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everything you'll ever need to know about booking a comedian or comedy act

Everything You'll Ever Need To Know About Booking A Comedian Or Comedy Act

Check out this ultimate guide to booking a comedian or comedy act for your wedding, private party or corporate event!

From up and coming acts to big name headliners, give your guests an evening of laughter with our comedians and comic acts. No venue is too small, or too big, for these fearless masters and mistresses of the open mic…

We give you the low-down on how to book a comedian or comedy act for your event, with insights from Alive Network’s Geoff Whiting (comedian, experienced MC and comedy promoter), plus invaluable advice from some of the most famous names on the comedy circuit.

What Is A Comedian Or Comic Act?

Stand-up has never been so popular, with TV shows such as "Live at the Apollo" and panel shows like "Mock the Week" making many comedians household names. Most comedians at Alive Network are stand-up comedians, entertainers who perform comic material and often interact with their audience. Our comedians have an endless variety of styles and material, from classic gag-telling to wry observations on life.

And yes, you can have top names comedians perform at your event - if you have the budget! Of course, every comedian has to start somewhere, and there is always fresh talent coming through the comedy club circuit for you to book and enjoy before they become really famous.

The glory days of the comedy double act may have passed, but there's still plenty of talented duos and trios out there, some such as Foil Arms and Hog presenting comedy sketches.

Our Comedians category also includes some comedy acts. Most forms of entertainment has a comedy version, whether it be comedy juggling, magic, acrobatics, mime, stilt walking, party bands, etc. We've included some of the more unusual acts in our list, such as comedy ventriloquist, Nina Conti, the Dame Edna Everage tribute act, The Untamed Edna Experience, comedy pianist, Kev Orkian, The Comedy Illusionists and comedy cabaret magician Martin Reed.

Examples of Comedians available to hire from Alive Network

Why Book A Comedian Or Comedy Act?

Comedy is a great leveler; nothing brings a diverse group of guests together faster than a good laugh. However, comedy can also be divisive, so it’s important that the style of your comedian matches the event. Even the best cutting edge young loud comedian could struggle with a conference venue filled with senior business folk.

Comedy for private parties and celebrations

Comedy at a private party can really get a party started, or provide terrific after dinner entertainer. It gives your guests a chance to relax, have a laugh and generally enjoy themselves together, as a group. However, if there is a wide age range at the party, such as you’d find at a wedding, you do need to ensure that the comedian booked is as funny to your gran as to your 16 year old nephew. You'll need to double-check the type of material that comedians offer for a public family-orientated or youth event, although most comedians will make it clear from the start if this is not what they offer.

Comedians for corporate events

Comedians are also a terrific way to break the ice at corporate events, especially given their ability to customise their material to your event:

Comedians can write specifically to your brief if required to (in varying degrees). So they can weave in subjects or even members of the audience into their routines if briefed by you (via us) well in advance of the event.

- Geoff Whiting 

Most comedians are very conscious of the need to judge their corporate performances to the client, as revealed by comedy stars Ed Byrne and Stewart Lee in an article in The Independent (1).

If your material is political, anti-establishment or really saucy then it’s the wrong gig for you. But I don’t do stuff about the world’s ills, and me talking about getting married or being a dad in front of a group of insurance salesman isn’t going to upset anybody.

- Ed Byrne

The dynamic is all wrong (for me). The attitude of a corporate audience is that the performer is their servant that they have paid for. My onstage persona is that I think I am better than the crowd and they have to earn my respect – and this would not play with business people… It is not the right place for what I do.

- Stewart Lee

What To Look For In Quality Comedy Acts

When it comes to comedy, quality is rather subjective, so you're far better searching for a comedian with the best experience and style match for your event. Don’t overlook the celeb factor either; booking a well-known comedian can give your event the real wow factor when they walk out on stage, and just watch the news spread across social media like wildfire!

Comedians also make excellent MCs for award ceremonies, (Hugh Dennis famously did the national parking awards for years). However, do check your comedian has the appropriate experience in this area - it's not for everyone.

