How to Get in Comedy Festivals

How to Get in Comedy Festivals

Submissions are now open for the 2016 Scruffy City Comedy Festival.  Here is how you can improve your chances to get into, not only the Scruffy City Comedy Festival, but other festivals all across the country.

As many of you know, I (Matt Ward) also help run the Cape Fear Comedy Festival.  This year was our 7th Cape Fear Fest. Since the inception of the festival I have watched hundreds and hundreds of submission videos myself.  In addition, I have spoken with others who run comedy festivals and discussed with them the things that they look for when it comes to selecting comics to perform in their festival from submissions.  The following is a summary of the most important things.

1.) Be Funny

Yeah, No shit.  Be funny is kinda like a Realtor saying “location, location, location”.  Sounds great and of course it is true, but what the fuck does it mean?  Well, a few things actually.  First off, be funny in your submission video. We know what WE find funny, but an audience laughing at your jokes is pretty helpful to influence how funny we feel a bit is.

2.) Be Original

Are your premises and/or punchlines unique, ones we haven’t heard others do, and genuine?  There is nothing less funny to the seasoned eye/ear than someone who is getting laughs in a room with jokes we have heard elsewhere or by using topics that are tired, common and played out or simply approached in a lazy manner. This isn’t about censorship, this is about hard work showing through in your writing.

3.) Make a GREAT Submission Video

What is a GREAT Submission Video?  One that is high quality, easy to see you on stage, easy to hear you speaking and hear the audience laughing and showcases a chunk of your better material.   Make sure your video is the length requested by the festival you are submitting to. Cut out the host. No one needs to hear them introduce you. Cut it to the moment you touch the mic. Below is a list of common mistakes I see all the time when reviewing submission videos.

*Bad Lighting

*The video is private or requires a password

*The video has a fucking ad in front of it. Seriously??

*Bad Sound Quality

*Host doing three minutes before actual performer who submitted the video is onscreen

*Doing recording at a poorly attended show or open mic

*Recording video horizontal on a smartphone.

*Having your laughing buddy/spouse hold the camera, making them the only laugh heard on the recording.

*Making your video clip private on Youtube so it can’t be viewed by anyone but you.

*Recording a ‘Bringer’ show.  Yes, we can tell, mostly because the audience is laughing at ‘non’ jokes and stuff that isn’t as funny as they are making it out to be.

4.) Have a web site

If you are submitting to comedy festivals, you should have a web site. You can have one for free, doesn’t have to be fancy, but it allows promoters to refer someone to a single space that YOU control to view more about you.  Don’t understand computer boxes?  Get one of your computer savvy friends to make one for you that you have all the passwords to.  HAVE. A. WEB. SITE.  Don’t have  a web site, it doesn’t count you out, but it does make a difference to ME more-so than to other comedy festivals. Your web site can link back to us, and that is important for SEO and for other promotional reasons.

5.) Have a head shot

If you are submitting to comedy festivals, you have to understand that these festivals WANT to promote an image of you.  Why not take a few minutes one day to have someone capture who you are as a comic or person.  You don’t even need a microphone in the picture, it’s cool, we know comedians use microphones, you ARE submitting to a COMEDY Festival after all.  Did you know that an Iphone or a Samsung S6 or above can capture an acceptable HIGH RESOLUTION head shot? Toy around with it and watch this youtube video to learn how to do this yourself.

6.) Don’t WAIT until the last day to submit

We all collectively as festivals view all of the submissions we receive.  However, if you submit earlier, we can take the time to view your submission with fresh eyes and ears.

That’s really all there is to it.  So if you don’t have a good submission video already, plan in the next month or so to film a few different shows to make a reel that is representative of what you do.

 

Matt Ward

The No-Bullshit Comedy Promotion Commandments

Note from Matt Ward:  I recently spoke with JT Habersaat after seeing a tour he had booked in which he was on the road for over 30 straight shows without a day off.  I was more than impressed with not only the booking prowess, but the routing involved.  I asked him to write something about his do’s and don’ts for promoting a comedy tour.  Here you go, enjoy!

