How to set up and run an open mic night. The basics

This is how to set up and run an open mic night. This is a list of ESSENTIALS, and in terms of priority comes immediately after air. If a night fails to have the essentials from this list, it’s a shit night. So now you know.

1 Sight: The audience must be able to see the act and not be distracted.
Light the acts better than you light the audience. Before you worry about the buying a backdrop, GET A SPOTLIGHT.
And I don’t care how vain you are, ditch the mirror behind the stage. Also, this may come as a surprise, pillars are not see through. If there are people who cannot see the acts they will talk. When they talk, see point 2.

2 Sound: The audience must be able to hear the act and only the act.
Make sure the mic works and there is minimal noise bleed – from the other bar, from the bloke straining on the crapper behind the stage, from the drunk woman fingering a cat in the alleyway.
If you have no mic, the acoustics had better be like a Greek amphitheatre and there not even be the sound leakage of a pair of internally inserted love eggs.

The below notes are not as essential as the above, but if you don’t do the below your night will still be shit.

3 Professionalism: If you put on a shit night, audience won’t come back and the better acts will hear about it and avoid it.

3a Stay sober. If you get hammered you will lose control of your night and the trust of both the acts and any audience you come into contact with.

3b Don’t talk whilst your acts are on stage. The number of promoters that do this is ridiculous. You are distracting both your act and your audience, and you are sapping the laughter out of the room. You then lose the title of promoter and become the same as the idiot heckler who shouts out “you’re shit” to prove to the world that your pathetic excuse for a penis has recently grown seeping pustules and needs amputating.
Do you get the impression that I think that, as a promoter, if you talk, you are a dick? You are right. We all do.

3c Keep the timing tight. If you allow your acts to go over, your evening will run too long, you will bore the audience and annoy the other acts. If you have told the acts they have 10 minutes, make sure they know it before going on stage and give them a clear indication their time is up maybe a minute before they are due to come off. You can allow acts who are storming it to go over time a little, but if your night has more than 2 hours of people prancing on the stage including the compere (but not including breaks), then your evening is too long (a brilliant hour will bring audience back, a shitty 4 hours will ensure than only the marathon runners, with nothing more interesting in their empty lives, will ever return).

3d Don’t give acts longer than they are capable of. If you don’t know how long they are capable of, find out how many gigs they have done. This will annoy some here on the collective but, as a general guide and with a very few exceptions, an act with fewer than 50 gigs is not capable of more than 5 minutes of competent material, 100 gigs for 10, 200 for 15, 400 for 20. And that is being generous. (Many acts who’ve done fewer would claim that they are the exception. They’re not. When they have done more, they will disagree with their immature self. There is a reason why it generally takes a comic 10 years to “make it”)

4 Paying
4a Travel: If your gig is outside the M25 or Brighton, your act will probably have had to pay £10-£40 to travel to you, maybe more. If your budget doesn’t even stretch to travel, at least do them the courtesy of making sure the bar gives them a free drink when they arrive. And they’re also missing their supper time so, if you can, chuck them a bone there too.

4b Charity night: If you are putting on a night for charity, unless you really know your acts and your comedy (and I mean that you have the phone numbers of a minimum of 100 acts in your mobile), you will raise more for charity by paying for the night. The reason for this is that your friends will be duped into paying for a shit comedy night once, but even they won’t pay for it a second time round. Remember, for £10 you can see some of the best acts in the country. If you get your mates to pay £10 for their tickets and give them acts who are not yet capable of performing for the time you’ve given them, you are stealing from your mates.
Consider finding an act who knows their shit to do the booking for you (just make sure they have at least 100 acts in their phone and are capable of doing the longest spot on your bill, see above). And remember, despite this being for charity, your bar staff are not working for free. Your acts are as important to the night working than the bar staff, and this is their job too.

4c Using a booker: If you pay a booker, it will cost you the same, but you will end up with better acts. The right booker will even make sure that your night isn’t shit in other ways too.
Remember, as in anything, there are good bookers and bad bookers. First work out how much you want to make from the evening, then work out what your budget is, and only then go to the booker. If they are unable to sort out comedy for you at your budget, they are probably the wrong booker for you. The right booker for you will be able to work with any budget (I am not the right booker for everyone because I will not put on shit comedy, so there is a budget below which I will not go).
If your budget is too small, the comedy will not be as good as if it were more. However, if you can persuade your booker to work for you for charity, you can get their expertise and therefore get decent acts for a lower budget.

There is a great deal more to putting on a top notch night of comedy, but if you respect the above you’ll be a good part of the way there.
On the other hand, if you don’t, the night will be shit, so if you’re making the effort to put on a night at all, you might as well make it a good one. That way you’ll get return audience and supportive acts, you’ll be able to grow your empire and put on ever bigger and better nights, and who knows, you may become the next Avalon. Unlikely, but there’s no reason you can’t do very well out of this game. If you’re not shit.


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