending how far down what roads you live from it)?

Does it mean taking a bus or train or plane somewhere to do showcase at a club in a nearby or not nearby city?

Does it mean playing Vegas for two weeks straight, two shows an night?

Does it mean the horrible place you're trying to escape after performing there for so many years?

The answers probably depend on where you're starting from, both geographically and comedy experience-wise.

PS There are definitely some tough audiences outside the New York area as well.
Especially if one comes in exuding the attitude that being from New York makes one's shit not stink. (e.g. "Oh, I've smelled the shittiest shit there is in NYC. Compared to that shit, you guys will be smelling my shit through rose-smelling shit glasses." I don't know if that makes sense but who cares, I live in New York!)

Point is, there can be good or shitty crowds in a lot of places. New York certainly does have more than its fair share of both, I'd say.

Road talk!

Matt Ruby said...

Wait, you mean you can get PAID to do comedy?!

But seriously, all good words from Mr. K. The orig question was from a newbie who's never done any road shows at all (I think) so I was answering the question from the p.o.v. of someone just starting out. At that stage, I think you'll take any stage, regardless of pay.

And yes, there are shitty crowds everywhere. But I'm generally surprised how receptive crowds are in other cities compared to similar size/type crowds in NYC. Maybe I'm just too used to doing shitty shows here, but I sense that people are more genuinely excited to be at a comedy show in the other places I perform. Of course, that's a huge generalization that's nowhere near 100% true.

myq said...

I think you might have a skewed sampling of other cities' gigs, which is good, because it's skewed in the right direction.

For example, if you wanted to head to Boston to do some shows and asked someone that LIKES you what shows you could do, ideally they would recommend good places with good crowds so you'd have a good experience, which I believe is what has happened for you...

But if the person you were asking secretly DIDN'T like you, then they could certainly point you to numerous places in Boston where you might have less of a fine time, even comparable to a New York Shitty time.

(With apologies to the Ochi's show of that name, which I attended for the first time this week and enjoyed a great deal.

What I mean is understood, yes?

Some shows out of town good.
Some shows in NY shitty.
New York Shitty in town good.)

PS I'll also throw this out there, which has probably been discussed before but also has nothing to do with this now exactly...

When starting out in Boston, sometimes people have an inclination to come down and do shows in NYC when they're getting started, but that ends up being a lousy idea often because they get put on bringers and shitty shows because that's all they can find to do at that stage of their development.

So it makes sense to get good (which you can do in Boston, as there IS lots of good stage time, as well as other stage time) and then hit the road eventually when you're more ready for it...

I don't know how that correlates to this question, if you're STARTING in NY. (I always recommend if people have a choice, NOT to start in NY, but rather start in a Boston or Chicago or San Fran or Seattle, somewhere smaller but with a good supportive scene, etc., this is the part that's probably been discussed before.)
But if you're starting in NY, when is it good to hit the road? Sooner? So you know there are real actual good audiences out there somewhere? But not too soon, because how will you make sure someone can recommend you to get on stage in front of these good audiences if you have nothing to back it up or speak for why you should yet officially?

What I'm trying to say, I guess, is everyone get out of NY.

And that's where the beginning of this thread comes in.

Quentin Tarantino movie over.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for all the info guys.

Matt- I have done one road gig before. I was staying in Florida for two weeks and looked on comedysoapbox.com for all comedy clubs in the area. There were a few IMPROV's but of course I didn't have any pull to get a gig there. I found one place in Port St. Loucie, and when the guy asked me why he should let me do a guest spot, I told him I had been doing comedy 4 years (it had been about 2 months), and I could bring a few people..and after emailing a video, although he was hesitant because "the last guy from New York was horrible", he agreed to give me 8-10 minutes. Then he warned me that it was a cruise ship type show- so no vulgarity was allowed. It was a mostly redneck audience, and I had never done a show without cursing (really, I rarely form a sentance without cursing), but it went very well and he believed me that I'd been doing it for 4 years and invited me back for the following weekend. So overall it went very well.

The reason I asked is because I would just like to travel and try to expand my audience. It doesn't necessarily have to be a paid gig. I just want to perform in new places and experience new clubs. I have a confident 20-30 minutes, although I would assume I would not be doing more than 10.

I admit I am new to stand-up, but I am very confident in my jokes and have gotten very good feedback from both comics and audiences, and I just think it would be fun to do shows in other states. I feel like it's a great way to earn a fan base as well.

