How to Book Your Own Comedy Tour

How to Book Your Own Comedy Tour
A lot of folks have asked me how I go about booking my own comedy tours.  Well, first of all you have to know exactly what a tour is. Number one, a tour is a string of shows in various locations over a specified period of time.  If you do two shows in two different towns that does not necessarily constitute a “tour”. That is two shows in two different towns.  A tour most often consists of roughly a week or more of shows where you do not return home until the completion of all of the shows.
Why Tour?
1.) To Build a Fanbase
2.) To become a better comic
3.) To Network
4.) To Make Money
Really, making money is the LAST thing on the list?  Yes, while it is important to make money, building repeat fans is a much bigger deal.  You will not continue to make money if the people that come out to see you when you are performing in another city do no come out to see you the next time you are in town and bring their friends.  You cannot make money without this, therefore you should put your most effort into building a fanbase.  That means using a mailing list, having some type of CD, Sticker or other item they can take home with them, and most importantly, making them laugh really fucking hard when they see you live.  In the end all marketing comes down to word of mouth and all word of mouth is based on the strength of the finished product. In this case the finished product is your act.   Another item still more important than making money is improving your act.  What works in Knoxville, Tennessee might just eat shit in Columbus, Ohio or Jacksonville, Florida.  You need to learn what different crowds are about and how to read them quickly and accurately.  Nothing helps you more with this then being on the road touring.  Networking is also more important than making money?  Yes, it sure is.  The comics, bookers and other folks you meet when performing in other cities will often have an impact on your career later down the road.  If you made an effort to be friendly and learn about those people when you met them, they are going to be far more likely to try to help you in the future.  This means don’t be a douche bag when you are touring in someone else’s city.  Be friendly, be polite and most of all, talk to people for fucks sake. Watch other comics sets and don’t be buried in your phone the whole night ignoring everyone.Finally, making money.  We ALL want to make money, but in order to make money we have to have a fanbase, connections and a solid act.  Before that happens you are getting paid gas money to travel from gig to gig in order to build those other things up.
Am I ready to tour?
Well, the truth is, most comics are not ready to tour.  Hell, most comics make a go of performing in front of people for money before they really are ready to do so.  I have been guilty of this in the past when I first started booking my own shows.  You know you are ready to tour when people are willing to book your act/tour based on the video and press kit you have sent them or reputation among their peers.  I think it is really that simple.  However, don’t take this as you are ready to present your comedy tour to major clubs.  Some great advice I got in 2011 before booking my Crackers of Comedy tour was from Matthew Lumpkin of the Saints and Sinners Comedy Tour.  Matt told me not to present my comedy tour to major clubs and bookers until you have booked it in alternative venues first and perfected it.
You are Ready To Tour? Ok, Who are you Taking WITH YOU?
If you are doing a tour for the first time you would be foolish not to take other comics from your market with you.  They will help you with gas, food, split lodging and could possibly bring people out to shows and get you couches to crash on.  Not to mention being able to keep each other company while on the road.  I do strongly suggest you think about who you would tour with before choosing to do so.  Think about being in a car with them for 40% of every day for each day of your tour.  What music do they like, what food do they eat?  Do they chew when the have their mouths open. Sounds fucking trivial and not important, but when you are spending 50 hours in a confined space with anyone, you better be ok with the little shit.  Of course the most important thing is that your comedy styles fit and more importantly, their comedy styles and abilities are the right fit for the venues you are booking your tour in.
How do I decide WHERE to Tour and When?
Well, this is a common mistake I see made.  Specifically people making poor decisions about when they are going to tour.  For example, you HAVE to know college schedules if you are touring during the fall, winter or spring in a college town. You really can’t successfully tour in a college town in the Summer, so think about other places with a more working class draw if you are planning on taking off on the road in the warm months.   Before all this you kinda have to figure out what part of the country you want to tour.  It is completely idiotic thinking you are going to make a dime if you are going to tour from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.  It’s simply too much distance between dates to make your money back AND you have to come BACK.
How long will your tour be?
This is totally up to you to decide.  If your dreams have you out on the road for six months at a time, you are going to spend about three months just on the phone booking that many shows, AND you are going to have to schedule times to be back home JUST to pick up more merchandise and to get more clothes and such. At this time I am scheduling my touring no more then 14 days at a time, then I don’t tour again for sometimes months. That is MY schedule. I have a little boy I want to see grow up.  However, some of you might try a week and realize you want to be out longer. Eventually, you will know enough people that do shows close to each other on enough connecting evenings that you will be able to stay on the road longer. Just remember, you have to spend less than you make in order to be able to KEEP touring.  That is where proper routing comes in handy.
Routing, What the Fuck is THAT?

