What does the perfect comedy club look like in 2019? While comedy is subjective, what makes for a great comedy venue is almost universal amongst comedians.
After running many alternative rooms, Colorado comedians David Rodriguez and Patrick Lowrie look to shake things up by opening Fort Collins’ soon-to-be only comedy club, The Comedy Fort. Bridging the gap between the two scenes, the duo seem poised to deliver a different kind of club experience, one that eschews tired and traditional tropes. In order to do so, Rodriguez and Lowrie reached out to their network of comedic peers for feedback on what they’d like to see in a comedy club.
“The main [feedback] I have heard from big-name headliners is that they are excited to play venues where the management/creators know what good comedy is and what is required to help it thrive,” Rodriguez says. “The comedy is the focal point more like a ‘theater’ rather than the ‘club’ which connotes a two-drink minimum and bad food and is basically a cash grab of liquor sales.”
While ultimately it’s people in charge that make a great venue, there are plenty of tangible things owners can do to turn a room into a place comedians will want to keep coming back to. We’ve compiled the most common do’s and don’ts of running a comedy club according to comedians.
1. Create an unsafe space
Just like the term “millennial,” old angry dudes love to misuse the term “safe space,” but it’s vital in every workplace. The comedians and your staff deserve to come to work and not get hassled—or worse—by a violent comedian. Nobody’s cell phone bit is worth providing a platform to a known abuser.
2. Let hecklers run free
Create an anti-heckling policy and make it visible throughout the venue, your website, and announce it to your audience before each show. Most importantly, actually follow it. Kick unruly folks out. They’re not just ruining the comedian’s set, they’re ruining every other paying customer’s good time. Same goes for audience members filming unauthorized videos.
3. The Check Drop
Everyone wants the comedians to kill, so why are we so married to this unnecessary distraction? Don’t give the audience a task to complete. Wait until the show is over to close out tabs.
4. Comedy Contests
Again, comedy is subjective but these contests are objectively awful. Let comedians get their feet wet and find their voice rather than convincing them that everything should be viewed as a competition. Trust me, they’ll find a way to do that all on their own anyway.
5. Wireless Mics
It’s hard to put my finger on why exactly these are so evil, but they are. They’re so bulky and awkward. Don’t not cut the cord—embrace it!
6. Try to be funny on social
Let the jokes stay on stage. Nobody needs a clever cocktail or a cheeky Twitter account from a club; it’s a PR nightmare waiting to happen for you. This part of the job is all-business and that’s totally fine with everyone.
7. Blinding stage lights
There are plenty of rooms of varying designs that manage to light the stage without frying the comedian’s eyes. As a comedian myself, I would like to be able to see at least some of the audience and not need a bottle of eye drops immediately after my set. And, in regards to “the light,” make that as clear and unmistakable to identify from the stage as well.
Acquiring the right space for a business is not an easy get. Depending on your budget, you might be handcuffed to the existing physical structure of a building. But let’s say you got money for days (Pay. Your. Comics!) and we’re building a comedy haven from the ground up: where do we start?
1. Make it handicap accessible
This should be a given. It’s not enough for a venue’s entrances and exits to be handicap accessible, the stage has to be too.
2. Low ceilings
Some of the most unconventional venues are more conducive to comedy than traditional spaces due to their more intimate atmosphere. Low ceilings are a must for that as they help trap sound.
3. Small tables
You have to put your drink somewhere. Having small tables (enough for one or two people) topped with a small light is a nice way to make the audience more comfortable. A club is not the place for family-style seating. Twelve people don’t need to occupy the same giant table, especially when it doesn’t even position the audience to face the stage.
4. Seats close to the stage
Again, it’s about creating an intimate experience. Put the seats as close to the stage as possible and, while the stage should be elevated, it shouldn’t tower over the audience.
5. A separate bar area
Noise control is key, so putting the bar in a separate room helps your headliner’s punchline not get drowned out by the sound of Bradley ordering three more gin and tonics.
Regardless of your club’s structural design, there’s a few simple things clubs can do to elevate the space.
1. Take care of your features
Featuring at a club is almost a guaranteed net loss for comedians. Rates for features and hosts have been significantly reduced since the ‘80s, but more than that, it’s the cost of travel that really hurts. Features have to pay for their own transportation and lodging—clubs helping out with the latter is beyond admirable. And don’t let the host be the sole person responsible for introducing them to your customers. Add your features’ and hosts’ names to the website, event pages, posters, or showroom screens so people can follow and learn more about a comedian they are most likely discovering for the first time.
2. Quality tapes
Every comedian needs and struggles eternally for a good tape, but a great set doesn’t automatically translate into usable footage. The main reason is audio. It’s not enough to plug into the soundboard, you need to mic the audience as well. Not only will comedians love you for it, but your staff will appreciate not having to move around three different comedians’ cumbersome tripods.
3. A website
Your cousin’s backyard wedding has its own website, your business absolutely needs one too. Social is not enough and it’s never been easier to create a website yourself. If you serve food, put your menu online as well.
4. Non-alcoholic drinks
Most comedians are either alcoholics or completely sober and it’s a lot harder to be the later at a club. Comics and audience members alike should have more beverage options than just water, which leads me to…
5. Water in the green room
Whether you’re drinking tonight or not, we all should be drinking more damn water. A water supply in the green room eliminates the need for comedians to go back and forth to bug the bartender.
6. A mirror in the green room
Give comedians one last chance to make sure there’s no spinach in their teeth, hair’s looking fine as hell for the camera, and that their shirt collar isn’t askew for the entire set, damnit!
7. A clock on stage
Simple time management. If anything, make a Target run just for one-less incredulous, “Oh, did I go over by 15 minutes? I had no idea.”
Olivia Cathcart is Paste’s assistant comedy editor.