Why it’s my job to arrange the line-up

This is going to sound harsh.

There’s more to arranging a comedy show than just picking “the best” (which means your favorite) comics. In fact that’s exactly how NOT to do it.

Putting shows together isn’t your area of expertise.

It is mine.

A perfectly lit and miked four minute video from a late-night TV show may show a comedian at his or her best but it doesn’t prove they’re right for your audience for a half-hour or forty five minutes.
Or even that they’re reliable.
(I don’t work with unreliable comics, but it’s not like there’s a list you can consult)

You want great comics but you also need diversity– not three or four comics with the same energy level, style, point of view, subjects, attitude and background.
If the audience is all white, Christian, single, heterosexual male factory workers in their thirties, do you think they want to listen to a bunch of white, Christian, single heterosexual males in their thirties?
That’s what they listen to all day- let’s give them something different.
Synagogues often ask me for Jewish comedians. Then when I give them an Italian Catholic comic with his hilarious take on families (same issues, better food) they love the show.

Shaun Eli during a photo shoot for The New York Times

Here comes the harsh part. Two examples.

A while back a membership-driven non-profit asked me to arrange a show. They said they needed to attract younger people and what better way to get younger people involved than a comedy show?

One of the comics I suggested was Amy Schumer- this was just before she got famous. At the time we were working in comedy clubs and she was less edgy. I knew that she was about to become famous so it would be a coup to book her and then present her four months later when she was a big deal. They were sure to sell lots of tickets.

Their committee watched a bunch of videos and decided which comics they wanted. INSISTED on those comics. The committee was women in their sixties. Guess which comics they picked- yes, the two oldest female comics.

I suggested we introduce some youth into the show. Without consulting me they booked another comic. A very young comic. Highly talented, one of the youngest comedians to ever perform on a network late-night TV show.

But he was a comedy club comic. Not an “experienced performing for older folks” comic (and the audience was mostly people in their fifties and up, because all their marketing was based on the first two comics booked). Comedy club audiences are mostly under 35 and single. This audience was mostly grandparents.

He had a tough time. As a testament to his talent and professionalism he did manage to adjust and recover, but it took half his set to get his bearings.

We did have an excellent show but it didn’t exactly meet their stated goals. Amy would’ve been perfect. Now she’s selling out theatres. They missed the opportunity to draw in a younger audience that would still be saying “We saw her at XXX’s show before anybody knew who she was.”

Second example- I put together a show for a non-profit. They insisted on picking the comics. I presented them about a dozen and the person in charge picked the ones he thought were the funniest. They are great comics and we had a great show. But they were very similar. No surprise, as that was his taste. The show was three single, white, heterosexual males the same age and from the same part of the country.

Before the show two of the comics sat in the green room taking to each other about what jokes they were doing- because they knew that two comics each doing five minutes about Tinder would be too much. It’s not easy changing your set at the last minute- most of us prefer to relax before performing, not worry about last-minute changes.

After the show an audience member asked me why there weren’t any women in the show. All I could do was to promise things would be different next year, after explaining that only a quarter of working comics are women so it’s not unusual for a show to be all men (even though I try very hard to avoid that). What I didn’t tell her is that I specifically told my contact that the line-up should be better balanced, that half his audience would be women and that having a married female in the line-up like I’d suggested would’ve changed the energy in the room.

There’s a lot that goes into arranging a comedy show line-up- there are comics whose styles complement each other, and others whose styles will clash. And there are a few comics here and there that just don’t like each other, and even if they never have to speak to each other you don’t want that tension.

Simply put, I will ask some questions about your audience if I’m not familiar with your group. Then I will put together a line-up you’ll love. But it won’t be the same type of comic over and over, because that doesn’t make for the best comedy show possible.


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

Comedian, Executive Director & Chief Chocolate Officer
The Ivy League of Comedysm
Liberty Comedy Corp.
phone (914) It’s Funny (914 487-3866)
Shaun {at} TheIvyLeagueofComedy {dot} com