Whoa! Slow down, cowboy....

Paul Cronin urges new comics not to rush into promoting

So you have just finished a Stand-Up For Beginners course and completed your first five-minute set on stage. You no doubt loved it. The next week is spent emailing all the clubs and promoters looking for an open spot and another chance to relive the buzz. A week or two goes by and you hear nothing. It is disheartening and everyone in this game knows the feeling. After waiting three weeks for something, anything, I signed up to do the Gong Show at the Manchester Comedy Store. Lesson learned.

That lesson was patience. Everyone goes through a similar apprenticeship and you can’t jump ahead. Chances do arrive but you need to get in line. Earning your stripes is not just something you do on stage. I immersed myself in ‘comedy for beginners’ books. I’m not entirely sure how much I got out of them but they kept me focused.

Another route taken for stage time is to start your own comedy night. These slightly misguided entrepreneurs often misunderstand the hostility from those that run clubs in the area as being afraid of the competition. This is far from true. Those that run clubs are generally comedians themselves and are only too delighted to see another comedy night succeed because this is another venue they could potentially MC or headline.

The problem is that these new nights often fail and for many different reasons ranging from the lack of an audience to the venue not realising the night cannot work with the football on in the background. This failure can affect more then just that venue.

From my brief time in comedy I believe the most important commodity is trust. The venue needs to trust the promoter to put on a quality night that will encourage the audience to return again and again. The promoter needs to trust the headliner to end the show with a bang and the MC to create an atmosphere conducive to comedy for all the performers on the night. But perhaps most importantly the audience needs to trust this process. They need to trust the night will be a success before they bother to leave the comfort of their living room and the safety of repeats on Dave and Comedy Central.

A new night started by a newbie to get stage time for themselves that goes on to fail only increases this lack of trust in comedy at grass routes. This pattern of safety first can be seen across society. The masses flock to Tesco and Asda leaving local business struggling. It’s not that these local businesses don’t provide a similar service (in fact the service they provide can often be far more personal and life fulfilling). But all it takes is a story in the paper or a rumour about someone selling salmonella-contaminated chicken at a market stall for all the local butchers to get tarnished with that brush leaving the conglomerates, the safe options, to sweep up the customers.

Perhaps a crazy analogy, but if you are a would-be comedian, comedy doesn’t need you to start new nights. It needs you to support the existing nights that are a success, to learn why these nights became a success, so that one day, when you are ready, you can set up a night yourself. A night that an audience can trust, while also providing the opportunities you are finding it so difficult to wait for. While comedy talent is something you’re born with, a comedy career is a work in progress.

Published: 21 Jan 2011

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