By JT Habersaat

When it comes to promotion, the majority of comedians I’ve crossed paths with generally rank somewhere below classic rock cover band and slightly above regional bake sale. Rarely do they take a second to consider the minimal promotional building blocks of a decent independent show, which at times just makes me scratch my head and at others, if I’m directly involved in said performance, has me employing a hammer to do the scratching.  So here are a few basic ‘musts’ for any comic looking to set up an independent one-nighter and not find themselves weeping in the corner as the bartender scowls.

  1. Thou Shalt Make Posters. As in, yourself. Never, ever, ever rely on a venue to create or ‘handle’ posters for your show. They won’t do it, or they will but the finished product will look like your aunt made it in a comic sans font and a ‘zany’ cartoon character holding a banana and a mic, or the details such as time / date / price will be disaster-level wrong, or your own goddamn name will be misspelled. Seriously, make a poster. Learn to use InDesign and the basics of Photoshop. Or find a friend / comic / fuck buddy that knows it, and have them do it. Make ‘em look good…you know, like an event. Bad comedy posters are the stuff of Facebook legend. Include credits if people do not know who you are (not made up credits either, you laugh grifter). Most importantly, print the posters and if at all possible HANG THEM YOURSELF. Often you are forced to mail posters for road shows, but send them to the venue as a LAST RESORT. Mail them to a comic on the show, or a pal you have in town, or the promoter, and have them go physically put them up. Venue staff deal with shows every night and are not paid to be your street team. And posters matter.
  2. Thou Shalt Do Promo Waaaaaaay In Advance. Like, months in advance. I always crack up when I talk to comics that casually mention “I’m gonna line up some road dates for September” and it’s the end of July. Um, no you are not. Or you are and they are going to be terrible gigs. If you are serious about road comedy, you should be booking yourself at a minimum of three months out. 4-5 months is better. Venues worth playing book this far out, so believe it. Part of the ‘ugh’ factor of being a comic is living your life 6 months in advance. Sad but true. Personally, I enjoy having the ducks in a row and knowing what’s on the horizon.  But like anything else, it takes work. Mail your posters (you know, the ones you made yourself) about 4 weeks out from the show. Too early and they will lose impact. Too late and…well, too late. 4 weeks gives enough time for them to hang on the walls and act as a reminder to locals, but not fade and just become part of the scenery. Same goes for press – deadlines for content are usually at least two weeks ahead of time, so sending your info and saying ‘how about a story?’ the week before your show = fail.
  3. Thou Shalt Make A Press Kit. A good, basic press kit. Learn how to write a press release. You only really need one skeleton for this, so employ an English major buddy to do it if you have a tough time with writing stuff like that. Once you have the press release skeleton, you can fill in the when / where / what’s for literally years, as long as you update the dates. DO NOT send one of those monstrous folders with a heavy-ass cd and an epic stapled tome of hype. It will crash to the nearest trash bin before you can exhale your dreams. I used to get hundreds of those in the mail every week when I worked in radio. Trust me. Garbage bin. You want a one page release, complete with all the details: date of show, time of show, all ages? Adv tickets? Support comics, venue ADDRESS and most importantly, at the bottom, YOUR CONTACT INFO. Website / Facebook / cell phone / email. Send it 4 weeks before your show. Follow up after a week. Sometimes this will require you TO MAKE A PHONE CALL. Horrifying I know, and a true test of how much you want to lose coverage in the weekly events listing to Johnny Hotrod’s 3rd Annual Dipshit Classic Car Jamboree. Because the editors know Johnny, and it’s an easy thing to cover, and reporters have it tough enough. Include a high-resolution (300 DPI!) press photo on CDR. And ideally a poster (you know, the one you made) of the event for eye-catching purposes. If you have an MP3 dropcard of your material that is great. Again, avoid sending CDs. They are heavy and require insane effort on the part of the journalist, like opening them.
  4. Thou Shalt Not Rely On Locals. Locals are great to have on shows. You should have locals on shows. But never, ever, ever (ever) rely on locals to bring the crowd, or even be a solid comic. Make sure YOU have your shit together, and you should be working with a feature you know and trust at a minimum. But the responsibility ultimately falls on your shoulders, “Mr. / Mrs.  Out-of-town comic ballsy enough to book a gig”, and NOT on the super excited but green local. If a local does a great job, and puts asses in seats, throw them some $. Even if it’s just $10, it will matter. And even if a local is terrible and a hack supreme, try not to be a dick about it. Just log it in your brain and don’t work with them again. That’s it. Move on. Next city, next show. Skip the drama.
  5. Thou Shalt Keep Up On Social Media. Make your own Facebook events for EVERY SHOW. Make sure all of the details are correct and that the event image is YOUR poster. Then hit up the venue / promoter / opening comic and make them an admin of the page and kick them in the ass to invite people. You NEED them to invite people, since those are the locals that go to shows. But if you are relying on the venue to create the event and then invite YOU to be admin, you are lost at sea and surrounded by hammerheads. Be a control freak, because ultimately – most people are lazy, they do not have a stake in whether the show does well or eats shit, they are just going to work and do not owe you anything. Get locals to retweet your blasts close to the day of the gig. If you have a killer website (and you should) push the mailing list and USE IT. Not every week, because that shit is mad annoying and you will get a one-way express pass to their spam folder. But send out tour announcements when you have something legit to hype.

