The best way to get time in comedy is to run your own room. Well that’s easier said than done. Where do we begin? Venue? Show style? Promotion? If you’re someone like me, and you probably aren’t, you can get very overwhelmed by all of this and end up just doing nothing at all.
Shit, we don’t want to piss David Bowie and that codpiece off. To prevent the nothing (I’ll spare you a Neverending Story gif here but I am always 10 minutes away from dropping one) from happening, I’ve tracked down some of my favorite comics who put on some of the best shows in the country to see how in the hell the rest of us can get this room ball rolling, or this Roomba rolling. I can’t stop with the wordplay. Send help.
It’s good. It’s a long flat road. We’ve been driving for a long time now.
Oh this is work-related? You’re with the whole Power Violence team?
Yeah we’re with Power Violence and Brooks Wheelan from Live From NY It’s Saturday Night.
Ha ha ha ha, so I saw Power Violence at SXSW in 2013 and I didn’t know who you were and afterwards I was like “What was that?” It was amazing but my brain didn’t know how to process it. For those who don’t know who Power Violence is, who are you guys?
It’s basically a group of friends, a comedy collective. There are 5 of us, and we just do a weekly show and make funny videos. We just goof around and hopefully people respond to that. We definitely don’t take it too seriously. Everything that we do, it’s so dumb…I think the show you saw we made someone go on a date.
Yeah, it was amazing. So which came first, Power Violence the group or Power Violence the show?
Me and Clay grew up together with our friend Jeramy, who is our sound guy. Budd and Rod grew up together. Me and Clay moved to LA then Budd and Rod moved to LA then we met each other and became roommates and were making videos. We started a live show called Power Violence. Me and Clay would always label everything Power Violence Productions, all of our videos that we’d make and then after doing that i guess people would start calling us the Power Violence boys. So then we started calling ourselves Power Violence.
Tell me about a Power Violence Show. You guys get a lot of really amazing comics on it.
We run out on stage and do like 30 minutes in the beginning, the 4 of us. We don’t do sketches, we wing it, we talk to each other. We usually have some sort of performance bit, but not a sketch. It’s more performance than anything, nothing is written. Like, we crucified Buddy on Easter. We’ve set Buddy on fire a few times. Usually the opening bits involve us doing physical harm to Buddy. We like to build things a lot. We came up with this idea to do a thing called the Nut Box because we realized Buddy had huge nuts. So we built this box that had a camera inside it. Buddy would put his nuts in the box and people could go look at them, and they would also project that image onto this big projector screen into the back. We also built a money machine, those things where you get in that box and it blows around money. We did that on Superbowl Sunday with chips and we got Buddy to get in it but the main thing we were trying to do was get Buddy into a confined space and after we blew a bunch of chips around he thought the bit was over but we decided to put a bunch of live crickets into it. So we’ll do something like that then we’ll make a video. We plan the whole show all day on Sunday.
And then you’ll have comics on?
Oh yeah, we’ll do that for the first 30 minutes and we bring a few friends up. And we like to do regular stand up but then we like to do, like with our friend Brooks Wheelan from Live from New York Saturday Night. We did a thing with him for 4 months where he would go up every week doing a new 5 minute bit from his childhood. He came up with like 20 stories. It was really good. That was probably our most notorious residency. So we have comedians, just kind of after that it’s like a regular showcase show with us in between goofing around. We’ve been lucky enough to have a good audience so they spoil us.
How about the space, how does one choose a venue for their show?
I just found a theater, a little theater. I did a show at another theater and I was like “Oh I want to rent a theater like this,” so I called the person who owned a bunch of those theaters and asked if I could rent one. We just went from there. I think the space should inspire the show in a way. Looking at that theater it was great because it had all of these different lights so it inspired some of our bits like the projector bit was based on crazy lights or super loud music or a completely dark room. I think that should inspire what the show should be. My main advice is once a person starts to show or wants to start a show is to make it a consistent thing, a thing that is every week if it’s every week and is the same thing. It’s the same group or the same guy, not a themed show or changes all the time. It’s not a gimmick. I think that’s what people responded to about us. We were just 4 guys who didn’t know what we were doing and it just came together. It wasn’t going to be like “This week we’re gonna hand out cookies or this week we’re gonna do a weed show.” I think the stage should definitely inspire a show but if you want to do your own comedy show, everywhere you should go you should think “Will this idea work here?”
