I'm just starting out... Is it a good idea for me to perform in a bringer show?

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Answered by: Ken, An Expert in the Breaking Into Stand-Up Category
The same scenario occurs time and again for beginning comedians... Some newbie, fresh on the open mic scene, gets approached by a comedy booker with an “opportunity”. “You can play the big famous comedy club in town,” he proclaims, “and all you have to do is bring 15 people!"

So, should you do it?

“Bringer shows” (i.e., “Any show where you are required to bring a set number of people in exchange for stage time”) are a common occurance in the comedy scene; they’ve been the source of a lot of controversy, with people both cursing their name and singing their praises – generally, with professional comics like me on one side and “bringer show” bookers on the other. Questioning whether or not you should perform in a bringer show is something every comic will have to face at some point in his or her career - often quite a few times, in fact - and the answer isn't quite as simple as it might seem on the surface.

I've written numerous articles on why the business model of "bringer shows" are damaging to the industry as a whole (as well as repeatedly ranted about it when drinking with other comics after a show!), so I won't go into that here. Let's be honest - if you're questioning whether or not you should perform in a bringer show, you're probably not doing it out of some obscure sense of comedy charity; you want to know what it can do for YOU! As a comedian – professional or amateur – you always need to ask yourself one very important question before agreeing to perform in ANY show: “How am I going to profit from this?” It sounds very mercenary, I know – but it’s “show business”, folks, not “show art”… and I’m not talking just about money. In any performance, a comedian should how he or she is going to profit in three very important areas: MONEY, EXPERIENCE, and EXPOSURE. Those are the big three, and in any show, you should be getting at least one of them – AND, the amount of these three commodities that you’re receiving should be equal to or greater than the amount of work you have to put into getting that spot. It's the classic "risk vs. reward" rule that gets pounded into business school students every day - minimize your work ("risk") while maximizing your reward (money, experience or exposure). That goes for open mics, bringer shows, even professional gigs – I wouldn’t chase down a booker for 18 months straight if it was only going to lead to a one-nighter in Podunk, NE; my time is more valuable than that. Always identify to yourself how you’re profiting in these three areas, and if the profit is worth the effort, then go ahead and book the show – and remember the “risk vs. reward” equation… if you can get the same profit for less work somewhere else, you’re booking a spot on the wrong show.

So… for an example, let’s go back to our newbie’s “opportunity” at that famous comedy club. Is the comic getting money for the gig? Generally not - some bringer show bookers might give the comics a cut of the tickets they sell, but the clubs generally don't put their paid professional talent on the same show as newbie open micers – so that’s one strike against the show already. Is the comic getting experience from the show? Absolutely… but don’t forget about that “risk vs. reward” issue. Is the experience really going to be much more valuable to their development as a comedian than doing the same time at an open mic without a bringer requirement would be? Probably not… other than the personal ego boost of performing in a “real” comedy club. Ego’s nice… but it doesn’t pay the bills, and it’s not very good at teaching you how to write a better joke or clean up your timing, either. So, if you can get the same level of experience – “profit” – for less work somewhere else, like I said earlier, this is the wrong show. Two strikes now… this leaves us with one category left to make the show worthwhile. Is the comic going to get exposure from this show? Well, this is a tricky one, but the truth is - probably not… most professional bookers are already well aware of how bringer shows work; they rarely ever even watch these shows, and if they do, they're not considering the comics they're seeing for employment. After all, if your comedy was at a level that you were ready to be employed in a professional comedy club… wouldn’t somebody have already been PAYING you to do your job somewhere else before this? National comedy clubs ain’t exactly the lowest rung on the comedy club employment ladder, and I doubt many agents, casting directors, etc. are going to be dragged out to a show to watch a bunch of open micers. Sure, some bringer show bookers will swear up one side and down the other that they’re pulling out big name industry folks each week… but remember: because of the business model of a bringer show, attracting a quality audience is no longer a major factor for that booker. He’ll have the same amount of butts in the seats (and, thus, cash in his pocket) whether or not Spielberg is in the audience… and whether or not it's you or some other sucker on that stage.

So… if you're not going to do a bringer show, what do you do for stage time? Odds are there’s stage time somewhere in your area that doesn’t require you to offer up your friends and blood relatives as a comedy sacrifice, and if there isn't… roll up your sleeves and build one! There’s always a coffee house somewhere that’ll be willing to let you throw together an open mike if you just ask. Nobody in your town drinks coffee, you say? Ok… then try the local bar, library, hotel, bus station, old folks home, pizza parlor, or sidewalk (yes – there are already open mikes existing in ALL these types of locations somewhere… which just proves you can do comedy anywhere if you try hard enough). It’ll take a bit more work on your part, and the crowds might not be as good as at that local bringer show – but you’ll get more experience than doing 5 minutes once a week, and you won’t end up forcing all your friends to cough up $20 every Friday night just to support your burgeoning comedy career.

So, to address the comedy newbie’s question – no, don’t do the bringer show. Ever. Trust me (and the thousands of other comedians who have spoken out against this problem) – wait until you’ve paid your dues to get onto that famous comedy club stage, newbie… and then walk through those doors with your head held high and a paycheck in your hand. It’ll take some time… but it’s a great ride getting there.

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