January 17, 2013

Comedy Showcase Basics...

Comedians You Should Know
So you wanna produce your own comedy showcase huh? Well your in good company. There's been a plethora of new showcases popping up all over town in the last year and as of January 2013, there are more stand up comedy showcases going on in the Chicago scene then ever before.

Some are awesome, some need work, and some are just straight up terrible.  Nothing breaks my heart more then attending a showcase with a promising lineup that dies a horrible death from self inflected wounds.

So having said that, here are some general guidelines that we think (and so do the veteran producers we've spoken with) are the basics of comedy showcase production.  Guidelines, if you will, that all producers should strive toward making standard procedure.  And let me preface this with "I'm not referring to any one show in particular so relax".

1. Not an open mic!
The whole point of of a comedy showcase is to highlight the best talent available. Do NOT book just your friends who beg you for a spot, newbie comics with little experience, that chick/dude you wanna bone, or any fucking hacks. There are a ton of funny hardworking, original comics in the Chicago scene, make sure you know who they are.

2. Pick the right venue.
Even the best comedy will be ruined in the wrong environment. Nothings fucks up a show more then getting hit in the back of the head by a tray of buffalo wings being delivered to a table of loud as fuck drunk douche bag ass clowns, while you squint over the glare of twenty wide screen tv’s trying to watch comedy in the middle a sports bar that decided to do a Comedy night. Loud bars are great for getting drunk and hitting on the opposite sex, not so much for paying attention to live performance art. A theater venue is ideal. There are plenty of small theaters in Chicago that are looking to fill seats. If you have to throw a showcase in a bar or restaurant make sure it's in a separate or back room away from the main floor and noise of the bar or kitchen. Showcases like the Lincoln Lodge have perfected this to an art form, but beware it is a grind transforming a restaurant hall into a proper theater.

The Lincoln Lodge
3. Lights Matter.
Proper light is more then just turning on all of the florescent house lights, which by the way is the shittiest way to light a show. Poor lighting makes it hard for the audience to see and will subtract from the overall professional feel.  But the biggest reason for good lighting in my opinion, is something a lot of producers don't think about. Publicity.  If your lighting sucks, you can forget about high quality pictures or videos being taken, which is so critical to the social media and marketing aspects of the business.  I cant tell you how many times I've gone to a show with a great lineup but get frustrated as soon as I try to take pictures or record video because the lighting is crap and I don't want to spend hours in post, color correcting the footage/pics.  A standard 3 point lighting technique will do WONDERS and does not have to cost an arm and a leg.

4. Bad Sound Sucks. Same deal as lighting. Get as professional as you can.  The good news with sound is it's considerably less expensive to then ever to get a fairly decent setup.  Any competent sound guy can point you in the right direction and many clubs/theaters/bar have a PA system available.  Also for a truly professional touch have a sound engineer or DJ for your live shows, that can monitor levels to avoid feedback and play music between sets, if money is a factor check with you musician friends.  And for gods sake make sure you have a decent mic.

The Comedy bar
5. Marketing.  Flyer's are so cheap now it's inexcusable not to have some sort of grass roots street team that promotes your show. Local showcase powerhouse CSYK was BUILT on this strategy. But flyer's are only half the game, as stated above social media is super critical to your overall approach. If your not creating a digital media footprint on the web your doing yourself a disservice. Create a Facebook fan page, take pictures, tag them, record video, upload it to YouTube.  Better yet build a website that that you blog on every week to promote the show and make sure you link to all your various pics and videos on the web, that will drive traffic to your site like gangbusters.  That shit works trust me.  But most important make sure your info is accurate and complete.  I've spent hours trying to get more information on this show or that show because the producers forgot to include the correct time, address, line up, etc. That type of mickey mouse bullshit kills credibility and frustrates supporters.

6. Pay Your Fucking Comics.
OK, so we all know some showcases that just get started cant afford to pay since they don't charge a cover or they have flyers/posters to make or have to rent a PA system, etc.  But you have got to take care of the people you book in some shape or form.  It kills me how some producers don't get this.  I have heard horror stories of rooms in the suburbs that book Chicago comics who schlep all the way out and then are told after the show they are not getting a cent.  Comics are doing a JOB, you have to pay them for their work, period.  Especially the veterans who may have traveled across the city to do your show.  Even if it's only a couple of bucks. They will appreciate it and will spread the word that your a stand up guy/gal with respect for the craft.  Or... in the immortal words of Danny Kallas "fuck you, pay me".

Hope this helps, the pics featured in this article are the showcases that do it right. 

James Allen Kamp
Editor