How did you guys go about building your audience?
It was all word of mouth. We weren’t comedians really so nobody knew anything about us when we started. We’d ask comedians to do the show but people didn’t really start coming…I mean maybe 10 people would come the first year, 10 – 20 tops which was a great environment to start because no one was there so we were able to do what we weanted and really develop what we were about. It took a good year of doing the show every single week for people to come. Honestly it took a good year and a half to two years before it was a consistently packed house. And still, now there’s been two shows in 2014 where there’s been a light audience out of nowhere but that just happens. As far as promoting it it was all word of mouth. None of us even had Twitter for the first month. We’re only now trying to get good at Facebook invites. That stuff is really important. A lot of people are really good at that. It’s really more about having fun. We try not to put too much pressure on ourselves. It’s just a video going on YouTube or it’s just something we’ll do this one time. It’s not a big deal. The show gets more and more fun every week. I don’t think any of us really ever want it to end.
Do you feel there will be a time when you know it’s time to stop?
I think the only way it would ever end is if we weren’t able to do it. If something was keeping us from doing it. We’ll still find ways to perform together, always. We wouldn’t do it every week maybe but at least once a month.
Yeah weekly is a big commitment.
We didn’t know what we wanted to do at first. We were thinking after a few months of doing the show that no one was really coming so maybe we’d do it bi-weekly. Then Jonah Ray, who is this awesome comedian gave us the best advice he said “Just do it every week. Who cares if no one cares. It will be a good show and people will come.”
I feel like you’ve only been doing comedy for a couple of years?
Yeah, two and a half years.
That’s kind of a short amount of time to have such a successful show with so many amazing comics. What is Sleepaway Camp? It’s not just you.
There’s actually 5 of us. It’s every Tuesday night at the downtown independent. It’s been really fun. We come up with a new theme every week. For example, when I host it it’s called When Love Meets Fear. I’m barefoot and I wear a spiritual outfit. I like to do PowerPoint presentations. Last time I did a PowerPoint on gender roles and it’s really silly. I don’t actually explain anything. I put a lot of nudity on the screen, all sorts of genitalia. And then at the end I was trying to show the transformation of a man to a woman on the screen. I did all sorts of digital art. I crawled under the movie screen and changed into a diaper. Then the 4 other Sleepaway Camp counselors came out and we did the Spice Girls. We lip synced to our recording of Wannabe. It was really fun and people get into it. We just like to do silly things that make us laugh.
The downtown independent is a huge theater, how did you get that space?
Thankfully we don’t have to pay for it. There was a show before ours called Holy Fuck. It was a show started by Dave Ross and Jeff Wattenhofer. It was an amazing show. I think they ran it for 3 years and they felt like they weren’t gonna end it. They got a ton of big names, especially towards the end. I had a chance to do one of the last ones. It was 100% sold out in a 250 seat theater with a line out the door. That’s amazing for LA. There are so many shows in Los Angeles. That was a really special show and Dave decided he wanted to focus, it was too overwhelming producing it. He wanted to focus on other things so he had to find people to take over the slot. He picked 4 people, Austin who works for the theater. Austin kind of works with Doug Friedman who is another comic and also Dave decided to choose myself and this guy Travis Rust. We had started a podcast very early in our comedy careers. It was kind of a way for us to learn about comedy. It was called Haunting Open Mic Encounters and we would interview our favorite comics about their worst experiences at open mics. We had Dave Ross on and we bonded with him a lot so he ended up deciding to choose us to take over. At the time I had been helping with other shows and running multiple open mics so I kind of was really getting my hands dirty. I guess he thought we could do a good job and we wouldn’t crash the ship that he built and yeah, it’s a cool show in the sense that we already had support from a guy who is very respected in the scene. Our first show was packed because it was the first show, with all of our friends. A lot of the earlier shows were great because it was carrying on the momentum from Holy Fuck. We didn’t want it to be like Holy Fuck at all and we all have a similar sensibility. We’re pretty silly dudes. We wanted to make it more of a variety show instead of stand up so we incorporated themes in each week. I’d play a character. We would do things like a telethon where we gave out our telephone numbers on screen and people gave us money. We’ve had a strip theme show, a man with a micropenis. Oh also there is one other Sleepaway Camp guy named Ryan Schumaker. He was a late add, just was hangin’ with us while we were having our first meeting and he had the balls to ask to be in. He’s a sweet guy, a hard worker, and the best open mic DJ east of Wilton.
