Lessons New Comedians Learn From “Bringer Shows”

By Jerry Corley | Founder of The Stand Up Comedy Clinic

comedy-storeLet’s face it, one of the new realities in the comedy landscape in L.A. (and probably New York and San Francisco), is what is known as the “Bringer Show.” So we’re all on the same page, here’s the idea behind the bringer show: A bringer show ‘producer’ (usually a comedian), develops an arrangement with a local comedy club or bar, to produce comedy shows so that both the producer and venue make money.

Usually all the promotion of the show is up to the producer. On occasion, the venue will post a marquis or sign that bears the name of the show, but other than that all the promotional responsibility is on the producer. The producer, in turn, puts that responsibility on the comedian. How do they do this? By forcing the comedian to bring a minimum amount people (audience members) to the show as a requisite for getting stage time. That’s right. If you bring 10 people minimum, the producer will give you stage time. Of course those audience members have to pay a cover charge and are usually subject to a drink or “item” minimum. This assures that the venue sells product and makes money.  The producer usually takes the door or a percentage.

This is not a new concept. Music venues have been doing this with bands for over 30 years. Is this good for the comedy industry?

I am an old-school thinker with regard to shows and show business so initially the bringer concept and I didn’t get along at all. I’m not a big fan of “pay-to-play” schemes for artists—and let’s face it, when the artist is forced to bring the audience and have them pay a cover, plus a drink minimum—it’s “pay-to-play.”

In my opinion, this business model promotes a quantity over quality mentality and that has never worked out successfully in the long term for any business and I can go on about how this diluting mentality is having a long-term negative impact on the public’s perception of comedy, but that’s for another time. I want to focus on how this affects the comedian.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this show-producing mentality and a comedian needs to have a thorough understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the “bringer show” concept, especially early in his career. If a comedian understands that he/she has been asked to work the venue based solely on the fact that they have brought enough people, then the comedian is one step ahead of the game.

The advantage to this is that the comedian can use the bringer show to get some stage time in a quality venue or invite some industry (casting director, agent, manager, etc.). They get to see you perform while you have a decent sized audience. You, as the performer must make sure you bring enough people,   however. If you don’t, you risk getting a lousy slot in the lineup (like last), or you risk not getting on stage at all. If you brought an agent and he/she had to wait and was forced to slog through mediocre talent before they got too see you, then their appetite for coming to see you in the future will be seriously diminished. But if done right, the bringer show can be very useful.

The disadvantage to the bringer show, (if I didn’t already reveal it), is that if the comedian doesn’t understand that most likely, the ONLY reason the producer is having you perform at his/her venue is because you ‘bring’ people, then you may suffer the impact of that harsh reality like the unexpected pass of a basketball to the face. The rejection or even rudeness in some instances from producers can be a major disappointment when the comedian fails to bring people. In addition, the subsequent lack of future bookings in their shows, due to the fact that you are no longer bringing people, may promote a setback in your confidence and in your motivation to write or perform comedy.

In this case, knowledge is power. If you already know that the only thing a bringer show producer wants from you is the money your people bring when they buy tickets and drinks, then you will be better prepared for the inevitable day when none of your friends is accepting the invitations to your shows and the producer stops booking you. 

A Solution?

Use the bringer show sparingly and use it to your advantage. Don’t take every bringer show offer. Politely turn down some of the gigs. I usually say, “Love to, but sorry, I’m booked on that date.” That way you don’t wear out the people you have in your life who come to see you and you can save those invitations for really important gigs. Also, don’t get offended when the bringer show producers stop calling you when only two people showed up at your last gig. But most importantly, DO NOT USE the bringer show as your only way to get stage time. Hit the open mics and hit them regularly and often. You’ll eventually find the ones that are worth it and the connections you’ll make can be invaluable.

Please Share Your Comments! Love to hear from you!

Jerry says:

Well said, Patrick. I’m game for four-walling a venue and producing quality shows consistently. It’s something we’ve talked about doing for a while.

Patrick Kanehann says:

I completely agree.

The quantity-over-quality mentality found in bringer shows is a huge issue. Many producers only care about the number of comedians they can possibly jam into a single show, and the number of audience members “brought in”. Sure, it has always been about “showing business” and “the rent is too damned high” for these clubs.

However, not only does the quality of a single bringer show suffer, but ALL comedy performances are negatively affected, which in turn, affects all comedians and the craft.

A “slog” through 15 or even 20+ comedians with varying degrees of experience in one night causes audience burn-out. Pimped out friends, Aunt Beafa with Uncle Jim, and even the rare agent/manager will attend once or maybe twice. Yet, they quickly become reluctant to risk time and money (e.g., parking, babysitter, etc. on top of admission and watered-down drinks) to see anyone else’s live show after enduring a few less-than-stellar bringer shows. I’ve talked with numerous casting directors and agents, who have said they avoid stand-up comedy, improv and one-person shows all together because of a bad experience and patchiness.

Fortunately or unfortunately, it’s ALL in the hands of the comedian regarding producing and promoting high-quality shows at a below-market price. I suggest four-walling and marketing the hell out of a venue on a consistent basis. Combine that entrepreneurial activity with developing the best possible material and talent line-up, which is something most bringer show producers don’t do. Content will win out, and as the old saying goes, we reap what we sow.

I couldn’t possibly agree more Jerry!