Ever had the urge to stand on a crate in a room full of strangers? Cariad Lloyd has everything you need to know.
Photograph by Idil Sukan.
Producing your own comedy show can seem as daunting a prospect as deciding to open a zoo, in a foreign country, in the past. But if you think about it the same way as you would arranging a party (try to imagine the party isn’t for you and no one is worried about your drinking these days) it seems easier. You need a venue, people to do looking and a thing to look at. These are all achievable, unlike the zoo. To be honest, let go of the zoo idea. It’s holding you back.
The first thing to consider is THE VENUE.
Do you want to join the other 2000 or so shows that will be heading to next year’s Edinburgh Fringe? Or is there a local fringe near you? Buxton, Brighton, Manchester and Camden all have mini comedy fringes. These can be a good way to figure out whether you actually want to do this before literally burning money at a massive festival like Edinburgh. Or maybe just start with a one-off night in a local pub with a function room. You don’t have to book the O2 when your new idea may be better suited to The Black Horse after the bridge club has cleared the room.
How many people do you want looking at you? If it’s your first show, 30-50 seats is a good place to start. Not too many, but equally not so little that you might as well have asked to borrow your mum’s front room. Find a room that holds your magic number of people; then get some chairs all facing the same way. Does the venue have some lights you can point in a corner and a small crate you can stand on? If not, you probably do, so bring them to the venue.
The second thing to consider is THE TIME.
If you’re just putting on a show at a local theatre, 7:30pm is a golden time. It’s not too late so that people go home because they’re tired, and it’s not too early so they’re still at work. 3pm-6pm is considered sketch/character comedy o‘clock. If you’re at a fringe, especially in Edinburgh, 1pm is considered early. That said, my improv group, Austentatious, have been on at 1.40pm for many years and have done fine (though the Venn diagram of people who love Austen and people who love getting up early is large). These are loose guidelines so don’t be afraid to break them.
Telling people –
Make flyers/posters on Photoshop (or a cheaper online alternative). Make them look nice: take pride in the show you’re selling. Ask a friend who’s good at this stuff to help/advise you. Put them up wherever you (legally) can. Talk to people as you hand them out. Advertise in papers, listings and blogs. Tweet about it. Give out free tickets. Tell people. You need them to do the looking bit, so don’t be shy.
All this will mightily distract you from writing said comedy show. Try to avoid that. Use the admin as a fun break from staring at your laptop and weeping as nothing funny comes out of your fingers. But don’t get lost in it. Come back to the show. Just put it on. If you book it, they will come. Also, you’ll have to do it, as they’ll be in the room, and even though this will be the most terrifying moment of your life, it’ll also be the best moment (after you’ve done it.)
Illustration by Claire Jones
A month before the show…
Make sure you’ve emailed local listings. If you’re in London, Time Out, Chortle, London is Funny and Londonist all list comedy shows online if you send them information in enough time. Or use Listoria which sends the information via the Press Association. You could also do a Facebook event. Ok, to be fair, no one really looks at them these days, but if you don’t have an official website, having a place where all the information is listed clearly will encourage people to come along.
A week before…
Make sure the venue knows you’re coming. It seems simple but if you spend all that time gathering a crowd only for your venue to have double booked you with Alan Sparks and his Country Disco, you’ll be very sad. Also, don’t forget to learn your lines. This is really easy to forget, or just ignore. Ignoring will involve the internet somehow, so try to turn it off. Or at least learn your lines in 20-minute bursts and treat yourself to an episode of Adventure Time in between.
On the day…
Be calm. Breathe. Buy Bach Rescue Remedy or a lavender roll-on and use liberally. Remember, it’s not about perfection. Your first gig is always terrifying. But you can only get better by doing, and that has to ring in your head so loudly you can’t hear your actual fears anymore.
The more you produce your own work, the more of a master you will become at it. But more importantly, you will feel in control. You will get better at working a room and understanding what an audience wants and you will generally improve your performance skills.
So go, make mistakes, learn and get better.
Cariad is a comedian, actor, improviser and writer. Her dream is to one day pay off her student loan and to finally find the perfect concealer. @ladycariad