or not to produce.
Producing a show can be a great reward as a comic, but can also drive you crazy.
Published in April 2018 | Free Standup NYC
Article by: Andrew I. Bayroff
Every comic has had the same thought: “If I produce my own show, I can use it to trade spots with other producers. It will be awesome, I’ll get booked everywhere!” A few months later, they find out what nearly every other producer realizes, that’s not how it works.
Running a successful show comes second only to receiving an applause break mid-set. Knowing the audience, comics and staff all had an amazing time during the show is comedy fuel, it feeds your comedy soul, and pushes you to continue to sharpen your skills as a producer. That said, I think you have to ask yourself why you want to run a show in first place. More stage time? Good personal marketing tool? Trade spots? All answers have merit, however, once you begin the process of creating a show, it becomes much more than just messaging a few comics. True, there will always be different levels of produced shows. While some do very little in terms of preparation, some producers decide to dig a deep and invest a more substantial amount of time, energy, and money. It’s the difference between running a show and producing one.
Now, for those saying, “Come on, it can't be that hard. You book some comics, make sure the mic is on, and bam, you’re done.” Sorry, not that easy. I have a 15 point checklist I go through each and every show. These items are no different than any other producer I’ve worked with, however, we all have our own way of handling booking, promoting, and making sure everyone involved has a good time. Oddly enough, the one issue I continue to run into is the comics returning messages in a timely manner. Some either confirm or let me know they are not available right away, while others take days to get back to me, and by then the spot was probably filled by another comic.
As far as responsibilities, you may only be producing the show while someone else is booking, and possibly yet another is generating the artwork for posters and social media. And then there are situations where one person, you, wears all the hats. The more infrastructure your show requires, the more it starts to eat into your personal schedule, time, and perhaps the ability to market yourself to perform. It’s a shit ton of work, but the rewards, usually, are worth the energy spent.
The venue also plays a big part in how much producing a show needs. If you opt to run a bar show, make sure you have full buy-in from the management and staff. Just because the manager or owner said, “Sure, you can run a show here,” means absolutely nothing. Having the owners/manager present during the show means they’re interested in your product. They may just want to make sure the show doesn’t suck and walk their patrons, still, it’s a good sign. Also, producers and comics should treat the staff with respect, and they will help make sure your show is a success. Some printed advertisements so patrons know there is a show, social media, and if needed, you’ll need to buy some if not all the equipment. Pretty low stakes for what can be a decent return. Bottom line: the bar simply doesn’t want you driving customers away, if you draw a crowd, you just bought yourself another week or month.
Now, if you chose to produce a show in a club, you are now under a different umbrella with its own set of rules and regulations. While the club will already have the necessary equipment, you need to keep in mind a few extra details: does the club require a cover, what is your cut, do they have a drink minimum, room time constraints, do they have comics they will “request” you put on your show, and of course the dreaded night that either no audience members show or too little to allow the show to start. At least 8-12 paying audience members are needed to allow a show begin at clubs.
Oh, also, beyond location: if you decide to have a co-producer, please, please, please, choose someone you can trust, can depend on, and will actually do work, not just want to add their name to the poster and ride your coat tails.
That said, just so no one can accuse me of all doom and gloom, here are just a few pros, and cons, to running your own show:
You run your show the way you want
You book who you want
Dedicated stage time each week/month
You chose to set the budget
Potentially use it to barter for other spots
Great addition to your comedy resume
Gives you an appreciation when you perform on and watch other shows
Get to know comics you may never have met
You will almost immediately be contacted for a spot on your show by comics you either know, somewhat know, or have never heard of
You’re on the hook for all promotions
Your money is the show’s budget
Dealing with egos
Comics showing up late, not showing up, canceling during the show
Dealing with egos
Now, the intention of this article is not to sway you from running your own show. Becoming a producer can be an extremely fulfilling endeavor, both as a comic and learning more about the business of comedy. If you do decide to run a show, I wish you nothing but success. Also, please don't take my word or opinion on the subject. I asked some of my comic/producer friends, see what they have to say about their own personal experiences. I ask that you message us a few months after you begin your show, I am very interested to hear your thoughts.
Quotes from notable producers:
Todd Montesi - Crashing, UG! Comedy Show
"Producing your own comedy show will teach you how to actually PRODUCE, manage egos, and actually how to market and promote yourself (which are actually the real keys to surviving and thriving in the coldest biz in the world) It has made me a more confident performer and promoter of myself and my brand. Oh, and I'm pretty sure I've lost Wednesdays for the last 10 years of running a weekly comedy show but hey, sacrifices amirite?"
Stephon Bishop - Stash!
"I’ve been producing STASH Comedy for two years and I’m mad I didn’t start earlier. It’s the fastest way to learn the business while still growing as a comic."
Seamus Stackpoole - Camden Comedy Present, Dublin
"Producing a show will either take a little piece of you with it, or it'll give you something back, and you've no way of knowing which it will do until you do it."
Jill Weiner - LAp DAnce SAloon
"Producing a weekly show with my dear friend Jeffrey Emerson is so much fun! We get to meet so many comics and see so many different styles of comedy, it really is the best way to be exposed to all of it. And when you've put together a good show where the audience is with it and the comics are relaxed and everybody's just laughin' and havin' fun, there's no better feeling. Also being able to give your friends the opportunity to shine and perform somewhere that isn't a sad open mic makes ya feel pretty good. The only bad thing about producing a show is the panic that happens every week when you are certain no one will come. Other than that it is an absolute blast and I'm lucky to do it!"
Andrew Ian Bayroff has been producing shows for over 6 years. His experience includes, "The In/Between Comedy Show", "Project Laughs" at a men's homeless shelter, "Laugh It Off" at Broadway Comedy Club, "A good old fashioned comedy show" at Lucy's Laugh Lounge, as well as the 5-year running Free Standup Festival throughout NYC, Brooklyn, and Queens.
Mark Anthiony Remirez
"...There's a difference between running a show and producing one.