Routing is an art.  Plain and simple.  Routing is booking in a way that your shows are as close together as possible as to minimize the time you have to spend in a car between shows AND the expense of driving from one town to the next.  Too often I see a huge mistake by young comics booking a “tour” that takes them from Tuesday Night in Florida to Wed Night in Ohio then Thursday Night in Arkansas.  You would have to be making fucking bank at those shows to make that worth it AND  you will be so exhausted that your comedy is likely to take a hit because of it and you are hurting your chances of being booked again.  I like to use what I call the 5 Hour Rule.  The 5 Hour Rule is as simple as it sounds. Don’t book shows on back to back days if they are more then a 5 hour drive apart. The 5 hour rule can be broken ONLY if the opportunity has a bigger payoff then the cost of the fatigue and travel.  Now, this is also the hardest rule to follow because often you are at the mercy of when each venue is willing to do a show.  Spend time plotting out cities that connect with a 5 hour drive and start building your tour around that.  I HIGHLY recommend using Google Maps for this.  Check out this customized Google Map.

View Routing Your Tour by Matt Ward in a larger map
Naming your Tour
Come up with a name for your tour that is catchy but also original. This is the part where you have to step outside yourself and suck it up and accept that you have to market yourself.  Yeah, yeah, it gives you the douche chill when rookie comics take off on some ‘tour’ of three cities with some cutsie ass name like “The Super Awesome Dudes of Comedy Tour” or some shit, but that is going to happen. You can get away with not naming your tour and just compiling shows that would equate to a ‘tour’ but your draw and overall appeal to bookers and media is not going to be as strong.  I conceived The Crackers of Comedy Tour back in 2008. People didn’t care when I started booking Matt Ward and to do comedy in their venue, but when I told them I wanted to bring my Crackers of Comedy Tour to their venue, things changed. It seemed and was a bigger deal to them. Be smart, Google the fucking names you come up with and make sure the domain name is available before sticking with it. The Saints and Sinners Comedy tour is a great example of a couple of talented comics that have a well packaged tour and are getting booked all over the place as a result.

Where Should I try to book my tour?
By now you should have a general idea of where you want to tour.  Now that you have that out of the way it is time to do a venue search. What I DO NOT recommend is just looking up the comedy clubs in the areas you are touring and calling on them first.  Start in alternative venues. If you already have an ‘in’ with an agent that books one nighters all over the area you are looking to tour, then by all means, get with them and see if they are interested.

What I recommend is using web searches to determine where you might want to perform before just blindly posting on social media saying “My Crackers of Comedy Tour is looking for shows in your area”.  Do some research, find out where the local comics put touring comics when they come through town.  Work with them first to bring you to town if you can and they are able to.  If not, look for music venues, and if you have P.A. system to travel with, look for restaurants.  It is important to consider a few things when picking venues to call on.  First, do they EVER have live entertainment? If the answer is NO but they are extremely interested in ‘giving it a shot’ then you will end up being the guinea pig. As long as you are aware there is a high chance some major parts of this show are going to be a failture, then go ahead and book it. If the venue DOES normally have live entertainment, find out what type of entertainment they have, what nights they have it and if they charge a cover for it.  In this stage of our economy many venues don’t even pay bands! I know it’s hard to believe, but it happens.  Other venues will just pay a flat rate for the performer while some will just give you the door. Do the research, create a call list and get ready to keep doing more research!  Really?  Yes, you aren’t ready to call anyone quite yet.

 

Before you Start Calling

So you have found venues you want to call on in the area you want to tour with the comedians you want to tour with, awesome.  Well, save your self some time and think about a couple of things before you decide to even CALL a venue. First, does the venue have an online presence? If not, they are not necessarily idiots or super old rednecks, however, you DO have to be concerned with how they market events at their venue. If  a venue doesn’t come up in a Google search and you can’t even find any live event listings ANYWHERE online, chances are they are not the best at promoting events that happen in their bar.  The ultimate test is to call the venue like  a customer and ask them what live entertainment they are having for the week.  If they don’t have a clue, move along.  You are barking up the wrong tree.  Now, the exception to this rule is venues that utilize local entertainment mags or newspaper ads to get the word out about shows.  There are some hidden gems out there that have a good word of mouth for shows, but 99% of the time if they don’t exist online, it’s because they don’t promote worth a flying fuck and are not worth your time.

