Additional information on having a comedy night for non-profit organizations

Guidelines for Leadership, Volunteers and Staff

My Wharton education kicked in so I put together more information for prospective clients… in addition to our on-line brochure: How to Find a Comedian

Where to start? Start here.

I can put together a professional show for your church, synagogue or other organization (charity, private club, corporate, etc.). Even if you’re just getting started or not sure whether you want a comedy show I’m happy to help answer any questions you might have.

Often the first question is “How Much?”

That shouldn’t be your first question. It’s a necessary question, but let it wait.
You can afford a great show. If you represent a non-profit organization we can work somethign out with you. I’ll first speak to you for a few minutes to find out your needs.

  • How clean a show are you looking for?
    (I put on exclusively clean shows but there are degrees of clean. NBC and Comedy Central may bleep out the F-word but comics may still talk about intercourse in somewhat graphic detail. To me, ‘clean’ is at least as much about content as it is about vocabulary)
  • What night of the week?
    (For a church the answer’s usually Friday or Saturday and for a synagogue Saturday, but don’t forget about the possibility of an early Sunday evening show. Weeknights and daytimes are available too and they’re less expensive for non-profits.)

  • Dinner plus a show? Dessert & the show? Serving/selling drinks? Speeches and awards presentations? Just the comedy show?
    (We provide the entertainment- the rest is up to you)

  • What’s your budget? How much do you think you’ll be charging for tickets?


If you serve food, a week later nobody’s going to remember the meal. They will remember having a great time at the show. And you’ll get the credit for that.

A show is typically around ninety minutes and should include a professional comedian as the emcee, plus two to three other professional comedians. The experience, caliber and fame of the comics will determine the cost. Plus the greed of the person putting the show together. It’s not uncommon for a booking agency to make more money from a show than all the comics combined. I don’t do that. I’m paid to perform. I’m the rare person you’ll meet who says “I have enough.” As I write this in 2022 I drive a 2016 Honda Fit. I think it’s a great car. I’d love a Cirrus SR-22T single-engine airplane, but I wouldn’t expect you to pay for it.

I would suggest not trying to find three or four comics by yourself, as too many things can go wrong.

For example, what would you do if one of the comics calls you at 6 o’clock the day of the show to say he’s sick? Let that be my problem— I have a lot of comics’ phone numbers, I know where they live and who has a car. I also know who needs to be reminded the day before a show, and which are the rare comics who’d think nothing of cancelling just because they got a better offer for the same night (I don’t work with people like this). I also know which comedians would be happy to fill in and which ones figure they’re at a negotiating advantage given the time-frame and would demand for a lot of money.

I work with a select group of hand-picked, professional comics, many of whom were attorneys, bankers or corporate executives before being comedians.

Choosing the right comedians, in the optimal sequence, takes expertise.

A comedy show is not a Chinese restaurant menu.

Which is why it’s not a good idea to work with a booker who just gives you a price list of comics and says “Go ahead and choose.”

For one thing, that’s just encouraging you to choose the least-expensive (and least experienced, or even amateur, comics). He or she is hoping you’ll choose two or three of the cheapest comics and one national headliner. It makes his or her job very profitable. But you get what you pay for, and in this case you won’t be getting for the full professional show that you deserve.

A booker who gives you names and tells you to choose isn’t only being lazy, he or she is not being respectful of your needs. Just like you wouldn’t go to a Chinese restaurant with five friends and order six chicken dishes, you shouldn’t just randomly choose comedians. You’ll likely get the ones that most appeal to your specific taste and end up with four like-minded comedians in a row.

You don’t want to sit through an entire show with the same point-of-view. Or the same energy. Or the same persona. Or the same topics. There are a lot of factors that go into making a great show.
Part of what you’re paying for is a booker’s expertise and knowledge of his or her comedians.. And not for him or her to pass that task onto someone who doesn’t have that expertise.

And another thing– is your booker coming to the shows? If he or she is not out doing the shows, or at least attending them, that’s not keeping up with the comedians. Because people change. Or they may get stagnant (there are still some comedians doing jokes about the Clinton administration or commercials that nobody under forty has ever seen). Either way, you have to be there to know what’s going on. If your booker’s in the show that’s being in tune with the market. If he or she just says “Don’t worry about it, I’ll send you three good comics, it’ll be fine…” It might be fine.
It might not be.

I’m a pro comedian. I get paid to perform. I won’t view your house of worship as an annuity– every year cash a check and send three random comedians. I’m AT the shows, giving them the personal attention they deserve. I’m there checking out the room, testing the sound… Often I’m even providing transportation to my colleagues, so you won’t get a call “Hi, I missed my train, I’ll be an hour late.”
My shows start on time– anything else is disrespecting everyone who’s there when they’re supposed to be.

Okay, now let’s talk the cost.

I can meet a range of budgets. Our experience has shown that unless you’re booking someone really famous, the fame of the comic isn’t likely to significantly increase ticket sales, not for a church/synagogue show. If you pick the right person to put the show together you’ll have a great show and an even bigger audience next year! But you have to have the right mix of comedians.

The price will depend on when, where and audience size.

Remember, it’s my job to put on a great show. I’ve been doing this since 2003. If I suggest a certain way to set up a room, or ask for details on the sound system and the lighting, please understand I have your best interests in mind. If we don’t sound good, we don’t look good. Leave the details to us, but if we’re not asking the right questions, something’s wrong.

By the way we’re occasionally asked:
“A member of our congregation wants to perform for a few minutes in the show, is that okay?”
Nope. We’re putting on a show of professional comedians performing for a paying audience. As pro comics we’ve each done thousands of shows, and we’ve gotten better from each one. I turn down ten comics for every one I book. And the ones I turn down? They’ve got years of performing experience too.

