"Comedy in my pub? What are the logistics? Is it like music?"
People often ask us for comedy in their venues and what the best way to run a gig is.
The essentials you need are:
Funny professional acts who know what they are doing and have learnt their trade.
An audience who have chosen to watch comedy and want to be entertained.
An environment where both acts and audience can weave their magic without interruptions or easily avoided obstacles.
Let's assume you've booked through Comedy Knights so the comedians will be top notch for your budget and you have a crowd who are well up for it. Here is how you make that environment perfect for comedy.
Equipment wise, the basics you'll need are a PA with microphone and mic stand, enough seating so all your audience can face the show comfortably sitting down, lighting so the comics can be seen and a separate room from your main bar so there is no bleed through noise from people who do not want to enjoy the comedy. If you have had live music before you may think it is the same set up but there is a major difference between good live comedy and live music. Music can be enjoyed in the background - people can have a chat, play on their phones, wander about, ignore it completely if it is not to their taste. Unlike live music, comedy really needs the audiences' constant full attention to work so you need to set things up so that your customers can always be heard, seen and engaged by the comedian without effort.
So... great acts, audience, PA, room - sorted. What do you need to do to mix these basics together into a great comedy cake on the night? Here is a versatile recipe to how to keep things slick and comedy friendly when organising the logistics of a comedy night:
Manpower: Try to have two people on working who are devoted to the gig to run the door, take money, get emails for future mailing list, make sure no random drunks wander in who haven’t paid until the end of the night.
Performance area: The acts need to be somewhere everyone in the audience can see and hear them without effort. No one should be seated behind the acts or able to walk behind them so preferably in a corner or by a wall where they have enough space to move around (think the size of a double bed at least) and no one has any reason to get up and walk between them and audience in the show (so not right by the toilets, kitchen, bar or entrance to pub or room!) If it has a raised stage, great but not essential, lack of disruption is better.
Seating: Whether you lay the room out theatre or cabaret style the audience must be as close to the comedian and each other as possible. EVERY SEAT FACING THE STAGE or performing area. Don't seat people around corners, behind pillars or in booths were they cannot see the show, they'll have a rubbish evening and if they feel safe enough to start loud conversations then they'lldisrupt those who can see the action. If it looks like you might not sell out, or even if you have, put reserved signs on the seats furthest from stage until the front is full. Comedy is like a bonfire, the closer the audience are to the spark the more likely they are to all catch a fire and all your fuel has to be in one area, bunched together rather than spread about in pockets around the venue.
Sound: Don’t use radio mics – they cut out or run out of battery every time – the guy at Maplins says they won’t, the sound engineer who has done a BTEC in Theatre Engineering say they won’t but they ALWAYS DO. Clarity of sound is more important than volume but both are preferable, no massive bass or background noise. The comedian should be able to walk anywhere on “stage” without running out of wire or getting feedback from speakers. The comedian should be the dominant noise in the room even at the back.
Lighting: Best situation is comedian brightly lit, audience in near darkness so they feel comfortable (not pitch black - acts need to see them). A constant bright light on all of the stage is best rather than a small spotlight that means the comedian can't move from one part of the stage. No colour changing disco lights please. No mirrors behind acts facing audience, people who can see themselves, feel self conscious and won't laugh.
Distractions: Staff on the bar or serving food while the show is on, should try to do so at a whisper, they should not collect glasses during show, turn on dishwashers or restock bottles. Remember there are long breaks in the show for people to buy drinks. Try and get as much of the food service over with as possible before show begins: people looking at plates with a mouthful of food don’t laugh, people complaining about a meal often will do so to an act publically when he’s onstage. The venue staff should never wander between the audience and stage. AND THEY MUST NOT HECKLE.
Which brings us to heckling. A bit of banter between audience and act is fine, especially when instigated by the comedian. But when it becomes clear an act can’t get to the end of a joke or routine because of constant interruptions staff should have a polite word with that table / punter. If after a warning it continues they should be asked to leave by the manager, no refund, in the next break. Heckling is part of comedy, but only a small part, I’ve seen sold out first nights ruined by groups of drunks who can’t shut up and by the next month they often are the only returning audience. If at any point a heckler becomes threatening or racist / homophobic / sexist they must be asked to leave immediately.
The MC will ask people to switch off their phones in the opening 10. If someone is distractingly answering their phone during the show, the staff should have a polite but firm word. Equally if you have an inhouse phone in the room or at the bar, switch the ringer off.
Music: During breaks and before show play music that is loud and upbeat. Don't let the energy dip. If you can have a distinct loud song to play when the room lights go down a minute before MC walks (ACDC Back in Black, Blue Orchid by The White Stripes, The Muppets theme) so the audience get used to the format
Have the acts money ready and counted in envelopes before the gig begins and to hand so act who have to get away quickly can.
That might seem like a load of information, and a lot of it common sense, but even a few negatives that could have easily been tweaked before the audience settle in can ruin a show if overlooked. Live comedy when done right can be an excellent regular revenue stream for a venue; boosting wetsales, food sales, function room bookings and a great add on sale to your regulars. So get the basics right the first time.
Comedy Knights is a rapidly expanding series of one-off, weekly and monthly comedy events in gastropubs, private members clubs, live music venues and bars around London and the South.
We have 7 years experience booking and promoting successful alternative comedy shows.
We take pride in supplying fun, fresh and affordable comedy events.