Category: Stand-up comedy

Love letter to comedy

On Wednesday Komeediklubi, my little comedy club, will celebrate its 3rd birthday with a comedy show. 3 years is a long enough time to realize that I don’t just like stand-up comedy. Looking back at these 3 years I cannot help but admit that I love it, for better or worse.

Sometimes I forget that love is in play. When you have to carry chairs up and down the stairs after a comedy event, tired and sweaty, love is not the main thing on your mind. And there’s nothing romantic about having to juggle startup projects and worry about ticket sales for the next comedy event at the same time.

Comedy will save the world

But then there are the moments when you gain a new perspective on something during a comedy night or laugh so hard it hurts, or have a post-gig beer conversation with someone who is equally intelligent and funny. These are the moments you realise that laughter, if applied right, is a very powerful force.

Comedy has an important task of entertaining us on our brief stay in this world, it makes us laugh. But laughter is only the start of great comedy, because great comedy makes you think, too. It helps you see an event or belief in a different light. It can build a bridge between two worldviews separated by dogmas, prejudices, propaganda and such. I can’t quote a study that laughter causes lowering one’s guard and boosts empathy but I’m sure if you google it you’ll find I’m right.

Comedy’s other role in addition to entertaining us starts with political and socio-economic commentary at comedy nights and ends with the clear realisation that comedy will save the world. (Editor’s note: with the exception Russia. Putin may have screwed that country up so bad, it’s beyond repair).

In that sense comedy is a much better hobby to love than riding a jet ski, some multi-player game, kitesurfing (that I fondly practice) or darts. Fun things perhaps, but they bring about as much world peace and happiness as picking your nose or eating a yoghurt.

Full disclosure is on order here: it’s fun combined with the world-healing property that I love about comedy. If I wanted to save the world only, I would need to do something with a more quantifiable effect and in very different conditions. At this stage I tend to prefer a semi-lit room and laughter to war zones and people dying of disease. That’s about on the 20% mark on the scale of ‘armchair revolutionary to real doer’. At least I have managed to stand up!

From Lia Laats to John Gordillo – how I fell in love

I can’t say I have always loved stand-up comedy. Growing up in Soviet Estonia, there was no stand-up. Seeing our summerhouse-neighbour Lia Laats entertain guests at the village midsummer-night as a 5-year old was the closest thing there was to seeing live stand-up. I can’t pretend I was “instantly hooked” but I still remember the feeling around the fire. It was fucking great.

Fast forward about 20 years and I’m studying in Amsterdam. Most people don’t associate this city with comedy, but clubs like Boom Chicago and Toomler opened my eyes to stand-up. I was instantly hooked. In 2007 I moved to London which is a comedy heaven if you’re into British humour (not humor, mind you). Which I was. So I made it my habit to visit the various comedy clubs, always bugging friends to come along. I started to write the really good acts and the really bad acts down into my little black notebook (a .txt file, actually) to be able to see great ones again, and to avoid serial disappointment.

This black notebook came handy when I started toying with the idea of organising a comedy event in Estonia. In February 2010 I sent a rather unprofessional Facebook message to John Gordillo, the first name in my black book and one of my all-time favourites, and was ecstatic when he replied. After some swings and roundsabouts that year, John headlined the first ever Komeediklubi in November 2010 alongside Erich McElroy and Brett Goldstein. Which was fun.

Conditional love: club comedy comes first

It’s worth pointing out I don’t love all comedy. I prefer live comedy to Youtube and DVDs, and I prefer an intimate club comedy night to a big concert hall or stadium any day of the week. What draws me to the club comedy scene is that club sets are not perfect. Every line has not been rehearsed and finetuned to perfection and you’ll often see inspiration, the divine force, at work in front of your eyes. A Big Show is enjoyable but it doesn’t don’t move you, because it is usually a repetition of a previous stroke of genius, not stroke of genius in action.

Your mileage may vary, of course. I’ve seen my fair share of uninspired and uninspiring comedy nights, and dragged friends along to see them (sorry if this was you!).

In the end there’s only love

Komeediklubi doesn’t operate in vacuum. Kinoteater and Monoteater are creating Estonian-language comedy from their different ends, and there are other enthusiasts around. Comedy Estonia has done the most to kickstart the Estonian stand-up scene, but I don’t fully appreciate their zero-sum-game worldview. And putting aside my personal preferences, having just one flavour of comedy events is not good, full stop.

