DON’T PRODUCE A SHOW. BUILD A BRAND.
Are you a comic thinking about putting together a comedy group or show? Good idea. Producing is both awesome and rewarding. And sometimes even lucrative! Sometimes. If you’re a comic you already know the financial realities of your chosen profession.
I’ve put together a few groups and shows that have had a lot of success. And they’re successful because they’re not just thrown together on a whim. You can do that, sure. You can get a few comedy friends together and talk a venue into letting you put on a show and have a great time. But why not build something that lasts?
If you want that, then what you need to do is build a brand.
Here are a few tips on how to do so.
1) GET SERIOUS. You’ve got to commit yourself to getting behind this thing you’re making. You, as a producer, need to be your project’s biggest fan. You’ve got to be constantly thinking about ways to make it better and let more people know about it. No one’s going to believe in it if you don’t. Your job is to make them believe it.
2) THE NAME. Try to come up with a catchy but fairly simple name for your group/show. My nerd comedy show that plays at comic conventions is called Stand-Up Nerdity. It’s simple and it tells you right up front what to expect (comedy + nerds). When I decided to put together a comedy group made up of all Sacramento comedians named Mike, I went through a long list of possible names, most of them puns and such using the word Mike (The Open Mikes, Mikes on the Mic, The Mike Stand, etc). But in the end, I realized the group needed a strong but simple brand name. And the group became The Mikes. I needed to get out of my own way and stop trying to be clever and go with what would sell.
3) LOGO? If you’re making a group that’s going to be doing shows for a while or a show that’s going to do repeat business, consider a logo. If you have the knack for doing it yourself, great. If not, find someone who does (often fellow comics are your best resource. Ask around). Or pay someone to do it professionally. What?! Pay?! Money?! Yeah. You can find ways to do this producing thing on the cheap, but sometimes you’re just going to have to invest a little of your own dough. Think big picture.
A logo makes you look professional. It also gives you a great thing to stick on merch (tee shirts, baby!) and on flyers. Everyone strong brand needs a logo. Want yours to be strong? Get one.
4) PHOTOS, PHOTOS, PHOTOS. Yeah. You need pics. This is true for you personally as a comic, and more so if you’re producing a group. If you want your group to look like pros, a flyer with a bunch of hazy Facebook profile shots stuck together isn’t going to cut it. Get a photographer. Maybe you know someone who’s talented in such things and can hook you up. If not, ask around and talk to other comics and see what resources for that they have. Or, just hire one. Yeah, there’s that money thing again.
You need great shots of your group together, and not just standing on stage. Find a great location that’s visually awesome. I leave the locations to my photographer, generally, as she’s the artist. One of the best shoots for the Mikes was in a dirty alley in downtown Sac she chose (we watched drug deals going on in the background). A shot for another group of mine was on the railroad tracks. Think album cover – that’s the feel you want. And you need head shots of all the comics in your group, too, which can often be handled in the same photo session (keeping costs down).
You want pics of your group to start, and you want pics of your group performing at the venue. This will build your library of usable promotional visuals, and make for important additions to your web page/Facebook page/etc. Professional pics make you look good, and they increase your credibility with venues and the media outlets you’re going to try to get press from.
5) FLYERS. GOOD ONES. Like any decent comedy show, you’re going to need flyers/posters for handing out, hanging up, or posting on the web. I’m sure you can make one on your own. I can throw one together in a pinch myself. But I don’t. Because I’m not a graphic artist. You need someone who really knows what they’re doing and can take your logo and your pics and make magic out of them. Again, always check with fellow comics first. Some comics are actually skilled at it (I’ve used a couple with great results) and can do them for you, or they might be able to point your toward their graphics contact. This is something you’re probably going to have to pay for, regardless. Artists deserve to get some dough for their efforts.
A good, professional poster/flyer sells a show so much better (to ticket-buyers and to media) than a thrown-together paste-up thing that uses eight different fonts just because it can. Think professional, look professional, be professional.
6) PROMOTE YOUR ASS OFF. Your job as the producer is to get those fabled butts into those fabled seats. There are many ways to do it. Use them all. Some may work, some may not, but you’ll never know from one show to the next which.
Flyers, yes. Handing those out in front of the venue a few days before your show or at highly trafficked areas that might hold comedy fans (college campuses are nice) is good. Definitely putting them in the venue itself is a must. Ask surrounding businesses if you can hang a poster in their window or leave some flyers.
Get. Some. Press. This is not easy. Everybody wants some press coverage on their stuff, be it TV, radio or print. Getting that coverage is a long and frustrating fight. But you can make it happen. First off, you have to learn how to write a press release (Google “How to write a press release” from some great insight into form and format). Then you’ve got to get it to news outlets. Google up every appropriate radio station, TV station and print outlet in town and start emailing your press releases to them (preferably with a great picture or poster attached to it to catch their attention). Follow up with a phone call a couple of days later to ask if it was received (which will hopefully get you on the phone with the person who makes the decision on whether your story is accepted or not, so that gives you a chance for a phone pitch, too). Understand what an editor needs—a good story. Make your show a good story and sell them on it.
Use your online resources. Make a web site. Get your group a Facebook fan page. Use Facebook events. Post your event on every entertainment calendar you can (in this town examples are the Sac Bee, Sacramento365, News & Review and SubMERGE). Use your Twitter. Use your Instagram. In short, use whatever you can do get the word out to as many people as possible. As a comic, you already know how tough it is to get people to a show. If one method adds a couple more people to the crowd, it’s worth the few minutes it took you to use it.
7) USE YOUR FAN BASE. That is, once you get one. Treat fans who come to your group’s shows special and they’ll get behind you. They’ll want to come again, and they’ll want to bring friends. Make sure your comics hang with the fans after the show and take pics. Consider an email list signup sheet. Print up some promo cards with all your group’s web info (and one of the awesome pics) to hand out to them so they’ll find you online.
But the best thing you can possibly do to build this fan base and get buzz about your show…?
8) QUALITY, BABY. Create something worth getting excited about. Producing is really all about customer service. Make the best product you can and people will appreciate it and will talk about it. Choose comics for your group that you know and have worked with. Obviously, make sure they’re funny. Also consider how professional they are. Are they going to be part of the team, help promote and put their all into it? Or do they just want to show up and get stage time and wait to get paid? I love the comics I work with. And I trust them. It’s an honor and a pleasure to make some comedy magic with them. Make sure your group/show is something you’re proud of. The hard work you’ve done will all be worth it when you see that crowd light up and their smiles after the show. Pat yourself on the back, young producer. And start all over again for your next show. The great adventure awaits.