You’ve spent weeks marketing your event, done everything you can and you have successfully “gotten the word out”. Tickets are selling, it’s looking like it’s going to be a great night. Time to relax, right? Wrong!
Time and time again we see the same thing, comedy virgins trying to put on a night of stand-up and failing miserably. It’s a shame. We love live comedy and hate to see a promoters great effort go to waste. It’s true, getting people in the door is the hardest part, but it is a fool who underestimates the importance of a perfect execution.
Comedy is the simplest form of entertainment: one person on a stage with a microphone. People often overlook the fulfilment stage because of this. Well, it may be the simplest but it’s also the most volatile; the tiniest deviation from the formula can wreak havoc on all your dedication as a promoter.
The good news is: once you know the basics, your comedy night will be a great success.
The 5 Secrets to Comedy Night Success
1. High Quality Sound Equipment
Don’t fall for the simplicity trap of thinking this requires no effort. DJ Depressed’s muffled mic and overused mixer is not good enough. Comedy is a spoken word form and so it is of utmost importance to invest in a system that properly showcases the performer’s product. You want crisp clarity.
Firstly, get a decent mic, preferably wired because wireless microphones present a whole host of problematic instances. There’s nothing worse than a comedian stepping out of range or a battery dying mid-punchline culminating in sea of silent awkwardness. The comedian tries to recover the lack of impact with a cheap laugh at the sound man but never really resumes his flow.
Secondly, you must have a proper P.A linked up to proper speakers sufficient for the job. Plugging your SM58 microphone into an old guitar amp is not the way to go. A basic run down of a P.A is as follows:
- More Cables.
It’s worth a mention that if you can get “active” speakers, it removes the need for an amplifier.
2. Microphone Stand
Admittedly not really a secret. Some people say “obviously” when I mention mic stands to clients and others say “Oh yeah, didn’t think of that!” so with it being of such importance, it’s definitely worth a mention.
The absence of a microphone stand is a massive flow killer leaving the compere uncomfortably waiting on the stage to pass the mic whilst the clapping dies out and the next comedians attempts to tackle the lack of gangway.
Not only that, some comedians use guitars, props, magic and a whole host of other laughter paraphernalia so they don’t always have their hands free.
This point is not a long one nor does it require anything particularly fancy. Just get a mic stand.
3. Stage Lighting
When watching a comedian, lot of humour is derived from the facial expressions and physical gestures so it’s important that comedians are properly visible to everyone in the room. Lights are also important in establishing a focal point. It endows the comedian with more authority and control as they are clearly in the light and should be listened to.
Remember the aim is to have the comedians well lit but maintaining a nice dim atmosphere in the rest of the room, so the light must be directional. House lights may illuminate the performers but they have a tendency to remove any ambience you may have achieved.
Another important aspect of this ambience is that the audience do not feel as self-conscious. When in a fully lit room, audience members have a tendency to hold back on laughter. You want to make sure the audience feel comfortable and are encouraged to laugh loudly.
However, do not have the audience in total darkness or the comedian blinded with a light that is clearly too bright. Try to keep it so that the comedian can see the audience somewhat. There’s nothing more impersonal than a comedian who clearly cannot see the faces of people they are performing to.
Comedy is an intimate art form so try to make sure your lights do not remove this dynamic from the show.
We advise a simple set up – one or two PAR Cans with full range dimming capabilities. This can be LED or just a regular bulb. After that, it’s up to you how fancy you go with colours and special effects, back-lighting and all the additional frills.
A few candles on tables and a very low house light setting will be good for creating an atmosphere. It will also ensure that the comedian can see the audience but is still established as a focal point in the room.
4. Seating – Doing it the Right Way
This could be an entire article in itself but I will keep it simple and break it down into the key elements that you need to know when thinking about seating arrangements.
Intimacy is good. Comedy is meant to intimate.
When audience members are sat closer together, they feel less self-conscious and therefore more comfortable. They feel a comradery which elicits more laughter.
This comradery also creates more mutual respect. They feel that they are one entity and that they are “all in it together”. Generally speaking, the result of this is less chatter, less heckling and a more respectful crowd.