How did you find that guy? Does he rent himself out?
He’s been on Tim and Eric. I’m pretty inspired by Tim and Eric and so is Travis. My goal for the next show is to do kissing instructions. I’m going to have a woman with me and we’re gonna teach couples how to french kiss. I just love to kiss. I love french kissing. You can quote me on that.
I’ll put that in bold and italics. (I did)
I just like the idea of teaching people, creating unity in a community. I like people holding hands. I like people touching. I like sensuality and spirituality and I just want to promote those and at the same time hey, why not get some laughs?
Was the promotional aspect also already built into the show? Was this the kind of venue people were already showing up at anyway?
Some people trickled in because of Holy Fuck but we had to create a new audience too. We promoted a lot. We made flyers and handed them out.
Where did you hand them out? Comedy shows?
No, three of the guys who work on the show are Lyft drivers. They would talk to people all the time. They wouldn’t force it ever but if people were like “What do you do?” they’d hand them a flyer. Honestly we’ve had a lot of people come from that. If people come once and it’s a decent show they’ll come back. We use social media of course, posting on blogs, all the normal means of promotion. We’re still working on new, innovative ways to increase our numbers. We’ve had marketing meetings about having cross promotions with hotels and apartments, cooperating with local businesses. It’s nothing groundbreaking.
I think it’s groundbreaking for comedy though, in terms of promoting a show.
Part of my brain is interested in the busy work for some reason. I would prefer to write jokes but I view it all as contributing to the same goal. The more people that come the more the telling of the jokes will be fun.
If you want to catch Jay he’s in Baltimore, Friday May 30th (tonight) at The Extra Friday Show. EVERYONE IS INVITED.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcgxC6R0JgI
For people who don’t know who you are, you’re not just a stand up comic. You also write and contribute to Hello Giggles which is Zooey Deschanel’s site along with Sophia Rossi and Molly McAleer. You’ve been at SXSW at the NY Comedy Festival and you’re really stylish which is kind of a rare thing to be a well-dressed great comic.
I love that. I think that’s one of my favorite compliments to be completely honest.
Do you currently run Keep it Clean? Is it active?
The good news is because I got so busy which is a blessing and a curse I was able to hire not one but two co-producers to take Keep it Clean to a whole new level. We revamped it in January and gave the whole show a complete, stripped down makeover. We brought in a co-producer from Fringe, overseas and she helps with a lot of Canadian shows. She’s traveled to Australia, London. She knows comics from all over and we curated a concept called Fringe: Comedy With Bangs, very edgy name. We now run the show in the same venue. It’s obviously been renovated so it’s a super dope room. It’s going on 5 years since I’ve been running this room but now I have a team because when I’m not around as much the bookers need to be on point. The photographer needs to know. The bar manager needs to understand how many heads we’re getting. The concept is, just to break it down, I was seeing a lot of the same lineups circulate in Los Angeles which is a good and a bad thing. The good thing is we have such a pool of talent that is living here and working but the bad thing is there are so many good comics that are in Canada that are in Australia that are in London that are in New Zealand that we don’t hear about because people aren’t traveling there that often. We came up with a concept called International Fringe meaning like on the outskirts, kind of outcasts. When outsiders come in they now have a show they can jump in on. We welcome two locals, one a huge name one up and coming and we welcome two internationals whether it be across the seas…we also consider “international,” like if you’re from Florida and you’re a great comic. It’s a space you can come to. I think a lot of comedians don’t have that clout here in LA but now they have a haven they can come to. Our concept is free pizza and free beer when you get here early and we pay our comics which is a cool thing. You don’t see that a lot in LA but we do it using donation buckets. It’s every Monday night at 10.
