Comedy clubs vs. rock clubs

Eugene Mirman discusses doing comedy in rock clubs in a couple of old interviews...

1. Stay Free! interviews Eugene Mirman

STAY FREE!: That brings me to a whole other thing, which is that you went on a rock tour.

MIRMAN: I really like playing rock clubs, but it can be more work if an audience doesn't know you.

STAY FREE!: The comedy shows you host are structured more like rock shows than comedy. At the crappy comedy clubs here, they make the comedians bring X number of people before they're allowed to perform.

MIRMAN: Well, that's a "bringer" show. None of the people I know do those shows anymore, or would ever. That's when you're starting out. I find it easier to get on Conan O'Brien than to perform regularly at some of the clubs here, so I just don't really try anymore. Not that I tried that hard.

STAY FREE!: So it wasn't really a complex thought process of, "Oh, I'm not going to run my shows like that because that's lame."

MIRMAN: Right. When people ask me to perform at clubs, or if I audition for something, I'll go to a club, but also it's different in New York than in Boston. When I was in Boston, there were three comedy clubs. In most clubs you start as an opener, then you're a "middler," and then you're a headliner, and there's this system. But the system seems pointless and depressing. Here it's kind of different, because there's just a bunch of people performing for 20 minutes at a time at a club, as opposed to an opener. Anyway, the point is that rock clubs and alternative spaces are, for me, just as good if not better exposure, they're fun, and you make more money. The argument against it is that it doesn't exist. You have to make it. That's what's inconvenient about it. You have to create your own thing, which I personally enjoy.

2. Dead-Frog interviews Eugene

Also when I was talking to Mike, I told him that his material is equally at home at some place like “Invite Them Up” and at a comedy club. Do you feel the same way about your own material?

What I feel in terms of comedy clubs is that some are great and some are not, but I’d rather just draw my own audience that wants to see me. If I’m in a comedy club, it’s good in a sense that you do get other random people. But if you do it a rock club or a theater, the people who are coming to see it want to see you or someone you’re with or someone with a certain sensibility. Not to see comedy in general.

And the truth is I just want people to enjoy what I’m doing. I was supposed to do some shows in Vegas. And I was supposed to do eight and I only did two of them. And it was because it was a terrible mismatch. It was a weird bad room where there were people who were in respirators. But the point is they wanted to see entertainment and I would have gladly entertained them. It’s just that I didn’t have anything that they would really enjoy. So I’m just really just trying to find a way to do what I’d like to do.

But I’ve done sets with Patton (Oswalt) at Caroline’s and other stuff, but I’d just rather start my own night and have it always full and do things that I want to do, as opposed to figuring out how to break into some random place.

Why aren't more comics touring rock venues these days? Eugene, David Cross, Comedians of Comedy all did it a few years back. But I can't think of too many who are doing it now.


Abbi Crutchfield said...

It's good to read Mirman say he likes some clubs, but really prefers niche audiences. When I first heard about him I was under the impression he was anti-club and pro-alt rooms only. And a lot of my comedian peers jumped on that bandwagon like clubs were some kind of disease in the city. Bringers suck and should be abolished, but clubs can be a great venue to see comedy.

Rock clubs are cozy and fun, but so are coffee shops, bars, etc. "Music venues" is a better term for where comics can perform because it implies that there will be a stage and good sound equipment. Bowery Hall is mainly a poetry venue but lends itself to the "music venue" description. Besides, I don't know what real "rock clubs" exist here. That term sounds so '80s. Webster Hall?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if rock clubs found comedy shows profitable? Or as profitable as booking a band in its place?

I love Eugene. What he has to say here is awesome; taking the d.i.y. aesthetic from punk/indie music into comedy's the best part about alternative comedy. It provides an outlet for people who don't fit into clubs where you're expected to say things like, "So, I'm Italian!" 55 times a set.

What he says about money is spot on, too. Why do a show where you get whatever guarantee the club owner is willing to pay when, instead, you can do your own show where you get whatever you can? It's hard work, to be sure, but it's worth it in the long run. In addition, you also get to have control over what happens -- you book the talent as opposed to having no input, you get to determine stage times as opposed to someone else, etc.

