John Cantu doing the door at the Zoo John doing the door at the Holy City Zoo

More Ins and Outs of Running a Comedy Club

by John Cantu ©

Last month you learned some of the inside secrets to running an open mike. Actually, what you got was a bare bones look at scheduling an open mike. Most of that was focused on the specifics of the open mike and the fact that the audience changed on a Tuesday night.

There were two other days that required special handling. One was Mondays.

Mondays are HORRIBLE. Simply horrible. Early in my producing career, I noticed was having some very, very weak Monday shows. They started out slow and got slower. I kept tinkering with my line up. I would be coming off a great Friday and Saturday and an acceptable Sunday, so I was too unsophisticated at the time to understand that Monday was the problem, not my line up.

Normally, you present your acts in increasing order of energy (and not, as many people think, in order of "name" recognition). Performer A, then stronger performer B, then stronger performer C, etc. The concept of a headliner is that one is so dynamic, no one can follow him/her. Theoretically, his/her act reaches such a peak, no one could possibly match and then exceed his/her energy.

Now, one Monday, a friend to whom I owed a favor asked if he could go on first to leave early for a paid gig. (Many comics performed at the Zoo out of love, not for any monetary reward - except for the Friday and Saturday shows.) Technically he was too strong for that spot, but I said, "Yes." Then I was amazed when he got the crowd going - stronger than any previous Monday. I thought it was a great energy crowd relatively speaking.

Then my regular first comic went up - and pffft. All energy dissipated. But I had an idea. And within in few weeks I had turned my Monday shows into a decent energy level show.

I turned my line-up up-side-down. I OPENED WITH MY STRONGEST ACT, then put up the second strongest, then third, etc. In other words, I used the first act to light a blazing fire, then used the others to fan it best they could till it sputtered out around 10:30 -11:00 pm.

None of the comics or producers could figure why "Cantu has such a decent Monday night when everyone else is dead."

There's one other special day that requires a different approach. One night I was setting out extra chairs and Don Stevens asked, "Cantu, what are you doing?"

I said, "Setting up for the show."

"But why are you putting so many chairs out on a Sunday?"

I replied, "It's a three-day, Monday-holiday weekend. I could put a mechanical monkey beating a drum on stage and we would be full."

On a three-day week-end people go out on a Sunday night simply because they don't have to get up on Monday, not necessarily because the show is great.

Regardless of the night, you can calibrate the amount of money you make by how often you have your waitress turn the drinks.

It's all a matter of how many rounds you have your waitress do. One complete round an hour, or two rounds an hour, one every thirty minutes, etc. I would have the waitress do three rounds. The waitress went on rounds at 8:00, 8:20, and 8:40; 9:00, 9:20, and 9:40. So you're getting three rounds an hour.

That's how you pushed the drinks.

(And please don't write me any blather about the sexism of the term "waitress" - we never ever had a male serve drinks - are you nuts? We were a HETEROSEXUAL club. Guys buy drinks. They buy more and tip big if the waitress is young, pretty, and flirty. It may not be politically correct, but it's a combination of business, human nature, and hormones. You can have male bartenders because you need strong guys who can handle a fresh keg of beer, but never male wait persons.)

NEXT: The Open Mikers Versus The Pros