Thinking back to the beginning of Fringe, when it was Keep it Clean. How did you find the venue? Why is it called Keep it Clean…do people have to keep it clean?
No it was a dose of irony. I’ll trail back to how we found the venue because that’s key. I was looking for a late night room. We now have a ton of late night rooms but 5 years ago we did not. By late night I mean past 10:00. Basically I had finished a spot at the Comedy Store and I was walking with another comedian and we came across…Tiger Lily is the original room I started going to a ton and was getting up a lot with Natasha Legerro and Maria Bamford. That was the original LA room and they had a space called Tiger Lily. They moved their venue and when I was talking to Maria she was like “You should take that room over.” At the time it was this massive open spaced bar with a very rowdy crowd. I looked at that and thought “If anybody can do it I can definitely do this.” So I created a concept for a late night show that would be Keep it Clean meaning I wanted it for comedians who were rehearsing their sets for late night because on late night you have to keep it clean. So now these comedians have a place to run their sets instead of scrambling at the last minute to do Conan. In that you run your set then feel free to riff based on that. That concept started very basic. I reached out to a couple of different artists and Jeff Ross’ good friend Kai came back with this super awesome flyer that was the Queen picking her nose. And that was Keep it Clean. That’s how it kind of got born. From there that artwork was pretty well known around LA because it was this late night place. Comics would hang out all the time. After you hit up Tiger Lily you came to Keep it Clean. In the beginning it was very rowdy but if you were a dope comic you were able to wrestle that bar crowd down to get them listening. If you did that you were a great comic. Then it slowly started to receive a following where the bar was “Hey we’ll give you a hundred dollars throw some beers out to some people.” It started to become more tight with the audience. Now, years later I needed a co-producer because I was getting too busy and this girl Meghan Baker came on and she is also a photographer so I was able to get photographs of onstage performances and allow for the weight to be lifted off me for booking because it becomes a little hard to run your professional life and run a show. I think a lot of comedians have this misconception of bookers where they think they’re just not responding to me because they hate me. Really you see the message but you are also living your life. I read them but I’m translating it, seeing where it’s a good fit for people because we book 3 months in advance. It’s a science. The better rooms have a formula and that formula is open communication. When comedians are not ready to be in the room it’s not because I don’t think they’re funny. When you’re ready to be in that room, when you’ve earned your spot to be in the room you’ll be in the room. And that’s the best part. And when you’re not ready that’s what open mics are for. I did that. I never jumped the gun. We treated it like our little baby and it fluorished and became this late night thing and was a really great concept. From there either I eliminate the show and pass it on to someone or I take what was working and revamp it and give it that Lady GaGa lift.
Obviously having the built-in venue from Tiger Lily was helpful but what kind of promotion/marketing did you do? Is there anything a bit outside of the norm that works?
Facebook invites are no more. I think the key to the marketing of a good show is your artwork, your consistency, your social mediums are not bogged down with just jargon they are bogged down with creative concepts. You have to put the effort in. When people @ people on Twitter, they don’t know who that person is. They need to know why they should be there. You want them to understand who is coming to their show. Linking things to Instagram, what I love about Comedy Livingroom is they make these 2-3 minute videos showing their last show, people cheering, one or two jokes then what is happening at the next show. That is a palpable link, instead of linking them to a Facebook page you link them to a video. It gives them a visual. Who goes there. What the show is. What does it look like. Is there a format to it. Another terrific outlet is having flyers on you, those little 4 x 6’s. When you are having conversations as a comic you are speaking to people who are going to eventually come to your show or people who just love to laugh. When you have them on you and you’re in a conversation, they’re in your purse…BOOM. Just hand it to them,
“My name is JC come say hi when you get here.” It’s so important to just have them on you because you aren’t barking, which is what we do anyway, but if you have that palpable thing people say “Oh I really want to come to your show,” then they forget. Another thing that works is magnets. It’s something, people love the dumbest things: coozies, magnets, posters. They are so cheap, so easy to make. Little buttons people can put on their bags, just to have them. It works because it’s visual artwork. I think people are starting to understand that more. You can hire your buddy who is an amazing artist to do this for you. You can make these things a part of history in a way. You just combined comedy and art. There is a great show out here on Tuesdays that combines great artwork and great music. They also have great photography so the photos the comics are walking away with they will want to post. So when people ask about that picture they are then asking about the show.
