The Do’s and Don’ts of Comedy Club Etiquette

by Brett on August 7, 2008 · 10 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette

Bob Hope performing at a night club

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Eric Bielitz, a graduate of the University of Maryland, Eric Bielitz who has worked nights and weekends at old man bars, rock shows, and comedy clubs for the past five years. It pays the taxes on his day job. Eric’s seen far too many cads at the comedy club and offers these etiquette tips for those visiting one, or really any nightlife establishment.

He can be contacted at “diypolitics“ at yahoo dot com

The last survivor of the golden age of night clubs, comedy clubs can be found in nearly every major city and many suburbs.

Stand-up comedy is one of the toughest gigs in entertainment. A comic stands before a room full of strangers from all different walks of life, and must get at least two-thirds of that crowd to laugh. It is very easy for some jerk to ruin the show, even unintentionally.

Unlike most many contemporary night clubs, a comedy club needs to keep a high degree of order to deliver an enjoyable show. I would go so far to say that comedy “club” is a misnomer. Stand-up comedy is theatre without a fourth wall. The rules and expectations on how patrons should conduct themselves are designed with this in mind.

The Basics: Light & Noise Discipline

Cell phones, Pagers, Blackberries: Turn them off or set them to vibrate. Never take a phone call during the show. If it can’t wait, find a place away from the show to take the call.

Conversation: Keep it quiet and under thirty seconds. Voices carry, even over a sound system. Let other people hear the show, your friends will still be there to talk to when the show is over.

Bluetooth Headsets: Turn them off. The blinking blue light is obnoxious.

No Flash Photography: It distracts and disorients everyone.

Do Not Heckle the Comedian: Heckling is interrupting the performance to upstage, disparage, or throw off the comedian. It is never acceptable, and the quickest way to ruin the show for everyone. It is also the quickest way to be humiliated in front of everyone.

Skilled comics, like Jimmy Meritt, can handle a heckler. But everyone would really rather get on with the show than waste time on some dumbass. Warning: Does contain a bit of adult language.

Do Not Interrupt the Comedian: The common excuse for this is “I’m helping the comedian.” Comedians are professionals, they do not need help. That “help” just derails the show and wastes everyone’s time, same as heckling. Exception: If a comedian directly engages you in conversation, you are a-ok to respond. Some of the best comedy happens this way, and can make for a memorable experience. Be ready to let it go when the bit is over.

Ian Bagg is a master of crowd work. Warning: Does contain a bit of adult language.

Standard Etiquette

No Recording the Show: Same as a band, recording a stand-up routine violates the comic’s copyright on his material. Worse yet, a less-than-stellar performance some jerk puts up on the web can hurt the comic’s career. The infamous Michael Richards video is an extreme (arguably justified in this rare case) example of footage released by a third party that ruins the performer’s career.

PDA – Keep it Tasteful: A comedy club is not the place for messy make-outs.

Tip the Wait Staff: The waitresses at a comedy club are no different than the waitresses at a restaurant: they work for tips. Other employees also get tipped out. A dollar per drink or 15-20% of the total bill is standard.

Respect the Staff: the quickest way to get thrown out is to disrespect staff. When talking with an employee, pay attention and be polite.

Respect the Rules of the Club: Rules and practices vary from club to club. The important rules, such as a drink minimum, are usually posted or announced, but others may come up. Respect them.

Advanced Etiquette

Dress Code: Stand-up used to be exclusively the realm of the suit and tie for both comic and audience. The late George Carlin changed that in the 1970s. Street clothing is now the norm, but that is no excuse to look goofy. Here are some suggestions to look sharp and classy at a comedy club:

What to Wear

  • Clothes that are well fitting and in good repair.
  • A good pair of jeans, or better yet, khakis or dress pants.
  • A good printed t-shirt, bowling shirt, polo/golf shirt, or best of all, a button down shirt.
  • A jacket classes up any outfit.
  • Try to be consistent with the people you are with. If your woman is in a knock-out cocktail dress, wear a suit. If your buddies are wearing bowling shirts, do not show up in a tie.
  • A full suit is the gold standard.

What not to Wear

  • Dirty, wrinkled, or ripped clothing.
  • ‘Do Rags or any other clothing associated with gangs.
  • Baggy, ill-fitting clothes.
  • Gym clothes/Athletic wear.
  • Anything with a camouflage pattern.
  • Flip-flops.
  • Tuxedos – there is such a thing as overkill.

