Shape your show. Do you want to present an intimate storytelling event or a late night, beer-soaked free-for-all? Do you want to charge or eradicate cover charges altogether? Music cued between each act, or dance party with a live bluegrass band after each performance? Decide what kind of comedy show you’d be proud to call your own, and while you’re at it, give your show a snazzy name that sums it all up. Write up a blurb -- a paragraph about your show that tells its name and gives a quick, engaging description of what viewers can expect. This will come into play in both securing a venue, booking comedians and getting press, so really make your blurb sparkle. How much do you want to be onstage? If you want to host your show, make sure to mention that. Or maybe you'd prefer to have someone else host while you do all the legwork. There's no right or wrong way -- do what appeals to you.
Sign a contract with your venue. The venue you’re eyeing may present you with a contract/producer agreement when they agree to allow you to present your show there. Look these over carefully. Make sure you know what is expected of you, ESPECIALLY financially. Do you need to make a bar minimum during your time slot? Are you expected to pay for the space, either in the form of a straight-up rental fee or by splitting the door (i.e., a cover charge) with the venue? Ideally, you have a space that allows your show to take place for free, allows you to charge a cover if you choose and keep that cover, and that offers a bar for guests who want to partake. Be aware of anything you’re signing that’s legally binding, and make sure any financials work in your favor. If you aren’t presented with a contract, be aware that at any time, your venue may just decide to change its mind in regards to your verbal agreement to produce there … and in so doing, will kick your show to the curb. Them’s the breaks.Negotiate performance schedule, costs & perks. During the contract signing, also keep an eye for details such as performance dates (are these the correct day, dates and show times?), costs (a bar minimum or cover charge imposed by venue), and any performer perks. Most indie comedy shows don’t pay booked performers. In lieu, comedians are offered the perk of drink tickets, good that night at the bar. Some venues are happy to pour for free all night for performers, while others can be a bit more tight-fisted with drink tickets. If you have a show with 7 performers and a contract stating you’re allotted 5 per show, you may need to pay for some of those comped drinks out of pocket. Try to negotiate more tickets if you encounter this, and if that fails, charm the bartender who works during your show by having the emcee encourage lots of tips to try and drum up some gratis booze.
Book your comedians. This is the time to showcase that hilarious friend of yours you know is going to slay up onstage, or maybe to reach out to that mover-and-shaker comedy writer and ask if she’d like to come be on your humble new show. Put together the dream laugh team that’ll kick your show off just right. After you get your line-up set, then make sure to send each performer a confirmation email with your show’s blurb, the time/date of the performance, venue directions, and their call time (when they need to be there before the show starts to check in with you). It’s also great to include any links to a web presence you’ve built for your show (we’ll get to that) and your cell number just in case they don’t have it handy.Promote your show. Make your show a free web page using Tumblr, Wordpress or Blogger. Create a Facebook page for the show and ask people who love you to “like” your new endeavor. Find out who the editors of your local paper’s performance sections are, and send out a dazzling cover letter to try and get some press. Send out personal & individual emails to people and ask them to come out for comedy. Design some simple flyers, which you can either print up on your own or even have made into some inexpensive postcards. Always have your show flyers on you to hand out to anyone you encounter who you think could be an attendee. Be bold and confident and you'll make people want to see the show you're so excited about. As the producer, your job is ultimately, to get asses in seats. Use your social networking skills, mixed with your word of mouth savvy, to make sure the performers you loved enough to book have someone there to hear and enjoy them, and that your venue is able to generate revenue from them. While your performers may also ask people to come see them, don’t depend on that. You’re the producer, so produce comedy lovers to fill up that space and buy some drinks!
Keep calm and carry on. It’s the day of the show. One comic has canceled because her shitzu has food poisoning. Another is M.I.A. for her 7:45 PM call time. The venue’s bar is out of ice. Oh, and only one of the microphones works … kind of. Listen up: The show MUST and WILL go on! Flex your newly earned producer muscles and make sure your performers are happy, hydrated and know where they are in your line-up. Smile and act like everything is great, because your attitude as a producer will impact how your performers feel and how the audience perceives your show. In any type of live performance, accept that things can and will go wrong -- really, really wrong. That, you can't control. But what you CAN control is you, so being clear, calm and gracious will go a very long way toward making your new show a sure hit.These guidelines can work for people wanting to team up and co-produce, too -- just make sure to have a clear plan of who is responsible for which of these duties. Well, what are you waiting for?! Go forth and produce!