How to start a comedy night – the dos and don’ts

By Nicholas Robinson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Get serious on comedy: Kevin Dewsbury offers top tips on how to set up a pub comedy night
Get serious on comedy: Kevin Dewsbury offers top tips on how to set up a pub comedy night
Funny man Kevin Dewsbury believes there is no great science to putting on a comedy night, but advises operators to consider the basics if they want a success on their hands.

Dewsbury set up his comedian booking service and production company Kev’s Comedy Club two years ago after gaining experience in the trade in London.

“I was approached to run a comedy gig in a pub in Manchester after I set a regular one up in my hometown of Northwich and it’s booming now every month,” he told delegates at the MA500 event in Manchester this month.

Dewsbury said he specialises in intimate comedy club set-ups, where acts perform in a smaller room – like a pub or a bar.

Seek an MC to arrange it

He advises seeking an MC who will arrange the night for you, bringing in usually two or three comedians who will take it in turns to perform.

Some of his top DON’T ​tips include:

  • Don’t just put a mic in the corner of a pub and expect it to work. You need to plan the event and make sure it is the centre of attention in the pub
  • Christmas and comedy don’t work. People go out at Christmas and drink silly amounts. Some operators see comedy as a way of getting people out at Christmas, but they’re usually forced to go out for the office party and, therefore, don’t really care about the comedian
  • Don’t have another activity going on, like a DJ and dancing before the comedian, because people will be annoyed if they have to stop dancing

Meanwhile, his top DOs ​include:

  • Have the right space to do it in. You need to have good sight lines with nothing in the way of the performance area
  • Make sure you have good lighting
  • Invest in a good PA system. You can’t use a microphone and a karaoke speaker from the 1960s
  • Hire an MC who will arrange everything and probably bring their own sound and lighting equipment
  • Manage expectations in your promotion. It’s not going to be Live at the Apollo​ with well-known comedians
  • Have intervals between acts so customers can buy drinks and go to the toilet
  • Close the bar during the performances. It means customers will stock up on drinks when they can and limits any noise disruption too
  • Turn off things like fruit machines and jukeboxes
  • Tell the bar staff to be quiet too

However easy or difficult it might be to organise a comedy night, Dewsbury advised that doing one “is not a quick fix” and “won’t be an immediate success”.

A year to success

It could take more than a year to become established, he explained, adding that marketing the event as hard as possible is essential.

But the hard work, and working with comedy night organisers, could eventually see some of the more famous comedians treading the boards at your pub.

“I might bring someone like Sarah Millican or similar as one of the comedians for a venue I’ve worked with for a long time. They need to try out new material and it’s a bit of a thank you from me to your business for working with me.

“It also helps to get the night’s name out there a bit more because someone might say, ‘I heard so and so was there last time’, which is a big help.”

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