So while running the room during the actual show, what works as a host?
The key to a room is to really feel out your audience and your crowd. You have to listen and be really observant of whose in the room at the time. Be aware of bachelor parties, birthday parties. I personally greet everyone in the bar first. You don’t just bomb them with the show. You walk in and you say “My name is _____ I’m running a show here. A lot of these comics here are rehearsing sets for ________ you guys are more than welcome to come inside. The show is super fun.” Most of the time half the crowd splits and comes to the show, the other half leaves so they don’t bother the show. When you burst in people feel like they are being interrupted. From there it wasn’t hard for me to get them on my side. As a host you want to be a welcoming host for them and I’ve already made them feel at ease. Your set can be anywhere between 10 minutes and 15 minutes up top if it’s going well, if not my producer will flag it. What we like to do at Public House is not give out a comic’s credits. I never ask them what they want me to say. I like when a host personally knows the talent. I love stories like “I saw this girl at Tiger Lily in 2008 and she killed.” Even if you don’t know them you can say “I just watched their video from Just For Laughs and they slayed it.”
So if Facebook is on its way out, where should show information go?
I absolutely think a stock footage Tumblr or a stock footage FB page will allow people to backpeddle when they’re driving. They can find it, say if they need to know where to go. When your show reaches a certain level it’s good to reach out to the city paper or another publication. Put that effort in to just send an email to that person.
Obviously LA has a huge list of well-established comics from which to choose. If you’re in a town where people have to rely on local comics is it smart to book at least one person who has a draw?
That is the most discouraging part for people who are outside of major cities, but the good thing is there are so many great comics in these smaller cities. You just gotta know who the most popular comic is, big fish small pond scenario. Some people want to stretch their legs in a hipster scene, a bar scene, to expand their ability. I like to set it up 6-8 weeks in advance so if they draw they may travel. If you are gonna reach out to a bigger headliner I’d do it 3 weeks in advance. Send them all the information about the show and give them 3 possible dates. They will usually come back with a yes or a no.
Back to promotion, should a booker tell the talent to promote? Most people share their shows on social media anyway but I’ve definitely been bullied by a booker about promotion, so what’s the best plan?
Promotion is our job. Promotion is our job as a show. Word of mouth is our job. Bringing people in is our job. You do not have to rely on the clientele, of say Nick Thune to bring in people. Odds are Nick Thune’s comic audience is not there. People who are running in are running in to see me or my co-producer. They want to see the show because they’ve heard so much about it. What we rely on is our word of mouth because the show is so good it naturally is a Retweet, it’s naturally on FB, it’s naturally a tag. I won’t personally tell people to put our show on Facebook otherwise they’ll never get booked again which I know for sure happens to people like you didn’t promote so that’s why the show failed. No man that’s not why the show failed. Some days are gonna be great and some days are gonna be shitty. That’s how shows work. One of my pet peeves I’ve learned to deal with is when booking shows people approach me on Facebook and say “Hey I’d love to do your show and we can show swap.” Nine times out of ten they are not at the level to show swap. If I said that out loud I come off as a bitch when in reality I understand you want to be on the show and I really appreciate the idea of you wanting me to be on your show but if it’s under the circumstances of a show swap then that’s not cool. I don’t do that with any shows, you won’t do that with my show and I understand sometimes when people do it. I’ll watch their stuff. My co-producers will watch their stuff. Using show swap as a tool to get booked is a pet peeve in so many ways because that’s making me believe you only started a show so you could get more shows and that’s not why you should start a show.
Sometimes I will do it because they are ready, they are a good comic why not? I always make it clear that yes I’m gonna do your show and yes I’m gonna give you your date but it’s not because you’re running a show, it’s because I think you’re funny. I just don’t agree with the idea of show swap.
This has been such a wonderful conversation. Thank you so much, and now off the top of your head can you give us some summer style tips? For the ladies.
