How do you get people to come to a comedy show?
December 13, 2012 7:00 PM   Subscribe

How do you get people to come to your shows?

I host a comedy show with a few friends. It's a monthly show at a popular venue, but after a year we're still sometimes struggling to draw an audience. Let's assume for these purposes that we're producing the highest quality show we can. (And we certainly feel like we are.)

The venue holds about 150 people; we've had one sell-out, and some shows with around 60 people, but more often the number is closer to 30. (And often not even that.) So far, we have:

++ Bought Facebook ads (berg), though that did not appear to translate into actual people liking/adding us
++ Talked the show up to anyone who would listen
++ Asked the venue to put us in their weekly newsletter
++ Posted on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblrs, etc., about the show
++ Sent out press releases to relevant sites/magazines
++ Encouraged guests to tweet/post about the show

We've had decent success getting press coverage, but that hasn't translated at all to bigger houses as far as we can tell.

What are some ways — conventional and not — that you've been able to get bigger, sustained audiences? Or what has enticed you to attend a show? What are we not thinking about? We're in Brooklyn, if that affects your answering.
posted by Charity Garfein to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Marketing ( get into the listings of your local time out or whatever) word of mouth, and lots of care and atrensioin to the Peoople who do show up, you want to make the audience feel apart of the experience. I'll ask my friends in events marketing for more specifics and get back to you.

Don't be above pulling PR stunts if it gets you media attention, like a free show in the park with al the local media invited.
posted by The Whelk at 7:08 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ring a local radio station and give them some as giveaways... it increases your exposure and is good for them too.
posted by taff at 7:09 PM on December 13, 2012

Is this a ticketed/entrance fee event? Have you tried hiring promoters? You can pay per person they bring in so you can set whatever works for you.

Try putting up pictures of the event and tagging people. Facebook ads don't seem to work for me that well but what works is people spreading/sharing the event. It works better if people are talking about it on Facebook as opposed a static ad. You can try putting up an event and getting people to click 'attend' because every time someone clicks 'attend', it's one more newsfeed you're showing up on.

Also try giveaways because people love free things. It doesn't have to be expensive things but if you have a few things to give out (tshirts, mugs, tickets to future shows), you can advertise it as such.

Give magazines/sites/bloggers/etc. free entrance/tickets to come to your show so they can write about it and give it more publicity.
posted by cyml at 7:11 PM on December 13, 2012

I've noticed with local performers that they tend to friend a lot of people on Facebook, and engage their audience/friends throughout the day. They do this by being funny and personable. It's like you're friends - you get status updates and photos - but there is an element of self-promotion and entertainment about the whole thing.

So, try to be funny, amusing and otherwise engaging, and try to post some personal stuff too, like photos of vacations. And these photos should be entertaining too. Ken Hegan is a great example of this on Facebook (he's a writer).

You should also be engaging with other performers in your community - you should be promoting the hell out of them too, because what goes around comes around.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:11 PM on December 13, 2012

Oh! Last second thought, your performers need to be on board with all the promotion plans as well, announcing shows on Facebook, responding to fans on Twitter, etc You need a big, hard roll out with everyone on the same page.
posted by The Whelk at 7:17 PM on December 13, 2012

A woman on OkCupid suggested that we meet at the restaurant/bar where she had a weeknight piano/singing gig, so we could talk during her break and afterwards.
There were 4 other guys there for the same reason. sigh.
If the place hadn't closed, I would have brought other dates there, as it was good food and entertainment.
posted by Sophont at 7:17 PM on December 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

How about joining up with other new acts, like a musical group or something? The combined fan bases could result in new fans for both of you, and if it works well then you can partner with different groups too.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:20 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find a niche that other comedy shows in your scene don't offer (though I realize that this may require that you change the content or intent of your shows).
posted by defmute at 7:22 PM on December 13, 2012