Your comedian also may need to look the part. Bear in mind that younger comedians tend to ‘dress down’, and some tend towards the scruffy side of informal. There are exceptions, but if the on-stage image is important to your event or your brand, make sure you ask your comedian nicely and they should dress accordingly. (Having said that, we don’t think Milton Jones would slick his trademark wild hair down for anyone!) Here’s what comedians JoJo Smith and Justin Moorhouse advise young comedians to consider:

Make an effort. Even if it is the back room of a pub, to the people who are paying a tenner to see you, it’s showbiz. Wash your hair, wear clean clothes, look like someone who gives a s**t.

- JoJo Smith*

There are no hard and fast rules to clothes. Though as I’ve got older I’ve realised the looser and shabbier your clothes are, the tighter your stuff has to be on stage.

- Justin Moorhouse*

Check to see if your comedian has appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival - it's not an absolute seal of quality as anyone can book a venue slot and put on a show - but it does show your comedian is willing to put their money (or their agent’s money) where their mouth is.

So, look for:

  • Comic and presentation style
  • Type of material
  • On-stage appearance
  • Past experience at your type of event
  • Length of act
  • Level of interaction with audience
  • Availability (good comedians should be fairly busy!)
  • TV credits
  • Comedy festival appearances, such as Edinburgh

What Format And Timings Will A Comedian Offer?

Most stand-up comedians offer the familiar format of one person, one microphone and (usually) a defined length of act, which can be tailored to your requirements. Most comedians will offer short sets and up to around 30 minutes, others may have a whole show of two hours, but this might not be suitable for all events. Comedy acts can often tailor their timing to your event, subject to any staging requirements.

Bear in mind that while the average length of act in a comedy club is around 10-15 minutes, such a short set will not be suitable for an event where there is only one comedian and a roomful of people to be entertained. If you have specific timing requirements, ring and talk to the friendly team here at Alive Network and we’ll point you to the best comedians for your timescales and event.

What Equipment Will My Comedian Require?

Comedians don’t require much in the way of set-up on stage:

A comedian or a group only requires a simple vocal PA and a stage wash in term of lighting so far less complex than a five piece band or performing groups of other kinds.

- Geoff Whiting

Spoken comedy relies on every word being heard clearly, so you will need to provide a good quality microphone and sound system for a stand-up comedian. This will probably apply to comedy acts too, but these types of acts may bring their own which are best suited for their needs.

Don’t assume that just because big name comics in big stadiums use ‘head mics’ (the type on a little boom arm at the side of their face) that all comedians want one, In fact, most prefer a handheld microphone.

Comedians do not entirely trust radio packs and headset mics at live events and would always prefer a radio (hand held) mic. The exception would be a name TV comic that might prefer a headset mic and pack, so it’s always best to ask at time of booking.

- Geoff Whiting

Some comedians are firmly old school when it comes to sound equipment:

If you're given the choice between a brand new radio mic or an old fashioned mic with a lead - take the old mic with the lead every time.

- Jo Caulfield*

However, for very small venues, not using a microphone might actually be an advantage.

With real small audiences, depending on the type of material you do, it might be better to sit on a stool, or not even use the microphone. It draws them in.

- John DeBellis*

Comedians are actually very adept as adapting to the challenges of both quiet and noisy spaces.

In a noisy room the temptation is to get louder, this can spark an arms race between you and the noisy audience which will make the situation worse. Often the best technique is to wait slightly longer before speaking and then to speak QUIETER, this may sound counterintuitive but silence from the stage can sometimes grab people's attention more than any amount of shouting.

- Tony Cowards

What Space Will My Comedian Require?

The reply will probably be “How much have you got?”!

Small Spaces:
Stand-up comedians can fit into almost any space, so long as they have enough space to move around a little, the audience can see their face, and they are well lit. Adequate lighting, however basic, is important: see below for more details.

