As some of you know, I started doing stand-up again after taking a break to work on the blog but also because, quite frankly, I got tired of all the “bringer” shows. In fact, one of my comic friends Facebook status yesterday was “Bringer shows bring me down”, and I commented “Bringer shows bring comedy down.” What’s a bringer show you ask?
Many of the comedy shows in LA are what are called “bringer” shows. What this means is that to book a spot on the show, the “producer” of the show, who is usually just another comic, requires that in order to perform on the show, you have to bring a certain amount of people to it. It’s what musicians call “pay to play.” So, not only are you required to entertain the audience you also have to bring the audience. You’re not just the entertainment, you are also the promoter.
It’s too much pressure if you ask me. It’s already nerve-wracking to get up and try to make people laugh, but the added pressure of bringing the audience is more than I can handle, and my friends are busy people. Most comics try to get their friends to come, but your friends already came to a lot of your shows during your first two years of doing stand-up and you burned them out. And at that level, your friends are just sitting through a lot of bad comedy shows.
Personally, I think that if you want to put a show together , charge people ten bucks to get in, book the entertainment for the evening, but not pay the entertainment and keep all the money, then it’s YOUR job to bring the audience, not the performers. This is the important part. Most of these “producers” don’t pay the comics a dime. Not even gas money. So they have you bring all your friends to the show, make money off YOUR friends, and don’t give you a cent.
Some of these “producers” will argue that this helps you to develop a “following” of fans, which isn’t true. You don’t develop a following in LA and the reason is that most people here are going to a comedy show because someone asked them to. You’re more likely to develop a following on YouTube. It’s not like other cities where regular people go to the comedy club for a night out of fun and hilarity. In LA and probably NYC, they show up because their friends begged them to come, or they just happen to be at the place that’s putting on a comedy show that month. Unless it’s at one of the major clubs like the Improv, the Laugh Factory or the Comedy Store. But even at these places, they’ll allow people to put on shows and have them bring the audience so that the club can make money because not many people go out to see live comedy anymore, which is really unfortunate because good comedy is always better live, and of course, bad comedy is just painful.
And I think this is the worst part of all; many of these “producers” will sacrifice the quality of the show to put on comics who can bring people. So, if I can only bring two people, but I’m really funny, I’m still not as “valuable” to the show as a new comic, who isn’t that funny but who can bring 15 people. I can’t tell you how many bad comedy shows are put up in this city and the audience leaves feeling tired and ripped off, the comics are deflated, and the only person who made out well was the one charging everybody. And I’m not talking about open mics, they suck by nature. I’m talking about shows that make people pay a cover charge or force them to buy at least two drinks.
This happened recently; I saw a sign at a restaurant close to my house that said they have a comedy show upstairs every Thursday. With it being so close to my apartment and me being so lazy, I decided to stop by the show to support it and check it out. Keep in mind, that this is a little room above a restaurant in North Hollywood on a Thursday night at 7:30 pm. I walk in and I knew the guy at the door. He’s the “producer” and also a comic. The show was supposed to start at 7pm, it’s now 7:30 and there are about three people in the room (by the way, a really sparse room is very typical at a lot of shows that are not in comedy clubs. I don’t know how many times I performed to five people and four of them weren’t paying attention or they were just other comics). The first thing he said was “It’s a $10 cover charge” and I said “I know you, I did your show before.” I did one of his bringer shows during my first two years. We exchanged names and I told him that I couldn’t really swing the cover charge and that I just came to support the room. First of all, you don’t charge other comics who are there to support your show. He went on about how “this is how I make my living” and I felt like saying “by exploiting other comics?” When I told him I wasn’t paying a cover charge, he made this exasperated gesture like he was doing me a favor and said, “Okay fine, you can come in but next time you have to pay.” Oh really? I left.
Here’s another example. This “producer” sent out an email about booking a spot at a room in a strip mall. I emailed back saying that I would like a spot, and he responded with “Can you get a few people out?” IT’S IN A STRIP MALL! I’m more than happy to beg my friends to come out for a show at the Improv or the Comedy Store, but a strip mall?? C’mon! I’d have to bribe them with donuts or something else you might find in a strip mall.
I always promote my shows and try to get friends out, but don’t threaten me with not getting booked again if my friends decide that they don’t feel like watching my 7 minute set for 10 dollars and two drinks. And believe me, there are such veiled threats.
The other problem is all these “actors” who aren’t actually comedians but who think that by doing stand-up it will increase their visibility and some agent will find them to be magically hilarious and have to sign them. Good luck with that, actors. Stand-up takes a lot of work and an incredible amount of persistence and stamina, and LA has A LOT of comedians.
But here’s the good news. With that many comedians, there are of plenty very talented and funny ones among them and you can see some really great shows that are free. As many bad shows that are around the city, there are good shows too. Okay, maybe not as many, but still plenty of good ones.
But live comedy is struggling even in the big comedy clubs. One reason is because back in the day before cable and so much comedy was on TV, people would flock to clubs to see live comedy because live comedy is always better than on TV. But now people can sit on their fat asses, not pay a cover charge and watch it on Comedy Central, not to mention what the internet has done. With YouTube and other means of viewing comedy, no one has to leave the comfort of their couch.
I could go on and on about the state of stand-up comedy in Los Angeles, but I think I’ve rambled enough.
If you have the opportunity to see a show at a comedy club in your area, go and support live comedy! It takes a lot of balls to get on stage and do that and I have respect for anyone who at least tries it. I always get really nervous and sometimes I’d rather just be in the audience drunk and heckling. Which brings me to heckling…don’t do it. Sometimes I think it’s fun, but most comics would agree that it’s also really annoying, so just sit there and sip one of your two required drinks and enjoy the show!