There have to be "What's going on in your city" kinds of websites for wherever you are, make sure you're in touch with them.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:30 PM on December 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Put out fewer chairs. This does not directly address the problem of "how to draw more people", but it might well address the problem of "how to make the show still feel energetic and successful with 30 people there", which in turn might get your numbers up over time. Ther is nothing inherently bad about a show drawing 30 people. In the right room setup, 30 people can feel like a great turn-out! (And, conversely, even 150 people would feel like a lousy turnout in a room that holds, say, 800...) There's a lot more energy in a room when audience members are closer to each other and to the stage. And people prefer to be at a show that feels well attended. If you put out 150 seats, and 30 people come, the energy of the crowd will be dissipated, and the show will feel unpopular. If you put out 30 seats and 30 people show up, they will all be crammed in, watching the show together, not noticing that there are fewer people than there are "supposed" to be. If you're worried you might draw more: Put out 30 to start, and have extra chairs on hand, so that if, say, 40 people show up, you are now oversold, and people see you running around to have find extra chairs for all the extra people who are there.

(I say this as someone who has run a monthly "sold out" show for over ten years. Everyone marvels at the fact that it sells out, even though for our first five years, we sold out in a room that only held 80 people. We play a bigger room now. But not much bigger.)
posted by ManInSuit at 7:37 PM on December 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

For whatever reason, comedy shows seem to be more difficult for people to just head out "just to see" than like rock shows or other known quantities. When I started going out to comedy shows where I am, it was because there was a Groupon that gave a pretty decent deal for what was a sort of expensive-ish night out relative to the amount we were sure we'd have a good time, if that makes sense. So the Groupon brought the risk factor down from above-the-line I was comfy with to below-the-line and now we're happy to go back to the same place and pay full price. Do people have a sense they know what they are getting into? Is there new stuff so that people who have gone before will find some reason to go again? Do you have good clips up on YouTube so people who are on the fence can say "Hey those people are really funny!" and/or share/link your stuff?

Brooklyn is really tough because you are going up against a LOT of other good stuff, comedy and otherwise, so I'd suggest really digging into giveaways to local radio stations and/or other venues [there were some free comedy show tickets as prizes at a local trivia match I went to which seemed appealing, both like a "real" prize but also not like an obligation] because having 50 people where only thirty of them pay full price may be a better deal than having 30 people paying full price and no one else.
posted by jessamyn at 7:42 PM on December 13, 2012

For the events we host (in Toronto), we find these things work:

*A special guest from out of town - doesn't matter if they have a draw, this is your first or only or last chance to see them!
*A theme - sure, it's just another gig, but it's um... "Surf and Turf - one surf band and one garage band!"
*Promoting the event to people with spending money and the lifestyle that accommodates a good night out - all the people that would really like our events are poor, tired hard-working parents or people like us and can't get out so easily. Go outside your immediate circle.
*Beer/Liquor sponsorships - everything sounds better with complimentary Jäger shots or $5 pints.
*Have the bar buy a splashier ad in whatever weekly entertainment paper works best (sponsorships sometimes cover this).
*Good old-fashioned cool-looking print posters and flyers at coffee shops and complementary businesses around the neighbourhood.
*Check your competition - is there a venue or show that's pulling your crowd? Poster there.
*Schedule events after paydays and on a good night to go out - maybe your show is at a time when people are just broke and tired?
*Check your start time, depending on the day - people need to either go out right after work, or they need time to go home and get back out (but not so much time they lose momentum - doors open at 9, though bands go on at 10.)
*DON'T give the appearance of playing regularly, or else everyone's like "Oh, I'll catch them next month."
*This makes me laugh, but we don't know when our friend F's birthday really is. It's always his birthday, so we should come out.
*Giveaway with the cover - usually "limited edition" pins to the first 100 in the door ($35 well spent)
*Hang around outside or on the patio if there is one, for a breath of fresh air before the show and on breaks. A few people out front having fun chatting may attract walk-ins.
*If there's parking out front, have people with cool cars park there (admittedly, our shows are of the Rockabilly persuasion, but this works for any event.)
posted by peagood at 7:48 PM on December 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

What you need is a "loss leader." Start a podcast series (same time each day/week).