Yeah I definitely feel like, for stand up especially I don’t wear heels but I still like my shoes to be on point. I wear a lot of ankle booties. You still feel like a sexy woman wearing boots that’s not too over the top with a sneaker but not too feminine with a heel. My biggest website I go on is Polyvor. You put in ankle boot and it links you to every store in the world so you just scroll through to what you like.
Acid washed style jeans, shorts or pants. Anything patterned in the front. Instead of their being 1 or 2 holes I try to find 5 or 6 down the legs. When it comes to crop tops I think “Let’s know our bodies everybody.”
You have to wear a high waisted pant.
Exactly. Less is more. You need balance. Balance jeans with a crop top then add a layer, not just a jacket. Go out and find a Kimono. My new thing I’m obsessed with is a Reality Bites style flannel around the waist. And another thing, let’s do overalls. Don’t let ’em go wrong, let’s roll up the bottom, put on a cute pair of sneakers and a crop top underneath. They are at thrift stores, also go and dye them.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6mQ1Ni6o7T4&list=UUZkrWvBtHaCPiBI2COyGQog&index=1
John, you aren’t a stand up comic. What’s your background?
I dabble in a lot of things and Expert is what took, basically.
And what is Expert of Nothing?
Expert of Nothing is a competitive comedy game show where 6 people go against each other. They get a topic, usually from a scene and they have to correlate with a topic that shows up behind them, projected on a screen, randomly that is completely different from what they’re talking about so they have to bullshit. The projection screen flashes a topic, unrelated to the topic they are holding in their hand. The one in their hand they have some kind of knowledge of and they have to connect the two in some way. It’s completely at random. Since it’s done spontaneously even if someone has some expertise in both topics they really have to improvise to get things going. Originally we started out with 8 contestants but we got it down to 6 just so we can end the show in a reasonable hour and a half. We found that the length of time that people are actually interested in the show is about an hour and a half.
So the length of a show is of course important, for you guys anything more than an hour and a half the audience is done.
Without an intermission or a break 2 hours is really pushing it. If you’re gonna do a longer show, and we have done longer shows, I would suggest an intermission or some kind of break because no one can really sustain laughter for more than 90 minutes. And I’ve been to many many shows where people have overstayed their welcome.
I remember when you and Patrick Storck came up with this idea, what was the genesis of this?
Patrick came to me with this idea that was interesting but it didn’t have any sort of form to it. The idea was people got up and bullshitted about a topic and I said “We need some sort of spine to it,” and I was the one that said “Let’s make this a game show.” We kind of hashed out the rules and we tested it maybe 4 or 5 times in my living room and we tried to figure out how long people should talk before you lose interest or before you lose the thread, how long should a competitor go. What’s the 1st round, the 2nd round the 3rd round. The first shows are pretty rough but I think once we figured out the form it really sort of started working. We cut out the stuff that was complete garbage and went with the stuff that actually worked and we keep tweaking the show. We’ve changed the ending a few times.
How long has the show been running?
We are in our 4th season so about 2 and half years.
You guys hold your show at the Windup Space in Baltimore which is becoming, or already is, a place to go for alternative comedy.
The one great thing about the Windup is Russell (the owner) is very willing to try new things. There have been events that are literally conceptual. They had one that was Wings Wings and White and you had to wear all white, eat wings, and there are no napkins. People were covered in BBQ sauce. The layout of the Windup is perfect by the way and this is what people don’t always realize is that sometimes you put a comedy show in a venue where everybody is seated away from you. The Windup has a long bar and all the seats you can arrange so they’re facing the stage.
And the bar is not in the way of the stage, or too close to the stage so people getting drinks don’t interrupt the show. It’s nice if the bar is in the back because people generally like to talk to the bar. And there are no TV’s so people are there to see some kind of live show. By the way do you charge for your show?
We do not. I’ve never had much success with a paid show for some reason.
I think the problem is normally this is a bar people come to for free so if people walk into this bar and they suddenly have to pay just to be there, that’s annoying. It’s nice if a bar has 2 levels or another bar so people can go to the other section to drink or hang out.
It’s a weird toll and it bothers people then they start avoiding the venue on those nights and they don’t come to the show. If you do a free show you can set up with the bar owner that if you bring in x amount of people you get x amount of cuts from the bar because this is, the whole purpose of the show is to bring people to the bar. If you get like 30, 40 people on their off night that makes the bar happy and they will be willing to have more shows.
