Booking gigs sucks, so here are some tips to get the right gig more often.
1. Know Your Limits: First things first, take a look in the mirror and come to terms with where you are at. Don’t book yourself for something you are not ready for. Not only will it go poorly for you on stage, but off stage the club will likely not give you another shot for months, if ever. The headliner won’t like that you left him having to do more time or with a cold crowd as well. If a club only does two-man shows and you don’t have 30 minutes of solid material, just wait.
2. Have a Reference: Most traveling comedians have good reputations in a few clubs and are on a first name basis with the owners. Research your headliner ahead of time and see where they are going next. If it is a club you are interested in performing, ask them to mention your name at their next gig. Some headliners will even go out of their way to send off an email or make a phone call to the club you want in. Most times a great reference from a reputable headliner is all you need to start seeing gigs come your way.
3. Latch onto a Headliner: This doesn’t mean be annoying and try to get work from every headliner you meet, this is typically just someone that you did a few shows or open mics with over years and they have made the transition into headlining before you. Ask if you can feature or host for them at various clubs. It doesn’t have to be a long term thing, just enough time to get your face and name established in a few of the clubs they are at.
4. Don’t Burn Bridges: You would be surprised how many bookers are friends with other bookers. Mess up at one club and word gets out. If a club treats you poorly, just make a mental note of it and then don’t go back. Posting about it on social media, or telling the manager off looks bad to other bookers and people will know.
5. Be Aware of Club Conflicts: It is rare, but sometimes clubs feed off the same market and becoming a regular comic at one club can limit your ability to get gigs are a competing club. Weigh your options in that case and decide which club has the better potential for you and stick with them.
6. Do Contests: As a comic, either you love contests or you hate them. Most of the time the funniest comic doesn’t win and they usually cater to hack jokes. However, they are a great way to get stage time at a venue you would not typically have the opportunity to perform at. Use it to your advantage and film it so you have the background of a bigger club and the benefit of a larger audience. Also, talk to the judges. Usually they are headlining comedians or area bookers.
7. Start at the Bottom: Most clubs don’t care how many one-nighters you headlined. If you aren’t consistently headlining big clubs with a few credits to your name, chances are you are going to start at the bottom. Doing a few weeks of host work to be considered for future feature/headlining work is better than doing no work at all because you think you are too good for a spot. I frequently see local headliners featuring in clubs new to them and months down the road they end up headlining.
8. Go to the Open Mics: Aside from being an essential tool to building up your set and working different crowds, open mics are great for networking and getting gigs. Some open mics turn into paid showcases as well. Making friends in this business will essentially create more business.
9. Build Up Your Social Media Presence: Stop and face the music, social media is here to stay and essential for building a fan base at the smaller level. Clubs enjoy when you have a following large enough to fill some seats and that following can be obtained through Twiter, Facebook and Youtube. Starting a profile on sites like Rooftop Comedy and ComedySoapBox help as well. Friend request or follow the people from the club and make a connection and don’t hesitate to tag the clubs and mention them prior to shows so they see the exposure and self-promotion.
10. Package the Deal: Can’t get in a club on your own? Develop a package show. Shows centering around a profession, a benefit, or a common theme usually are great opportunities for clubs to fill the off nights. When you do the venue, if you have a great set you should approach the booker and let him know you also work solo and see what opportunities that brings.
11. Start your Own Room: Find a bar or restaurant that is willing to work with you and set up a monthly show. The pay doesn’t even have to come right away. Book yourself as a host and pay a headliner and feature. Work for free and pay them good, take a cut if you can but be careful not to reach too high or the venue will not be able to afford it. I personally book comedians that I know are busy and that I may be able to ask for favors from in the future. Scratch a working comedians back and they just may call you up when that opening spot is available.
12. Develop a Clean Set: Even if you aren’t a clean comic, have a clean set in your back pocket. Some clubs won’t let you go up for the first time if you aren’t clean. Once they see you can be funny clean, then they will likely let you work with your blue material in the late shows. This also opens the doors for a lot of corporate and college gigs, and the pay for those shows can be substantially more.
13. Call and Email, Email and Call: I send my avails out monthly to individual clubs and weekly to brands like Bonkerz, Comedy Zone, and Improvs. 99% of the time you will leave a voicemail and not hear back and never get an email response, but when that 1% of the time happens it can be some great opportunities. Click over here for tips on sending out a great email.
14. Don’t give up: As many comedians will tell you, getting into some of the best clubs can take years of sending emails, doing guest spots, and having comedians vouch for you. Some bookers receive 20+ emails a day and it would be impossible to take a look at everyone and respond. Just because a booker doesn’t get back to you right away, doesn’t mean you give up on that club. Eventually you will get a response, maybe. Just remember what every established comedian will tell you: Comedy is a marathon, not a sprint. This is one of the few professions where age doesn’t matter as much as performance, so take your time and develop your craft.
Have other advice for comedians? Let us know in the comments below.