Kristen Becker knows comedy she’s seen it from both sides. Not only is she a well known and incredibly funny comedian, but she also did some time as the general manager at Buffalo’s prestigious Helium Comedy Club. In other words, Kristen knows what she’s talking about. She took on the question for us of what makes a great comedy room. Does your club have a great comedy room? Kristen Becker will help you decide if you measure up. Follow her on twitter @BeckerComedy and check out her website kristenbecker.com.
Any time you hang out with a group of comedians, they will inevitably start talking about which rooms they love. The mere mention of a beloved performance space will make the most sardonic of headliners light up and earnestly exclaim “that is a GREAT room, I love playing there” What makes these rooms so great? As a veteran producer and comedian I can tell you that there are three things you absolutely MUST have to make a room. Good sound, decent lights and a stage. Go ahead and laugh. It seems simple, right? Why would I have to tell people there needs to be a stage? Because, every veteran road comic has had at least one set under weird track lighting on a dance floor.
The comedy industry is changing at a rapid pace. The old school model of grinding out sets at your local comedy club until you got “seen” by the “A” club booker is slowly but surely fading away. Social media has helped connect not only the performer with their audience, but also helped connect the people who want to produce comedy shows, with comedians. You don’t need a secret book of numbers to get gigs or to become a fancy comedy producer. You’d like to book Judah Friedlander or Maria Bamford? Go to their website or shoot them a tweet and see what happens. This is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it’s awesome that an ambitious music producer can expand his production resume by booking some big comedy shows, but will he have any idea what he is doing? Producing music and producing comedy are two completely different animals. So, what makes a great comedy room? Read on, ambitious future comedy producer.
Focus. What makes comedy different is the amount of focus required from the audience. If you are watching a band, you can chat with your friends and miss the first verse, tune back in for the chorus and sing along and go right back to chatting for the rest of the song. In comedy, if you miss the set up to a joke while you are chatting, the punchline will make no sense and vice-versa. HINT: seating=focus . Don’t expect a crowd to stand for two hours and watch someone talk. Even if the fans are rabid, it just sucks for everyone. Make sure the seats are packed in. Laughter is contagious. There is a reason people are crammed in together at comedy clubs, and it isn’t just to make the most money. Laughter is a spontaneous reaction that makes some people feel vulnerable. If there is a lot of space between tables, some will try to contain their laughter out of embarrassment. That’s just science, people.
People who deliver drinks. Ideally, the venue has a bar in another room. If the bar must be in the same room as the stage, it should be as far away from the stage as possible . The last thing you want is people popping up and down all night pissing off everyone in their row as they slide in and out to the bar all night. Pay a cocktail person. It’s better for everyone and makes the show infinitely better.
Don’t put your stage by a door that is in use. Dear witty bar owner, I know you think it would be HILARIOUS to have your feature comedian make fun of every person that walks in late or has to take a leak. It’s not hilarious. It’s obnoxious. No pool tables/TV’s on in the room EVER. I’m looking at you, sports pub with “nothing happening on a Tuesday night so why not start an open mic.” Nothing says “I don’t respect your show” more than hearing some guy swear about sinking the 8 ball on the break. TV’s on behind a bar in another room are acceptable IF they are silenced and seen, but not heard. Know the comic and YOUR audience. The mainstream public tends to lump all comedy together. If your venues average demographic is 18-24 yr olds, you wouldn’t book Don Rickles right? Then make sure you aren’t sending Todd Barry to do an audience meant for Steve Ranizzissi.
Follow those steps and you will have a solid comedy room. Let’s go deeper though.
What makes a GREAT comedy room? What makes Laughing Skull in Atlanta ( which holds only about 75 people) one of the go to destinations for top touring comics? What makes Kabin or Creek and the Cave in NYC the kind of places that new comics put on their “stages to get a spot on” lists? That answer is simple. People do. Sure, some clubs spend tons of money on backdrops and hours coming up with witty names for their drinks, but it’s the people who make a space. The management sets the tone for the staff and the staff and the emcee set the tone for the audience. People are paying money to have a good time. The room should feel like a fun time. The room should feel like comedy matters. Even the darkest and most sarcastic comedian is STILL trying to make people laugh and have a good time. In the end, it’s not about size, notoriety or clean bathrooms. Great rooms are made by the people who run them.
Kristen Becker is a comedian residing in Buffalo, NY.