You are Banned: 5 Reasons Comedy Clubs are Shooting Themselves in the Foot by Banning Comics

BANNED(Author’s Note: This is not a blog about being banned for breaking a stage rule. This is about being banned for performing outside of a club or agency room)

Banned from The Chuckle Hut

Here is a little story. Names have been changed to protect the innocent comic from being banned again by even more comedy clubs and comedy agencies.  We will call this comic Dan Jenkins.  One day Dan decided to book his own comedy showcase.  He thought about doing his showcase at the local comedy club, but they were only open Thursday through Saturday and a friend of his that worked at a bar had indicated to him that the bar might be interested in doing a monthly stand-up comedy showcase on Tuesday Nights.  Dan didn’t see any reason to ok it with the local club because they weren’t even open on the night of his proposed show.  Dan met with the bar’s owner and they agreed on the terms of the first comedy show.  Dan then proceeded to get in touch with the best comedians he knew, many of which often did the open-mic at the local club but had not begun to receive any paid work from the club.  They all agreed to do the show. Fast forward to Tuesday six weeks later and the show goes on as planned.  The attendance isn’t amazing, but in the end the owner of the bar is happy and the comics have all seemed to have a good time.  Dan sets the date for the next two months showcases and even gets so excited he makes a facebook page for the comedy night and posts about it in his newsfeed.

Time comes for the next open-mic at the comedy club and when Dan arrives he finds he has been bumped from the list.  Strange, he had called ahead as was the ritual.  Maybe there was some kind of mistake.  He approaches the club owner who coldly tells Dan, “Look Dan, we can’t have you out there taking business away from the club.”  “What do you mean?” Dan says. “I scheduled the show on a night you aren’t open…”  The club owner then says “Any comedy show that happens in this town on any night takes money out of my pocket…” Dan listens in stunned silence. “I don’t have a spot for you on the mic, man…” The club owner says. He then quickly walks away.

Banned from his home club.  For being eager and wanting to create more stage time which would ultimately make the comics that performed at the club infinitely better.

This is all too common. At some point in the live comedy business, unlike the live music business, clubs became extremely territorial. Ridiculous demands that a comic not perform within 100 miles of the club even at an open-mic DESPITE the fact that the club has never paid them for a gig are not myths. Now this is an extreme and rare ban, but it happens. Most often comics are banned for producing a show in the same town as the club or agency one nighter.

What reasons do clubs have for banning comics for performing or producing a show outside the club?

1.) Because it affects your ability to draw people out to see you perform at their establishment.

2.) Because they are the only game in town when it comes to comedy and you are showing a lack of loyalty by frequenting any other live comedy event.

3.) Because you are presenting audiences with an amateur comedy show which might permanently turn people off to coming out to see live comedy at any venue, even, GASP, at THEIR venue (Noooooooooo!)

I have heard all of these reasons given.  However, most often clubs/agents are spineless about their bans.  They don’t tell you WHY they are banning you.. Hell, most of them just ignore you and pretend they are not ignoring you and don’t give you a reason they are ignoring you. Even after working for them and garnering positive feedback from the clientele, still, permanent email silence and no further bookings.  The most common way to be banned is to find out third hand that a club/agent didn’t like something you did. Not even second hand, but third hand.  That means they bitched about you to a headliner over some beers or a round of golf and that headliner mentioned it to some friend of yours when your name came up. Why does this happen?  Because agents/club owners don’t have time to confront people and be honest, OR, they have been taught by an older comedy producer that this is the way it works.  At least if a club owner or agent said “Hey man, I really don’t like ‘so and so’ show that you do.” You would at least have been given the respect to be addressed directly about it.

Top 5 Reasons Comedy Clubs are Shooting Themselves in the Foot by Banning Comics

5.)  It looks like a move of desperation– When a club says they are banning someone for performing outside of the club, it really just seems like a signal that the club isn’t doing as well as it could be.  They are worried that their club/one nighter could see an even further recession of receipts if one of the comics they have allowed to perform goes elsewhere sometimes to perform.