I honestly don't know any comics who have said things like, "Oh, wow, I really can't wait to play this club where I'll get five to ten minutes in front of a bunch of drunk sorority girls celebrating an engagement." But people do it because they think it's what they have to do, or they're unfamiliar with what else is possible. Or, tragically, it's also because of laziness.

Seriously, people -- look to start your own stuff, especially if you don't live in New York, Chicago or LA where there's not a ton of venues.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Yeah, light the fire! One exception to what you say, Anonymous: clubs aren't inherently bad. If there are "a ton of venues" in NYC, Chicago or LA, as you say, that would imply opportunities to perform. Even "five to ten minutes in front of a bunch of drunk sorority girls" is an opportunity, and I don't know too many comedians that would complain about it.

It's not an opportunity to bomb or sell out or pander or lie about who you are for the sake of someone's approval, but a chance to have a conversation with the crowd and grow as an artist. If your goal is to unleash your genius on unsuspecting civilians, get over yourself. You're there to connect by making people laugh. Even if that means teasing them about their penis straws.

I am pro-comedy club as a venue.

I am anti-comedians who produce bringers and suck their peers dry (of money, networking capability, time and energy) for the sake of having a show at a comedy club. I am anti-club-owners who are too absorbed with the business-side of running the club, that they take advantage of the talent and audiences.

Each comedy club in New York is run in very different ways, and if a comedian becomes a regular there it is more a reflection of his or her fit with the owner (or the owner's business model) rather than his or her choice to talk about being Italian.

soce said...

If you have a decent-sized fanbase, it's exciting to be able to book your own shows in your own space. When you charge just $5 a head, even if only 20 people come, suddenly that's a fresh $100 that you've earned if you get to keep all the door money, and they only needed to pay $5...

... As opposed to most comedy clubs where people pay $50 (including ticket price plus two drink minimum, taxes and tip), but you still only get around $5 to $10 per head. So your friends are out a lot more money, and they probably won't want to pay so much regularly to see you, and you don't make much more (until you're fabulously famous and have a huge following).

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Yeah, but just because that's how most comedy clubs operate doesn't mean they have to do it that way. It takes someone who doesn't like the system to get inside and change it up. I'm Abbi Milk! And I'm here to recruit you!

Anonymous said...

This is the same anonymous as above.

I live in one of the aforementioned cities outside the big three. Where I live, there's only one big stand-up club. They have an open mic once a week with 20 spots. You get 3-5 minutes. If they really like you a lot, you can become a semi-regular. But if you aren't one of the chosen few, you can get on stage about once every three months.

To say this is disheartening is an understatement. There are other open mics here where you're guaranteed to get on for a decent amount of time, but they're at bars in front of mostly other comics.

When I first moved here, there wasn't much of an alternative comedy scene. So, since I really want to perform and perform regularly, I started my own show. It's not straight stand-up (it's mostly sketch and video) but it's something that you'd never see at the big club in town. I did this despite no one having any clue who I am, aside from a handful of other performers.

I've been doing it for almost three years now. It happens once a month and we average a crowd of about 60 people, which is a really strong crowd for where I live. It got to this point through nothing more than a lot of hard work -- when I started, we usually had about five people in the crowd.

But I pretty much forced everyone I know to come. And anyone I met, I told them about the show. And I wrote dozens of press releases. And I network constantly with comics from other cities.

So, it's 100% possible to start a good show without anyone knowing who the hell you are.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

Hey Anonymous, I hear what you're saying. I moved from Indianapolis, IN which 5 yrs ago had a similar comedy scene to the one you describe. If you're starting out, and your only chance to perform is at the club's open mic once a week (and your boss the restaurant-owner doesn't like you taking Tuesdays off so sometimes you have to miss it), you have good reason to be disgruntled and start a show.

I started a show in NYC just so I could get more stage time beyond the dozens of mics. It also kept me from doing bringers. Self-producing live shows is great no matter where you live. And getting feedback from sketch / comedy shorts is as easy as posting to YouTube or Funny or Die. But if you don't have anything tying you to the Town of One Club, maybe you should consider going where there are more opportunities.

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