To Bring or Not To Bring
Has a comedian friend of yours ever asked you to come to their show? Maybe you’d have to say their name when you bought the tickets. Once inside the club or bar, you must satisfy a drink minimum. If any of this sounds familiar, congrats, you’ve been to a “bringer” show!
A bringer show is exactly as it sounds: each performer must bring a certain amount of paying guests to the venue in order to get stage time. It makes sense — comics yearn to tell their jokes in front of an audience who actually meant to be there, and the business wants guaranteed ticket and drink sales. Sounds like a win-win, right?
There are some definite upsides about the bringer show composition and outcome. If done in at a legit comedy club, it allows the comic to do a little sidestep of the open-mic scene, if only for a night. Working out your set at a bar downtown in front of (or more accurately, among) patrons loudly ordering their nth happy hour Corona, on top of the other comics looking down at their notebook and scurrying out immediately after giving the microphone back to the host, can get pretty old. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a vital part of coming up in comedy, and you can meet some equally-frustrated yet hopeful comedians who you can keep doing shitty mics with until you find the ones worth the haul. So what makes the bringer show worth it?
I chatted with comedian Tim Sturtevant about the big question of “to bring or not to bring?” He stands by the notion that starting out doing bringer shows may not be the best option for new comics. “Would you invite people to a concert if you’d only been practicing guitar for three months? No, you wouldn’t, because if you did, everyone who came to support you would lie and tell you, ‘wow, you’re so great at guitar already!’ and then you’d confidently suck at it because of the biased feedback you were given by friends and family,” Tim proclaimed. “Seek out strangers, perform for them, make them laugh. Do that consistently until you’ve got a goal. Doing bringers without a goal in mind is pointless. If you’re only goal is to make Aunt Jeanine laugh about that one time you burnt Santa’s oatmeal cookies, don’t do a bringer. If you want to submit to a festival, or need a tape to send to other clubs, a bringer is a great option.”
I can’t argue with that. I have to say, it feels pretty swell to bring people who love and support you to see your show. It feels even better to bask in the afterglow of their compliments. It feels natural to cling to their praise when you’re just starting out. But Tim has a point. Strangers need to think you’re funny, too, not your closest friends who, and I’m quoting him “have seen our dicks during middle school gym class (but like not in a gay way).” Charming stuff, Tim.
OK, so the audience at a bringer show is guilty of consisting of the buddies, coworkers, and family of any given comedian in the line-up. They’re laughter doesn’t always translate. Unlike when you may have actual bookers or scouts in the audience, no one is going to give you a sitcom if you crush. Then again, no one was going to do that regardless.
However, at the end of the day, even if it is full of ex-jocks you traded cups with in high school or whatever, a great crowd is a great crowd. If you can catch them on tape vibing with your material, and you have somewhere you want to send that tape, you’ve gotten yourself a huge asset. That being said, I would not do a bringer show if a tape isn’t part of the deal, especially if you’re not getting any kickback on the ticket sales you generated. The pay-to-play mentality is inevitable in a comedy scene packed to the brim with so many eager jokesters, such as in NYC, but we can only give so much! Yes — most open mics in the city charge the performer five bucks to get up and entertain people.
“Keep in mind that the bringer is a means to an end,” Tim adds. “If someone is promising you paid work based off your performance on a bringer show, be weary.”
Wait, paid work? That sounds dope, though. Why be weary?
“Because producers who run bringers often use those [comedians] without goals to fulfill goals of their own: to fill a venue and collect ticket sales,” Tim explained. “Don’t help them fulfill their goals without fulfilling any of your own.”
That definitely makes sense. A bringer show, with its professional tape, and high-brow club logo in the background, and even higher-energy audience members (shout out to Auntie J!), can be a useful and rewarding outlet for comedy. The key in choosing whether or not to participate is largely around timing. Is there something coming up to which you’d like to submit a tape? Have you gotten around to enough seedy mics and made uninterested strangers do a spit-take with their well gin and tonic? Was it a 4:30pm on a Tuesday when you did that? If any of this sounds familiar, congrats! You’re ready for a bringer show.
Article written by Ellen Harrold
Featuring Tim Sturtevant