4 comedy-programming mistakes to avoid

Friday February 5, 2016

Want to minimize your programming risk and maximize your bottom line? Here are 4 leaps you want to avoid: 1. Celebrity comedians. 2. Agents (vs. "bookers"), 3. Relying heavily on videos to pick your comedian, and 4. comedians who THINK they can cross over mid-career. Two are fiscal mistakes and two are programming mistakes. Though of course, the bigger the programming mistake, the bigger the financial mistake. Here's what we mean:

 

1. A few years ago, I hosted an awards dinner in Las Vegas. All in all, I mounted the stage about 15 times over the course of 4 hours, mixing improvs and hosting duties with prepared comedy material. The following night they had a celebrity comedian and paid him almost 20 times what they paid me. He did a 50 minute set from his stage act. 

If you insist on booking a celebrity, please pass us by. KB Entertainment doesn't arrange for celebrity bookings because we care deeply about giving great value, not about catering to someone's vanity. Good bosses consider their employees ahead of bragging rights. That weekend still could have included my show with the grotesque fee the boss paid out for the celebrity, passed along to his loyal people. A true win-win.

The punchline: I got raves. The celebrity was luke-warmly reviewed. This issue goes to the heart of an agency's culture. KB Entertainment only works with comedians and comedy acts who are equally likable and funnier than (most) celebrity comedians. Our acts welcome the task of proving themselves every show. Our comedians know it’s about you, not them. It WAS my job to cater to them. It WAS my job to improvise, and it WAS my job to prepare specifically for that group-before I hit the stage. And the reviews bore that out.

By booking a celebrity comedian you get a lot of pre-show "bang for your buck". But speaking in financial terms, the main thing you shouldn't count on, is a high "L-ROI" (Laughs return-on-investment).

2. Agencies work on a percentage. That incentivizes them to get as many dollars from you as possible. KB Ent, works differently. Forcing specific comedians into a gig by trying to get you to raise your budget, is an agent's approach. We try always to give you value (while also valuing the comedian).

Here's a simple rule of thumb: Agents are drawn to comedians who'd rather do TV than get better at stand-up because TV pays better and the agents work on percentage. So when you hear an act is "a star on the rise" tread carefully. Some are legitimate, but many are what we insiders call "LA-soft". Why risk your dollars on the intermediate-level comedian with the inflated "I do stand-up on the side" price? The seasoned 'true' stand-up will deliver a better show and a better bottom line! You're concerned about "will folks come?". Very few people know my name. But I just filled a 150 seat theatre to capacity. Because the venue marketed my show smartly. Non-agency comedians appreciate the work more. Comedians with agents cost too much and the comic only keeps 75 cents on the dollar. Why 75 cents?...

Comedians with full time agents also have full time managers. Exclusive agent gets 10% and managers get 15%. That means that the performer loses 25 cents of each dollar you pay them. If we work for 12.5% of the budget (vs. 25% that represented comedians pay out) then we've just crunched the number to return 1/8 of your intended outlay back to you. On a $2000 budget that's $250. On a $4000 budget that's $500. PLUS...if you were paying an agency $2000, we can get you the same comedian for probably $1600 and if not, a better comedian for that money or an equally good one who is more coperative for $1600.

We just sent a very good TV-credentialed comedian with a little bit of heat in her career, to play a community theater for $1500. Why not? $1500 for a night's work at something you love (which, granted, is a serious skill) is a beautiful thing to make available to a touring comedian. And she did appreciate the work! Meanwhile, some very similar (in size, age range and economic status) group that dealt with her agency directly, had her 2 months previously, for $3600! Let us help you avoid paying absurd, inflated prices. We're not pitching anything other than excellent shows. Just without the innocence-exploiting surcharge.

Our business philosophy (and sense of obligation) is to give maximum value to our clients while keeping the acts enthusiastic and happy. It's a balancing act we navigate successfully time and again by avoiding agency comedians. Let's talk and see if we can do the same for you.

3. The ultimate trap...video. Don't misunderstand....we furnish video too. But we know which video represents them appropriately. Imagine you know personally the guy on the TV clip. You've had lunch. You've stayed at his home. You've been on the bill with him on 12 separate occasions. Now his video is a different tool. You know where it captures him and you know where it misrepresents him.

As any comedian of 20 years will tell you, capturing the magic of comedy on video is like capturing lightning in a bottle...almost impossible.

4. There is a class of comedians in the business for 8-18 years who want to expand into the middle age audience circuit but who aren't frankly, ready. If you are a gatekeeper for such a community, let us help you protect your events, with the right performer. The comics trying to make that leap are sort of funny and may even have video that presents well. But they're not yet strong enough to headline for the Boomer/Gen x crowds. Some of them will get good enough. Most won't. But meanwhile...there are true 'boomer' comedians with lots more experience of playing for ages 35-75. They even targeted the 35-75 audiences when they first got into comedy. And now they themselves are middle aged and they fit those programs like a glove.

The old guard of comedians is fading away because their audience is fading too. So who will replace them? Well, those 8-15 year comedians hope you'll think it's them. But it's not. They're a little 'too long in the tooth' for the milennials and because they started playing comedy clubs after the 'boomers' had already left the scene they don't yet have that generations vocabulary either. So now they're in a panic about their future. Well, don't let their panic become your panic. You deserve better.

 

KB Entertainment spends a great deal of time repairing or improving comedy series because a well-meaning but not-fully informed programmer fell into one or more of these traps. If you have...it's OK...we know how to get you out. And if you haven't...great! Let us be your insurance policy that it never happens and that your series NEVER experiences a mis-step.

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