The pros and cons of running your own comedy night | by Susan Harrison

The pros and cons of running your own comedy night

by Susan Harrison

I’ve performed at some lovely, excellent comedy nights (Up The Creek, Pull The Other One, Eclectic and Comedy Trumpet to name a few particularly welcoming nights) but there are some in which I’ve not been able to see the running order until seconds before the gig, have been treated rudely by the compere and have had an awful, anti-comedy introduction.

So, after one too many dodgy introductions at other people’s nights by comperes describing me as a ‘wacky female’ (oh dear) or ‘really, really new’ (I wasn’t), I set up my own night, Cabarera, with fellow character comedian Rebecca Shorrocks in 2011. In that time I’ve learned that, as a comic, running your own club has its pros and cons...


1) It’s Your Party And You’ll Book Who You Want To

Just to state the obvious, if it’s your own night you can book whoever you think you and your audience would like to see. And don’t forget that you also have the power to book acts that you really like as people and not to re-book arseholes. After all, grumpy comedians are so 2012.

2) You Can Treat Acts How You’d Like To Be Treated

Making acts feel welcome, double checking exactly how they want to be introduced (especially if they’re playing a character), writing out line ups and being flexible on timings may seem trivial, but they are all very helpful and positive things to do. And if it’s your night, you can make sure that you do them.

3) It’s A Chance To See New Acts

At Cabarera we tend to book a mixture of acts who we know/have seen and acts who get in touch with us whose work we haven’t necessarily seen on stage before. It’s nice to have an element of the unexpected: it keeps things fresh and gives us the added bonus of seeing brilliant new acts. We hadn’t seen Lucy Fennell before when we booked her but the image of her as Carrie Ann Oddling in a lycra catsuit hugging an audience member is one that will be burned hot pink on my retina forever. In a good way.

It’s An Opportunity For Other Acts To See What You Do

As a comedian I am (in the words of one of my characters) ‘So far under the radar I am the radar’ so running a night is a good way of letting the comedy community know you exist. It’s possible that other acts will be on the bill who run their own nights and they may want to book you. Or it’s possible they’ll think ‘That was an interesting portrayal of Jesus, shame it will never work as a standalone set’. Either way, at least you’ve met some people.

5) It’s An Opportunity To Design Your Perfect Comedy Night

Maybe your perfect night of comedy is high quality stand-up with no faffing in-between. Or perhaps you’ve dreamed of going to a night of open spots which has a really supportive atmosphere and a great compere. Personally I wanted to go to a night which was alternative, theatrical and silly, without being elitist or ‘too cool for school’. As a result, at Cabarera you can see a slick sketch act alongside a man eating a heron. I can’t ask for more than that.

6) It’s A Great Way To Generate Ideas

Running your own night, if you write new material for it each time, is a bit like setting yourself homework every month/week. It keeps your creative brain buzzing (or humming, or ticking depending on what sort of noise your brain makes, I wouldn’t know, I’ve never heard your brain. Mine makes a chugging sound) and it enables you to create material which you can go on to develop elsewhere. Our resident sketch act Short and Curly have used sketches in their Edinburgh shows which they’ve trailed first at Cabarera and I have used a couple of characters who I wrote specifically for the night, elsewhere too.

7) It’s Fun

Running your own night is a lot of fun. If it goes well you can look out over the silliness you’ve created and feel happy. For me there can be no greater pleasure than seeing a crowd waving home-made flags and dancing around to skiffle music or looking out across the audience and seeing the effort that one audience member has made to create a futuristic hat topped off with an anglepoise desk lamp, complete with tin foil trim.


1) It’s Hard Work.

But then so is anything that’s worth doing, isn’t it?

• Cabarera is a monthly era-themed comedy and cabaret night. The next is a 1950s night on Thursday October 3 at The Miller pub, London Bridge

Published: 26 Sep 2013

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