Stage performances:
If you have a stage, your comedian will usually make the most of it. While some comedians don’t move far from the centre spot, other more energetic performers like Michael MacIntyre and Lee Evans will take every inch available! Most comedians like to wander around a little on stage, so don’t confine them too much. Having said that, most actually only move from side to side, so don’t need a great deal of depth on a stage. That’s why many comedians on tour have a full backdrop behind them; it’s actually there to reduce the stage depth and make them look (and feel) closer to their audience.

Outside performances:
Not every comedian will be happy to perform outside as it can be difficult to capture an audience’s full attention, especially if the weather is against them. If you want your comedian to perform outside, always check withe the team here at Alive Network before booking. You will need to provide a weatherproof tent with sufficient space or a portable covered stage for your comedian, with the appropriate sound equipment and some lighting.

If an event is outdoors, your comedian would simply ask that it is sufficiently warm in that performance space as 'cold audiences' very rarely laugh, a physical fact we have found. If it is windy, then tables must be firmly set down and there must be attention paid to keeping the space looking and feeling good for both comedian and guest.

- Geoff Whiting

What Will A Comedian Or Comedy Act Cost?

We’ll be honest here: good comedy doesn’t come cheap. Most comedians ask for “offers over £xxxx”, which allows them to tailor their act (and their price) to your event.

Stand-up comics at the start of their careers, such as Barry Dodds, charge from around £600, others with TV credits such as Jen Brister charge from around £1000 upwards, and Chris Martin from £1000-£2500, depending on the nature of your event.

For known names such as Arthur Smith, the prices do vary according to the event, hence his price range between £3000 and £12,000. “Live at the Apollo” regular Andi Osho can entertain your guests for a minimum of £6000, while the fee for comedy ventriloquist Nina Conti starts from £12,000 + VAT.

Other headliners such as Jimmy Carr, Ed Byrne, Alexander Armstrong, Miles Jupp and Stephen K Amos are very much £POA, but be prepared for fees approaching £15,000.

For comedy acts, expect to pay around £500 minimum for a comedy juggler or magician, over £600 for a comedy tribute act, around £1000 for comedy sketch trio Foil Arms and Hog, and about the same for The Comedy Illusionists.

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Anything Else I Need To Know?

Comedians don’t need much in the way of equipment, but like every performer, the more you can smooth out the logistics before they arrive, the happier they will be. Bear in mind that top comedians are highly professional artists who have worked at some of the world’s finest venues, so there are a few things they will expect to happen or be provided.

Staging: If you have a stage, your comedian will use it. If you need them to be seen above a crowded room or dining tables, you will need to provide a raised stage that is sturdy, doesn’t creak, and with a minimum dimension of 8ft deep by 12ft wide.

Sound: As previously discussed, do make sure you have the right sound system for your comedian, and the correct type of microphone that they prefer.

Lighting: Most comedians don’t need the full-on lighting and dry ice of the “Live at the Apollo” stage, but their performance area does need to be properly lit. If you can’t see a comedian’s face, you will miss half their act, and an audience who can’t see half the act will get restless very fast.

Meet your comedian on arrival: Allocate someone to meet and greet your comedian or comic act when they arrive. That person should show them to their changing room, (see below) and introduce them to the venue staff or event coordinator.

Changing room: As Geoff Whiting says:

Most comedians would expect a lockable dressing room, or a hotel room to use for the same purpose if applicable.


Most comedians like to relax alone before a show, so don’t ask them to share their dressing room with other acts or staff.

Set up time: Comedians will want to spend some time in the venue doing a sound check and generally getting the feel of the place.

If [I’m] performing for the first time at any venue, I scan the surroundings, there could be some free material to be gained from any source within the premises. I get a feel for the place rather than scurrying backstage, (as) the audience cannot see the green room!


- Allan Donaldson*

Food and drink:
It is not only polite to offer your comedian some food – it also helps fuel them through what can be a long evening for them.

Comedians would usually like a few bottles of water/orange juice or beer plus a few sandwiches if possible to be provided to them before the show. If it is a company dinner then they can be invited to join you and your guests...some do like to do this but others prefer the solitude of a back stage room with food provided to them there.