I may be getting ahead of myself for someone who is new to the scene, but I'm confident enough that I can hang with more veteran comics.

Myq, to answer your question, it meant all of the things you named. working a weekend in jersey, taking a train or plane somewhere, (ok maybe not Vegas for two weeks straight), and just experiencing new places.

I don't have any comedian friends in other states, so do you think I need to rely on just being persistent and making phone calls/emails to clubs like the one in Florida and hoping for the best?

maybe I'll just move to washington and pretend I never lived in NY, and "make my move to NY" in a few years.

thanks again guys.

myq said...


First, that's great that it went well for you in Florida. Certainly, it doesn't seem like it could hurt to cold call clubs in other places if you want to perform more. You've answered your own question--that's certainly one way to do what you want to do.

(One potential downside, and this is all speculative really, I'm not sure if this could or would happen, but if you give a booker video of yourself now and they don't think you're ready for their club, that MIGHT make it more difficult to replace that impression with a better showing later down the road, when if you had just waited until you were better, you might have an easier time of it... Not to say you're not good now, but if you're working at it, you WILL certainly get better.)

A couple more questions, if this is helpful--

You say you've been doing comedy "a short time," how short is that?
(Just for more of a frame of reference.)

When you say you want to "expand your audience," what exactly do you mean by that?

What are your goals with standup ultimately?

Certainly, working the road and different audiences can give you opportunities to grow, test your material on different audiences, and have fun traveling.
(All of which can be accomplished though without leaving NYC as well, except for the fun traveling, unless you consider Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Bronx an international tour, which some might.)

So definitely, keep doing what you're enjoying.

And I don't know if you were being sincere or kidding when you talked about moving to DC and then moving back to NY later, but if you have the opportunity to do comedy for some time in a smaller scene where you can get more work and development done, that certainly sounds like an idea that can work, as far as furthering your growth possibly quicker than you could either in NYC or on the road (or do some combination of all your options).

The middle!

Jonathan said...

Thanks Myq...

I agree cold calling is one way to do it, but I don't really want to have to lie again to get a spot...I see what your saying about not wanting to show my stuff too soon, and I've certainly thought about that. I guess I would just have to hope for the best.

I've been doing comedy for about 4 months.

When I say expand my audience, I mean try to build a fan base in other areas. Not necessarily expand to different types of people, because I can't control who comes and who doesn't..but I think it would be beneficial to get my name circulating in other places- whether it be to audience members or people who own/run clubs.

That is a good question about my goals. Originally I got into stand-up because I want to be a comedy writer. I know it can take years to get established as a comedian, and I didn't really have any intentions of making a career out of stand-up...but after I did a few shows and started getting good feedback, I thought to myself I would definitely love to do this for a living. But my ultimate goal is to be a comedy writer, and I know a lot of stand-ups get hired to do just that. I actually recently submitted a writing packet to be a writer for Important Things With Demetri Martin, so I'll find out within the next two weeks if I got the position. But I'd definitely love to continue doing stand-up as long as I can.

I was half kidding about moving, but at the same time it really wouldn't be a bad idea. Obviously there is so much competition in NY, but I'm pretty new to everything and am still meeting lots of new people so I will definitely stay here for a while (not to mention I can't afford to go anywhere else).

How do you go about getting gigs in China Town or Little Italy? I would love to do different kinds of spots like that. I recently did a sweet 16 and although the venue definitely didn't cater to me as a comedian, it really helped to be in a different setting.

Again, thanks for all the help, it's greatly appreciated.

myq said...

Oh yeah, I meant to say that lying is bad.
(Cold calling good--lying bad.)

You said you have 20-30 minutes, and if that's the case, then you should try to get a set of that length recorded, which you can then use to submit to bookers and you won't have to lie at all.

Though I will also say, at four months, I honestly don't think building a national fan base should be anywhere near the top of your list of priorities.

Which is fine, doesn't mean you shouldn't still try to travel, because it can be fun and good for your comedy's growth anyway--to hone the comedy you have and create more...

One last quick thing about the material you have, I've never seen you, so I have no specific knowledge of this--but in general, when people start out, they over-estimate the quality and quantity of their comedy output (some even say by a factor of three, but surely it can't be that exact a science).
And you very may well get better at writing and performing to the point where in a year, you'll look back and think "how could i have been confident in THAT 20-30 minutes?"