The best way to do this is where rows of seats and a few carefully placed small tables for drinks. We would advise not to have big tables and people sat around them. This segregates the crowd and usually ends up with large friendship groups around single tables. There is nothing worse than a group of friends sat round a table with no “strangers” to keep them in check. It also
Large tables and other “group” layouts are bad for comedy as they harbour the most amount of chat and disrespect. Let people be amongst people they don’t know to allow a kind of social policing. Rowed seating is generally the best, just like in a cinema. People are facing the right way and aren’t sat in a way that encourages people to talk to each other.
Deep Vs Wide
When confronted with a rectangular room, most people think to have the seats laid out so that the comedian as at one end creating a ‘deep’ seating format. However, in our experience, we have found that a ‘wide’ approach is more suited to comedy. This allows for every body to be close to the comedian. Again it creates more intimacy.
Another reason to go wide and not deep is that no one is ever going to be too far back. This aids with attention and helps eliminate back row chatter; everyone feels more involved. It also has the added bonus of an improved visual and auditory experience because of the closer proximity.
5. Absolute Quietness
The Pareto Principle states that roughly 20% of the causes attribute for 80% of the effects. With that in mind, this is the 20% of the points in this article that will be responsible for 80% of your success or failure in your endeavours as a comedy event organiser. Hear this:
Background noise is the biggest detriment to a comedy night. Period.
You can have the best sound equipment, the fanciest lights, the best seating arrangement but if the room is polluted with additional noise, your show is doomed to fail.
Comedy is one of the few entertainment forms where the performer requires the audience’s absolute undivided attention. It’s a very personable medium. And, more importantly, it’s the only form where its success is measured solely from audience response. No laughs equals a failed comedy show.
This means you have to ensure that:
- A. The audience can hear the comedian
- B. The audience are not distracted from the comedian
- C. Laughter is audible and not damped by external noise pollution
If you have a show that is competing against a rave going on next door then your show will not work, regardless of how well you promoted the event or how lavish your technical faculties.
On the flip side, if you can ensure to have this one aspect sorted but fail to arrange decent tech and layout, your night will still go better than the aforementioned scenario. Let me say it again:
Background noise is the biggest detriment to a comedy night.
This includes, but is not limited to:
- Other events going on next door that you can hear from within the comedy arena
- Chatty Audience Members
- Noise at the bar
- Noise from the kitchen
- Radios and TV’s left on
- Fruit Machines
Radios left on? Yes, this happens. It always amazes us how much this crucially vital fundamental is overlooked.
You need to work with your venue to ensure that bar staff know to be quiet when the comedian is on. Clinking and knocking glasses, cocktail shakers and coffee machines should be for the intervals only.
Again wherever possible, and if your bar is in the same room as the show, then arrange to close the bar during the performance. The manager may protest but what is better – one show with maximum bar trade but no returning customers due to a low quality overall atmosphere or a consistent crowd of regular customers that are loyal because you put on a good show? Managers will thank you in the long run.
If possible, try and get some kind of security and have them intervene with chatty audience members. “3 Strikes and you’re out” policy – with no refund. People often think that heckling is the worst thing an audience member can do at a comedy gig. It’s not quite true because as bad as a relentless heckler can be, general chat is much worse. Often a big group or party can be the worst thing to happen to your show, even though your mouth watered at the idea of selling so many tickets in one go, it may be worth a second thought before committing to the sale.
I Don’t Mean to Scare You
When all is said and done, comedy is meant to be a fun and invigorating experience. I don’t to stress you out with these points, quite the contrary, getting these points wrong will grey your hair quicker than you can say “for the fifteenth time, please stop talking”
Go out there and have fun, just make sure you don’t set yourself up for failure by ignoring the fundamentals.
Bonus Point Number 6
Indeed, I have omitted what some would say is the most important aspect of a comedy show – great comedians!
Of course, a line-up of fantastic comedians is an absolutely necessary element of a comedy night.
Too many times we have seen promoters neglect the due care needed when choosing comedians for their big day and everything falls apart because the comedians don’t suit the general atmosphere and vibe of the night.
This article is more to give you a technical on-the-night advantage to ensure a great show once all is arranged and people are in the door and know what comedians are expected to perform.
However, if you need help with finding and booking fantastic comedy talent, you can get in touch with us to book comedians.
This article was born from our 3+ years of experience in running, organising and booking comedy events across the UK and as a result we have collated a bulletproof portfolio of amazing stand-up comedy talent from all across the country, check out our comedy profile on superTED | The Entertainment Directory.