Ultimately, having a crowd to perform to almost matters more than even the strength of your material;  cue the sound of one hand clapping while a tree falls in the forest and all that hippie jargon. So be your own best advocate and fan – it’s the only real way to build new ones. Now go tour.

JT Habersaat headlines the Altercation Punk Comedy Tour and www.TheRoadPodcast.com . His new album ‘Hostile Corporate Takeover’ is available now on Stand Up! Records, and you can see all of his national fall dates now at www.JTComedy.com

How to Move from the Open-Mic Level to being booked by a Comedy Agency or Club

The number one thing I see in the world of comedy is comics uncertain what to do next in their comedy ‘career’. In this blog we will address two of the most common questions I hear from young comics just starting out in comedy. I spoke to Eric Yoder from Funny Business Agency about these questions.  For some time I could not get work from Funny Business.  In fact, I tried for a few years to no avail.  Why didn’t I get booked?  Simple, they hadn’t seen me kick ass live in person.  I submitted a half-ass video in 2011 and they politely told me it wasn’t really a good representation of my stuff.  They were right.  It was shit.  I was performing poorly rehearsed material to a crowd of 21 in some tiny theatre with shitty lighting and average sound.  I remedied this and have put in a lot of work to improve since then and now I have worked for Funny Business on multiple occasions.

Eric was nice enough to provide us some direct answers to the two main questions I often hear young comics ask.

Question 1: How do I know when I’m ready to go from open mic to the next step and beyond?
Eric: Almost every comic thinks they are ready to move up before they actually are. I think being realistic about where you are at with your act and ability is one of the toughest and most important parts of being a comedian. Listen to feedback, ask for feedback from other comedians and club owners. You will be getting signs and feedback that support the fact you should be working at the next level.

Moving from open mic to hosting or a paid performer is probably one of the tougher steps. The dynamic changes, you are getting judged more heavily and are expected to be performing as a professional, which means don’t treat it like an open mic.

When we (Funny Business Agency) have an act move up (from host to feature, feature to headliner, etc.) it’s typically us hearing and getting feedback from clubs and other comedians consistently for a number of varied gigs before we are going to look at taking that step.

Many comedians will sabotage themselves trying to move up before they are ready – and getting less than desirable feedback, leaving them in a limbo where they don’t want to go back to the previous position, but aren’t getting the consistent high-caliber feedback in the position they are wanting to work, to get booked over other options for acts at that level. (Matt Ward: Don’t force it or expect anything, sometimes you kick ass on stage for a year and people will notice and move you up the chain, sometimes it’s many years before this happens. There is not definite deadline to when you should be moving up, sometimes it happens quicker for some than others)

Question 2: How does a comic get in with a booker at first?
Eric: Every booker wants something different in regards to submissions. Typically having very quality , varied length, non “montage” video and a number of solid, reputable references will get you on the list of people to check out. If you know comedians that work consistently and regularly for that club/booker, ask them to put in a word, worst that can happen is they ignore them. But this will get your name in front of them again to stay on their radar.