It's great that you're that prolific, but also think about it like this--Carlin took between two and three years on average to get all the material for a new 90-minute special, after he had been doing comedy for 30, 40, 50 years. Louis CK does have a new hour a year sometimes, but he's Louis CK and that's STILL impressive. And you've got a half hour after four months? Again, not saying you don't, but just saying that you'll have a half hour you're even MORE confident in a couple years.

Regardless, I'm not trying to rain on your parade--I'd say the best thing to do at this point (for your standup goals of getting more work in specific, and just to have in general) would be to try and get your set down on tape, the best 20-30 minutes you can.
And you can definitely use that, like I said, to submit to some bookers wherever you like.

Good luck!

Jonathan said...

right. cold calling good. lying bad. got it. I think that will be my first tattoo.

about recording my 20-30 minutes. I have 2 questions.
1. how would I go about getting a spot that allows that much time?
2. Don't bookers stop watching your tape after a few minutes anyways?

I completely agree that after 4 months, building a national fanbase would not be a top priorpity..but I don't think it's such a bad thing to start marketing myself. I certainly think that it can be a bad thing to market yourself too soon, and you want people to see the best product you can put out there, but maybe I'm just too confident, I don't know.

I understand what you're saying about my material and just starting out. I have heard it from many people and I agree over time there's no way I don't get better and develop new, stronger material. And I know I will. But I also know the whole point of stand-up is to make people laugh and I've been doing that with the material I have.

Again, I completely agree that I will only get better over time. And I'm sure I won't be using a lot of the stuff I'm using now. But I've heard people say "you won't use any of the material you used in your first year." And I just can't agree with that. Maybe it's more because it just doesn't fit my "voice" rather than the quality of the jokes, and that is fine.

This is frustrating to type because I'm sure I'm coming off as a very arogant new comer, and I assure you I'm not. I'm not saying i'm a prodigy in anyway. But a lot of top comics say they bombed for the first year or so, and that it took them a while to get the hang of it. I personally have been comfortable since day one, and I guess I just kind of new right away this was the right thing for me.

I'm not trying to be big headed about anything. I'm just going off what other comedians say, and the crowd reactions I get. But I know I've got a long ways to go before I really start to perfect anything, and I'm excited to see how I'm doing in a few years.

I appreciate you taking the time to answer all these questions Myq. I of course have seen your stand-up and you don't need me to tell you how funny you are, so what you tell me certainly has plenty of validity.

Do you have any weekly shows I can come check out?

thanks again dude.

myq said...

Thanks for the kind words.

Firstly, I honestly wouldn't call you arrogant until I had seen your act.
Like I said, I've just presented some generalizations that obviously don't hold for everyone.
While there are plenty of great comics who sucked at the get-go, there are also some who are exceptions for sure.

One other generalization though, that's been shared by others older and wiser than myself, is that even though you may be getting lots of laughs now, you might find that in the future, the quantity and quality of the laughs you get are even greater in comparison to the ones you're getting now.
Or, you might think you're killing now, but you might also find you'll be killing at a much higher level later.
In other words, yes, as you say, the point of standup is to make people laugh, but there's a whole range of how and how much you're doing that.

As far as what other comedians say to you about your act, I certainly won't say not to trust anything a comedian says (because that would create a logical paradox, for one thing), but without knowing exactly who is saying what and how, I can't comment on the specifics of YOUR situation, but I will say this... Another old generalization I've heard is, when you start out, lots of people will tell you you're good when you're not, and then when you GET good, they'll stop telling you, and that's how you know you're good.
(To be honest and fair though, I KNOW that doesn't hold for anyone. Certainly, there are good, friendly comedians who will give it to you straight, good or bad, and if those are the ones providing positive feedback, then wonderful. And especially you're getting compliments from veterans of much more experience than yourself, then wonderful double.)

As far as this statement: "I certainly think that it can be a bad thing to market yourself too soon, and you want people to see the best product you can put out there, but maybe I'm just too confident, I don't know."
I'll just agree for now... Again, I don't know anything about the specifics of your situation and/or act, so I don't know whether it's good or bad to be marketing yourself at this point.
But generally speaking, there are very few people I know of who have greatly benefited from marketing before they've even been in it for one year, and I know MANY people for whom the opposite is true.

It's good to have confidence. It's also good to have self-awareness.
(Which can include the awareness of appropriate confidence levels.)

In any event, maybe I'll see you somewhere soon, and we can put all the fun hypothesizing to rest, and I can tell you definitively whether you're making a horrible mistake or a wonderful career move. (I'm sure it's one of those, no room for gray areas in between.)

