Never cancel a live comedy show even if not a single person has booked to see it

(Photograph by Tyler Callahan via UnSplash)

This morning, I was told that an act had cancelled a show at the current Leicester Comedy Festival.

No-one should ever cancel any comedy show because of low or no pre-bookings – unless, perhaps, they are playing the O2 arena and only one person has booked. In that case, perhaps the person should consider their career or their agent.

Apparently – unknown to the act – the Leicester Comedy Festival show that was cancelled was going to be reviewed.

One year at the Edinburgh Fringe, a comedy show was cancelled without notice because no-one had booked in advance and previous shows had had low or no audiences. The act had gone back to London in despair.

In fact, two people did turn up for the show that night and had to be turned away by the embarrassed venue.

One was me, working as an ITV researcher looking for acts and general talent. The other – entirely separately – was a BBC TV producer.

Another year at the Fringe, I turned up for a three-hander comedy show and the acts were there to explain that, as I was the only audience member, there was no point them doing the show. I did not point out to them that (again) I was a TV researcher up there to find talent. There was no point me telling them because they were clearly not dependable pros.

I’ve heard the argument that doing a comedy show to one or two people is not a true representation of the act.

Well, if you can’t perform the comedy act to one person, your act does not work. The rule of thumb on TV is that you should perform in your mind to one person – the one person sitting at home (perhaps in a family group, but still sitting alone) on a sofa.

The performer may want a reaction from a massed audience. But each individual is watching the show alone, inside his or her head, even if others react with them. If you can’t perform the comedy act to one person, your act does not work.

I remember The Scotsman once gave a 5-star review to a comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe. The reviewer was the only audience member. If the act works, it works. If the reviewer knows what he/she is doing, they review the show and the performance not the audience reaction.

I once helped an act at the Fringe. It was his first trip up there and he was unknown.

He got very very low audiences and was thinking of giving up and going back home to England. I told him that he should stay and play even if there was only one person in the audience because he had no idea who that person might be.

Even if no-one turns up, still perform the show to an empty venue and treat it as a tough rehearsal. If someone turns up after 15 minutes, keep performing and they will get a private performance which they will adore.

One day when I had to go back to London myself for the night, that particular act played to four people.

Two of them, it turned out, were TV producers looking for an act to appear in a brand new Channel 4 TV show. They had not booked in advance.

As a result of his performance that night, the act got booked for the whole new and successful Channel 4 series, which led to two subsequent BBC TV series.

Never cancel a live comedy show even if no-one has booked to see it.

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Filed under Comedy, Performance

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