How to Pick A Comedy Show

“I hate comedy shows!”


Who hates comedy shows?

Do you hate laughing? Who hates laughing?

I can’t imagine too many people out there honestly don’t like to laugh. I don’t care to meet those people.

Too often I hear people say that they won’t go to my comedy show because they’ve “been to a comedy show before and it was the worst thing they’d ever seen.” This breaks my heart because it means that their one and only experience with comedy was so terrible and traumatic that it’s too difficult to consider reliving. Some of you might say, “Now Erin, this sounds a tad extreme,” and to that I say: check out an open mic sometime.

For those of you who have unconditional love for live, local comedy, I say brava! This does not apply to you and you should continue this enthusiasm for as long as you see fit! For those of you who have never been to a comedy show – or have only been to a desultory one – this column is for you: a guide to picking a comedy show.

There are, of course, exceptions to each of these rules, but definitely take each point into consideration when choosing which show to attend.

Free shows!

I have to say that in this instance you get what you pay for. A lot of times the show is free because a bar just wants to try comedy, which means they did not budget for comedians. While many incredible comedians have started out working for (maybe) a beer ticket, I can safely say that more often than not you’re going to see the type of comic who SHOULD be working for free. If you’re attending a free show and you’re hating every minute of it then, by all means, insist on a refund. “But Erin! Don’t you have a free show in Saratoga?!” I do! And it’s amazing, but you have to buy some food or drink to attend so it’s technically not free. Also if you see the flyer, you’ll notice the headliner has some pretty great credits, which leads me to…


How did you hear about the show? Did you see a flyer? How did it look? Like a ransom note? A collection of terrible fonts? Horribly pixelated photos that are stretched to make the people almost unrecognizable? Did it look like a bunch of fugitives? How many comedians on that flyer? Too many to count? Do you think you could make a better flyer in Microsoft Paint using only your feet to drag the mouse? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these, then maybe reconsider attending the show. “But Erin, is it possible that it’s a great show but they just didn’t have time/money/experience to make a good flyer?” I suppose anything is possible. Enjoy the free candy promoted in spray paint on the side of that van, pal. Let me know how it tastes.

If you see this flyer, just turn around and walk away.

You can typically have a decent flyer made locally for about $20. That promoter didn’t care to spend anything on a flyer. That money probably went to drugs. You can also typically get decent headshots for about $50. I don’t know how many drugs you can get for $50. I’ve been sober awhile.


Have you ever heard of any of the comics? What have they done? It’s like anything else in life; you should check references or reviews. I don’t go to McDonald’s and expect a porterhouse. If I want a good steak I look for restaurants that are known for it. If you’re just wanting to support some up and comers then YES, PLEASE GO NO MATTER WHAT! But if you’re hoping to have a hilarious experience, then make sure someone on that bill can actually qualify as a comedian. I can make a poster and call myself an umbrella on it, but when the storm comes you’re gonna wish you did some better research. You don’t necessarily have to know every single comic, but at least one of them should stand out in some way.


This one is for comics AND audiences to consider. LISTEN UP! As someone who has performed at more than half the venues in the Capital Region, I think I am qualified to offer this bit of advice. I have also produced many successful and unsuccessful comedy shows so I’ve got that experience on my resume as well. There are a lot of variables that go into making a comedy show a success and some are things that the common folk rarely think about.

  • Distractions. Are there a ton of TVs? Are they off? How close is the bar to the stage? (Honestly, it should be in a separate room.) Is the staff yelling back and forth with the customers when taking orders? Is the show outside?!?!? Comedy shows don’t work with distractions. You need full focus.
  • Ceilings. They should be low. This might sound absurd but it’s a huge factor. You want the room to feel full. You can’t have a lot of ambient space.
  • Stage area. Again, it can’t be by the bar. Or a door. Or a bathroom. Or any place where anyone has to walk on or around. I mean this seems like common sense, but you’d be surprised how often I have to explain it to someone. A lot of places where I play music will notice that I am also a comedian. They’ll say, “We could also do comedy here!” and I immediately look around the room and explain to them why it wouldn’t work. There are plenty of other comedians who would probably say otherwise, but they will undercut whatever budget I suggested, set up the stage outside the men’s room, bring 18 terrible comedians, then enervate all seven audience members. Bless their hearts and their poorly made flyers.

Wonder aloud, “Does this venue usually do comedy?” In some cases, it may be their first crack and it could become something wonderful! In other cases, you’re going to be seated near some Bills fans that are mad their game is on mute because someone decided to have comedy night in a sports bar. Their cheers are not for comedy. Trust me.

Don’t get me wrong: there are many exceptions to all of these rules. But it’s something to consider when choosing a comedy show.

Now, I’m sure I’ve offended some comics here and that’s perfectly fine. I can appreciate the hustle and grind and should probably respect the indefatigable tenacity of these comics for trying but some of us have worked too hard to let your participation trophy of a comedy event ruin potential audiences. Do better and show some respect for comedy. And for the love of god stop talking about your dick.

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