4.) You are firing your street team–  The less local comics you have working your agency room or comedy club, the less word of mouth and buzz would be created about the shows. When comics are just getting good, they still have their friends and fans excited each time they talk about an upcoming performance.  Now guess what, you have to hire more people to make marketing calls, or non-comics to hand out fliers or give away free passes from business to business.

3.)  It’s not 1982– There was a time when comedy clubs were more common and they were pulling dirty business tricks on each other in order to steal customers one at a time.  Well, those days are over.  If you are comedy club, chances are their isn’t another one of you in your town unless your town is pretty big, say Atlanta or bigger.  Therefore you are the ONLY official ‘comedy club’ and some people will ONLY come to see comedians in an actual comedy club.  So get over yourself.  Stop wasting your time banning comics, it’s not the 80’s anymore.

2.) Shallow Talent Pool– Ban happy clubs run short on quality comedians really quickly.  Mainly because often the better a comic is, the less he gives a fuck about rules that seem put in place more for power then actual business reasons.

1.) Word of Mouth– Word of Mouth works both ways.  Believe it when I tell you that every comedian will quickly find out you are known to ban a comic for simply trying to make a living doing comedy.  That then spreads to the comics friends and fans, and business is lost and a negative cloud starts to form over your comedy establishment.  Young comics look up to club owners/managers and comedy agents.  When they see what appears to them to be unjustified punishment, many of them lose faith in these entities.  When they lose faith, they stop promoting.

Now here is where we turn this blogpost over to two people.  1.) The banned comics 2.) The Agents/Club Owners

I want to hear stories of comics that have been banned for reasons beyond what you said on stage, unless you feel that this was a false reason given.  Club owners and agents that read this.  Do your best to justify banning a comic for specific ‘business’ reasons.  Please folks I want to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Follow me on twitter @mattwardcomedy and please share this blogpost with anyone you know that is a comedy agent, club owner or comedian that has been banned by said individuals.

Also, if you really want to show support, drop a couple bucks in a donation here>> in my Dork for Life Comedy Tour Sardines and Gas Fund.

Oh, and I use Grammarly’s grammar check because I slept a lot during English class when I was younger and you look like a dumbass when you use really shitty grammar while trying to teach people shit.

Written by:

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

14 Comments

  1. Kate
    November 18, 2013
    Reply

    This does seem like a crazy reason to ban a comic. I’m glad nobody cares enough to ban me yet, haha.

    Just a note about using the grammar check… it’s failing you. Which instead of whom, then instead of than… Grammarly should know better.

  2. No
    November 18, 2013
    Reply

    I got banned from a club for essentially saying they take advantage of young comics.

    They run multiple “showcases” that literally anyone can get on as long as they bring 3 or more friends.

  3. November 18, 2013
    Reply

    I’ve seen comics get booked for shows then jump off that show for fear of being banned by our local comedy club. Being told that no local comic could perform any show within a 50 mile radius of the local comedy club. New rule, after new rule, the comics stopped promoting their shows, the open mic, and the establishment all together. That particular club is now closed. But around the area, comedy clubs have the same type of rules and enforce them like it’s the 80’s and they don’t take that wacky thing called “The internet” very seriously.
    If I’m only allowed to perform at your club and you book me 3 times in a year what am I supposed to do for the other 49 weekends in the year? Beg? No. I’m going to set up shows or go to another comedy club. Or just do a YouTube show and have my material “potentially” seen all over the world.
    Excellent Blog Piece! *Shared*

  4. Amy
    November 18, 2013
    Reply

    Unless they have an agreement and contract with you as exclusive promoter of their venue, then their complaint is null! If they cared so much about you bringing business their way, they should try harder to keep you and not let the competitor win you away!

  5. November 18, 2013
    Reply

    I’ve had comics decline to be on my shows for fear of getting banned. Or, they will be on my show, but insist I not promote them. They show up do their 10 minutes and then leave.

    I’ve also heard club owners deny they banned a banned comic. Lots of passive/aggressive behaviors in the comedy world.