- Geoff Whiting

Alcoholic drinks:
The old image of a comedian with a pint in on hand is long dead and buried. Most comedians will not drink before going on stage, and frankly, if they do require alcohol in their contract, you might want to book another comedian. However, an offer of a beer or glass of wine after the show will be welcomed, even if they decline due to a long drive home.

Don't drink before going on stage. You need to stay sharp. (This may seem a little harsh but I am a little harsh).

- Sarah Millican*

Comedy at dinners:
Comedy works best when audiences can relax and focus on the act. They can’t therefore focus on the finest dinner known to man AND the funniest gag they’ve heard in ages. As an article on comedy gig etiquette in the Telegraph states:

Avoid eating while the comedian is performing as it only serves as a distraction. … You don’t want to be in a comfortable chair, tucking into dinner and only occasionally looking up to see what the comedian is saying. That's not what it's all about.

(3)


Comedy and other acts:
make sure your comedian is in the right time slot at your event, and relative to any other acts you may have appearing, such as a party band.

The comedian goes on first THEN the band. Never the other way around. A comedian can’t follow two guitars, bass, drums, pyrotechnics and stage-diving ... no matter how sharp his/her observations about cats and dogs are.

- Jo Caulfield*

Adapting material to the audience:
Audiences are never the same two nights in a row, so comedians will adjust their act accordingly. Don’t expect a word for word re-run of a routine from their DVD; a lot of the thrill of comedy is what they come up with on the night.

If it's going badly, I have a few lines I can throw in to break the tension, or I have other material that I can use to retune the atmosphere. The really good comedians can walk into a room and immediately read an audience – they know which parts of their act to remove and what material to pull from the databank.

- Ellie Gibson (4)

Ad-libbing:
Comedians ad-lib all the time, creating new material on the fly during a performance. So, you might end up hearing brand new material that have never been used before, which is really special.

Sometimes I write down notes about what I want to talk about and start trying to flesh them out with the to-ing and fro-ing of the chitchat, but it's still tricky. It's so much easier to find that on stage. Most of it is ad-libbed at some point… The most I do in each show is about 30 minutes. Actually I've never taken figures. Maybe it's 45 minutes. But any show has ad-libs that I might have done a week ago or a month ago.

- Eddie Izzard (5)

No heckling:
Heckling the comedian isn’t clever, funny or required, and will inevitably rebound on you or your guests:

Interrupting the comic just for the sake of it is a no-no: it disrupts the flow of their routine and ruins it for others. You will almost certainly be made to look the fool as comics tend to have stock come-backs to a heckler.”

(3)

Smile:
The same advice that Tony Cowards gives to comedians should equally apply to yourself as the organiser on the night. A smile goes a long way.

Be nice to work with. Be nice to everyone at the venue, the customers, the bar staff, the bouncers, the promoter, be courteous even if you are in a foul mood. Comedy is a "people business", you have to put on your best face and be nice to people even when they are being a d**k.

- Tony Cowards

How To Book A Comedian Or Comedy Act From Alive Network

Simply browse for “Comedians, Comedy Acts” section here at Alive Network, and browse the profiles of some of the UK's top comedians. Once you have found your ideal act, do an instant availability check on your chosen date, call us for prices, or just go ahead and click to book your choice!

When your booking is received, one of the Alive Network team will contact you to double-check details such as venue, format required and the timings of your event.

Once your booking is confirmed, you pay your deposit by credit card, and we then email you a receipt and your contract.

When your contract is signed and returned, you will be put in contact with the comedian’s management team three weeks before the event to discuss the final arrangements.



SOURCES:

(1) http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/comedy/features/corporate-gigs-which-comedians-take-the-funny-money-8783540.html

(*) As quoted on comedienne Jo Caulfield’s excellent blog of advice from comedians in the business to those just starting out. Well worth a read.
http://www.jocaulfield.com/component/content/article/126-things-ive-learned-as-a-comedian

(3) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/comedy/11479963/Comedy-gig-etiquette-the-dos-and-donts-of-being-an-audience-member.html

(4) http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/may/30/standup-ellie-gibson-comedy-crash-course-eddie-izzard

(5) http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2008/feb/15/comedy