The Beauty of a Bar Show
“I need a beer!” cuts through the cheers and applause as I’m introduced to kick off The Dirty Jokes & Magic Tricks Show at JD’s Old Town Tavern in Houghton Lake, Michigan.
This is the kind of thing that would NOT be tolerated at a mainstream comedy club, but exactly the type of audience member behavior that I thrive on.
“Get this man a beer… and a tall glass of shut the fuck up!” I respond from the stage.
The crowd loves it.
I love it.
I couldn’t ask for a better way to start the show.
Nightclubs, taverns, and neighborhood bars are the best venues for live comedy for me because of the intimate, “anything goes” vibe.
For the folks in attendance, it’s the usual comfortable local hangout. For me, it’s an odyssey of the mind every single time. The atmosphere is always familiar enough to navigate, yet so unique wildfires of creativity are constantly sparked. No two shows are ever alike which keeps me from burning out on delivering the same routine over and over.
The crowd is comfortable and loose… drinking heavy (which bar owners and managers like), raring to laugh and have fun- which is the whole point.
Bar crowds are untrained as comedy audiences, to be sure, yet un-jaded as well. The laughs come easy, as long as they come quick. The more authentic and spontaneous the performer is, the more respect they earn. Quick, disruptive moments allow for demonstrations of spontaneous wit. How a comedian handles a heckler is revealing of their real personality.
I try to never let any disruption or distraction cause me to lose my cool. I welcome them as adventurous breaks from the polished material. Many comedians will immediately snap on a heckler. I bring them into the show, chatting them up and transforming them into a composite of a comic “character,” that I refer to throughout the rest of the show.
The beauty of the bar gig is the the audience is usually skeptical, yet forgiving at the same time. They are not expecting or even wanting a perfect performance whatsoever. They are looking for an unforgettable, fun experience worth the ticket price. That’s it. Success is enjoyed by the comedian who understands and appreciates this dynamic.
One of the most over-looked, underrated advantages of the bar gig is “THE HANG” after the show. Many comedians only engage the audience while on stage and maybe at the merchandise table while they are being herded out the door after a show at a comedy club. The beauty of the bar gig is people have the option to come and go at any time. This may sound scary to some comedians, but the advantage is learning HOW to keep them in their seats, ordering drinks. And the SWEET SPOT is after the show, hanging out. The more social you are, the more fans you acquire, the more merchandise you sell, and the more frequent the venue books your show.
The intimate, social, and unique nature of bar comedy is what brings me back to nightclubs, taverns, and neighborhood pubs over 100 nights a year, nationwide. If and when I ever shoot a NETFLIX special, it will be at a small town neighborhood bar.