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Not even expenses !??!

I looked on Facebook for gigs to apply for today. Saw this and several others like it:
“no money on offer for these spots, but you will get a free drink” – that was a for an event charging £3 entry, in Pontypool.

I’ve done loads of these gigs. They’ve given me stage time. And, as part of my need for approval from strangers or search for commercial success or even an altruistic desire to make people laugh, I’ve spent thousands of pounds travelling the country to perform unpaid.

 “I need two unpaid middle 10s” – gig charging £3 entry, Newcastle.

As someone who’s driven from the South coast to Teeside to perform for 2 minutes 20 seconds at a gong show, let me say this clearly – I don’t disapprove of unpaid sets at comedy nights.

No, let me correct myself – I don’t disapprove of unpaid comedy sets at free comedy nights. But it increasingly depresses me to do, or see, unpaid spots at paid entry nights, without even the proverbial nod towards expenses.

“I need two 10 spots for the middle section, no fee but free coffee & cakes” – £4 entry, Coventry.

Most of us have done those spots, and we know lots of promoters who use unpaid acts at paid entry gigs in their business model. I say, change your business model!

As well as performing, I run several paid entry gigs a year and all acts get paid – even the middle ten spots. Not much, but enough to take the sting out of a car journey while giving those acts the experience of working alongside professional, decently paid, comedians from the UK circuit.

My view is quite simply put :
a) everyone – promoters, acts and audience – understands that free entry comedy involves the chance that some acts may not be very funny, as they’re new or running out new material. The acts get stage time, the audience get some free laughs through the night and the venue get extra bar sales.
b) Once you charge people to watch comedy, the whole game changes
– audience members deserve the promoter’s best effort to provide comedians who can make them laugh. The attitude that a couple of lazily chosen and untested acts in the middle “will do” is disrespectful to the audience and damaging to reputations.
– acts have been deemed good enough to put in front of a paying audience, so at least pay something towards their expenses. The prospect of progression is occasionally real but more often covers the fact that the other acts, promoter and/or venue are benefiting while they’re not!
– the venue still get their bar sales!

  “We’re after two more acts … winner on the night gets a paid set” – £5 entry, Brighton.

In short, if you are a promoter who offers stage time for acts to perform for nothing at free entry comedy nights, I salute you!  You will still be handing out flyers, putting up posters, doing stuff on social media to draw people in, as well as hoping that word of mouth helps swell future audiences.

If you’re a promoter who offers stage time for acts to perform for nothing during a paid entry comedy night, then you’re thoughtlessly selfish at best, deliberately exploitative at worst.

And, while I profoundly disagree with your actions, I’ve probably applied for a slot at your gig today!

What matters most to you?

I like music. I’m not an expert in any genre but, as someone who grew up when The Beatles and Rolling Stones were pushing back the barriers that rock’n’roll had already turned over, when Bowie and Bolan were tearing new paths in popular culture, I just have to like music.

I like all sorts of music – looking at me, you may not think I’d enjoy dance music but I do (some of it) and am saddened by the early death of Avicii. At 28 years old he’d achieved a huge amount and his music has helped keep me alert many times on those late night car journeys home from comedy gigs. On his website he said “We all reach a point … where we understand what matters most to us. For me it’s creating music. That is what I live for, what I feel I was born to do”.

Anyone, of any age, who knows what makes them happy inside – what stirs them, what drives them on –  is very lucky. I spent over 40 years in an I.T. career I didn’t enjoy at the beginning and hated at the end – to the point where I’d regularly throw up before setting out to work.

Only when redundancy gave me time to investigate “what makes me happy about me” did I discover that I could make people laugh. Now in my 60’s, I’m unlikely to ‘achieve’ a great deal – I’m not going to be on TV or even making a living from performing – but nothing makes me happier than getting that first laugh when I’m gigging, or seeing lots of regular audience members return to the shows I run. I might have taken a while but I’ve found “what I feel I was born to do”. 

Make that your mission in 2018 and beyond. No-one knows how long they have on this earth, so make the most of your passion for music, comedy, art or even I.T !

What promoters want …

I gig a bit and I always try to be “professional” as well as funny – I research where I’m going, when I’m meant to be there, how long will the car journey take (and add a bit!), where to park, etc.