Check your references before you use them. Ask the booker/club specifically what you need to send them and what format in order to be considered for work. If you are blind emailing every booker and club with a copy/pasted message or mass email, will likely go to junk or deleted. Take a few minutes and research the booker or club, email them a personalized email, don’t be a spamming, pushy asshole, and follow-up if you don’t get replies. Our agency alone gets around 30-40 submissions a week, usually we are able to review 5-10 MAX a week with everything else we are doing, so be patient. 

Here are some ‘Don’ts’ related to getting booked for the first time.

  • Don’t blindly send your avails to someone who has not asked for them. It is a quick way to go to the spam folder.
  • Don’t assume you should be asked to do a show.  You have to express to the booker you are interested in working with them before they will consider you for work.
  • Don’t over contact a booker. Never call them unless that is what they prefer and certainly don’t ever expect them to e-mail you back within some imaginary time period.  Bookers are busy, if they don’t get back to you, schedule a follow-up some time later and move on. (This echoes back to what Eric says above)

Here are some ‘Do’s’ related to getting booked for the first time

  • Get a high-quality video of a good performance in front of an audience that is laughing at your jokes. Make it at least 20 minutes if you are looking to begin feature or host work.
  • Get headshots done.  This one is huge.  If you don’t have headshots or a good video it’s like showing up to a job interview in flip-flops and shorts for a job selling to people who wear suits and ties.
  • Get out of your city as much as possible to do comedy. The more people booking shows you get in front of the better.  Be logical about it and don’t break the bank traveling. Take other comics that are also looking to move up in comedy and get booked and have the talent to do so.

There you have it, some inside info about how to move from the Open-Mic level to featuring for an agency, club or other booker.

The Art of Routing

The first advice I received from a comic that was about a year ahead of me in the full-time comedy gig was to take any and every opportunity to get paid to do comedy. Unfortunately, as I have mentioned before, that advice should have come with “When you are ready for them to see your act”.  But that part was my fault, not his.  This came from a conversation where I saw the comic was performing in Florida then a few days later in Wisconsin.  The trip alone was 1300 miles which at the time was only at a rate of $2.65 a gallon or so.  His view was the future work he could get at those two gigs outweighed the cost of the drive. Did it really though?  Was the gig for an agent that had plenty of work?  I talked to that same person that gave me this advice recently and he had taken a break from comedy.  Probably because of all of the driving!

Real Costs of Poorly Routed Gigs
Let’s say you have a gig on Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida and you get an email from an agency about a fall-out (spot coming available) at their room in Madison, Wisconsin.  The pay on the first gig is only say $150 plus a hotel room to feature and that booker runs 30 rooms in the Southeast.  The gig in Madison is also $150 plus a hotel room and that booker has 20 rooms in the entire region, none of which form a run (I.E. No Tuesday-Saturday shows routed together well).  Also, the second booker’s shows are mostly monthly and not weekly, therefore, less actually shows per calendar year. Straight financials would say that you should do this gig for sure because even in a car that gets just 30 mpg it will only cost you about $120 in gas.  However, you have to take into consideration where you live and have to drive from to get to the first gig, and home to afterward.  Let’s say that place was Atlanta, Georgia.  You just added 1500 miles more to your travel costs making it almost the same as the amount you are making for the gigs.  Here are some questions to ponder before you make the plunge and take such a long ass trip to get ‘in’ with a booker.

1.) Are these shows ones that you truly feel you will take lifetime fans from? (Example: Is gig A in a biker bar that only sees about 30 people and has only been going on for a few months? Or is it one that has been running for 15 years and the locals are huge supporters?)

2.) Can your vehicle take the extra travel.  If your car only has another 100,000 miles on it before it dies, you better be making enough money for a new one and strategically booking shows with agents that will help you grow your fanbase or get you well paid in the future.

3.) Have you invested time in growing your fanbase in surrounding cities?  If this is not possible because of where you live, then you need to move to somewhere more centrally located whereas you can travel two hours to a neighboring city and even if they don’t have a comedy club or an agent booked room, do some time and impress the locals until they become life-long fans.