Original, "live" content. Get a sidekick on with you as well. The popularity of the podcast will bring people to your shows. Not immediately, but you will hit critical mass if you're appealing and regular.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:14 PM on December 13, 2012

Is there some reason you haven't done any printed flyers, postcards, posters? Surely that's your bread and butter?

Find a great image and an awesome tagline, and plaster your local cafes/shops/laundromats/etc.
posted by dontjumplarry at 8:27 PM on December 13, 2012

One of the comedy troupes at my college would give out free chocolate cake from a famous local bakery at their shows. I don't care about comedy, but I always went, and the shows were well attended. Pretty sure this came out of their SGA budget, but maybe you could get a bakery or pizza shop or whatever to sponsor?
posted by justjess at 8:29 PM on December 13, 2012

I am not sure if you make your money on the gate, the a portion of food and beverage or a combination, but if you make a portion of food and beverage, I would paper the shows. Give away a lot of free tickets through easy promotions. Someone mentioned radio station giveaways, I have seen "ticket price credited to tabs over $50" type offers.

I know the music scene much better than the comedy one, but in music, the money is no longer in the gate as much as in the concessions and merchandise sales. I have a friend who works for Live Nation that would have given me up to 8 tickets free for Neil Young at the Barclays the other night because ticket sales were not good and they wanted people in the seats and figure if I buy a beer or 4, hey it is better than looking empty and not selling merchandise. If I have $50 to spend on entertainment that night, if they give me a ticket instead of selling me one for $30, I will buy the overpriced $30 t-shirt and 4 $5 beers, but if you sell me a ticket for $50, I will feel I can't buy food or merch.

Another thing I have seen local bands do is have a drawing several times during their show for either a round of drinks for your table, a local merchant offered a 2 for 1 pizza deal or similar.

Offer a money back guarantee. If you don't like the show, at the end of the show, (not during) you will refund their money. Few will take you up on it, but it tells ticket buyers you are real confident in the show.

I would also offer group rates or merchant resale rebates. Contact the local coffee shop and offer them 25% of every ticket sold or for every 4 they sell you will give them one. They can then offer them to their employees or to good customers or sell them and keep the dough.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:39 PM on December 13, 2012

In terms of social media, make sure that your channels are actually interesting and worth following. Your tweets and FB posts shouldn't be all about *you,* they should be about stuff that's interesting to your audience - articles, videos, pix, etc that they might find funny/interesting. There are some good guidelines and tutorials out there, especially written by the 3rd party app companies, and social media-centric news/blogs.
posted by radioamy at 9:40 PM on December 13, 2012

Or what has enticed you to attend a show? What are we not thinking about?

Well, I like comedy a lot, but in order of forms I'm likely to make an effort to see, it's stand-up first, then sketch/concept stuff, with improv running a distant third (and only if good friends are performing, and they've been at it a while, or, I know for a fact the group is highly skilled). Exploratory work can be exciting, but I think it's always a bit unsettling* for an audience of non-performers, who I think feel more reassured by honed, written stuff. If it's exclusively improv on the bill, maybe mix it up?

Also, thinking about it, going to see comedy means an evening of sitting down and receiving. When I settle on checking out comedy, I'm not expecting to have a wild night or meet anyone new. I'm probably relaxed, and with friends - it's a thing for groups or couples (or people already somehow related to a scene) to do. Maybe, I'm more inclined to go on a Sunday or Wednesday night, not so much a Thursday or Friday.

Definitely second radioamy. I'm starting to see some of my more entrepreneurial friends' tweets and posts as spam. 2-3 good (and short, 30-90 seconds) vids a week (or even month) would sustain my interest more effectively than hourly tweets from every member of a troupe or band. I'm much more curious about what more selectively promotional friends and acquaintances are doing. Avoid duplicating posts, and I guess there are established tricks to pacing them (through the week/day, & around your event).