  6. Rob Neville
    November 19, 2013
    Reply

    BANNING amateur talent for any reason other than the quality of their performance on stage is ridiculous. What goes on stage at a comedy venue is the product. BUT, local comics, due to lack of experience and/or maturity, often confuse being BANNED with not being booked. Too often I meet comedians on their home turf, who are active members of “the local scene,” who act as though they should be a full-time local comedian. I have not booked certain “comedians” because I don’t feel their act is up to par. I have also continued to ignore some so-called “comedians” for potential bookings because of their smug, unprofessional, diva attitude. The stage owner dictates who can and cannot step on said stage. “Open Mic” shows should be a means for comedy venues to have prospects delivered to their feet. But, that club holds ZERO authority over any performer until they deem them worthy to be paid for their service. Terms agreed to, dates set, money paid following services rendered, shake hands and part ways until next time (if the comedian is so lucky). If a no-compete clause was stipulated in the original agreement, the comedian should honor it. However, it is ignorant of any comedy club to believe that a comedian will improve and grow by only telling jokes on one stage. If a local comedian is worth FIRING (from a job that only lasted a few nights) because he or she told the same jokes withing 50 miles, and that caused the club to suffer financially, THEN PAY THE COMEDIAN TO PERFORM EXCLUSIVELY.

    “A CROWD FAVORITE…ONLY AT THE CHUCKLE HUT…PROFESSOR GRUNDLE AND HIS SINGING DILDOS!!!”

    Clubs need a reality check that the power they hold is limited to within their walls. Comedians need to quit acting as though they are entitled to any and all stage time. I say this as a booker of monthly room, and as a comedian who has burned bridges with his own home club, as well as two national bookers. I sucked on stage and now they don’t take my calls. I also pointed out that I am willing to jump through hoops to get booked, as long as they are the same hoops everyone else jumps through. Pointing out how “club rules” are inconsistently enforced put me on a few shit lists. And I don’t fucking care.

    PS. Comedians, if you do burn a bridge with a full time club, stop acting like a cry baby; that your dreams are shattered. Budget your time, money, and energy and make your own path. Invest in yourself, not some fantasy that for one night you will be the toast of Tulsa, or Greensboro, or Boise.

    • mattwardcomedy
      November 19, 2013
      Reply

      Well said!

    • November 19, 2013
      Reply

      Good words Rob. I find it funny they ban a local comic because they “take” money out of the bookers pocket but they (the booker/club owner) doesn’t think enough of your talent to book you in their club so you can line their pockets…contradiction?

  7. November 20, 2013
    Reply

    I am very glad that Colorado is not this way!
    In Denver alone we have 3 separate comedy clubs and lots of random bar shows.
    Come on comedians! Act like it’s the 60’s and share some love!

  8. November 20, 2013
    Reply

    I got banned from a club once for telling them they needed to ban me from the club.

  9. Danny
    November 20, 2013
    Reply

    That story above is almost exactly what happened. It was a bummer, but I refused to shut down my room. I was loyal to that club for 5 years, and they treated me like I had never done anything for them.

  10. Philly
    November 21, 2013
    Reply

    My home club told open mic’ers not to play at a new club or they would be banned. These were unpaid open mic comics. I played at the ‘forbidden’ club and was promptly banned as well. Fortunately my skills are good enough, I have made more money and gotten more gigs at other venues since being banned from my former home club, which seems to be going down the tubes and reaping what it sows.

  11. May 19, 2016
    Reply

    Here’s a thought: sue for restraint of trade. I’ve heard that said practice is against the law almost everywhere, and with good reason.

    But ask a lawyer before doing so, of course.

  12. Showrunner
    September 23, 2016
    Reply

    I wasn’t banned, but my show was shunned by the local club – and the owner let it be known that he didn’t want anyone doing my show (and that was all it took – he didn’t need to get specific, given that no one wanted to risk their club stagetime for any other show. After a year, the club owner came around (ironically, with the advent of yet another show that might have been even more of a threat), but by then, the animosity toward my show was so set in concrete that only a quarter of the club comics were interested in doing the show now. And of course for that year, the club comics were talking shit about me around the region, with mixed results (for some who heard the stuff, it just reinforced a negative image of the club, the backfire of which you wrote in your blog). I could go on and on, but that’s enough.

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