Putting on a great live comedy show requires very little to do right and yet I’m stunned at how often people completely fuck it up. They somehow manage to get a nice crowd out and then they serve up a piece of shit, poorly organized, 3 hour show that starts off fun and exciting then quickly plummets into a grueling test of endurance.

Why does this happen so often? I’m sure it’s not intentional, but rather that some newer comedians, producers, and venues just don’t know better. I’m here to help. If you can avoid these 10 comedy disasters then you can avoid putting on a shitty show that people will only come to once before they swear off live comedy for life.

 

Here are 10 common things that are making your show a piece of shit (and how to fix them):

1. Shitty lighting.Gavin Eddings B&W

The comics are just shadowy figures standing in a corner with nothing to draw attention to them. Sometimes you’ll get one poorly placed light that will create a shadow on the performers face and is actually worse than doing nothing at all.

clamp light

Although they can sometimes be challenging to place, these inexpensive clamp lights can give you an evenly and well lit stage.

How to Fix It:

Your stage area needs to be well lit and should brightly contrast the rest of the room. When possible, you should dim the house lights as low as you can while still allowing enough light for the audience to see drinks and food. Oh, and for fucks sake don’t use a colored light. For some reason, people think it “looks cool” to light up the stage blue, or red, or yellow, but it just washes out facial expressions and makes everything look like shit. All you need is a bright white, well-lit stage. You don’t necessarily need a professional, high end, $500 spotlight to achieve this either. You can get excellent stage lighting for under $17 using one of these clamp lights from your local hardware store.

2. Your microphone is a piece of shit. Broken Microphone

The mic cord pulls off the bottom of the mic every single time it’s removed from the mic stand. The comics spend more time plugging the mic back in than telling jokes. Your wireless mic randomly crackles and cuts out leaving gaps in sentences, missed set ups, and ruined punchlines. The comics tag everything with “Is it working? Can you hear me?” while someone’s dad tries to figure out what’s wrong.

How to Fix It:

You need a quality sound system with a reliable microphone. I’d always recommend a corded mic, but make sure the god damn thing stays together. The mic cord should securely clip into the bottom of the microphone. If your corded mic is crackling, popping, and cutting out the problem usually is with the cord and not the microphone, so explore that first. If you choose to use a wireless mic just be aware they are prone to numerous problems compared to a wired set up. They can pick up interference, crackle, cut out, and run out of batteries. They’re also more difficult to troubleshoot and correct when issues do arise. You should always have a backup plan in case your microphone shits the bed during a show. You won’t have to halt the entire production if you are immediately ready to change out the batteries, or plug in a back up mic. It’s better to hit a speed bump than a brick wall.

3. Your mic stand is a piece of shit.

Shitty Mic Stand

For the love of Christ please don’t have this fucking contraption of a mic stand at your comedy show! This mic stand is for guitar players and musicians, not comedians.

It’s like two rickety 9 irons duct taped together. It’s squeaky, rattling, and falling apart. You just think about setting the mic in it and it loudly collapses dropping the mic away from your mouth. Or you’ve got that big guitar mic stand with the elbow in it and three baby calf tripod legs that collapse in on you when you pick it up to move it so that you can’t set it back down so you end up fumbling with it until you eventually just give up and lay it on it’s side. Fuck that mic stand.

How to Fix It:

You need a straight mic stand that easily adjusts and stays put. You know, the kind you’ve seen in every comedy club and on every comedy stage on TV your entire life? There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have one of these. A perfectly good, brand new mic stand is $22 on Amazon.com. There is one reason you might not have one of these, actually, and that would be that your comedians continuously break them. I can’t emphasize this enough because it’s a major pet peeve for any comedy producer…please, we implore you, stop nervously fucking with the mic stand throughout your entire set. It’s a pretty simple piece of equipment: It loosens in the middle to raise and lower it and once at the desired height it lightly tightens in the middle to lock it in place. I once watched a comic tighten,adjust, then tighten, then adjust the mic stand for the duration of his 20 minute set; just tightening it and pumping it up and down like he was churning comedy butter. He inevitably stripped the tightening mechanism and broke the stand which would then no longer stay up, at which time he berated the “piece of shit mic stand”. It’s designed to hold the weight of a microphone, not your 260 lbs. hulking tub of shit torso.

4. Your sound system is a piece of shit.BrokenAmp

Your speakers are crackling. The sound is tinny and distorted. It sounds like the comics are on the other end of the drive thru speaker at McDonald’s. Nobody can hear the comics because the volume is too low, or people are wincing because it’s way too fucking loud.