So if nothing else, Komeediklubi has added some flavour to the Estonian comedy scene during the last 3 years. A flavour of dry British humour, unfancy atmosphere and comedy for the love of comedy.

When you love something you’re invincible. You may lose out on an opportunity, or lose a bit of money and brain cells with an event, or you may be outnumbered or outsmarted – but if you’re not outloved, you’re still winning. Because love for comedy, like any other kind of love, lives forever. And when you reach eternal life with your time-wasting hobby project, things are not as bad as they sound.

Happy 3rd birthday, Komeediklubi! May you live a 100 years old and remain laughable even fully grown up.

 

Last but not least – Komeediklubi would be nothing without the performers, the audience, the venue, the people that helped to spread the word, design the posters and put the chairs in place, without supporters and sponsors. You know who you are (and I know who you are). Thank you!

Tips & tricks for promoting events: hustling is the new normal

I didn’t enjoy last Sunday too much. I had 4 days to go until my next british stand-up comedy night and I had sold less than half the tickets needed to break even. I stared at the computer screen and refreshed the ticketing site’s page a couple of more times. Needless to say, this didn’t improve the situation.

Background: this was my 9th comedy night and since this is more of a hobby than work, I had treated the marketing side of things accordingly. A Facebook event, a fan page, a couple of tweets, a ticket giveway and the occasional radio or newspaper slot. First shows sold out effortlessly but each time I had had to work a little bit harder to sell the seats. This time it was crisis. It was time to put on my best hustling hat. This was my action plan:

Try promoted posts of Facebook. I promoted one of my Page posts to people that had “liked” the page and their friends, and though I don’t fully trust Facebook stats, it seems I got good value from my 11 dollars.

Go “creative”. “Share and win”-type Facebook promotions are primitive and probably not in agreement with T&C’s, but they appear to bloody work. I’ve been quite methodic about cleaning my news feed, but I keep seeing them promotions. I didn’t have an iPhone 5 to give away, so I did a parody promotion, taking advantage of the fact that the word for “share” and “divide by” is the same in Estonian. This got 13 shares – with average friend count at 150, this was around 2000 eyeballs. In a situation like this, every little helps.

This promotion, coupled with the promoted post and a couple of “normal” posts resulted in FB (vanity) metrics going through the roof. Looks nice, but I knew I had to do more than Facebook.

Set up an email list. Facebook has become increasingly noisy. Too many promotional messages, people turning off updates from Pages and email notifications. Sensing that, I had set up an email list a week before and gotten more than 100 people to sign up. I sent out my first ever newsletter.

Do a Google Plus listing. (This might be opening a can of worms, I know.) No-one’s on G+ to see your listing, but adding it has two benefits. It sends a good-looking email to everyone you invite (because people haven’t yet turned off notifications). More importantly you’ll secure some real estate in people’s Google Calendar.

Good old media. I asked a few friendly media contacts to see if and how they could spread the word. Obviously this requires establishing contacts beforehand, cold calling at this stage would have been an uphill battle.

Last but not least – the most powerful channel: asking nicely. I skyped, texted and emailed to a bunch of friends, acquaintances and people I thought would be interested, asking them to buy a ticket, spread the word, or both. It’s not the most pleasant thing to do, but it’s much more pleasant than having lots of empty seats on the night. A big thank you to all who helped!

Result: full house and a very good night of laughter. Plus, the fact that I had had to hustle made the whole thing even more rewarding.

Quick survey: it’s all about social

Today I did a quick follow-up survey with ansr.io* to sense check. And though the results** heavily skewed towards Facebook (where I shared the link) it confirmed my gut feel that in event promotion it’s all about social. Social as in Facebook and the old-fashioned social of talking to people. Naturally, what you promote must be worth talking to a friend about.

Hustling is the new normal

Going forward I don’t expect any of the things described above to work. I expect to sell few tickets if I do what I’ve always done before. And I’ll be prepared to hustle and look for new ways to get the word out. Marketing comedy events is very similar to marketing startups in that sense.

* Ansr.io is a promising and much needed tool, because SurveyMonkey is just one big collection of Upgrade buttons these days. But I’d give Teller and team another couple of weeks to iron out the bugs before you jump aboard.

** Tried to use Infogram for the graph but their service was so slow and unresponsive that I gave up. Not easy being an early adopter.

