During my comedy career I performed at many bar gigs that were great.
I performed at many others during my stand-up comedy career that didn’t quite make it into that category.
Every bar gig I ever performed at was arranged or set up by another comedian. Most of the time it was a more experienced comedian that set up the show.
Other times it was newer comedians who set up the show who were either looking for another avenue for stage time or to make a some money from the endeavor.
The Bar Gig Downside
Let’s start with some of less than favorable things you can encounter at bar gigs.
1. The room was not set up well for a stand-up comedy show.
Many bars have TV’s, pool tables and arcade games that will provide a major distraction during a stand-up comedy show if they are not secured or turned off during the show.
One of the worse bar gigs I ever performed at was a biker bar in Ventura, CA. All the TV’s were left on, people were walking back and forth from the bar to the pool tables adjacent to the stage. And was somebody playing darts on the dart board next to the stage for the entire show.
Still other bar gigs will not provide a seating arrangement that is conducive to a stand-up comedy show. This becomes even more critical the smaller the audience is for the show.
I remember one bar gig where the 10 people in attendance at the show were all sitting at the bar about 30 feet from the stage because there was a dance floor in between.
It actually turned out to be a pretty good gig, but would have been much better had they set up some tables closer to the stage for the show for the patrons to sit at.
2. Most of the bar patrons don’t know there was a stand-up comedy show.
Whether the show was set-up quickly with little advance notice or simply poorly promoted or announced, this can cause issues with the show.
Keep this in mind:
Audience attentiveness plays a major role in the effectiveness a comedian can have in any performing environment and at any level.
People go to bars to drink, talk and play games if available. And that’s exactly what will happen and the show can be all but ignored if not set-up properly.
One of the things that I noticed about bar gigs early on was if the the patrons don’t really know there is a stand-up comedy show, they will pretty much stick with their normal routine and talk or play games through the entire show.
3. There can be an increased potential for heckling during a bar comedy show.
Unlike comedy clubs where people come for the show and have drinks during the show, people who go to bars to drink.
Subsequently, the likelihood that one or more people can be blown out of their gourd is increased. So, filled with “liquid courage” these folk can feel the need to heckle the comedians.
Still the same basic rule applies in stand-up comedy bar gigs as in comedy clubs which is:
If the audience is laughing, they aren’t heckling.
4. Another down side for most bars is that they tend to have the same audience show up show after show.
So, once you have gone through all your material once, you are pretty much done if the same folks continue to show up show after show — unless you are able to generate effective new stand-up comedy material quickly.
The exception to this is hotel bar gigs where many of the patron are transient guests at the hotel. This can ensure a different audience for each show if it is promoted properly.
Many times experienced comedians who are running a bar gig will take the opener/MC spot in the show because:
- They only have to do do 5 minutes or so to start the show and get the audience warmed up for the other comedians. This can allow them to literally do months of material that regular bar patrons have not seen.
- They can usually “recover” the audience in the event a comedian in the line up doesn’t do well.
If the bar gig in question is an open mic affair where inexperienced comedians are attempting to accumulate stage time, these can not only be a significant waste of time but potentially detrimental to a comedian’s desire and motivation to even continue stand-up comedy at all.
New comedians should avoid ANY gig (free or paid in any venue) that is a set up for failure before even stepping on stage, particularly open mic gigs. There is no value added for the comedian that I can think of when it comes to helping them to deliver an act that generates the level of laughter needed to kill the crowd (provided there is a crowd).
Note: Working clean can provide substantially more performing opportunities even for new comedians — some killer self-made performing opportunities are revealed in the Corporate Comedy Secrets module of my online course.
Also there is an extensive amount of audio information about open mics in the Stand-up Comedy Secrets For Beginners Audio Series at Comedy University.
Now for the flip side…
Bar Gigs Can Rock
When set-up well (distractions turned off, proper seating etc.) with an audience expecting a stand-up comedy show and promoted properly…
Bar gigs can be fantastic.
One of my favorite bar gigs was actually a sports bar called Centerfield in Huntington Beach, California. They would have a dedicated two comedian show ($5.00 admission) every couple of weeks — features and headliners.
They had a small, but well lit stage in one corner. They turned off all TV’s in the room for the show.
They covered the pool tables with plywood, then covered them with table cloths and they put bar seating around them for additional seating (the room held over 100 folks and was usually packed).
And because it was a dedicated show with a small admission cost and set up very well, the audiences were great and it was always a blast to perform there — first as feature and then as a headliner.
The management was great and really treated the comedians like royalty. Features did 25 minutes for $100. Headliners did 45 minutes for $200.
So bar gigs for comedians can be great or not great — in large part relative to the room set-up and how well it is promoted in advance.
I should also mention that just because a stand-up comedy gig is set up in a bar, that doesn’t mean that a less talented comedian line up is warranted.
In other words, unfunny stand-up comedy is just as unfunny in a bar as it is in a comedy club and shouldn’t be used as some sort of open mic night affair.
But that does happen and those bar gig shows tend to evaporate very quickly.
And again, if the bar gig is not set-up well and promoted properly, then I would avoid those sorts of gigs at all cost.