Should you expect comics you book to draw a crowd?

A reader asks:

Many people book performers hoping for them to have a decent draw. For instance, if you book five comedians, you generally expect each to bring around five fans so you can have a nice show with 20 to 30 audience members.

But at some point, a performer's doing a show each night (or even multiple shows), so are they still expected to draw a crowd to every one of their performances? How do you handle this, as both someone who books variety shows and also as someone who performs at many shows?

Are you a club bringing in a big name guy? Then sure, you can expect him to have a decent draw (presumably in proportion to how much ya pay him). But for the kinda shows I do, I think it's the job of the producer to get people in the room. I don't think you should expect comedians you book to draw people (unless you explain that when you ask them to do the show).

Now you can encourage comics to bring friends and ask them to promote the show online or at Facebook. But I don't think you should be upset if they fail to bring anyone out. And that's especially true if that person runs their own show (it's tough enough to promote your own show, much less other people's shows you're on too).

If you can't fill your room consistently, get a smaller room. And if you can't do that, maybe you're better off hosting a mic where you'll (hopefully) get other comics to show up at least.


Dan Fontaine said...

totally agree with matt here. if nobody attends your show you only have yourself to blame... and i should know, i've had a few 0'fers in my day.

Unknown said...

"I think it's the job of the producer to get people in the room. I don't think you should expect comedians you book to draw people"


Abbi Crutchfield said...

I agree, but I'd also add that it's the job of the venue to participate in promotion. They get regulars, they have newsletters, they have a chalk board. They should view the show as an extension of the venue.

In my experience of producing a show, you need the venue to back you 100% and be just as excited about the show as you. If they require a minimum, they're responsible for enforcing it. You're responsible for putting on a high-quality show that keeps folks coming back.

Timmy Mac said...

I hear you, but I'm not sure I agree with you 100%. I own a club where we offer a door deal to all the comics, and one of our expectations is that they'll help promote the show. We figure we could either take the money and spend it on advertising or use it to give the comics to promote their shows. More promotion equals more money.

I gather you're doing showcase type stuff where you're not getting paid, so I totally see your point. It's unfair for a venue to totally put it on you. But it's 2010, and there are plenty of tools available for comics to promote their shows. As a club owner, I might not hold it against someone for not promoting, but I'll definitely notice who does when it's time to book money spots.

YouJean Chang said...

I agree. It seems to me, outside of comedy nerds and comics themselves, the average person doesn't seem to know most of the comics in the alt scene. I would say the average person doesn't know what the Montreal Comedy Festival is. (No offense to those who have that as a credit) Like unless the comic has their own tv show or something as major, most people probably won't recognize them. To be realistic, there are like over 100 comedians out there with some kind of TV credit, so for the average person to be like "Oh yeah, I remember that one guy from that one show from a 100 different shows on tv. I remember he was funny." is highly unlikely.

However, I do think there is an element of branding to having a TV credit. A person attending a show knows that there is a certain quality behind it so that they're getting their money's worth or opportunity cost of attending the show if it's free (not to state the obvious).

Abbi Crutchfield said...

@ Timmy Mac:

"one of our expectations is that they'll help promote the show."

Absolutely, the producers are responsible for promoting. My point is that it is an uphill battle if the venue does not assist in supporting the show. Not financially, but with their own networking tools they already use. They can't be motivated to do that if they're not already invested in the show's success, which is why I say a venue has to be just as excited about having a show there as the producers.

Yes, I'm speaking about restaurants, coffee shops, poetry houses, and not comedy clubs. I'm unfamiliar with the comedy club machine and exactly what drives it. I've seen bookers turn great comics away because they don't anticipate them having enough draw, and I assume it's because their focus is on selling tickets first and making the audience want to come back second.

Timmy Mac said...

The "comedy club machine?" We have 75 seats in a basement in Boston. But all we do is comedy shows. We're hardly a cog in Big Comedy.

We book people for a lot of reasons - mostly because we think they're funny. If they're excellent marketers or legitimate draws, well, that goes into our thinking, too. If someone's going to fill the room with people who really dig them, why wouldn't we want that?

For what it's worth, we've also said no to some big acts we just don't think are funny but who would have filled our room, because we have a brand, too.

But let me ask you this - in the age of Facebook, email marketing, blogs and social media, why AREN'T you trying to develop a draw of your own? There's space between "friends and family" and "major TV star draw" that you as a comic can and should be actively developing.

Matt Ruby said...

Timmy, if you're offering a door deal to comics than I agree that changes the equation.

Lincoln Lodge in Chicago has a system where they ask everyone who comes in who they are there to see and then pay the comics 1/2 of the cover charge for each of those people. Good incentive to bring out some folks.

Unfort most spots in NYC alt rooms are unpaid. That's life. This might be a situation where the NYC scene is unique so diff rules apply.

Also, I agree with ya that comics should work on building a fanbase. I produce two shows of my own though so I'm trying to draw people to come out to those shows. That's my priority. I'm not going to work overtime to get these people to come out to someone else's show if I'm not getting paid for it.

Luke Thayer said...

