Booking Holiday Parties – Part 2

Hey Dave – Last time you wrote about booking gigs for holiday parties. Good tips, like planning your promo, networking, and working clean. But you left us hanging about the money and how comics can charge more for holiday gigs. So, what’s the pay-off, you handsome devil? – Dave

Hey Handsome Devil Wannabe…

Okay, I’ll stop the BS. If you haven’t figured it out, I wrote the above question. I could’ve just continued from where we left off last week by announcing Part 2 in bold, italicized CAPS, but what good is it to call these articles FAQs and Answers if there’s no Q kicking it off?

Guess I’m a stickler for sticking with the format. So, with that said…

Most experienced comedians will raise their corporate performing fees for holiday parties. Notice I said experienced. Rookie, open-mic comics (though I love you guys!) should not get into the private party (holiday gigs) market until you have an act that is audience-proven and worth the money businesses will pay for entertainment.

In other words – like a good business – you want satisfied customers. Word gets out that you were an asset (business term) to the party, it could lead to more work. If you do a crash and burn, “take the money and run” (hack comic term) performance, that word could also get out – and your next holiday gig might be working for the caterer.

Know what I mean?

Yes, there are (as always) exceptions. For example, your aunt’s boyfriend offers you twenty bucks to say something funny at his retirement roast. If you don’t live up to the (headline) billing your loving aunt was probably using to influence this decision, you might just get a few dirty looks from the boyfriend and the other witnesses. Do the same (bomb) at a big-money corporate holiday event and you might have a hard time getting paid.

As a talent booker I’ve felt the wrath of clients who thought a comic was so bad that they refused to pay – or have demanded a refund. Do you think I’d work with that comic again? No way. I’ve also known a few contacts in the business world that have actually picked up the phone and called me, other booking agents, businesses, etc… and warned us not to use a certain comic for ANYTHING.

Believe me, bad reviews seem to travel a lot faster in his biz than good reviews.

So, let’s put it this way. If you’re just starting out as a comic and working your way through the open-mic circuit, chances are you’re not going to be headlining The Improv next weekend for big bucks. Use this same business sense when it comes to booking holiday parties. This is also true for humorous speakers still doing free gigs (your open-mic circuit) to put your presentation together.

Yeah, there are very small parties with very small budgets that experienced comedians wouldn’t even consider doing. Let’s say in the $200 or less range. If you’ve had success doing twenty CLEAN (G-rated) minutes and can throw in a few holiday references, then partner with another comic who can do the same. Offer the potential client a forty-minute two-comic holiday comedy show and split the money with your new partner.

Seriously. It will give you experience, corporate credits for your resume – and gas money.

You want to break into the market? Be smart about it. Don’t go in thinking you can stretch out your current fifteen minutes of material by working the crowd for forty minutes and get away with it. That’s why experienced headliners and strong features can clean up doing holiday parties. They already have the material and the stage experience.

Which brings us back to the beginning. You remember, right after that handsome devil reference…

Most experienced comedians will raise their performing fees for corporate holiday parties.

The holiday season is a short time of year to make a lot of money. Think about it. You may have to start promoting months in advance, but the season only lasts a few weeks in December. Parties can (and do) happen every night of the week, probably starting close to December 1st and going until Christmas Eve, but you must realize there are only a few Friday and Saturday nights in those weeks when most of the parties take place.

The boss (the client who will hire you) will be spending big bucks on the party room (restaurant, hotel, conference center – wherever) and on the food and booze. If he’s got half a heart and seasonal cheer, he might also be springing for bonus checks and even possibly gifts for all his employees.

So, relying on what we know about today’s economy and that odds aren’t good Bill Gates is funding this holiday bash, a good guess is if the boss is hiring a comedian – chances are he won’t also be hiring a band, deejay, hypnotist, balloon artist, or Carrot Top.

For a lot of companies, it’s not in the annual holiday party budget anymore.

So, if the boss goes with hiring a comedian instead of another option – that comedian is the main entertainment attraction for the annual holiday party. This is the party everyone in the company will be talking about until next year’s annual holiday party.

If the comedian is a bust, the party would be a major bust, and the boss would have to live with that reputation for an entire year. No one will remember what finger sandwiches were served. But if they had to sit in a room and listen to a comic “not” make them laugh for almost an hour… well, that’s memorable.

Therefore, the boss needs to hire a good, experienced comic. And if the comedian has the experience to make the party a huge success, then he deserves to be paid well for the effort (and should know it).


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Here’s another way to look at this. A hypothetical conversation from the comedian’s point of view:

“My fee for your secretary’s retirement banquet is $500. I’m really not busy that evening anyway and it beats sitting home waiting for the phone to ring. BUT if you want me to perform at your Christmas party, it’ll cost you $750. Why? (As the client is coughing and choking). Because four other businesses I’ve contacted are also having their parties that same night and I’m going with the best offer.”

With a good business plan, luck, ability to schmooze, and geographically desirable locations, two or three (or more) of those holiday business parties can be booked for the same night at staggered times. That’s $750 (or whatever fee you charge) times three or four…  equals… well, the total is staggering compared to what you might earn for one show that same night in a comedy club – which is why comedians love holiday parties.

But once again, a major word of warning:

This may all sound like easy money and temp you to jump into the holiday party pool headfirst (with no sunblock – a reference to last week’s Part 1 if you’ve paid attention). But keep in mind what I said earlier. The entertainment (comedian or humorous speaker) can make the party a success or a bust. You need experience and a proven act – and some holiday references and jokes wouldn’t hurt. And the material must be CLEAN. No X-rated or R-rated stuff for all the reasons mentioned in Part 1 of this article. The only exception would be if this was a request from the client and worked out in advance with his or her approval.

Also never forget – experience counts. Just like there are no short cuts from playing an open-mic one weekend to headlining at The Improv the next. It doesn’t happen unless your aunt’s boyfriend runs the club and is secure in his job.

If a client is willing to pay big bucks, you must be willing to put in the work first. If you have the stage experience and proven material, then go for it. If not, start writing now and getting on stage as often as possible with an eye on the future. As mentioned last week in Part 1, the promotion process for performers started months ago. You know, while we’re still thinking more about sunblock than Santa Claus.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!