I say that with my tongue in my cheek.
Now that you’ve written some jokes and worked them out at lots of open mics, you’re going to start feeling the itch to perform in front of a “real” audience! The good news is <insert drumroll> that during your first six months or so of doing stand-up comedy it’s actually super easy to get booked on shows. In fact, when you first start doing stand-up, “bringer” bookers are going to be all over you like a Celiac on gluten free bread. What does this mean? There are shows happening every night in Los Angeles that are referred to as “bringer” shows. This is when someone lets you do time on stage if you promise to “bring” friends out to see the show. “Bringer” bookers get excited about “new comics” because they know you have lots of friends that haven’t seen you do stand-up yet. The “bringer” booker is quite sure that all of your friends are mega supportive and are going to be more than willing to shell out the admission price plus two drink minimum in order to show you their love. In general, a “bringer” booker makes money either from ticket sales or from a percentage of the food and beverage sales. So the more people you bring to the show, the more money the booker makes.
Wait! The booker makes money and I don’t? Yep that’s right! That’s how it works! Settle down! Have you ever done non-equity or 99-seat theatre? They ask you to invite your friends so you can have some butts in the seats…right? But do they ever pay you? RARELY. More likely, at least in LA, you even had to pay the theatre company in order to be in the show. Do you have any friends that are singers or musicians? Before they make a name for themselves they spend a good amount of time playing shows in dive bars for free or for a pittance. It’s just a way for people like me (and maybe you) to get on stage and do our thing. Now I will say – I’ve heard that there are some “bringer” bookers that will pay you a bit if you bring a certain amount of people over the minimum. I’ve never done one of those. I’ve pretty much stuck to the shows that I knew would be a good sell to my friends. The ones I knew they would have fun at.
After those first three months, doing bringer shows starts to be more challenging. You start running out of friends to invite. You may have those hard-core friends that have now joined the five-timers club, but you will start to feel guilty for always bombarding everyone on Facebook with your event invites. You may even start offering to buy your friend’s tickets or cover their two drink minimum. You will do almost anything to get them to come out because you dread that disappointed look on the booker’s face. You may start thinking…man I wish I was famous! But here’s the deal… Most likely you won’t be famous within your first six months. I hope you are. I wish I was. But you probably aren’t. So while nobody LOVES doing bringer shows, we all have to start somewhere. I would rather be doing them than be ONLY doing open mics. I want that stage time in front of an audience that is NOT just full of COMICS. Of course, having an audience that is NOT just packed with YOUR FRIENDS would also be nice. That’s how you find out if people other than your friends think you’re funny! But–my thought is this–if you want to get some stage time early on – don’t be ashamed to do a few bringer shows. Use your time on these shows to prove that you’re funny and get some great video of your sets!
That said… Not every bringer show is created equal. If you get offered a show, look at everything that is being offered and everything that will be asked of you – see if it’s worth it for you personally. Is there a good headliner? Where’s the show? Who are the other comics? How many minutes of stage time do you get? If you invite your friends out to see a show and the show SUCKS…they are going to leave with a bad taste in their mouths and probably never come out to see you again. Comedy shows are expensive nights out! When your friends make that investment in you, it’s partially your responsibility to show them a good time! Furthermore, if someone wants to book you and they’ve never seen you perform and they can’t tell you how they’ve heard about you… Well, personally, that makes me nervous. I know I’m funny. But they don’t know I’m funny. So they probably don’t know if anyone else on their show is funny either. Right? Am I right?
One last thing. In a way…every show is a bringer show. Because until you hit the big time, you will always want to be inviting people to see you! Whether you’re in a band or performing in theatre or dancing in the circus, promoting yourself is just part of the business.
So you aren’t a household name yet? And you have no big TV credits that will get noticed right away? Here’s some ideas…
- “Go to shows and support other comics” – some great advice from @Iamdavegregory
- Offer to DJ in exchange for a spot on the show. I do this a lot. Sometimes the person who runs the show will have equipment. Sometimes it helps to have your own equipment which can be as simple as having an iPad, a stereo cable and an app like Soundboard, CenterStage, or SoundCue (thanks @brianmonarch for those app suggestions).
- Offer to help “watch the door” or run the box office in exchange for a spot.
- Offer to host.
- Offer to make the flyer in exchange for a spot.
- Do the open mic auditions at the comedy clubs (ONLY when you are really ready to make a good impression)!
- Run your own show! And trade spots with people.
- Join some comedy “groups” on Facebook. They are often posting booking notices.
- Contact a booker directly with a link to a video of one of your sets. (I booked three shows this way including my first headlining gig.)
- Continue to do open mics and network with other comics.
To finish this sucker off, let’s hear how some other comics booked their first few shows…
Time doing stand-up: 8 years
“First couple shows I did were all bringer shows 🙁 But then started going to open mics and that was the best way to learn about shows around town!”
Time doing stand-up: 2 years
“My first shows I booked through friends. I did improv before so I was already in the comedy circle sort of.”
(Kym runs a weekly open mic called Mouthypants at The Other Door.)
Time doing stand-up: 3 years
“I booked my first show at The Comedy Store through LA Casting. After that it was all from networking and getting up as much as possible and being seen!”
Time doing stand-up: 6 months
“I booked my first couple shows through a class I took and then from other gracious comics referring me to their bookers.”
Nicole Aimée Schreiber
(Nicole runs a monthly show at IOwest called Crazy Fresh. It’s a variety show of standup, improv, storytelling and sketch.)
Time doing stand-up: 3+years
“I met people at open mics who put me on their shows.”
(Kristal produces The C Word Show every Thursday at 8 PM in The Belly Room at The Comedy Store. She produces it along with Jodi Miller & Sunah Bilsted.)
Time doing stand-up: 4.75 years.
“I tried stand-up while visiting New York City, then came back to LA and continued open micing and meeting stand up comedians and getting booked on shows from Burbank to the beach cities; working the commercial acting scene and booking my own show in Koreatown. Eventually, I was doing a few featured spots on a show at The Comedy Store. I now co-produce that show.”
(Dave hosts an open mic at Flappers every other Wednesday at midnight.)
Time doing stand-up: 10 months.
“I took a class with Gerry Katzman that ended with a showcase at The HaHa Cafe. From that I started getting booked on other shows.”
Disclaimer: Just because they have allowed me to post a quote from them here doesn’t mean that the above comics necessarily agree with anything I have written in this post. Cheers!