Getting Your First Gig
A gig is a job, but in the beginning it will be more like an internship — an internship without pay, benefits, or anything. All you'll get is stage time, which is invaluable and necessary to perfect your craft. At first glance, it may seem like an unfair situation — the comedy club charges a cover to its audience, you provide the comedy the audience came to see, and the club makes all the money. That doesn't quite seem right does it?
But look at it this way. The club has to pay its rent, advertising, waitstaff, and everything else. There wouldn't be a stage, a microphone, or an audience if it weren't for them. In the beginning, you need that more than you need the money.
So how do you get your first gig? Scout out the comedy clubs in your area and see if they have an open-mic night. An open-mic is basically a first-come first-served list. If you sign up early enough you might get five minutes on stage. In the early 1980s, this was the standard way for talent to break into comedy clubs, but today it's a rarity. You will find comedy open-mic nights in smaller clubs that may only feature comedy one night a week.
Use the web to look for comedy showcase nights in your area. Check out the website
These clubs are your best option for a couple of reasons. First, they are probably organized by a comic who is trying to get more stage time himself. The owner of the club lets you use the stage but usually has no interest in the show other than selling more drinks on a night when business is usually slow anyway. This is a good thing, because you are only dealing with other comics, most of whom are just starting out themselves. It's a great way to meet and network with others in the comedy community and find more opportunities for stage time.
The other benefit to these smaller shows is that they are a safe place to be bad. Look at it this way: Do you really want to be seen by someone who can help or hurt your career before you are ready? Probably not. You want to fly beneath the comedy club radar until you have gained enough experience to get to the point where you want to be noticed.
Unfortunately, sometimes the only way to get stage time at an established comedy club is to perform at a “bringer show.” A bringer show is just what the name implies. You bring paying customers to the show and the club will give you stage time. Many clubs are very specific with their bringer policies. Most will give you five minutes of stage time if you provide them with at least two paying customers. Some will give you one minute for each customer you provide. Sounds pretty horrible, doesn't it?
If you feel you're getting something out of the experience of working the club, go for it. Just don't let yourself be taken advantage of. If you live in an area where there aren't a lot of clubs, you might have no choice but to do bringer shows.
It's worse than it sounds. This highly exploitive practice boils down to making you pay for stage time. So not only are you not making any money, you are paying to be the show. If you want to get on stage this way, you'd better have a lot of friends who want to see you and don't mind paying for high cover charges and overpriced, watered-down drinks.
This might be fine if you always want to have friends in the audience, but do you really want your friends and family to see all your shows? There's a lot to be said for the anonymity that stand-up can provide. How far are you going if you have to experiment in front of people who know you? One thing is for sure — you can't talk about them. You don't want to have to watch what you say in front of your friends, family, and coworkers. You also don't want to feel uncomfortable saying lines you know aren't true, because your friends in the audience know they're not true. Also, you don't want to wonder if they are only laughing because they know you. Finding your comedy voice is much easier in a room full of strangers.
Quality suffers in bringer shows. Pretty much anyone can get stage time if they bring an audience. You might find yourself working with lesser quality acts or for audiences that feel they have a loyalty to only the comic they came to see. How would you feel about following someone who brought twenty people who get up to leave just as you start? It happens all the time.
You'll need to decide what works best for you. The bottom-line is to get as much stage time as you can. If there are no clubs in your area, start one. Go to a local bar, restaurant, or nightclub and talk the manager into having comedy one night a week. As long as it doesn't cost them anything, and they can make some money from it, it might be worth their while. And you'll have an audience to try your comedy on.