Grow your own gig

Tom Glover says every comedian should run a club

In comedy club dressing rooms - otherwise known as the cleaning cupboard at the back – I often hear tales of terrible gigs set up by new acts who didn’t know what they were doing.

There is more to this than simple circuit bitchiness, if you attempt to run a night on the cheap, you buy your mic from Poundland, you think a desk lamp is ample lighting or you book a dark surrealist open spot to headline the WI’s Sunday brunch, then you can do more harm than good.

A wise man once said ‘once bitten, twice shy’; a pissed-off landlord once said ‘one shit comedy night and it’s back to Elvis impersonators’.

And it’s not just the venues you alienate but the audiences too. If you advertise a pro comedy night, sell tickets at £10 a pop, and then sit a crowd in front of 20 open spots who have been told to do as long as they want then congratulations, that is 60 more people who won’t risk going to a live comedy night again while 8 Out Of 10 Cats is on for free at home. You may have made a few bob, but at what cost?

If you’re going to run a gig you have to take time to do your research and put in the effort to make it a success. There is a lot more to it than just putting a message on Chortle’s Industry Noticeboard.

If you’re trying to resurrect the ghost of your father to play a game of baseball then sure, ‘If you build it they will come’. Running a comedy night is a lot harder than that.

Find the right venue, preferably in a separate room where you can control who goes in and out. Sort out sufficient sound and lighting, even if it means paying someone. Book the right acts, if it’s advertised as a pro night then spend the money on some pro comics. Plan how your night will run before the gig, don’t just wait to see who turns up and stick an interval in when people start walking out. And here is a novel idea, perhaps even promote it? Don’t let five acts arrive to an empty room and then just point at a poster above the urinal when they ask if it was advertised.

I would never discourage an act from starting their own night, in fact I believe that it can be an important part of the comedy apprenticeship, up there with dying on your arse and staying to the end to watch a headliner despite the fact you have to be up for work at 6am.

I have been running nights for just over a year now (I’m all booked up at the moment thanks for asking) and being on the other side has taught me a lot.

For instance, when you contact a promoter it helps to spell check your message, send some honest info about your act and career history and linked to a video and/or website.

It’s taught me that I’m more likely to be rebooked if I respond to my emails, show up on time and stick to my set length.

Reliability is as important as talent in my book. There are many acceptable reasons why acts can’t make a comedy night, especially a low paid gig in the West Country, and I have let promoters down myself on numerous occasions.

The fact of the matter is there are dozens of people fighting to fill spots and if a promoter has a choice between two acts of equal ability, one who always turns up on time and one who has a tendency to be on the receiving end of a dead pet or a flat tyre, then he will pick the former.

I now endeavour to make every gig I can. You with a sore throat is better than no act at all! It may only be an open spot at a little night in Dorset but they might be running gigs across the county one day. Acts who did open spots for me in the early days have now headlined my nights and been paid enough to not only cover their petrol but also their monthly Kit Kat Chunky bill at Fleet Services. We’re talking three-figure sums!

If you’re an act who promotes a night you can also earn yourself some valuable stage time without having to travel too far and without the pressure of impressing another promoter.

Even better than that, if you are a resident compere at your gig you are forced to write new material for every night. Although I’m sure most acts don’t need motivation to write, you could be beavering away as we speak rather than reading a Chortle Correspondent’s piece from an act you’ve never heard of.

Of course, not everyone wants to run a gig; if they did the circuit would be chaos, but those who do should be encouraged, not deterred. As long as they understand their responsibility and put the work in, then there is no reason why it shouldn’t be a success.

Nights started by new acts don’t always end in disaster. For every comic who starts his own night and makes a balls up of it, there is another who makes an excellent job of it.

Luke Honnoraty in Devon, Sal Monello in Somerset, James Alderson in Hampshire and even, dare I say it, myself in Dorset ( I’m all booked up at the moment thanks for asking). All acts who tried their hand at promoting and now stage great gigs for acts and audience alike which have added another valuable income source for an ever expanding circuit of comics.

Promoters and comedians need to work together to make these new nights a success. Just imagine it, one day soon we could be gigging in a world where an evening of uniquely talented comedians spouting their original material which they’ve spent months, or even years, writing and honing to wring every last laugh out of it will be deemed as good as, perhaps even a better night’s entertainment than an overweight 50-year-old from Burnley singing Suspicious Minds in a sequinned boiler suit.

  • Tom Glover runs the monthly Bridport Arts Centre Comedy Café and irregular gigs across Devon and Dorset.

Published: 25 Feb 2013

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