in: Etiquette, People

• Last updated: May 30, 2021

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

Bob Hope doing comedy in public hall.

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.

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.

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.

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