A little while back, a friend of mine performed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He said the shows were lightly attended, with a couple dipping well below the 100-person mark.
I found this depressing for two reasons: One, a comedy club needs paying customers to remain viable. Two, at the same time Milwaukeeans were avoiding the comedy club, Kevin Hart was performing 6 sold-out shows—15,000 tickets in all—at the Riverside Theater. People were seeing stand-up, just not at their local club.
I looked up the Kevin Hart tour, and in Minneapolis the price range for tickets was $54 to $150. I also found a scalping site listing them from $89 to a whopping $995, which boggled my mind. Kevin has worked hard and deserves to ask what the market will pay; he isn’t an overnight success. Watch The 40 Year Old Virgin, from 2005. Kevin has almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role. He’s been putting in his time, tirelessly touring, and paying his dues.
That said, I fear once a couple has dropped $108 (or more) to see Kevin Hart, they’re not going to a comedy club a month later. Their absence hurts comedy as a whole, and I wish more people would support their local scene. As encouragement, here are 5 reasons to support an unknown comedian.
- Talent: Just because someone hasn’t been on television doesn’t mean they’re not funny. If the comedian has worked his or her way up to headlining a comedy club, it generally means the effort has been put in. When people ask me who my favorite comedians are, they’re surprised when I offer non-famous names. I see so much original, hilarious comedy coming out of the mouths of unknowns that it sometimes depresses me. There are comedians out there who deserve to be household names, but aren’t. Supporting them means supporting the future of stand up comedy.
- Service: Does a theater have food, or booze? Probably not. If it has a bar, it’s usually packed at intermission. You have to go wait in line, then carry your drink around, the theater seat doesn’t have a cup holder… At a comedy club, a server takes care of you. You order, sit back, and everything is delivered to your table. All you do is relax and laugh. The most effort you have to put in is if you need to get up and pee. Per OSHA regulations, no one can help you with that. (Yet.)
- Value: The bottom end of a Kevin Hart ticket—$54—is what you’d spend for 2 tickets, 4 drinks, and a tip for your server at a comedy club. You might even have a buck or two left over, depending on the city you live in. Obviously you’re spending more in NY or Chicago than Milwaukee or Ann Arbor, but Kevin Hart tickets cost more there, too. When visiting a comedy club and seeing an unknown comic, you get more bang for your buck.
- Intimacy: When you’re in an arena or theater, sure, you can have great seats. You can also end up in the nosebleed section. With scalping agencies, sorry, “Ticket Resellers,” buying up the best seats, this happens more and more often. You’re either emptying your wallet for decent tickets, or squinting through the whole show. In a comedy club almost every seat feels like the front row. The performer is actually life-sized, not a speck or a projection you watch on a video monitor.
- Discovery: Let’s go back to Kevin Hart: seeing him in a theater or arena is probably fun, yes. But does it make for a great story? A better tale would be, “Dude, I saw Kevin Hart 10 years ago, in a club, and he was hilarious!” From Larry the Cable Guy to Lewis Black, from Loni Love to Louis C.K., every comic started in clubs. When you’re in a club, you have the chance to see the next Comic God, and then you’ll have an excellent “I saw him back when” story under your belt.
Though I promised five reasons, after proofreading this, my wife tossed out a sixth: “It’s rare,” she offered, “but if you see an unknown comedian, you might just fall in love and end up with a husband, dog, cat, and two kids.”
I wasn’t going to put that in, because cheesy, and then I realized I didn’t have a way to finish this article.
You might fall in love, but I wouldn’t bank on it. Head to your local comedy club regardless, and you’ll go home happy afterwards.