If there's a variety-type night or event with an established audience, a few of your best performers might be able to poach some music fans. But not necessarily directly. I might encounter a given performer that way, and maybe a few months or even half a year down the line see her name in a review, and think 'oh hey, that's so and so, she's good', and then google her, and find that she's connected with such and such a night, and I'll go if it makes sense for me that weekend. Heh, I guess: be good, plant seeds judiciously, be patient, and encourage everyone involved to keep at their own work too.

*even, possibly, aversive, depending on what they've seen before you.
posted by nelljie at 1:32 AM on December 14, 2012

I wasn't always this stingy. I've supported a lot of friends over the years.
posted by nelljie at 1:54 AM on December 14, 2012

I do improv in Baltimore. We often sell out shows in theaters ranging in size from 50 seats to 220 seats. I think you need a smaller venue, for one thing. 150 seats for improv is a high bar. UCB in Chelsea is 150 seats.

Get in with Groupon once to test it's effectiveness and hit to your margin. It might be worth it for your more important shows.

Get listed with tourist publications, Time Out, free weeklies, etc.

Put together a new show with another group of artists, whether you're collaborating in the show or just two acts in the same show. You'll double your marketing reach. Do it often, and you get a wonderful cross-pollination of audiences. We've done shows with dancers, burlesque artists, body painters.

Make friends with reporters covering entertainment events. Give them press releases ahead of your biggest shows. Get interviewed by free weeklies.

Offer a frequent attendee discount and a referral discount. Survey the audience to learn how they found out about the show. Market in those places even more. Offer special discount codes via Twitter or FB only.

Check the quality of your product to make sure people want it. Get reviewed.

Increase the professionalism of your operation if necessary. People want as little hassle as possible when buying tickets, for example.

Do you know who your target audience is? If you haven't thought about it or think it's everyone in a given age bracket, you have some work to do.

But really, I'd say a smaller venue is your most important first step. It'll also help the performances, because it's a negative feedback loop for performers to play to an empty, low-energy house. And they're going to perform worse because of it.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:02 AM on December 14, 2012

Send postcard announcements to specific individuals in the comedy community. Tell them the announcement is their ticket and make it look like one if you can. Call the show an annual then make it one, or call it a premiere.
posted by R2WeTwo at 4:04 AM on December 14, 2012

Just checking the basics - by "monthly" you mean "regular monthly", yes? Like "second Tuesday" or "the last Thursday" or such?

Because from what I've seen that can be key to developing a regular & larger crowd over time for these sort of weekly/monthly events, especially if the venue isn't really known for having your particular style of show.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:02 AM on December 14, 2012

From friend:

E-mail lists. You have no idea how important these are, collect people's e-mails.

Don't spam them, but do remember to send out e-mails the day before and the day of the show.

Video. Video. Video. Comedy is hard to sell because so much of it is BAD. A few sample clips updated regularly (Note if a comedy show had sample clips for every regular performer I would be HIGHLY predisposed to go.) will get more butts in seats.
posted by The Whelk at 8:51 AM on December 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I think alot of the problems with getitng people to turn up
is that people are too general
when they should really be super specific
like, is this comedy for smart nerdy people
for dudebros
is it queer geek comedy"

You may want to address some of the problems people have with comedy clubs (overpriced drinks, horrible abusive comics) directly in the marketing and ads.
posted by The Whelk at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2012

I know you referenced the fact that you were putting on the best possible show, but at a certain point you may have to look at this. As we all know, the best, most effective kind of advertising is word of mouth. Audiences will talk about shows that really really made them laugh. If they had a great time they will do much of the work for you.

I'm sorry to say this, but I've never come across a great show running in a large city for over a year, that was still only attracting about 30 people per performance.
posted by miles1972 at 11:02 AM on December 14, 2012

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