“How did you book that?” This is a question that I often get asked by other comedians because I do book a lot of my independent shows and tours including my most recent tour, “Dan on the Run.” This is the biggest tour I’ve put together going to twenty cities in nine states leading up to my album recording in August. I booked a majority of these shows myself, but I did book a handful of shows through a comedy booking agency (more about that later). Several comics have reached out and asked how I put this together and more specifically how I approach these venues to set up my shows so I thought I would share some of my insight on this matter. However, this insight isn’t going to necessarily work for booking comedy clubs and my approach may do not be the best approach for everyone. With that said, here we go!
Utilize your contacts! I’ve been fortunate enough to be a semiprofessional comedian for almost eleven years now and I’ve been building my network the entire time. This network has been the greatest resource that I had when putting this tour together was my network of contacts that includes venues, bookers, and other comedians. Every person that you meet in your career is a potential future contact that you may be able to utilize down the road, so it’s important to be kind and courteous to everyone that you encounter. (Pro Tip: If you don’t have many contacts, use Facebook comedy groups to make some. There are comedy groups for almost every state and most big cities). When we build our networks we’re building long-lasting relationships. A majority of the most successful comedians I know are also some of the most memorable because they were nice and kind. Politeness goes a long way in our business.
Build on what you got. I was originally going to do a two-week tour, but some of the contacts that I reached out to didn’t have any shows in the time frame I was looking for but offered other dates, and since I’m getting ready for my album recording I took them. Now I had several shows booked throughout the summer so I looked for opportunities to build off those shows. I spent hours looking at maps to see the best way I could route my shows. I did this not only to add paid stage time but also to break up the drive on some of these gigs. For example, I was booked in central Kansas by a comedy booker for a Friday and Saturday in different towns. I live in St. Paul, MN which meant I would have to drive about twelve hours to get to that gig, so I broke up the drive by reaching out to contacts that I had in Kansas City, KS, and Lincoln, NE. These contacts were able to help me book shows in those towns which were paid and broke up my drive.
I have a PA and lighting setup and I recommend that every comedian invests in a portable PA at the very least. A decent PA costs $300-$400 and on up, which seems like a big investment, but the amount of work you’ll get simply based on having a PA will pay for the PA in no time. This also gives you the ability to perform in any venue that has electricity. Having these assets gave me more flexibility with the venues that I reached out to book my shows. I wasn’t limited to venues that already had stage and sound setups. So what I did was looked at places that I wanted to perform that also made sense logistically then researched bars, breweries, and other venues.
I compiled a list on an excel spreadsheet that included the name of the venue, city, and state, contact person (if available), and contact email. I gathered this info by researching their websites. If no contact email was listed (TIP: if a business doesn’t have an email listed on their website, check the “about” section on their Facebook page if they have one. Most businesses have an email listed) I would use their website contact form and/or direct message through other social media channels. When I did my research I also checked to see if these venues already had live events. Pro tip: venues that have live events are going to be more open to having a comedy event. I also looked at smaller towns because smaller towns don’t have a lot of entertainment options and typically the whole town will come out and they will appreciate you and your show.
Once I had my list gathered I built an email template that included basic information such as an introduction, a brief description of my credits, a link to my EPK (Electronic Press Kit, put one together if you don’t already have one), and if they’d be interested in hosting my comedy tour. Even though I had a basic template I changed it each time I sent it out to personalize the email to the specific venue that I was contacting. As mentioned previously we’re building relationships, personalizing your emails will show them that you care about them, their business, and that you’ve done your research. Again it’s important to be kind and courteous when you contact these venues and keep in mind that you may not ever get a response. In the case that you don’t get a response, don’t get mad and only follow up one time. If the venue doesn’t reply then they’re not that interested in what you’re offering so move on to the next one. I sent out hundreds of emails to different venues and I only got booked by a handful of them. I should mention that I chose not to call any of these venues because a lot of times the managers are going to be busy working and may get annoyed by the phone call. Sending an email lets them reply at their leisure if they chose to do so at all.
Know your worth! It’s great to get yourself booked, but don’t put yourself out for your shows. After all, comedy is a business and your business will not succeed if you lose money. If venue owners aren’t willing to put money into their entertainment, then they won’t be vested in it which shows they only care about making sales to meet their bottom line. It is important to be flexible with your pricing. I set up different price points, the top price point included sound and lighting, my performing fee, travel, lodging, and money to pay my opener. The next price point didn’t include sound and lighting and was just for performing, but in addition to the performance fees, the venue was responsible for providing lodging. Another option that I gave some venues was door deals, door deals are very risky, but can be the most profitable. If you set up a door deal, it will be up to you to get people to the show which can be hard to do if you don’t have any ties to the city. I recommend booking someone local to host or open for your show whether it’s a door deal or not. Having someone local with help to promote the show.
Make sure you’re submitting your best work because it represents you. This means that you need a good video with high video and sound quality of your best material. You may also need a full headling set available. I had multiple venues ask for a full set so now I have a full headlining set in my EPK. You will also need professional headshots and a well-written bio. I also recommend having a professional website. All of these things combined will show these venues that you’re a professional and they will be more inclined to work with you.
Contacting venues directly is different than contacting comedy clubs and comedy bookers. Some venues will have event coordinators, this will be the person that you’ll need to contact about booking your show. This information may be on their websites that’s why it’s important to do as much research as you can before you make contact. When contacting comedy clubs or comedy bookers about getting booked your first contact should be a quick introduction to ask how you can submit to be considered for work. Comedy clubs and bookers typically have their submission process and if you don’t submit by their terms its shows that you’re probably careless and they’ll be less inclined to work with you. Find out what their process is and then follow it to a “T.”
In closing, remember to use your contacts when you can, have an EPK and website, get your own PA, and the most important thing you can do to set up shows for yourself is to be professional. Be polite to everyone that you contact, even if they say no. Thank them for their time and move on. They may have not booked your show now but they may change their mind down the road. However, if you’re rude to them you can consider the gig gone forever. If they book your show, do everything in your power to help them promote the event and again BE NICE to their staff and patrons on the night of the show. If your show is good and everyone likes you, you’ll probably get asked to come back sometime in the future. This is what worked for me and I hope it works for you. Best of luck to you, now go get booked! Be sure to join my newsletter for more great comedy insight.