4.)  Can you survive taking a financial loss on gigs repeatedly? If you have money saved up to do comedy full time you can go through it very quickly just as I did trying to drive all over God’s green acre to impress agents.  It is no quick process getting in with many of these agents.  So don’t think a year is enough time.

What is Routing?

Routing is the scourned mistress of road comics. Proper routing allows you to go from one city/gig to the next while spending the least amount of time on the road driving or otherwise traveling.  A perfect route leaves just hours between shows and circles back around so your last show on your tour is within hours of your home.  I live in Knoxville, and the below map would be an example of a very well routed tour.


Here is a breakdown of the above maps tour
Start out in Knoxville on Monday
115 Miles (2 hours) to Asheville, NC for gig on Monday Night
60 Miles (1 hour) to Johnson City, TN for gig on Tuesday Night
54 Miles (1.2 hours) to Boone, NC for gig Wednesday Night
117 Miles (2 hours) to Charlotte, NC for gig Thursday Night
102 Miles (1.60 hours) to Greenville, SC for gig Friday Night
101 Miles (1.60 Hours) to Athens, GA for gig Saturday Night
70 Miles (1.15 hours) to Atlanta, GA for show Sunday Night
118 Miles (1.5 hours) to Chattanooga, TN for show Monday Night
112 Miles (1.5 hours) to Knoxville (Home) Tour completed

Total Miles: 849 Fuel Estimate: Based on 30 MPG= 28.3 Gallons of Gas Based on 3.65 Per Gallon
Total Trip Fuel Cost: $103.30
Total Shows: 8
Fuel Cost Per Show: $12.91

How the HELL do you route this well?
That is the hard part. What are the chances there are paid shows that line-up one day after the other on a route like this. In reality? Zero. No matter Where you are in the country it would be hard to put this route together with solid guaranteed paying shows unless you were a big drawing name.  Even then you wouldn’t do shows this close together if you wanted to do a national tour.  The secret is to book several more well paying gigs and route from one to the next taking sometimes less than ideal shows in between. Even if we spent $30 a day on food (which is pretty high) we still would only have $42.91 per day in expenses for this tour.  Making $50-$75 to do stand-up comedy isn’t hard.  Most often you can talk a bar owner into giving you a monday night for a guarantee like that.  Hell, you should be able to get more than that if you just make enough phone calls.

I got offered a show that is off my route, Should I take it?
Maybe. First determine HOW far off your route is it? How many miles and hours will this gig cost you and is it worth it. Let’s say I got a gig offer in Richmond, VA on the above tour route instead of doing Boone. This adds almost 4 hours of driving and about 350 more miles to my route. That is not out of the question if the gig is good enough. I still haven’t broken my own 5 HOUR RULE when it comes to touring. (I discuss the 5 hour rule more here>>)
Start Close to Home
Consider this concept.  What if you took the time to visit your neighboring cities that would be accepting of a comedy show or already have tenured rooms and focus your energies on getting into that room or doing your own show and laying the groundwork for building your fanbase in that city.  If you gain 10 new fans each time you go to a city that is only 100 miles away, you can build a steady local income base and in the future when you are ready, venture out further with a plan that helps you route shows along the way and back to save you money.

 

