How We Help Theatres Sell More Drinks at Comedy Shows

A few years ago I was speaking with the executive director of a theatre where we’d been doing a few shows a year for several years. He told me that audiences at comedy shows don’t buy as many drinks as audiences at music shows. We wondered if the fans were different or just the circumstances.

Though we don’t get a cut of the drink revenue we want your theatre to make more money. If you’re happy, we’re happy. And the more money you make, the more often you’ll have us back for shows.

What can we do to help you sell more drinks?

I suggested we try an intermission

In general, American comedians hate intermissions. They worry that after the intermission, the audience has to be warmed up all over again. But this isn’t really a problem. I’ve toured overseas, where intermissions at theatre comedy shows, and even at comedy club shows, are common. Some venues even have two intermissions (they drink a lot in Australia, and in South Africa the shows go on for hours).

Touring overseas I learned that all the emcee has to do is tell a couple of short jokes, get quick laughs, and then the audience is warmed back up. It takes much less time than at the beginning of the show. I’ve done this here in the U.S. and it works just fine.

We tried an intermission and they sold more drinks at the intermission than they did before the show.

Our theory is two-fold. First, that if there’s a song they don’t like- and even die-hard fans don’t love every song by a band- they’ll get up and buy a drink. The second idea is that they can still hear, and enjoy, the music at the bar. But if they miss a few words of a joke that would mean not getting the joke.

Nobody wants to return to a room where everyone else is laughing and not know what they’re laughing at.


So here’s what we do

The first idea was an intermission. It worked fine, but…

We can do better than that

comedian and corporate emcee Shaun Eli on stage
Shaun Eli at the Emelin Theatre in New York

Because we almost always do a Q&A at the end of our shows. We tell the audience we’ll be giving them a chance to ask us questions. Audiences love that- it’s like a back-stage pass to a comedy show. But first we’ll be taking an intermission. And then- we’ll be drinking with them. While we don’t drink before or during a performance we’d love to share a drink with them while we all chat. And after a brief intermission we’ll take their questions from the stage.

Most of the comedians I work with like the Q&A. We often have great stories that don’t quite fit into a stand-up routine but they’re fun and funny. Plus it gives us the opportunity to show off being spontaneously funny, which is fun for everyone. And it endears audiences to us and to your venue, because they feel special.

We tell them that we have a special drink tonight (any classic cocktail will do; let’s say for the first show it’s a Manhattan). We’ll be drinking Manhattans. Of course they can get whatever they want- beer, wine, a different mixed drink, soda, or nothing at all. But if you do drink we encourage you, along with us, to try something new.

The bartender can ask how many people want the special drink and make a batch at once, speeding up service. Or even make a batch in advance once we’ve done this enough times to have an idea how many people will order the special drink (it’s new to us so we don’t have enough data yet).

This is how we help you sell more drinks. Some people buy drinks before the show. Some buy drinks during the show. That won’t change- but we will sell additional drinks at the end. As I’m sure you know, mixed drinks have higher profit margins than beer or wine.

We’ll change the special drink every show so as to keep consistent the idea that we’re all trying something new each show. We get repeat customers for our comedy shows- they love our shows and keep coming back. But the general mix of comics, and the drink, will be different each time.

And yes, I keep track of the special drink. If you or your bar staff have a suggestion for a particular drink I’m all ears. It doesn’t matter what the drink is, just that we have one. 


Questions? Suggestions? Let’s talk- call or text (914) it’s-funny (914) 487-3866 or email Shaun {at} TheIvyLeagueofComedy {dot} com