What was your promotional strategy? You’re pretty well known in the Baltimore comedy community so what did you do?
We originally, the one good thing about Expert of Nothing is that with as many competitors as we have they bring their friends and then they see how fun the game is then we have more people come from that. We have players who say “I’ve seen 3 shows and I finally worked up the nerve to participate.” Mostly we’ve done social media. We’ve plugged the show, we made a website that’s easy to go to and sign up for shows. Our Facebook presence is pretty good. Now that Facebook is like it is, it’s harder and harder to see anything in your feed I think that route is gonna go away but we’ll probably have to branch out to something else.
A lot of people are using Vine or Instagram now. You guys just did a promo video right?
Yes, our friend John Higgins was nice enough to do it. He cut a nice little promo for us.
So that’s a fun, easy way to get the word out. If you have the time you can cut a different promo for every show. It’s monthly right?
Yeah it’s monthly and we podcast every show. If you get somebody whose really good at sound. We have an area mic that mics the audience and we record through the sound board so we end up having every show on tape. The problem with our show though is sometimes there are audio issues because it’s live and certain people don’t want to be recorded saying whatever they’re saying so it becomes kind of a tough process to get it out there. If I had anything, podcasting the show has brought so many people just from iTunes who are listening to the show who are out of state. One woman came down from Chicago to do the show because she listened to the show. It floored us.
Anything people should avoid doing? Any bumps in the road?
If you have a low turnout it’s not the audience’s fault. You really shouldn’t take it out on the audience. The 3 people that came came to support you so if you end up shitting on them it turns into 2 people. If you want to buildup your audience do a really good show for those 3 people because 3 will turn into 6 then they will turn into 9. I think a lot of people get disheartened. The first show is usually easy because all of your friends come but the 2nd show is the hardest. You have to do it again. That 2nd show is crucial. If you can’t get through that 2nd show and it feels like work and you hate it then stop doing shows. If it still works and you’re on board with it then stop.
You aren’t a comic. I know you as a musician. How did you go from being a musician to doing a comedy variety show?
I started out in theater when I was growing up. I did plays and improv in high school so I was really dedicated to theater but I’ve also always been a singer. I kind of did musical theater throughout my childhood. I’ve always had this love for comedy and theater so even when I started my band in 2010 it had this whole crazy back story that it was kind of a comedic element. We always did comedy on stage during our live shows. We kind of mixed it in, to mixed reviews. People wanted to see music not some weird theater/band performing. I’ve always loved putting on productions in shows so kind of what it happened in DC was I put on this huge thing called Sweetbread Jim Potluck Spectacular. I put on a big show with this whole vision to have a potluck in a church basement with a variety show. We had comedy, rap, magic and a host Mab Just Mab. It was a pretty big success and after that my band was sort of in the process of breaking up and Brandon Wetherbee was booking Wednesdays at The Wonderland Ballroom. He didn’t want to do a show every Wednesday so he outsourced it and he chose me as one of the Wednesdays. That’s kind of how it happened. I got this show and I was like “What the hell am I gonna do?” I don’t just wanna have bands. That’s not gonna keep people coming back month after month. There has to be a reason to keep people coming to the show time and time again.
And what exactly is Church Night? It’s similar to what you were doing.
It’s difficult to explain but the way I try to package it is it’s a variety show based on a church service. Instead of church acts it’s all a big satire.
I do this with Landon Letzkus whose persona is Revered Dr. Stevedore Maybelline Bidet Esq. Landon and I know each other through music but we’re both drawn to comedy. He already had his character before church night without the Reverend part. It was just a character Landon did all the time for fun. I was trying to figure out who was going to be the reverend. I knew I needed to be more on the producing side of it and I wanted to be a character, a church lady character. I went through people in my head and one day Landon and I were hanging out and it occurred to me he should be the reverend and he should do it as that character Bidet. And Landon went to Catholic high school and I grew up in the church. I was a born-again Christian. So this whole idea of church and its effect on culture and community has always been a big part of my life and also something I find to be so ridiculous that it’s kind of the perfect…it’s already packaged. Church is kind of a variety show. It was kind of all set up for us. The structure is there. It was kind of easy for us. We went to a couple churches and also called back on our pasts and were like “What is a church service composed of?” There’s always announcement, special music, people giving their testimonies, a sermon, a call and response portion, candles and communion. So we took all of those elements and used them as our outline for the show.