How to Book Your Own Comedy Tour

TourPoster2013
How to Book Your Own Comedy Tour
A lot of folks have asked me how I go about booking my own comedy tours.  Well, first of all you have to know exactly what a tour is. Number one, a tour is a string of shows in various locations over a specified period of time.  If you do two shows in two different towns that does not necessarily constitute a “tour”. That is two shows in two different towns.  A tour most often consists of roughly a week or more of shows where you do not return home until the completion of all of the shows.
Why Tour?
1.) To Build a Fanbase
2.) To Network
3.) To become a better comic
4.) To Make Money
Really, making money is the LAST thing on the list?  Yes, while it is important to make money, building repeat fans is a much bigger deal.  You will not continue to make money if the people that come out to see you when you are performing in another city do no come out to see you the next time you are in town and bring their friends.  You cannot make money without this, therefore you should put your most effort into building a fanbase.  That means using a mailing list, having some type of CD, Sticker or other item they can take home with them, and most importantly, making them laugh really fucking hard when they see you live.  In the end all marketing comes down to word of mouth and all word of mouth is based on the strength of the finished product. In this case the finished product is your act. Networking is also more important than making?  Yes, it sure is.  The comics, bookers and other folks you meet when performing in other cities will often have an impact on your career later down the road.  If you made an effort to be friendly and learn about those people when you met them, they are going to be far more likely to try to help you in the future.  This means don’t be a douche bag when you are touring in someone else’s city.  Be friendly, be polite and most of all, talk to people for fucks sake. Watch other comics sets and don’t be buried in your phone the whole night ignoring everyone.  The last item still more important than making money is improving your act.  What works in Knoxville, Tennessee might just eat shit in Columbus, Ohio or Jacksonville, Florida.  You need to learn what different crowds are about and how to read them quickly and accurately.  Nothing helps you more with this then being on the road touring.  Finally, making money.  We ALL want to make money, but in order to make money we have to have a fanbase, connections and a solid act.  Before that happens you are getting paid gas money to travel from gig to gig in order to build those other things up.
Am I ready to tour?
Well, the truth is, most comics are not ready to tour.  Hell, most comics make a go of performing in front of people for money before they really are ready to do so.  I have been guilty of this in the past when I first started booking my own shows.  You know you are ready to tour when people are willing to book your act/tour based on the video and press kit you have sent them or reputation among their peers.  I think it is really that simple.  However, don’t take this as you are ready to present your comedy tour to major clubs.  Some great advice I got in 2011 before booking my Crackers of Comedy tour was from Matthew Lumpkin of the Saints and Sinners Comedy Tour.  Matt told me not to present my comedy tour to major clubs and bookers until you have booked it in alternative venues first and perfected it.
You are Ready To Tour? Ok, Who are you Taking WITH YOU?
If you are doing a tour for the first time you would be foolish not to take other comics from your market with you.  They will help you with gas, food, split lodging and could possibly bring people out to shows and get you couches to crash on.  Not to mention being able to keep each other company while on the road.  I do strongly suggest you think about who you would tour with before choosing to do so.  Think about being in a car with them for 40% of every day for each day of your tour.  What music do they like, what food do they eat?  Do they chew when the have their mouths open. Sounds fucking trivial and not important, but when you are spending 50 hours in a confined space with anyone, you better be ok with the little shit.  Of course the most important thing is that your comedy styles fit and more importantly, their comedy styles and abilities are the right fit for the venues you are booking your tour in.
How do I decide WHERE to Tour and When?
Well, this is a common mistake I see made.  Specifically people making poor decisions about when they are going to tour.  For example, you HAVE to know college schedules if you are touring during the fall, winter or spring in a college town. You really can’t successfully tour in a college town in the Summer, so think about other places with a more working class draw if you are planning on taking off on the road in the warm months.   Before all this you kinda have to figure out what part of the country you want to tour.  It is completely idiotic thinking you are going to make a dime if you are going to tour from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.  It’s simply too much distance between dates to make your money back AND you have to come BACK.
How long will your tour be?
This is totally up to you to decide.  If your dreams have you out on the road for six months at a time, you are going to spend about three months just on the phone booking that many shows, AND you are going to have to schedule times to be back home JUST to pick up more merchandise and to get more clothes and such. At this time I am scheduling my touring no more then 14 days at a time, then I don’t tour again for sometimes months. That is MY schedule. I have a little boy I want to see grow up.  However, some of you might try a week and realize you want to be out longer. Eventually, you will know enough people that do shows close to each other on enough connecting evenings that you will be able to stay on the road longer. Just remember, you have to spend less than you make in order to be able to KEEP touring.  That is where proper routing comes in handy.
Routing, What the Fuck is THAT?