Compile your Call List
Make sure you have a call list on paper (if you can’t bring yourself to an app on your phone) or on a spreadsheet that way you can track your calls and follow ups. Get warmed up before you call.  It sounds stupid, but say what you want to say a few times before you dial. Flubbing your words makes people immediately distrust you.  Make a phone call to the other dude you have on this tour and run over your spiel with them.

Getting through the Gatekeeper

It’s important to remember that you have to get through the gatekeeper first.  “What the fuck is that?” you may ask.  That is the person that answers the damn phone.  If the place gets a lot of calls like yours, this persons job is to keep you from talking to the decision maker because that person is busy making other decisions or avoiding having to make decisions (most frequently).  Typically when this person wants to avoid putting the decision makers on the phone, they will say something like “Well, you need to talk to Bob/Jane Owner and he/she is not in right now.”  At that point my might ask, “Well, when will they be in?” To which they will likely respond, “He or she is in and out all the time, they don’t have any specific hours..” Best this to do after you find out who the owner/decision maker is would be to say something like, “Would it be better to call back when you first open, is that a better time to reach him/her?”
NOTE: Often Gatekeepers ARE the decision maker, they just don’t want to talk to you right then. So that kept in mind, be as polite as possible and NEVER blow off the gatekeeper. They should be able to here you smiling so they don’t think you are an asshole.  
If the venue is doing entertainment often, they may direct you to the web site and have you send the booker an email.  Make sure you get them to spell the bookers/decision makers name so you don’t send them an email with it misspelled.  DO NOT stop to send them an email RIGHT THEN, finish up the rest of your call list.  Have a separate email contact list (another sheet on your spreadsheet) and prepare a very concise exact email for them because you likely have just ONE shot via email.  I will go over emailing folks about gigs tomorrow, so tune in then for more on that.

One of the tricks to calling back is to change the time of the call back depending on what information you got from the venue.  And don’t be a fucking douche, when you call a restaurant/bar, don’t call in what typically would be peak hours.  If you call a busy successful bar that has a good lunch crowd at 11:00am-1pm, you are a fucking idiot.  They will blow you off and you likely won’t have another chance.  By the same token, don’t call during dinner rush.

Article in Athens, GA Student Newspaper in March 2011

Talking To the Venue Booker

When you finally do get a hold of the person in charge of booking the venue be very specific for when you are looking to book the show based on where/what you have booked before or after it already.  Don’t compromise and shift your entire tour around unless it is a guaranteed pay gig or the crowd is going to be more your target or something that would make it worth calling other already booked shows back and asking them to change (which is a pain in their ass). Make sure that when you first start talking to the booker you are friendly and allow them to talk more than you.  Ask questions about the venue and their entertainment booking history and take the time to explain how your show is going to be financially beneficial for them. The job is pretty easy once you have gotten a hold of the right person. However, a big rule exist here I call the 150% rule.  If the booker/owner is not on board 150%, don’t bother booking the gig.  I don’t care how bad you need the gig, if the booker and owner don’t really give two shits and a fuck about your show, it will be a show that ends up not being worth 1 shit and half a fuck.  They won’t put the posters up you send, they won’t tell people on their facebook page and you will be left with a small crowd and a disappointed venue that doesn’t want to pay you anything. Guess who is to blame in the end.  You.

Booking By Email
A ton of bookers are booking exclusively by email and surprisingly, facebook messaging.  Make this email answer this simple question in one paragraph with NO attachments “Who the fuck are you and why the fuck should I book you?”  Write your email like a letter with a greeting a body and a salutation that includes all ways to get  hold of you.  I can tell you right now, without someone going to bat for you with the venue 10-20% of the emails you send out for booking will ever even get responded to.  That means it’s a numbers game, send out 10, get one YES or NO.  This ratio varies, but often it is nearly impossible to get with someone via email.

That’s all for now.  If you enjoyed this read and would like to make a donation to my Sardines and Gas Money Fund for my upcoming Dork for Life Comedy Tour, do that HERE>>

Metion me on twitter @mattwardcomedy AND/OR come check me out if I am in your area on one of my upcoming tours!

Written by:

Matt Ward is a comedian, comedy show producer and promoter, web designer, graphic designer, musician, father and occasional fisherman.

One Comment

  1. Phyllis Catlett
    June 14, 2015
    Reply

    Thank you for the information. It has been very insightful. Break A Leg!

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