Security: Doormen/bouncers/security vary from man to man, club to club. Plenty are surly, others are tactful and polite, none are to be messed with. In the event security speaks to you:

  • Keep your cool and listen. Security is not passing moral judgment on you (yet.) He is pointing out a problem, one you may not be aware of. It is like a cop warning you that your tail light is out.
  • Don’t jump in if he is talking to someone else, even your buddy next to you. The only exception is to tell the doorman that you’ll keep your buddy in line.
  • If someone else is bothering you: use your discretion about handling the situation. Safest bet is to let an employee know that you have a problem with someone, and ask that it be handled.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Granata August 7, 2008 at 4:42 am

I’ve only been to a comedy club once and I can’t say the experience was my cup of coffee. Maybe it’s the culture or maybe it was just that one club but everybody there, including the comics, seemed like giant d-bags whose only requirement for humor be that the f-bomb be dropped as many times as possible while making light of cheating on your wife.

Jim Gaffigan came to town recently and played the Civic Center. I would enjoy a show like that more. Jim’s got a clean act, plus it’s not at a bar or club which helps.

2 Shanel Yang August 7, 2008 at 5:50 am

Great post! I’ve seen so much of the items listed on the “what not to wear” list on Sunset Blvd. comedy clubs, that part just shocked me a little. : )

3 Manic Rage August 7, 2008 at 6:54 am

A few years back I remember going to a Comedy Club in the UK [In the city of Manchester] and the comedian asked if there was any students in the crowd to which my friend replied with a ‘hoot’. This ultimately only highlighted exactly where we were, but also made the jokes somewhat funnier when aimed at your friends.

But heckling is a no-no. Especially in the UK.

Always being polite to a bouncer is the only answer. Otherwise it is the difference between getting in the club OR not. Be a Gent. That’s the only way it is in the UK, for any club.

A Comedy Club is there to enjoy the show, and even if you don’t like the comedy on show – enjoy the night out! The food! The company of your friends!

4 Mike Bates August 7, 2008 at 7:16 am

I have to say, I’ve never been. Aside from beer (which I suppose I can get at home too), what’s the advantage to going to a comedy club as opposed to, say, watching Jim Gaffigan or Rita Rudner (but never Dane Cook) on Comedy Central? What am I missing?

5 Granata August 7, 2008 at 7:39 am

Speaking of Dane Cook, he’s one of those guys who seems to depend on profanity to make things amusing. I must admit, however, that his kool-aid bit is really funny!

6 Mario August 7, 2008 at 7:55 am

The worst are groups of guys that go on bachelor parties.

They always think they should chime in. Its fucking horrifying. We have a great club in colorado (the Comedy Works) and it seems any time I go, there is some group of 12 frat boys there trying to participate in the act.

7 Brian McKim August 7, 2008 at 9:11 am

Mike Bates asks, “…what’s the advantage to going to a comedy club as opposed to, say, watching Jim Gaffigan or Rita Rudner (but never Dane Cook) on Comedy Central? What am I missing?”

Surely you’ve listened to music on the radio and wondered what it might be like to go to a concert. Right?

Hmmm… perhaps we assume too much. Anyone who poses the above question is either 8 years old… or 80 years old and therefore might actually have never attended a live musical performance.

The difference between watching a comedy performance on television (even a large-screen, hi-def unit) and seeing the comedian perform live is so staggering as to make them two totally different experiences that really can’t be compared. We say this not because we’re comedians ourselves.

We can recall the first time we ever attended a live comedy show. It was in a venue that held, at most, 80 people. We sat perhaps 15 feet from the stage. We recall looking up at one point and noticing that the next act was standing within half an arm’s length of us as he waited to be introduced. It was one of the most exciting and revelatory experiences we had ever had to that point.

There are few other live entertainment experiences like going to a comedy club. It is the way standup should be experienced. We hope you come out to a club sometime, Mr. Bates. You’ll not regret it.

8 Ed August 7, 2008 at 8:52 pm

I think I will put this link on back of my cards the next time I have a set printed to give out after shows!!! There really are some mouth breathers in the audience’s I’ve seen that could use the tips!!!

9 Ian Millard August 8, 2008 at 6:08 am

A good article, and many good points.
One more rule, that applies to any performance.

The rest of the crowd came to see and hear the performer on stage. Nobody wants to hear from some self-important egotist in the audience.
As hard as it is to accept, YOU are not the star of the show. The person up on the stage – the one who’s putting it on the line – they are the headliner.

I have been to dozens of live stage shows and comedy clubs. The worst experience is having some thoughtless jerk yapping on, as though anybody cared about them and their opinions.

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