All entries for Thursday 04 March 2010

March 04, 2010

On Reckless Comedy

So I’ve been running this comedy show in Leamington on a weekly basis for about a month now. For those that don’t know, it’s called Reckless Comedy and it runs most Monday nights in the basement of Robbins Well. It’s exhausting, challenging, and a lot of fun. But while I’ve run my fair share of comedy nights before, they all had a proper big budget of someone elses money. This is the first time I’ve run a show on my own with very limited funds. It’s been eye-opening.

I have no issue explaining to anyone how the financials of my club work: people pay two quid to get in, I pay the headliner £50 and everyone else is an open spot performing for free. If I get 25 people in, which makes the room look reasonably busy, I break even. Any extra goes to make up losses on the really quiet nights or pay for a better headliner at a future show.

But it’s in the open spots where the story is truly fascinating. It’s fairly well established that the comedy scene in New York was decimated by the introduction of “pay to play”, this ridiculous notion that new acts should be paying the venue for stage time. Sometimes it’s direct, sometimes it’s indirect (eg. you have to bring five friends who each pay an entrance fee and have to buy two drinks each). As you can imagine, once promoters start booking acts based on who can pay more, rather than who is funnier, things go downhill. It’s a mental system, and fortunately any attempts to introduce it over here in London have been met by a collective “fuck off” from the industry at large.

Nevertheless, for some reason the mindset seems to remain that promoters are somehow doing the open spots a favour by letting them perform. This is backwards, bullshitty, bollocks. I will say it right now to anyone that will listen: if you’re an open spot, performing at my show for no money, you’re the one doing me a favour. I’m grateful to you for making making my show even possible.

These wonderful people travel down, literally from across the country, to perform at a show, for no money, at their own expense. A lot of those just starting out won’t even be set up to reclaim their travel money from the taxman. They’re literally losing money to be there. I wish I could pay them all. Or at least cover their expenses. Or y’know, afford to buy them all a drink (when you’re running a weekly night with 5 or 6 open spots a time, even doing that costs a decent chunk of change in the long term). But the economics of the night I’m running don’t work that way, so I settle for providing a nice relaxed atmosphere for them to perform to an appreciative audience in. It’s all I can do. And giving them a nice gig is, frankly, the only thing that stops me feel like I’m taking advantage of them.

But what amazes me is despite the fact that they’re providing the entertainment, and that they’re losing their own money to do so, is that somehow they think that they should be grateful to me. That by giving them stage time I’m doing them a favour, rather than the other way around. Okay, so I run a fairly open booking policy – anyone can do five minutes, they just have to ask – and if it’s someone’s first ever gig then maybe I am helping them out. But I get e-mails from people that have been plugging away at it for years, still looking for stage time from whomever will deign to give it to them. People will apologise profusely if they have to cancel because they’ve been offered a paid gig elsewhere. People will even ask if it’s okay to leave early after they’ve done their set.

I have no comedic ambition. Running and MCing a nice little club like this and maybe fitting in the occasional extra gig is about my limit. Maybe I’d be interested in getting in to writing or critiquing work some day but for me stand-up is just something I do because it’s fun. I love running this night, and I love seeing all these up-and-coming comics and I know in five years’ time I’ll be able to point at someone on TV and tell people about when they gigged for me in a pub basement. But when people ask why I have no interest in taking the stand-up any further, it’s pretty much because of all of this. Years of chasing promoters and begging for gigs and being thankful to anyone that will give you stage time… as fun as the endgame might be when you’ve got an agent to do all that for you and you just have to turn up and be funny… I’d never get through it.

I’ll just stick to trying to make things a little easier for the ones that do brave it, even if I can offer nothing more than a room, a mic and an audience.


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