Stand up comedy has become massively popular in recent years and there is a huge demand for it everywhere. How does a smaller venue go about putting on a comedy night? Running comedy nights in theory is very simple. It only needs 3 things… a great venue, a great audience and great acts … that’s it, that is the magic formula. Here’s how to go about it.
Getting Your Pub Ready For Comedy
Separate function rooms are the best suited to putting on a comedy night as you need to be sure that it will not be disrupted. Whilst being heckled and putting down hecklers is a part of comedy, this can be minimised by the audience wanting to be there in the first place. One comedy promoter, Paul Savage, says “If you’ve taken over their drinking place and start acting like you own the place, you deserve to get heckled. Acts will tell you horror stories of the landlord coming up and saying “we’ve got some people who think they’re funny” or being put up in front of the big screen TVs whilst the football is on. These are not conducive to comedy.” However, if you don’t have a separate area then don’t despair you can, with a bit of planning, use your main trade area.
Comedy works well where people aren’t afraid to laugh. Facial expressions and hand gestures make a massive difference to how a joke is received. So, the best thing to do is light the area the comedian will be on (a basic stage light will suffice), and darken the rest of the room, put tea-lights on the tables, it makes a room feel more intimate. By darkening the audience, they won’t feel so self-conscious, and they will laugh more (if the comedian is funny).
If there is more than one entrance to the room, and if it doesn’t compromise your fire safety you might consider restricting access by closing off the door nearest to the stage. This will minimise disruption by customers moving about, turn off background music systems, fruit machines and TVs and if possible the sound on tills.
You may need to re-arrange furniture so that the audience is facing the stage area, nothing will dampen the atmosphere than the act talking to the backs of customers’ heads. You may also wish to provide a back-drop, for instance we used the same black-out curtains for live music or comedy nights.
There is a certain amount of essential equipment that you, (or preferably the promoter) need to put on a comedy night:
- A PA system that can cover the space.
- Microphone (mic)
- Microphone stand (micstand)
- A stage block, so that the acts appear elevated above the audience, this doesn’t have to be elaborate or extravagant … in one pub I ran this amounted to no more than a couple of wooden pallets covered in ply-board and painted black.
(Double acts need two mics and two micstands, whilst, this may sound obvious, this omission could ruin a night. Acts using keyboards or an electric guitar will need something to plug into … magicians may need a table for their box … you or your promoter need to sort these things in advance.)
Stand-Up Comedy Format
Although there’s no real standard most comedy nights generally have 4 acts. One of these will be the compere (or MC) who will speak between the other acts. The compere holds the whole night together. Each act (excluding the compere) will perform a set of around twenty minutes although your headliner should do more (30-40 minutes). Have a short break between each act so people can buy drinks, have a smoke, use the toilet etc. From start to finish your night should take around 2½ hours.
Where Can I Get Comedy Acts From?
Unless you are able to devote a huge amount of time the best option for most pubs is to employ a comedy night promoter. There are many agencies out there that cater for smaller comedy nights you might try Mirth Control or Off the Kerb. Contact them and they’ll be more than willing to help you out and will work within your budget. Check out what other comedy nights are being promoted in your area and who is managing these events.
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