I recently spoke to an officer of one congregation who told me about a comedy show they had a few years ago. They were told to expect three comedians. Four showed up… the fourth was a friend of one of the comics and was new. She told me he wasn’t funny.
I explained that I have sympathy for new comics because nobody starts out funny enough to be a professional comedian. That it’s hard to get stage time in front of an audience, which is what comics need in order to improve (“Stage time, Stage time, Stage time” is the equivalent of real estate’s “Location, Location, Location”). But… I went on to explain that that’s what amateur showcases at comedy clubs are for. Their congregants should not have been subjected to a new comic if they were paying for a professional comedy show.

Some things to beware of before choosing comedians or someone to book a show for you:

  • Club credits. Newer comics will typically brag about what clubs they’ve played at. This is completely irrelevant since almost all comedy clubs have amateur or “New Talent” nights when just about anybody can get on stage regardless of talent.

    I get a lot of newer comics asking to be in our shows. Some of them brag that they’re “regulars” at various clubs. When in fact they’re “regulars” in the amateur shows and apparently not even experienced enough to realize that I’d know the difference.
  • If someone uses the term “up-and-coming” or “new talent” that means amateur.

  • Contests. There are thousands of comedy contests every year, and almost all of them are meaningless.

    Here’s why: Sometimes the winner is by audience vote. Which means the winner is the person who brought the most friends to the show.

    Some contests will ask the audience to vote for two people in order to minimize this factor. But if the audience figures this out they vote for their friend and the worst comic… the worst comic ends up winning!

    Some contests use what they call an applause meter, which is just a VU (sound) meter to measure the volume of applause. One person yelling or whistling produces more sound than twenty people clapping… so that’s not exactly scientific either. And even if it were, we’re back to the ‘who brought the most friends’ factor.

    And even if the contest has judges? Are those judges entertainment industry professionals? Or are they people who might not know that somebody did five minutes of George Carlin’s material, or jokes that are so obvious that many, many amateurs tell them but professionals know not to?

    In my prior career in banking I won an international prize for forecasting six economic variables a year in advance. Know what that means? Nothing. I guessed. And won. What does that say about the experts who used mathematical models for their predictions? And comedy’s more subjective than economics.

So if all that’s irrelevant, what do you use to decide whom to work with? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Go See Them! Do they have regular shows you can come to? Or will they make arrangements for you to see them on stage? This is perhaps the best way to see whom to work with.
    We have frequent public shows and if none will fit your schedule we’ll try to make arrangements for you to see us perform elsewhere.
  •  Watch Their Videos. This is a decent way to see if you want to hire a comedian if you can’t get to a club (or a neighboring church or synagogue) to see him/her perform. Does their material seem original and clever to you? If you can, try to ignore the audience reaction and just judge whether you like their material. We’ve all done shows in front of a hundred of our best drunken friends who’ll laugh at anything. And that’s the video we send out.

  • Are they professional? And by this I don’t just mean are they paid for their work, I mean do they act in a professional manner? When you hire a comedian you’re not just hiring funny (and appropriate for your audience), you’re doing business with someone. Does that person respond to phone calls and emails promptly? Answer your questions clearly and completely? Have a professional website? (just don’t choose a entertainer because of a great website— you’re hiring the entertainer, not his or her web designer, and I say that as a comedian with a much-admired website) Does this comedian make you feel like this is someone you want to work with? Many of my testimonials rave about my comedy but also praise my professionalism.

    I’ve seen some comics’ websites that had cut and pasted sales material from another comic’s website; once I found text at the bottom of one site claiming he’s been a professional booking agent for 20 years (and the guy only started in comedy three years earlier). I pasted the text into Google and saw that it was taken verbatim from another booking agency’s site. Should we have much faith that this comedian’s material is original or that this comic is even honest? That’s two Commandments broken right there!

    And don’t be impressed by a website full of celebrity photos. I can hire celebrities just like anybody else can. I’ve worked with them too. It’s like having your picture taken with the president; you stood next to him once, you didn’t become his trusted advisor. So don’t let the photos of Jerry Seinfeld distract you; you can’t afford him. Yeah, I’ve got photos of me with Jay Leno on my site but he hired me, not the other way around.

  • TV credits. It’s better than nothing. Sure, we’ve all seen some unfunny comics appearing on late-night television. But at least a professional comedy booker thought they were funny (and while you didn’t, a lot of other people probably did). If someone’s appeared on The Tonight Show or Colbert or Letterman several times, that’s a pretty good endorsement. A Comedy Central Presents or HBO special is also a strong statement.

    BUT— ask to see a video of the show, because some will… gasp… lie, claiming to have been on a show (or will have been in a comedy sketch, which is maybe a testament to their acting skills but says nothing about their ability to wow an audience with stand-up). Any comic who’s been on late-night TV but doesn’t make a recording of the appearance available to you has something to hide or just doesn’t care that much about your business.

    One thing to realize, though, is that the people who book late-night TV shows have objectives other than simply finding funny people. They’re looking for young promising talent, people that will be famous and fit into sit-coms. Somebody who started performing at 40, or who’s rather unattractive, or even someone doing intellectual material, is much, much less likely to get onto TV. But no less likely to make your congregation go wild with laughter.

 

Feel free to contact us to ask about other fundraising ideas. Even singles events!
Yes, we  can help you plan your singles event too!
As an example: Information specifically catered to Orthodox Jewish singles event planning

 

Let’s get started. To reserve a date or to ask questions call, write or email:
Shaun Eli Breidbart

Comedian & Executive Director
The Ivy League of Comedysm
Liberty Comedy Corp.
P.O. Box 360H
Scarsdale, NY 10583
phone (914) It’s Funny (914 487-3866)
Shaun {at} TheIvyLeagueofComedy {dot} com