I also book acts for my club night and a few other gigs. And, I’ve found that there’s several acts who don’t do these things – not many but too many when you consider they are “pro comedians”. They don’t respond in a timely fashion to emails and texts, they arrive late for the gig, some don’t even know how much they’re being paid. So, when I book an act, what do I hope for?

Prompt and professional communications.
It’s often necessary to book a night by a certain date,  or to receive bio, photos, etc., for publicity. So, if you can’t reply now because of <insert reason>  then just tell me that, giving a date when you’ll get back to me. If you don’t respond I may well move on to use someone else.

Easily available information.
Ideally  your own website – with :
Bio – not your life history, just a career summary with some highlights. This eases the process of writing publicity material, press releases, etc.
Quotes – nothing better on a poster than a good, sexy quote. Preferably from a media or industry source, the more identifiable and well known the better.
Photos – I need to design posters. I can always use a head and shoulders shot. I need to use images in publicity posts on social media – I can use all sorts of shots in those. And please make sure that some of your photos are taken against a plain background – a background that contrasts with your appearance, hair, etc. That helps enormously with image manipulation.
Videos – if I don’t know you, a well recorded video (with quality sound!) recording of your full set might persuade me to book you. Hint : don’t make this generally available on the web. Keep it private, send me the link, but don’t put it where my audience can see it, else they’ll have seen most of your act before you turn up.
Having offered you the gig, what I then need is 45  second to 60 second ‘clips’ to use in Twitter and Facebook publicity posts. A taster, a ‘titillator’ to persuade a potential but wavering audience member to buy a ticket to see you. To me, these are the most useful videos and so few acts have them.

Contact details.
I usually ask for them. I fully intend to, but may forget. And, then, you’re a little bit late and my heart is racing, it’d be so much easier if I could call you and find out how far away you are.
Here’s a wild idea – volunteer your details, give the promoter your mobile number before you’re asked. Brownie points accrued straight away!

I’ll update and tidy this post over time as more thoughts pop into my head about what promoters want from an act.
Of course, we also want you to be funny !

Comedy is a great way to …

… make people laugh.

I’ve seen a good number of Edinburgh Previews this year.

They were in various stages of ‘Ed Ready-ness’, which is to be expected.

However, one thing missing from several shows was – laughter!
These were shows from pro comedians with solid and successful club sets.
They had a theme to hold the show together. The shows were complete inasmuch as they were appropriately long with a beginning, middle and end. In all but one case there wasn’t much resort to notes or prompts. They made interesting points using interesting words – like an informal lecture.JN
There just wasn’t much in them to make anyone laugh. On one occasion this resulted in a basic but accurate heckle – “you’re not funny!”. Other times, the audience just left grumbling quietly.

The same at a club gig a while back :
The headliner closed the night with material that they were passionate about – but it just wasn’t funny. The set plummeted downhill. They then further destroyed the atmosphere by blaming the audience for being mainly middle aged and middle class! I later heard the comedian say “I know I’m funny, because I gig with <famous name here> and they like what I do”.

Afterwards, I wished I’d said “You’re looking in the wrong direction for your approval”. But I didn’t – I was overawed by their TV and Radio writing credits, the critically acclaimed arts and comedy shows they’ve scripted and performed in.

Use comedy for other ends if you’re driven to do that. Write a show or set to educate as well as amuse. But always put the audience first.
Make them laugh and they’ll listen to you.
But you have to make them laugh.

It’s the feelin …

To paraphrase Maya Angelou “They won’t remember what you say, they won’t remember what you do – but they will remember how you make them feel”.

I believe that this is some of the best guidance that a comedian could ever ask for. Combined with liberal application of Millican’s Law, they should get you successfully through most of the  angst filled, self directed inquests that we all conduct on a frequent basis.

They also explain what we sometimes know to be true but struggle to understand – why some comedians with weaker, less well written sets than ours get the bigger applause, the place in the competition final and the paid spot next month.

As clever as your words are, as perfectly as your set is structured, if the audience don’t ‘get’ you then you’ve fallen short. You. Because they’ve felt something negative between you and them; awkwardness at your dark material, dissociation from your cultural references – “that Oyster Card routine usually works” – or confusion at the inconsistent character you present on stage.

So, ask yourself – how do you make the audience feel?