How to Fix It:

You need to do a sound check before your audience arrives. Talk as loud as you will during the show and as low as you will. Make sure everything sounds good and is ready to go well before showtime. The sound system is the single most important piece of equipment to a live comedy show and it’s the one area that you should not be skimping. There are numerous options out there ranging from a couple hundred dollars up to a thousand. Choose something built for public speaking and powerful enough for the venue sizes you’ll be performing at. I prefer the Fender Passport series. They offer great sound quality and all the pieces are self contained in the size of a suitcase making them easily portable.

The Fender Passport makes a perfect comedy sound system. Lightweight, portable, and excellent sound quality.

The Fender Passport makes a perfect comedy sound system. Lightweight, portable, and excellent sound quality.

5. Your show is way too fucking long.bored-audience

There are 7 comics on the line up and they’re each doing 20 minutes and the host is doing 5-10 minutes in between each comic. Then halfway you take a 20 minute intermission. You punish your paying customers with a brutally long 3 hour show. At the 2 hour mark you can see the life leaving their eyes as they’re completely laughed out and over the show. People begin to leave before the show is over and your last couple comics end up performing to a half full, half paying attention, murmuring and exhausted crowd.

How to Fix It:

A show should be scheduled for approximately 90 minutes and should never run over 2 hours. You should never do an intermission. If an intermission is required for some reason just be fully aware that you’re starting from scratch when the show is resumed. The audience needs to get settled, focused, and warmed up again. You’re essentially putting on two shows at that point. The most important thing I can tell you about scheduling live comedy is this: 1. LEAVE THEM LAUGHING and 2. LEAVE THEM WANTING MORE. This means end your shows with the best talent you have available and always err on the side of ending short before running long. I once read a comment card that said “I wish the show was longer. I didn’t want it to end.” Can you think of a better complaint than that? If you run too long and bore your audience it will be the only thing they remember about your show.

6. Your comedians suck.

Open Micer Meme

Being friendly, humble, and self-aware will go a long way when starting out in comedy. If it’s at all possible, and for some people it is not, you should avoid being the delusional open mic’er.

The new guy who is three months in is doing 20 minutes. He’s blatantly reading from a notebook and he’s lashing out at the audience when his material doesn’t get big audible laughs. “Man,fuck y’all I know that shit is funny!” He then cracks at the 12 minute mark and rather than end his set talks about how he has 8 minutes left and usually does better than this…for 8 minutes.

How to Fix It:

I know that every comic has to start somewhere, but there is a right way to work amateurs. Give the new guys a reasonable amount of time they can do. This is generally 5-10 minutes. Don’t book comics who will treat your show like an open mic. If you yourself are the new guy putting the show on for stage time and experience (and good for you if you are!) then at least avoid the other pitfalls on this list and deliver the best possible show with the talent and experience you have. You should also be charging a fair price based on the quality of the show. I’d suggest $5-7 for a well-produced amateur showcase.

StageTimeLogo_png_black

Whether you’re new to comedy, working, or professional, hosting your own trivia night is an excellent way to get stage time while earning additional income and promoting your shows. You’ll get in front of your own audience for nearly 2 hours each night. Subscribe to Stage Time Trivia and bring it to your local venue to establish your own weekly platform to build and grow your personal brand.

 

7. The venue is a piece of shit.Shitty Bar

You’re up behind a pool table in the corner of a bar. The audience is scattered throughout the bar, half paying attention, half talking over you and the other half oblivious. TV’s are on all over the place and people are playing darts directly across from you. If anyone wanted to watch and enjoy the show they simply couldn’t because there’s too much shit happening and they can’t hear you over the talking and bar noise. This is what happens when a venue says, “Sure, you can put on a show” and forces you to jam it into whatever else would normally be happening that night.

How to Fix It

Do not produce shows at venues that do this. I repeat, do not put on shows at venues that do this shit. Selecting the right venue is critical to a good show. The venue owner and management need to have a basic understanding of what you’re doing and accommodate the show to the best of their ability. They need to understand that developing a quality comedy night is in their best interest and will generate more and more revenue as it grows.

Venues come in all shapes and sizes and while some are perfectly set up for comedy, others require a little creativity. Once you have a space that is on board with a comedy night, here are five tips to help your show run smoothly:

  1. People need to be there for comedy; make sure your audience is ready and aware that a comedy show is happening.
  2. Seat your audience grouped together from close to the stage to farther away. The general public has a natural inclination to sit in the back of the room and watch the show from afar, so you will need to actively combat this. The easiest way to do this is to take away the option to sit wherever they want. Set up reserved seats, or have someone seating people as they come in.
  3. The room should be set up with every seat facing the stage.
  4. The room should be dimly lit and with as few distractions as possible. This means close up the pool table, dart boards, jukebox, and shut off TVs.
  5. A simple friendly announcement before the show can set the expectation to turn off cell phones and that talking is not allowed, but laughter and applause are encouraged.

