I’ve been asked to perform at a show where the organizer is charging at the door. Should I expect to get paid?
–Broke in Oakland County
You shouldn’t expect to get paid for an open mic or even a showcase. When you get booked for a show, ask if you are going to get paid. This is the time to negotiate. Not afterwards or if you see the place is sold out or whatever. What you’ve agreed to appear for is what you should get paid — no more, no less. Open mics and showcases are different than one-nighters and club shows where comics are doing longer sets. You should never do a feature or headline length show for free, of course.
Open mics and showcases are about getting experience and learning the craft of stand-up comedy. Usually nobody is getting paid except the emcee, who deserves to get paid, as hosting those shows is hard work. The pay for an open mic emcee is usually $50 or less, and that is a flat fee that is agreed to before the show. There are shows where the emcee is also the booker and promoter of the show and so they may have a “door deal” where they get paid based upon the attendance.
This is where some comedians resent the fact that booker/emcee or club owner is making lots of money on the show and not paying the comics. The deal that the booker has with the venue is their business, not yours. If you think it is unfair for you to not get paid, then don’t agree to work for free. Just say “no!” Of course, there are lots of comedians that will agree to work for nothing, but as they say “you get what you pay for.” The shows that use only free talent and charge a cover at the door don’t generally last very long. The public is very good at figuring out when they’re being ripped off.
If you are looking to make money doing comedy, then work your way up to the paid spots or start organizing your own shows. Ideally, you should do both of those! The bottom line is that it is not unreasonable for a promoter or club to make some money at an open mic or showcase, but it is unreasonable to be upset about it after the fact if you already agreed to do it for free.
Joel Fragomeni is a familiar face to anyone who’s ever been to the legendary Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak, where he ensures that all of the shows run smoothly. He also teaches the Advanced Comedy Class at the Comedy Castle. For more information, call (248) 542-9900.
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