Another part of Church Night is exposing the audience to local talent. We don’t want the talent to come in and go with our theme unless they want to. We want them to go with what works.
You had a bit of a following from your other show. Church Night seems to be crowded most of the time and a small part of that might be because Wonderland Ballroom is the place for comedy now. How did you get those butts in seats?
Promotion was something that I wanted to really think about in a very calculated way and i had learned from my experience with the band that certain types of promotion work and certain types don’t. I came to the conclusion that putting up flyers, hustling to do press releases and contact blogs and things was a lot of work was a lot of work for a little bit of payoff. I think the best form of promotion you can get is word of mouth. We took a leap of faith, no pun intended, and decided to not promote the show at all. The only thing that we did, and we still kind of stick to that, is we make a Facebook event and we share it on our own personal walls and we Tweet about it, and that’s about it.
You did one show at The Black Cat, which is a larger venue. How did that happen?
We approached The Black Cat. I wanted to do a big Christmas spectacular kind of show and I wanted it at a bigger venue. One because we’re a church so we wanted to do something bigger for Christmas. Two, I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to use that as a platform to get our name out there a little bit more and to show we can do this in a bigger venue. We are actively choosing to stay at Wonderland even though I think some of our congregation would like to be at a bigger venue because it’s starting to get a little uncomfortable. We know that and we know we should move into a bigger space it’s just Wonderland is a special, special spot and we have a great relationship with them and to kill that to move to a bigger venue might not be a smart decision at this stage in our development.
It’s important, not to sound cheesy, to remember where you came from.
And the atmosphere is really good there, the close quarters and the neighborhood vibe is an important part of our show, that sense of community and people being together. Another big reason is we’re writing a webseries right now so it’s easier for us to focus on that while we’re at Wonderland because we live there and it’s close and we know what’s going on there.
Thank you Linsay, this has been good, talking about being loyal to your venue and using local talent. Are you guys gonna keep it going? Do you feel like you might need to stop at some point?
I think we’re really on the upswing right now. I think we found something that brings us a lot of joy and fun but also I think that there’s an audience for it and people are really enjoying it and I don’t see it in a state of decline right now. I think we’re on our way up to something, maybe a webseries. We have no plans to end it. I just kind of want to play it by ear. We’re always constantly evaluating “Where are we? What do we need to do?” If we aren’t having fun then we know we need to stop.
And you have taken Church Night out of your city, to New York. Did that go well? Do you see yourself traveling to other cities with the show?
Yes, absolutely. On Sunday we’ll be in Chicago. After we release the webseries we plan to do a mini east coast tour like band style. People are into it. We bring the Church Night structure and characters and we book local talent for the variety act.
And how do you go about doing that?
I reached out to my network, if I know anyone in those cities I start with them. If I know anyone who used to live in those cities I speak to them and if push comes to shove I start Googling or Tweeting at people. It’s about making good relationships with people you meet along the way and not being afraid to ask for a leg up if you need it.
How are you keeping people coming to the show?
The producing side of it has to be really strong. You have to plan your show from start to finish and that takes a lot of energy. You need good sound. You need to make sure your transition between acts is smooth. The audience needs to be constantly entertained. If there is ever a lag the audience will break away. Not that Church Night is this amazing thing but we have a crowd coming back and I think it’s because we put so much work into the show itself. Being funny is just part of the equation, the other part is all that behind the scenes stuff that a lot of comics and musicians don’t want to do because their brain isn’t geared that way. They want to write jokes and be on stage then be done but all that other stuff can really hurt you if your goal is to put on a good show.
Whew, there is a lot of information to go through here. Let’s look at it buffet-style. You can take what you like and leave the rest but hopefully some more amazing shows will come of this. I plan on attending them all! Good luck intrepid funny folks. I look forward to laughing with you, maybe crying a bit too.