Tips for Putting on Your First Stand-up Comedy Show

  1. You can do this
    If you love stand-up comedy, you can put on a stand-up show. And we’d like to help. Here are a few pointers.
  2. Start with the venue
    Don’t be shy about approaching venues to suggest a stand-up comedy night. They usually want people to approach them. Ask a staff member “who handles bookings and events?” and go from there.
  3. Places where stand-up “works”… and doesn’t
    Stand-up is a flexible thing. We’ve seen amazing shows everywhere. But the “dream” space for performing stand-up has the following:
  4. Decent sound system
    Nothing fancy. Anything that’s a step up from a guitar amp with a mic in it or a karaoke machine? You’re golden.
  5. A mic and a mic stand
    Yes, you’d be surprised how often people fuck this up. Again: nothing special. Most venues will have them.
  6. A stage
    Any platform-y type thing that raises you a little off the ground, two-feet square or larger, that won’t break when you stand on it? Bingo. That’s your stage. It’s not 100% essential, but it’s a weird thing: when you designate any space as “where a show is happening,” people subconsciously quiet down and focus attention on that space. It helps. Don’t ask us why, it just does.
  7. Lights
    Project low light on a stage, and have the audience in as much darkness as possible. Why? Because they laugh more. When audience members can see each other easily, they can be self-conscious about laughing. “Will my friends judge me for laughing at that joke?” etc. In the dark, people feel more anonymous and relaxed. Also, don't blast the performer with lights. If the comedians are not blinded by lights, they can see reactions from the audience. That makes for a better show.
  8. Back room
    Pick venues with a dedicated show-space or backroom, separated from where people just hang out. Don’t compete with the sports on TV in the bar. A separate back room also makes it easier to control access to the show. Here’s another tip. Start with the smallest possible venue you feel confident you can PACK with people. If you have to turn people away, that’s a win. It creates instant buzz. People will be inclined to come back to your NEXT show, and show up EARLY for fear of not getting in.
  9. Seats
    If the venue has little cocktail tables, bring them in, spread them out and put 3-4 seats around each one. Make that the first two “rows” of audience. After that, arrange the seats according to how many people you expect, either more cocktail tables or rows of chairs. Spread them out to begin with. If more people show up than there are chairs, well, HOORAY. Bring more chairs in, or make a sad face and say “sorry, it’s now standing room only.” Again – THIS IS A WIN.
  10. Music
    Put a playlist on shuffle while the audience is coming in and before the show starts. No one likes sitting in silence. Silence can kill the vibe but so can some music. Keep the playlist in tune with the audience and the venue.
  11. Give your show a name
    This is fun, but take your time with it. If your show becomes a regular thing, you’ll be looking at this name A LOT. It sucks to end up hating it. Our advice: names can be too long, but rarely too short. Write a list of potential names that are fun, punchy and easy to say out loud. Then send that list to your three best friends. Any one they all like? Go with that.
  12. Booking comedians
    Look at any local comedy club’s website. Read the comedians’ bios and see who is local and possibly a good fit for your show. Watch clips online. Then reach out to them on Facebook or Twitter. It really is that easy. Don’t be nervous. They want to hear from you. The worst they can say is “no."
  13. Promote the Show
    A Facebook event is a great start. Invite friends. Make a few posts on other social media informing everyone of the show (yeah, even on LinkedIn). Have a local newspaper or events site? Send some emails to the folks who run their calendar. And make sure to collect email addresses from audience members at the first show.
  14. How to run the show
    There are two typical ways to run the show: the MC/Feature/Headliner format vs. the Showcase format.
  15. MC/Feature/Headliner format
    The traditional “club” method has an MC/host comic who warms up the crowd and introduces each act. He or she will perform for 10-15 minutes up top. Then a “feature” act does 20 minutes, and a “headliner” does 40+ minutes. Ask comedians before you assume they can headline: newer comics (less than 5 years experience) often don’t have enough material to do so.
  16. Showcase format
    Another option is to run the show “showcase-style.” Again, you have an MC, then four (or more) comedians, each doing 10-15 minutes. It’s up to you which style you prefer. Any stand-up show should last between 80 minutes and 2 hours.
  17. What did we miss?
    Calling all comedy show fans: what did we miss? Please submit your tips/tricks/hacks to this list. If we dig it, we’ll add it.