And to answer your last question (thanks for asking), I do have a weekly show happening at least for the next two Wednesdays (June 24 and July 1), 7:30pm at the Tank, at the 45th St. Theater just east of 9th Ave. in Manhattan. It's called the Micah/Myq Club, and Micah Sherman and I host it, with jokes, stories, songs, sketches, improv, and other types of fun.

Hope other people are enjoying this back and forth enough to warrant us not having it over email personally where no one else can see.


Jonathan said...

No problem Myq.

I think all of this got blown way out of proportion. Or it may not have...i'm not sure how you are viewing things. I in no way think I'm ready for my own special or anything remotely close to that. I just thought it would be fun to do some road gigs. I know it will take time to get even better, and like I said before, I'm excited to see where this all leads.

I completely agree with what your saying about the amount of laughs. I realize I have some jokes that get much harder laughs then others, and the goal is to get every joke at that level. I guess I feel I can more or less "hang" with those who have been doing it for a while, if that makes sense.

I also agree with what your saying about trusting others. And I've quickly learned who to trust and who not to. It's sad that some people out there aren't looking out for your best interest. Even something as little as answering these questions is such a big help for someone like me, so I really do appreciate you taking the time Myq.

I pretty much agree with everything you just said in the email...I think I have the self-awareness to go along with the confidence, although perhaps sometimes I let it get the best of me. Honestly it just really excites me to think about doing road gigs and meeting new people outside of NY. I'm not trying to have my own cd or special- more just trying to get my name out there.

That would be great if you saw my set sometime- it sounds like you would be very straight forward with me and I'm eager to hear some honest opinions.

I can't make the show this Wed. but I put July 1st on my google calendar (which makes it official), so I'll definitely come by to catch the show. Looking forward to meeting you dude.

(and thanks Matt for facilitating this convo through your blog!)

myq said...

I don't think anything got blown out of proportion, unless you mean that this conversation needn't have been eleven public blog comments' worth in length.
In which case, touche, possibly.

I think it's a reasonable discussion.

Yes, it's fun to do road gigs, and doing guest spots at clubs that will put you up sounds like a perfect thing to strive for.
As well as trying to put together a tape of a longer set that you can eventually use to get paid work potentially.

(Speaking of which, I didn't mean to ignore your specific questions, which I'll answer now, probably not super-helpfully.)

"1. how would I go about getting a spot that allows that much time?
2. Don't bookers stop watching your tape after a few minutes anyways?"

As far as number one goes, it's usually something that gets built up to. Obviously in NYC most of the spots are shorter than that, but there are various shows at various times at various places (I'm not intending to be holding back specifics from you, just speaking in generalities for ease and time and lack of specific knowledge), and you'll find out about such things as you go.

As far as question two goes, the answer is "sometimes." But there are definitely bookers and venues that will watch an entire 20 or 30 minute set, because if they're booking you to perform for 20 or 30 minutes, they want to make sure that you HAVE 20 to 30 minutes. (Some college bookers will ask you for an hour-long tape, because if they're pitching you to perform at schools for an hour, they're not going to take it on faith that you have it, necessarily.)
Additionally, even if a booker DOESN'T watch your whole tape, they might watch a couple minutes at the top, a couple in the middle, and a couple at the end, or some other combination.
But just because they're not watching the whole thing doesn't mean they don't want to see that you HAVE a half-hour tape. For the same reasons as above, PLUS having that tape shows them that you're someone that has at least DONE a half-hour, which is a prerequisite for a lot of people to book you to DO a half-hour.
(Which brings us back to question one, and the age-old catch 22 of "how do you get the experience without having the opportunity, and how do you get the opportunity without the experience," to which the answer HERE is "just keep at it, don't worry about it for now, the relevant experiences will come with time and make themselves known to you, or you're living in a dreamworld, so just enjoy it.")

So, there are some answers to your last thing.

Back to this one--I do understand your usage of the word "hang," thanks for agreeing with me (even though you're not required to), look forward to seeing you at my show and/or me at your show sometime in the future.

Proportion blown back down enough?

Jonathan said...

First of all- congrats on winning the NY comedy contest! very cool.

I meant blown out of proportion in that it went from a conversation of how to get road gigs to why I think I'm the messiah of comedy (not really, but that's what it felt like). I just got nervous you were thinking "who the hell is this kid."

anyhoo...I see what your saying about going about getting a gig with that long of a set. I'll wait til I'm offered the opportunity and I'll make sure I record it when it presents itself. (I did about 35 minutes at the sweet 16, but it wasn't exactly the best setting to record anything).