8. The show doesn’t start on time.A-broken-clock

This is one of my biggest pet peeves. Your poster says the show is at 8, but 8 o’clock rolls around and you’re nowhere near ready. You’re either still carrying in equipment, or, more commonly, you’re ready to go but there are only 8 people here and you were expecting a lot more…so you wait. You wait for more people to show up. Now it’s 8:40 and there’s still only 8 people here. So you wait until 9. You’re an asshole if you do this.

How to Fix It

Never do this. I despise when shows do this for so many reasons:

  1. You’re punishing the paying customers who showed up on time by making them sit around long past the scheduled start time.
  2. You’re rewarding anyone who happens to show up late by waiting for them.
  3. You’re telling your audience they can stroll in whenever the fuck they want because you’re going to wait for them.
  4. People will stop showing up to your shows early or on time.
  5. It’s disrespectful to anyone, including the comics scheduled to perform, who may have to drive a distance, work early, have kids, or other plans and are expecting the show to be over at a scheduled time.

Here’s my rule: You can hold a show 15 minutes past the scheduled start time, that’s it. That’s about how long the previews run when you go to the movies and that’s about as much of a delay as people will accept before getting antsy and impatient. 15 minutes is plenty of time for anyone running a little behind to arrive and get settled. After 15 minutes whoever is there is your audience, bottom line, whether it’s the 250 you’d hoped for, or the abysmal two tables with 13 people. There is no magical flash mob waiting to show up for your comedy show 45 minutes late. If you follow the rest of the suggestions in this blog you can put on a really great show for those 13 people who came out to laugh, and that should be your only goal come show time.

9. People are seated all over the fucking place.Sparse Crowd

You’ve got 40 people here, but you’d never know it. Nobody is sitting near the stage and there are splashes of people scattered throughout the room in such a way that you can hear no distinctive laughter. The comics can make out one group of 6 people so they address them the entire night. It’s actually a pretty good turnout, but it feels empty.

How to Fix It

This is what happens when you let people sit wherever they want. You’ll get 6 different parties sitting in random back sections. The front of the room will be empty and the comics will feel like they’re playing to nobody. You need to seat people from front to back of the room and as tightly grouped together as is comfortable. This is done by either assigning reserved seats, or having someone actively seating people as they arrive. If I’m seating strangers together at the same table I’ll always ask their names and introduce them to each other. The foundation for a great show is built well before the show starts, so when possible help break the ice among your patrons. Seating is especially critical in the case of smaller shows. When you’ve only got 10 or 15 in the audience it’s critical that you make them feel like they’re all there together. Laughter is contagious and encouraged when an audience sits together.

10. The comics blame the crowd.You Suck Meme

Your show sucks, you fucked up the last 9 things on this list, and yet 12 people still came out to see it. Now they’re getting badgered by the comedians for the poor turnout. “Did you all drive in one car?!” “I just did a sold out show last week and now I’m HERE all night!

How to Fix It

This is another pet peeve of mine. You don’t attack your supporters. Stop giving the people who did show up a bunch of shit about the small turnout. It’s not their fault. They should be praised for coming out and given the best damn show they possibly can. It’s important to realize that small shows are how you grow large shows. You need to give those 12 people a really outstanding night of comedy so they’ll come back to more shows and bring friends. Think of every small show as an opportunity. This same sentiment can be applied to the venue as well, in that you shouldn’t be shitting on the venue that hosts your show.

 

 

In the name of the Farda, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…

phil-freshblue

Phil Farda is the comedian behind Stage Time Trivia. He lives in Utica, NY, a small city nestled in Upstate New York near the Adirondacks and Canada. He lives with his fiancé Laura and while they have no plans for children, they are both huge dog lovers and have every intention of adopting a rescue. Phil is 36 years old and spent the majority of his life working in customer service and retail sales for wireless communications before taking the leap as a comedian and entrepreneur. The nearest comedy club is located over 50 miles away and Phil has made a name for himself by independently producing professional caliber comedy locally. His company, Comedy CNY (Central New York), has been producing stand-up comedy for over 4 years. He is passionate and dedicated to the craft of stand-up comedy. He makes a living with comedy and trivia and his goal with Stage Time Trivia is to help other comedians reach the goal of doing comedy full time.

 

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