Routing is an art.  Plain and simple.  Routing is booking in a way that your shows are as close together as possible as to minimize the time you have to spend in a car between shows AND the expense of driving from one town to the next.  Too often I see a huge mistake by young comics booking a “tour” that takes them from Tuesday Night in Florida to Wed Night in Ohio then Thursday Night in Arkansas.  You would have to be making fucking bank at those shows to make that worth it AND  you will be so exhausted that your comedy is likely to take a hit because of it and you are hurting your chances of being booked again.  I like to use what I call the 5 Hour Rule.  The 5 Hour Rule is as simple as it sounds. Don’t book shows on back to back days if they are more then a 5 hour drive apart. The 5 hour rule can be broken ONLY if the opportunity has a bigger payoff then the cost of the fatigue and travel.  Now, this is also the hardest rule to follow because often you are at the mercy of when each venue is willing to do a show.  Spend time plotting out cities that connect with a 5 hour drive and start building your tour around that.  I HIGHLY recommend using Google Maps for this.  Check out this customized Google Map.

View Routing Your Tour by Matt Ward in a larger map
Naming your Tour
Come up with a name for your tour that is catchy but also original. This is the part where you have to step outside yourself and suck it up and accept that you have to market yourself.  Yeah, yeah, it gives you the douche chill when rookie comics take off on some ‘tour’ of three cities with some cutsie ass name like “The Super Awesome Dudes of Comedy Tour” or some shit, but that is going to happen. You can get away with not naming your tour and just compiling shows that would equate to a ‘tour’ but your draw and overall appeal to bookers and media is not going to be as strong.  I conceived The Crackers of Comedy Tour back in 2008. People didn’t care when I started booking Matt Ward and to do comedy in their venue, but when I told them I wanted to bring my Crackers of Comedy Tour to their venue, things changed. It seemed and was a bigger deal to them. Be smart, Google the fucking names you come up with and make sure the domain name is available before sticking with it. The Saints and Sinners Comedy tour is a great example of a couple of talented comics that have a well packaged tour and are getting booked all over the place as a result.

Where Should I try to book my tour?
By now you should have a general idea of where you want to tour.  Now that you have that out of the way it is time to do a venue search. What I DO NOT recommend is just looking up the comedy clubs in the areas you are touring and calling on them first.  Start in alternative venues. If you already have an ‘in’ with an agent that books one nighters all over the area you are looking to tour, then by all means, get with them and see if they are interested.

What I recommend is using web searches to determine where you might want to perform before just blindly posting on social media saying “My Crackers of Comedy Tour is looking for shows in your area”.  Do some research, find out where the local comics put touring comics when they come through town.  Work with them first to bring you to town if you can and they are able to.  If not, look for music venues, and if you have P.A. system to travel with, look for restaurants.  It is important to consider a few things when picking venues to call on.  First, do they EVER have live entertainment? If the answer is NO but they are extremely interested in ‘giving it a shot’ then you will end up being the guinea pig. As long as you are aware there is a high chance some major parts of this show are going to be a failture, then go ahead and book it. If the venue DOES normally have live entertainment, find out what type of entertainment they have, what nights they have it and if they charge a cover for it.  In this stage of our economy many venues don’t even pay bands! I know it’s hard to believe, but it happens.  Other venues will just pay a flat rate for the performer while some will just give you the door. Do the research, create a call list and get ready to keep doing more research!  Really?  Yes, you aren’t ready to call anyone quite yet.

 

Before you Start Calling

So you have found venues you want to call on in the area you want to tour with the comedians you want to tour with, awesome.  Well, save your self some time and think about a couple of things before you decide to even CALL a venue. First, does the venue have an online presence? If not, they are not necessarily idiots or super old rednecks, however, you DO have to be concerned with how they market events at their venue. If  a venue doesn’t come up in a Google search and you can’t even find any live event listings ANYWHERE online, chances are they are not the best at promoting events that happen in their bar.  The ultimate test is to call the venue like  a customer and ask them what live entertainment they are having for the week.  If they don’t have a clue, move along.  You are barking up the wrong tree.  Now, the exception to this rule is venues that utilize local entertainment mags or newspaper ads to get the word out about shows.  There are some hidden gems out there that have a good word of mouth for shows, but 99% of the time if they don’t exist online, it’s because they don’t promote worth a flying fuck and are not worth your time.