Shouldn't the number one priority a comedian have be to the art of comedy? Getting funnier all the time is our job and there is only so much energy to go around.

Shouldn't fan bases be earned? You know, by being really funny after years of hard work? Not because you have a million myspace or facebook or buzz (like that current reference) friends?

Now back to the original question, at the couple shows I host, there is rarely a name that draws people in--and we have some great and popular comedians that roll through our shows. We never require any comic to bring friends to the show to perform (we'll leave that up to the bringer shows).

Occasionally a comic has friends in town or in the neighborhood and they come to check them out. But that's not a majority of our audience. We promote the show the best we can, and then we get repeat crowd members by putting on a great show. The comic's responsibility is to be funny and have fun.

Timmy Mac said...

@Luke Thayer

I see your point, for sure, and a comic's first priority should be his craft, but a fan base is developed, not earned. Even those big name draws have management teams working to develop the fan base.

I don't think it's insane to suggest comics should have the basic marketing competence that every single garage band in the world has.

I mean, let's say a guy comes out to one of your shows. Maybe he loves comedy, maybe he knows someone else on the show. Whatever. Point is, he sees you and loves you. Gets you. Thinks you're Andy Kaufman meets Bill Hicks meets Lord Buckley. Digs your comedy for all the right reasons.

What are you going to do to take that guy and get him to more shows?

@Matt Ruby

You're right - if you're not getting paid, then I can't see that you have much of an obligation to get people there, in theory. But the reality is that people who hustle up a crowd will probably get more spots. It would be nice if comedy was a strict meritocracy, but it sure as heck isn't, so you might as well learn the game and play it to your advantage.

Anonymous said...

@Abbi Crutchfield
It feels a little like you're passing the buck. The producer of a comedy show chooses the venue - it's the producer's job and responsibility to find a venue that's supportive. There are too many times I do shows in crappy venues, which is insane in a city where there are so many beautiful open spaces just waiting for a quality comedy show. (What's worse is when I see a show in a crappy room and ANOTHER comic comes in and starts producing ANOTHER show in the same room on a different day. Really? You can't find another room?) If the venue isn't helpful, it's incumbent upon the producer to move the show until he/she finds a supportive venue.

@Luke Thayer
It's called show BUSINESS. If you want to just be an artist, that's fine. But if you actually want to make money and make a living by doing comedy, you have to do business-y things, like promote yourself and build a fanbase. Obviously, the reason we all do this is for the art of it, but you can't just assume the business thing will follow.

@Timmy Mac
You're 100% right. If there are two comics of equal or almost equal skill and one brings friends and one doesn't, who's going to get booked more? I don't think it's unfair for a booker/producer to book the first guy in this example over the second guy - his job as booker/producer is to fill the seats, which guarantees a good show for everyone. (Obviously, it becomes a much stickier problem if the guy who brings friends is much less skilled than the guy who doesn't; that decision is much tougher.)

Timmy Mac said...

If it makes anyone feel better, I just got chewed out by the guy I did a show for tonight for not promoting hard enough.

bunsandpuns said...

Totally agree with Sean!

Its great when the comics bring some friends, but I put in many hours each week into promoting the show and I think that is why we have had good turn outs most of the time. The Producer has to believe in his Product, and actually put time into creating Buzz (or buns) so that you don't have to rely on comics bringing their friends or fans to make it a great show.

Most of January I was out of town performing and I still put in the same amount of time from a far on producing "Buns and Puns,"because I wanted the comedians who I booked to have a great opportunity to showcase there talent in front of a good audience!

Since I have been producing the show, about 1 year now, I have had only a few people bring fans, I was lucky that Steve Martin brought two people!

Jonathan Powley

Myq said...

@YouJean: you are right, there are definitely more than 100 comics
with TV credits. But better to have one of those than a TV debit, am I
right? Eh?
(I thought I would open with a joke. Was I right? Did I? Eh?)

So, everyone said everything already (sorry I had no reliable internet
for a week); there's different contexts in which different
expectations are warranted and appropriate, regarding geography,
money, attitudes of all involved, other things...

Incentivizing getting comedians to bring people is good, not demanding
comedians to bring people is good also.
Promoting your shows is good; the venue promoting their shows is also good!
Building a fanbase is good, so is building your creativity and art power.

Everyone wins! Good work, everyone
(Matt, do I get something for bringing more commenters to this blog?)


@Anonymous: I prefer to think that it's called SHOW business, not show BUSINESS.

soce said...

@Myq. Now you went and started something. I believe it's really more about sHOW BUSiness, as in HOW can I get people on this BUS, and then drive them into a lake.. of my comedy? Think about it.

Myq said...

I like it.

shOW buSINess...

My comedy is so hot it burns people, and that's a sin, which is why
it's burning hot, like hell. Also maybe your lake could be made of
fire. Hot comedy fire. Made from an exploding bus.

Abbi Crutchfield said...

@ Soce: LOL

@ Myq: I always thought it was spelled Showbizness, and that the focus was on pizza first, animatronics second.

@ Anonymous: "it's the producer's job and responsibility to find a venue that's supportive." I agree.

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