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If I Had a Million Dollars: The Perfect Stand-Up Comedy Venue Part 1

December 13, 2010

WWMPD? (What Would Mr. Perfect Do?)

“If I had the money I would open my own damn club and show ’em how it’s done.”

This thought probably passes through the mind of every comic a few times in their career. We’ve all had to do sets in odd places, that are uninviting, uncomfortable, or simply inappropriate for a stand-up show. Let me state up front that I consider ANYWHERE an acceptable venue for stand-up.  I would do a stand-up set at a graveyard, if the timing was right.

What a dead crowd.

Some odd venues I’ve performed in include:

– Someone’s backyard (with a gaggle of seniors watching)
– An outdoor stage in front of Niagara Falls
– An elementary school gymnasium
– Orbiting the earth (this might have actually been Lance Bass and not me).

If I was Lance, as the shuttle lifted off I would croon:

“Might sound spacey, but it ain’t no lie, baby bye bye bye.”

However, just because I am desperate for attention and would tell jokes to a pack of deer if I thought they’d stomp their hooves in approval, doesn’t mean I can’t identify an AWESOME venue.  So that’s what this post is about.  A perfect world, with a perfect place to spit stand-up.  And I’m talking a comedy club, which exists specifically for the purpose, not just a bar, which is more optimized for doing this:

Or this:

(Or this.)

I’m not busting on open mikes.  There just isn’t enough demand for dozens of stand-up clubs, and we all gotta learn how not to bomb somewhere, right?

So if these places are not ideal, what is? I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think the following 6 factors are things to consider if you were designing a room for stand-up comedy.

1) Low ceiling
This is an acoustic issue. The bigger the room, the more area for sound to bounce around. That’s why hymns sound so epic when sung in a church. The huge space creates a rich reverberation.  For a musical performance, this is great.  It enhances the sound of the instruments and singing.  This is the exact opposite of what a stand-up performer is looking for.  Words should be crystal clear, and the laughter should stay in the room, not dissipate.

I discovered this the hard way when I entered a competition that included a performance at an ampitheatre. Other comics who had played there warned me that it was a difficult situation.  Due to the audience being far away from the stage and the bright lights, there was no way to know if they were laughing or not.  I figured, “No big deal.  I’m confident in my material, and I have enough experience not to let a missing laugh give me pause.  I’ll just push forward.”

What I didn’t realize was that laughter doesn’t just stroke a comic’s ego, it controls his or her timing.  The silence that met me onstage was not only eerie, but I had no idea how long to wait after a joke to let a laugh die down. If I didn’t guess just right, I would either step on the joke or come off as arrogant for pausing too long.

So laughs are important. Keep ’em bouncing around a small room and you will have a happier crowd, more confident comics, and encourage more merriment.

2) Black or dark muted tones for walls
Stand-up comedy is performance art. If you take a look at other disciplines under this umbrella, you will find that they avoid distracting from the performance. At a playhouse, you won’t find paintings surrounding the stage. Everything is very plain, because frankly, you’re supposed to be looking at the performers, not the room. Since stand-up comedy happens mainly at night, and is most successful when crowds can relax and not feel singled out, a darkened room with dark walls is best.

By the by, this same concept applies to the stage backdrop, which is why one of the most popular backgrounds for stand-up comedy stages is a plain brick wall.

Come on back tomorrow where we finish up the list of 6 factors to consider when designing the perfect stand-up venue.


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