Compile your Call List
Make sure you have a call list on paper (if you can’t bring yourself to an app on your phone) or on a spreadsheet that way you can track your calls and follow ups. Get warmed up before you call.  It sounds stupid, but say what you want to say a few times before you dial. Flubbing your words makes people immediately distrust you.  Make a phone call to the other dude you have on this tour and run over your spiel with them.

Getting through the Gatekeeper

It’s important to remember that you have to get through the gatekeeper first.  “What the fuck is that?” you may ask.  That is the person that answers the damn phone.  If the place gets a lot of calls like yours, this persons job is to keep you from talking to the decision maker because that person is busy making other decisions or avoiding having to make decisions (most frequently).  Typically when this person wants to avoid putting the decision makers on the phone, they will say something like “Well, you need to talk to Bob/Jane Owner and he/she is not in right now.”  At that point my might ask, “Well, when will they be in?” To which they will likely respond, “He or she is in and out all the time, they don’t have any specific hours..” Best this to do after you find out who the owner/decision maker is would be to say something like, “Would it be better to call back when you first open, is that a better time to reach him/her?”
NOTE: Often Gatekeepers ARE the decision maker, they just don’t want to talk to you right then. So that kept in mind, be as polite as possible and NEVER blow off the gatekeeper. They should be able to here you smiling so they don’t think you are an asshole.  
If the venue is doing entertainment often, they may direct you to the web site and have you send the booker an email.  Make sure you get them to spell the bookers/decision makers name so you don’t send them an email with it misspelled.  DO NOT stop to send them an email RIGHT THEN, finish up the rest of your call list.  Have a separate email contact list (another sheet on your spreadsheet) and prepare a very concise exact email for them because you likely have just ONE shot via email.  I will go over emailing folks about gigs tomorrow, so tune in then for more on that.

One of the tricks to calling back is to change the time of the call back depending on what information you got from the venue.  And don’t be a fucking douche, when you call a restaurant/bar, don’t call in what typically would be peak hours.  If you call a busy successful bar that has a good lunch crowd at 11:00am-1pm, you are a fucking idiot.  They will blow you off and you likely won’t have another chance.  By the same token, don’t call during dinner rush.

Article in Athens, GA Student Newspaper in March 2011

Talking To the Venue Booker

When you finally do get a hold of the person in charge of booking the venue be very specific for when you are looking to book the show based on where/what you have booked before or after it already.  Don’t compromise and shift your entire tour around unless it is a guaranteed pay gig or the crowd is going to be more your target or something that would make it worth calling other already booked shows back and asking them to change (which is a pain in their ass). Make sure that when you first start talking to the booker you are friendly and allow them to talk more than you.  Ask questions about the venue and their entertainment booking history and take the time to explain how your show is going to be financially beneficial for them. The job is pretty easy once you have gotten a hold of the right person. However, a big rule exist here I call the 150% rule.  If the booker/owner is not on board 150%, don’t bother booking the gig.  I don’t care how bad you need the gig, if the booker and owner don’t really give two shits and a fuck about your show, it will be a show that ends up not being worth 1 shit and half a fuck.  They won’t put the posters up you send, they won’t tell people on their facebook page and you will be left with a small crowd and a disappointed venue that doesn’t want to pay you anything. Guess who is to blame in the end.  You.

Booking By Email
A ton of bookers are booking exclusively by email and surprisingly, facebook messaging.  Make this email answer this simple question in one paragraph with NO attachments “Who the fuck are you and why the fuck should I book you?”  Write your email like a letter with a greeting a body and a salutation that includes all ways to get  hold of you.  I can tell you right now, without someone going to bat for you with the venue 10-20% of the emails you send out for booking will ever even get responded to.  That means it’s a numbers game, send out 10, get one YES or NO.  This ratio varies, but often it is nearly impossible to get with someone via email.

That’s all for now.  If you enjoyed this read and would like to make a donation to my Sardines and Gas Money Fund for my upcoming Dork for Life Comedy Tour, do that HERE>>

Metion me on twitter @mattwardcomedy