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!