Scoring a comedy club guest set

Hey Dave – I hope all is well in Comedy Land, a strange but fun and twisted place! I wanted to reach out to you to see if you could offer a suggestion or any advice. I am definitely interested in performing at (a well-known comedy club) and doing a guest set so the club booker can see my stuff. I just wanted to see your take on the best bet to get in front of him. I just want him to know who I am. I have video clips I can send. Any advice would be great. Thanks – JW

Welcome to Comedy Land!

Hey JW – First of all, that was a great description of Comedy Land. You not only described a place, but also the inhabitants. We all have a lot in common.

You specifically mentioned a well-known comedy club, but the suggestion I’ll throw at you is the same for just about every club.

I’ve been really fortunate in my career to have been involved in the audition / showcasing process with three major comedy clubs. I’ll even brag a little and tell you I’m the only person who has managed the New York and Cleveland Improv clubs and was talent coordinator for the Hollywood club. And since the NYC Improv is no more, I’ll continue to hold that record until the end of time.

Guess that secures my space in Comedy Land – ha!

I’ve been involved with auditions, showcases and guest sets at all three clubs. From experience, I can tell you there are different ways to be seen by the club bookers. Contests, workshops, pre-scheduled audition showcases, and email submissions are standard options.

Waiting to go on

There is also a reason why comedians have been hanging out at comedy clubs since the beginning of comedy time. They hope for the chance to meet the club booker in person and ask for a showcase. If the comic already knows the booker, he or she can still hang out and hope they are picked to do a set if another act is late or cancels. It’s like being on “stand-by.”

This was always a great opportunity for newer comedians at the NYC Improv. We’d only pre-schedule comedians until midnight, but if there was still an audience in the club wanting more laughs, we would stay open and keep the show running until 4 am.

That meant the last four hours of the show had performance opportunities for the newer comics on the roster that hadn’t been given earlier “assigned” spots. As the manager, I’d walk around the bar area to see who was hanging out and ask if they’d like to do a set.

In Los Angeles the comedians still hung-out, but we relied more on video and promo packages to find new comedians for showcases. There was also a New Faces Workshop at that time where the new comedians could benefit from coaching and Monday evening showcases on stage at the (now gone) Santa Monica Improv. This could eventually lead to a showcase and MC opportunities at the main club on Melrose Avenue.

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Most regional clubs (for example, The Cleveland Improv) rely on local comedians for the opening / MC spots. So, you need to find out when your area clubs are doing showcases, workshops or both to be seen in person. That’s always a step up from sending in YouTube videos or “blind” submissions – though I still encourage you to do both.

BUT what is the best way to be seen by a comedy club booker? Get a referral from a comedian who already works at the club. As I’ve often said in these articles, that’s your Golden Ticket.

If you’ve worked with a comedian who is a headliner or even a feature act at a club where you want to play – AND (this is the important part) that comic LIKES your act – ask him or her to refer you to the club booker or club manager (not always the same person).

Ask the comic to ask the booker if you could have a guest set, which would be an audition.

This is the number one best way to be seen. There’s no waiting in line to pull a lucky number from a lottery for an audition spot, no wondering if your emails with links to your video are being seen, no late night hanging-out (at least to be seen the first time), and no sitting through long open-mic audition nights as the club booker watches dozens of other comics.

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A good referral from a comedian who is already a regular performer at the club is your “in.” He or she is your Golden Ticket to be seen.

You need to start by networking with the comedians you’re already working with. And I’m not talking about kissing-up or being a pain in the you-know-what. Comics and bookers already get enough of that from the hacks and wannabes. You really need to have the material and experience to be ready to play The Improv or any other major club before you approach these opportunities.

Don’t fool yourself and think you can jump right into the big-time because you know the right people. It doesn’t matter if the referring comic is your best friend. If he’s smart and cares about his career, he’s not going to stick his neck out and refer someone who is not ready to perform at that particular club. He may say he will just to shut you up – but he won’t. Working comics have worked too hard to get there and they’re not going to blow it on someone who will make them look bad.

Comedy Land – fun & twisted place

So that being said, experience and stage time will put you in contact with comedians working clubs you want to play. Using J.W. (who asked today’s question) as an example, I went to his website and saw two fliers for shows coming up this month that also include TWO comics who are both regular performers at The Improv. Both comics play his area Improv club and ONE is also a regular performer at the Hollywood club.

If J.W. does an outstanding set opening these shows and the comedians like his work, then J.W. should ask them about referring him to the club bookers. They may say yes or no, but it’s an opportunity for a Golden Ticket that he shouldn’t pass up.

Personal references can give you a Golden Ticket. And as anyone who’s working in Comedy Land knows, experience and contacts can help you grab a Golden Ticket to get inside.

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