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Thursday, January 17, 2013

What DIY Comedy Means to The Cape Fear Comedy Festival

Nutt House Improv Troupe at the Cape Fear Comedy Festival
DIY simply means do-it-yourself.  Most everyone knows this.  However, not everyone knows what it means in the world of live comedy.    

How Do Agents Feel About DIY Comedy Shows and Bookers?

If you ask a long-time comedy booking agent, DIY comedians and comedy producers may be viewed as a threat.  Some feel that these individuals hurt the overall business of live comedy more-so than help it. They believe the shows they put on are less professional.
Other agents understand the necessity of the DIY comedy element.  The shows give comics not  quite ready for the agents valuable stage time that helps them hone their skills.  The comics get the chance to do some of the roughest crowds they could possibly face making them better prepared to handle heckling and other variable challenges that come up in the more mainstream comedy room.  Most importantly, it is another avenue of the 'paying your dues' that is necessary to level out your ego and make you a better comedian.

The Death of the Comedy Boom

During the peak of the comedy boom of the 70's and 80's, comedy clubs were the end-all be-all.   They were in nearly every major city. I am not going to get into the 'why' of the death of the comedy boom, but it happened, this is widely agreed upon. Today we see only a small fraction of the number of big clubs that existed at that time.  However, the amount of people becoming comedians or at least attempting to become comedians has continued to increase.  This creates a very unique employment side supply and demand problem.  There is a surplus of comedians that exist to be booked driving their required fees down, and there are less places for comedians to find club work. As would be the case in any industry, this has forced those that cannot find work to create alternate venues to get paid to perform. 

The Starbucks Theory
Only I call this idea the 'Starbucks theory' because I think it makes sense.  Credit has to be given to larger comedy clubs JUST like credit has to be given to Starbucks.  If Starbucks had not become so widely spread getting people to pay $4 for a cup of coffee, then mom and pop coffee shops that followed would not have been able to do it either.  They did so by proving they had a quality product that was worth the money you paid for it.  The same is true of larger comedy clubs that have marketing budgets and buying power.  If they did not exist throughout the country, no one would find live comedy to be a viable entertainment option. So remember when you are running your one nighter in a bar in a random town outside a major market with a club, people wouldn't think they had to pay for comedy if it wasn't for them..

The Comedian Run Room Boom

Comedians have always run smaller alternative rooms in towns where clubs existed. In the last ten years this has become more and more common.  Many comics attempt to put on shows that don't get the necessary attendance and support forcing them to quickly close.  Other comics have been successful running rooms that for every intent and purpose act as the comedy club for their specific area. 
When a comedy club closes in a town, sometimes the displaced comics have no other choice but to start their own rooms in bars, restaurants and rental facilities.  A good example of this are the comedians in Huntington, West Virginia. Their Funny Bone Comedy Club opened and closed three times in the last five years and now they have no full time club.  They began putting on shows in nearby Barboursville to try to fill the void. 

Eugene Mirman is a DIY Comedy Legend
What DIY Comedy Means to Us
DIY means you are not going to sit around and wait for performance opportunities to drop in your lap.  DIY is the true spirit of the small business entrepreneur in America.  It applies far outside of comedy, but very much directly relates to comedy.  A DIY comedian may book a weekend with a club or agent, then is going to go out and find a few bars or night clubs that would be interested in a comedy show and fill the remaining dates in his or her calendar.  

A DIY comedy promoter/producer is going to find places where comedy is desired and put on shows in those areas.   He is not going to wait for the official blessing of a comedy club that sits in a different market that claims domain over the area, and he is not going to be concerned about any type of territorial restriction if he knows it is invalid. (Example: Club is in a different city 30 miles away or more- At this point with fuel costs the average person only drives more than 30 miles to see a show if they also would have to drive the same distance to get their drivers license renewed).  DIY comedy is guerrilla comedy, just like guerrilla marketing. The things has been pigeonholed into the term 'alternative comedy' when it really is only alternative because it isn't done in actual comedy clubs.  There is nothing easy about performing in these rooms, and their is nothing simple about getting asses in the seats as a promoter. DIY comedy rooms are to comedy clubs what your local grocery store is to Walmart.  We fully support comedian run shows and encourage you to stop waiting around for the new club to open and go out and learn how to put on a great show and how to promote it, then do it!

-Matt Ward

Matt Ward runs Super Cat Productions which assists in the comedy booking of the Star of Knoxville Riverboat, The Pilot Light, The Well, Preservation Pub, The Edge and Two Doors Down in the Knoxville area.  He also is the producer of Port City's Top Comic, The Rocky Top Comedy Contest, Laughing for Life, The Cape Fear Comedy Festival and helps run the Knoxville Roasters Club.


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