Komeediklubi. Boy, that was fun

For those of you that weren’t there – the premiere night of Komeediklubi stand-up comedy club was great fun. I’m not sure whether it was more fun for the audience, for the acts or yours truly; in that sense it was almost a competition in having fun. (Luckily there were no losers in that competition.)


As a marketer I was pleasantly surprised about the apparent effortlessness of selling out a week ahead of the event. I wrote a blog post, a funny (I think) description of the event and created a Facebook page. Then a couple of people shared the link, added people to the event and retweeted and voila! all the tickets were gone. Probably a combination of unmet demand, novelty factor, a product I believed in, good friends (thank you!) and the fact that on some level marketing had started years earlier. Over the years I’ve invited tens and tens of people along to gigs in London and spoken about going to many more. It’s just that at that point I didn’t know inviting people along would turn out to be marketing for an event I will organise myself.

Some of you know that I had been thinking about the standup gig since February. At first I couldn’t decide on the venue all the way from London. Then I couldn’t find a date that would work for all parties. Then summer started. Then it was almost Christmas time where people have so much to do anyway. All this time I just didn’t want to get this done bad enough, one of the reasons being that there is a notable level of risk but not that all much money. And then I thought of Tallinn animal shelter that I really wanted to say thanks to, that I should donate all profits to them and my perspective changed. Risks remained the same but the payoff was not a bit of money but a good feeling inside. Zero pounds was suddenly more motivating than some hundreds of pounds. Never before had I felt so clearly first hand (first head? first heart?) the difference between doing something for a reason and doing something for a reward.

Before this gets too sentimental – hope to see everyone there at the next event some time in January; new dates will be announced on the Komeediklubi Facebook page.

Stand up, Tallinn

komeediklubi-night-colorS.pngThere’s three things I miss about places like London and San Francisco: hummus, smoothies and stand-up comedy. While you can make the first two in the comfort of your kitchen you can’t really use your food processor to make people laugh. (Unless you’re a really bad cook.) Luckily there’s Jan Uuspõld with his shows and a couple of months ago Comedy Estonia popped up but this is far from enough. As I’m spending a bit more time in Tallinn these days it only made sense to add my little contribution. And so I’m very happy to present the first night of Komeediklubi, to take place on Wednesday November 24th in Von Krahl theatre. Komeediklubi badly translates to ‘Comet club’, just so you know.

When I’ve invited people along to stand-up shows in London I’ve sometimes been nervous whether others will enjoy the gig. I tend not to see the same acts over and over again and there is a bit of hit and miss when going to see new names. I have the same nervousness multiplied by ten because I’m inviting so many more people this time but at least the lineup is pretty awesome.

JOHN_GORDILLO.jpgI saw John Gordillo back in February and almost immediately contacted him to ask whether he’d theoretically be interested in a gig in Estonia. The fact he agreed shows what a great sense of humour he has. John’s material is a bit more intellectual if not philosophical compared to the stand-up average (if such a thing exists) and at the same time he manages to be funny as hell. He’s killed it at the Fringe, worked with Eddie Izard, he has a Wikipedia page and whatnot but at the end of the day what matters is that he can make you think and laugh at the same time. Also, John insisted on arriving early so he could acclimatise and write some jokes about the place.

erich_mcelroy.jpgErich McElroy is an American turned Brit that I saw MC’ing in the Comedy Cafe a couple of months back and I thought to myself: this guy is much funnier than the acts. He’s likeable and his style of comedy is almost well-wishing, yet sharp. Erich manages to take the best of both American and British stand-up and blend them into a positive stream of humour which I think will go down well in Tallinn.

brett-goldstein-2008-april.jpgAnd last but not least there’s Brett Goldstein who probably has the most ‘classic’ style of the trio. His bio illustrates this well: originally an actor, he turned to stand up because he was bored of depressing people through plays. “If I could depress them through the medium of laughter…” he thought, “that would be something…”. Brett’s first question after we had agreed on gig details was whether things like swearing and sex were off limits in Estonia. I might have created a monster but I replied It would be rude not to swear and not to talk about sex

So there you go, it should be a fun night. If enough people will turn up and the event will turn a profit, this will be donated to the Tallinn animal shelter. They helped to find a new home for Snoopy the german shepherd last summer and this is my way to say thank you to them.

If you decide to come, I warmly recommend to book ahead, tickets for Komeediklubi are available through Ticketpro.