Are you producing a comedy show in Philadelphia? Bedtime Stories creator Gregg Gethard has some ideas he’d like to try to make Philly comedy more attractive to new audiences, and he’d like to see the rest of us trying ’em out, too. Read below, and feel free to add your own opinions and suggestions in the comments.
by Gregg Gethard
The Holiday Inn in East Somerville, MA is located in the absolute ass end of greater Boston. Do you know where the car rental return places are down near the airport? That’s essentially where this Holiday Inn is located.
However, this past weekend, it was the home of a joint comedy show between The Union Square Roundtable and The Chris Gethard Show. Over 80 intrepid comedy nerds made the trip to a part of the area that is a vortex of nothing. And while both the USRT (which is to Boston comedy what Bedtime Stories and The Theme Show are to Philly) and The Chris Gethard Show have their followings, the main selling point for the show was the swimming pool.
The USRT folks rented out the hotel’s pool area, which also has wall-climbing, ping-pong, foosball and a basketball hoop. It also had space for a video projector and for a band to play. It was a comedy show in one of the most bizarre venues imaginable.
It also taught me a valuable lesson: We need to do a ton better in marketing our product to the Philadelphia audience. And one of the ways to do so is in our choice of venues.
We often complain in Philly comedy about our audiences, which are in most cases other performers and family and friends. We’ve complained at length about a lack of media attention (although that has gotten a LOT better) but we really need to do a lot on ourselves to market our shows beyond “Facebook invites/e-mails/press releases.”
Here are some thoughts. I plan on doing a lot of these with Bedtime Stories but feel free to steal them (or give me ideas to steal) because it’s for the greater good:
1. PHILLY IS A GIANT CITY AND A GIANT METROPOLITAN AREA.
This is the 5th biggest city in the country and has a metropolitan area that traverses three states. Yet, virtually all of the alternative comedy shows happen within a two-mile radius of Center City at places like The Shubin, Connie’s Ric-Rac and Fergie’s Pub, with a few one-off shows at other venues like Johnny Brenda’s or the Adrienne. Outside of those areas, there isn’t much going on save for a sporadic booked stand-up show.
I live in Roxborough within walking distance of Main Street, Manayunk. And, yes, I know the area’s pretty filled with the under-25 frat crowd. But guess what? Ball don’t lie – If you’re funny, you’re funny no matter who you perform in front of. People under the age of 25 are exactly who we should try and get to go to our shows. But instead of waiting for people from Northwest Philly (or South Jersey or Glenside or Wilmington) to come to us, let’s go to them.
Are there any comedy shows in West Philly? The same West Philly that has two gigantic colleges? The same West Philly where everyone is essentially in some sort of band and abides by a DIY ethos really similar to those of us who put together indie comedy shows? Even if there are a few, there should be more. That area is absolutely ideal for alternative comedy, but we expect them to come to us. That’s short-sighted.
2. THEATERS ARE FINE BUT LET’S TAKE IT TO THE STREETS.
I don’t mean this literally, but I sort of do. A lot of the people who do comedy in Philly came up as theater nerds in high school. I get and understand that. But I come from a different background. I spent my high school years going to punk shows at church halls and basements. I’ve seen all kinds of great shows over the years at The Troc or the TLA. But the music shows that made the most impact on me and I had the most fun at were at places like the First Unitarian Church.
I think the same energy of seeing a band at a venue like that translates really well to alternative comedy. In fact, the roots of alternative comedy started that way – folks like the Mr. Show guys were too weird to get booked at regular venues so they instead started doing shows at bookstores and coffee shops. Why aren’t we doing more of that?
The USRT guys in Boston regularly perform at house shows in basements and garages. Philly alums the Dependable Felons are now up in New York and do free shows in people’s apartments regularly and, in fact, are sponsored by some alcohol company who uses their shows as a way to market their product.
Why aren’t we doing that? And by that, I mean having comedy shows in houses of people we don’t know, since a few of us have had comedy parties at our places of residence. (Which are great, but let’s do it for people we don’t know!)
3. LET’S MAKE IT WEIRD.
I’ve worked as a journalist for most of my career. When I worked for small newspapers, the events that jumped at me to write about were the ones that really jumped out and were unique. I’m really trying with the relaunched Bedtime Stories to make the shows as esoteric and unique as possible. However, it’s still a monthly comedy show at a venue in South Philly. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s just that doing it every month just makes it an oddball comedy show that happens every month.
But I’ve never done a comedy show at a hotel pool. I might not ever do that, but I’m going to do my damned best to have at least one show this year in the weirdest possible venue. That’s a selling point to both someone who could publicize the event and also to people who might attend the event. It’s also a challenging thing for performers to find a way to make a comedy show work at an abandoned car lot or some such type of place.
Gregg Gethard has performed comedy in various forms in Philadelphia since 2008. He is the producer of the long-running Bedtime Stories and was a co-host of The Holding Court Podcast.