This blog comes out of a conversation I had with one of the directors of a big improv group in a cafe the other day:
Improv group: “We’re looking for more gigs, we actually don’t do that many.”
Booker (me): “Why don’t you do more at our club? You only do once a month or so at the moment.”
Improv group: “I thought you didn’t like us enough.”
Booker: “Eh? I’d love to have you there. I thought you were too busy to do more. I thought you didn’t like our club that much or something.”
Improv group: “Eh? We’d love to do more there.”
Booker: “Let’s do more then.”
Improv group: “Yeah!”
In a one minute conversation we burst the bubble of paranoia on both sides and found new fun ways to work together.
It made me realise that sometimes groups and comics second guess what the booker of a night is up to, so I thought I’d just put it in writing so people don’t have to second guess me!
From chatting to bookers from other nights many of this seems similar to other clubs, so I hope it’s helpful for new groups when they are trying to get themselves on at bigger clubs.
My point of view, what I’m doing when booking
I’m sat at a computer with a spreadsheet with all the show dates for the year.
Each date has cells next to it for groups.
Red cells means no groups booked in yet.
Yellow and the group name means I’ve asked if they’d like to do that date and am waiting for them to confirm.
Green and the group name means they are booked and confirmed.
All Green = Happy Steve
This all takes place over email, which I have a finite amount of time to do each day.
That’s it really.
My priorities when booking groups
1. Will the audience enjoy it?
2. Will the audience enjoy it?
3. Does it provide something different to what I’ve already booked on for that night?
4. Will I enjoy it?
It’s not political
I can’t be bothered to be political when booking improv groups. I’m just constantly trying to book what I think will be the best thing for our audience right then, that’s it.
Not booking you doesn’t mean I don’t like your group
We have shows every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Wednesdays are largely taken up with end of course shows and some Launch Pads and Stand Up nights.
Which leaves Friday and Saturday.
Friday is largely taken up by regular groups running their evening that we support.
Which leaves Saturday.
Saturday also has regularly performing groups already booked in long-term.
Which leaves about 1 slot every two weeks. We aren’t open over August, Christmas, or Easter.
So that leaves about 16 free slots, so there is space for 16 newish groups on our main night, if we only booked them once a year, but we’re more likely to book them more often than that, so it really goes down to about 5 or so slots.
So it’s tough to get everything in. There are hundreds of improv groups that I love but I just don’t have space to get them all in.
So not booking your group doesn’t mean I think your group is bad, it just means I don’t have space. Bookers do stay in touch with groups though so when space does open up they know who is ready, what they do and when they are available.
Slow emails doesn’t mean I don’t like you
If I haven’t answered an email yet it’s not because I don’t like you, it’s just that I’ve run out of time. For me, and most other comedy club bookers I know, the running the shows is the unpaid bit of what they do, so they do try but they do run out of time. Yes, we could be better on email. But I also want to cuddle my wife and go for a run around the park, so I don’t get them all done there and then.
Catch Up Regularly
Occasionally regularly performing groups or comics at a club miss a few months for other things and then aren’t on the listings again for a while. The comics sometimes think the club has gone off them, but all that’s happened is the booker has assumed they are still doing something else. So just ask. Otherwise all manner of stories get created about why such and such club isn’t booking such and such act.
It’s ok to keep in touch regularly. Just because I haven’t got anything available now doesn’t mean I won’t have something six months for now, and improv groups come and go so quickly it’s helpful for me to know who is actively working on something. Also spots come up and being the group that fills them with something fun that fits into the night is really helpful.
Also clubs and bookers chat to each other lots, that’s the main way groups get booked, is someone looking for recommendations. Being easy to work with and putting on a show that’s fun for the audience is what gets people gigs.
Not that regularly though!
Every couple of months catching up is enough. More than that and bookers get a bit stressed out by Mount Email.
Put the audience first
When lots of people write to me to book shows they write entirely from the point of view of what they want to do as improvisers. Unknown groups are more likely to get booked when they write from the point of view of the audience and why it would be fun for them.
I also see this with many long-form groups, who assume the audience have seen improv and know what tags, edits etc are. In reality about half our audience are often totally new to improv, and I think we need to think about them more and put ourselves in their shoes. Mick Napier’s got a good bit about this in his new book.
Most of the groups that email to book spaces seem to have the same show description:
“Hi, we’d like to book a show. We do a montage of scenes based on a word”.
I hate to say this but it all sounds a bit generic when you see it in emails day after day, and it gives me nothing to sell the show on or attract an audience.
It doesn’t take long to put an angle on a show and make it audience friendly and more interesting as a show description. Here’s some examples of how to subtly change the show above:
“Hi, we’d like to book a show. We do a montage of scenes based on the last text sent from an audience member.”
“We do a montage of scenes based on a random wikipedia article.”
“We do a montage of scenes based on a word selected at random from a dictionary.”
“We improvise a sketches based on what happens to be on a randomly selected radio station there and then”
Also costumes, entrance music, anything to make it a show is good.
Sell your group when emailing a booker
Every day I get one or two emails like this:
Can I get a spot at one of your gigs please?
This is basically asking the booker to do all the work at first, so usually the answer is no. I usually work with them a bit, because we also run courses so we’re also trying to grow new groups, but it does break my impro heart when I see people jeopardising themselves as I think it costs them gigs with other places.
It’s better to put some information in as follows, and this seems to be true for all comedy clubs not just ours:
– Name of group
– Who is in the group
– How long you’ve been together
– Description of group, with an eye on what would make that fun for the audience and why it would be good for the night
– Any reviews you have
– Any links to website, social media or videos you have
Think theatre not just improv
To the audience you are theatre or comedy that happens to be improvised. The mainstream audience don’t know who Keith Johnstone is, they don’t know what you are ‘supposed’ to be doing in your scene, they don’t know your format, and they don’t care.
If you think of your show as theatre it makes the show bigger, more audience friendly, more of a show.
General gig etiquette
– Turn up.
– Turn up on time.
– Bring the cast you said were in your show.
– Do the show you were booked to do.
– Run to agreed time.
– Support other acts.
– Support the night.
That’s pretty much true for all comedy nights I think. Just doing all those things well means you’re already halfway there. Many nights will support new acts, even when they are still a bit rough around the edges, as long as they are doing the above as it makes you easy to work with.
There you go, hope that wasn’t too bad and may even be helpful. Feel free to write one about what bookers should do, I will read it and try and learn. Although if you suggest another productivity book about emails I will hunt you down and make you eat it.