I see what your saying about having the 30 minute tape, or even longer. I have lots more questions to ask you but I think I've bothered you enough for now. I know I don't have to agree with what your telling me, but for the most part I've agreed with everything. You obviously know what you're talking about and I sincerely appreciate your advice.

I'll definitely see you on July 1st.

Congrats again on the contest...and your autistic cell phone joke is genius.

Talk to ya soon Myq.

myq said...

Thanks for the congratulations.

And don't worry, I wasn't thinking "who the hell is this kid?"
(I don't use profanity and I didn't know how old you were.)

And you haven't bothered me at all, which IS the perfect amount of bother, so you're right that you have bothered me enough, but if you keep asking questions like you have been, the bother quotient* shouldn't increase by much.

But until then, see you somewhere! (Maybe even not on Matt Ruby's website!)

* Bother Quotient = BQ
BQ = cross between burger king and dairy queen = Burger Queen, a less sexist and patriarchal food chain (but one that still offends vegetarians)

Jonathan said...

no problemo.

ok great. (I'm 23).

well thanks again Myq..and I'm liking the BQ.

see ya soon,

Unknown said...

i just read this entire thread. greetings, Myq. nice to see you dishing out such level-headed advice to a young comic. but am i the only one now really curious to see Jonathan? J, do you have a link to video, audio, anything? a last name? i'd like to check it out.


Jonathan said...

Hey Dylan, to answer your question quite honestly, no, you're not the only one who is curious to see me. I'm a hot commodity right now and people ask me every day when my next shows are. I don't put up videos of myself on the internet because I think people should pay to see my stuff in person. Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free? fuck milk. buy the cow (or in this case $10 cover), and come to a show.

myq said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
myq said...

Sorry to delete my last comment, but Jonathan replied right before mine got sent, so it made it slightly non-responsive.

But look, Jonathan, see how you don't even need road gigs to build some buzz and a following?
All you need is a thread about road gigs on the internet, and Punchline Magazine is there!

I do think it's sensible to not overload the internet with videos too early, as happens sometimes.
(Though having a good short clip up can be helpful in potentially developing more of the widespread following that you've spoken of desiring, no? As well as having something for bookers to see... which you can usually keep private if you don't want just anyone coming across it as well.)

Or do you have a website or myspace or other informational page that does say when and where people CAN come to see you live?
What do you tell people when they ask where you'll be?
Just that wherever you are, it will cost $10 to see you?
Surely people shouldn't just seek out comedy clubs that charge ten bucks and hope to find you there...

Dylan, does Punchline Magazine have a list of venues categorized by ticket price?

Jonathan said...

Wow, imagine if that was my real answer? what an asshole that guy is.

How's it goin Dylan? My full name is Jonathan Morvay. Thanks for reading the thread and asking if I have any stuff online. I recently took my clips/videos off my myspace/youtube because they were all a bit older and I have a dvd that I am in the process of getting online. In all seriousness, if you would like to come to an upcoming show, I'd be happy to take care of your cover. This is the first week since January I don't have any shows because I took off for July 4th and happened to not have any weekday shows. But next week I have gigs on Wednesday and Saturday, both at the Laugh Lounge. If you can't make any, I will record them and send them to you, no problem.

I watched your Paul F. Tompkins interview a few days ago, great job. He seems like a very friendly guy.

And thanks again Myq for all the info. I'll for sure be at your show Wednesday night.

Jonathan said...

damn Myq, was hoping I could send out my second comment before anyone responded. You were way to nice about that first comment! Also, I'll be bringing a few other comics to your show Wednesday, hopefully it helps fill the room. you'll be performing right? or just hosting?

michnyc said...

So I'm 5 years late to the party... but 1. what an awesome dialogue 2. Myq what a mensch 3. in doing research Myq and Jonathan have shared bills together 4. Amazing. I wanna fboko friend J.M, which is fine in the comedy world... but I am gonna wait till I meet the legend himself....

myq said...

welcome to the party!

thanks for the kind words.

Jonathan said...

Eesh, I don't even remember any of this conversation but I'm embarrassed by everything I said. But I was young and naiive and probably too confident for my own good. Thankfully Myq has been nothing but awesome and helpful and kind for the past 6 years.

Jonathan said...

How did anyone even find this?

Moving on/Subscribe to my newsletter

I only post on rare occasions here now. Subscribe to my Rubesletter  (it's at  mattruby.substack.com ) to get jokes, videos, essays, etc...