8 Ways to Slay Promoting Your Comedy Show

Featured in Comedic Pursuits 

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When I think of promoting a show, I sometimes think of the line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “If you never give up, you can’t possibly lose.”

Maybe my view of communications shouldn’t be a reference to someone quickly losing all their limbs in a swordfight, but I do think people can metaphorically run themselves into spikes over and over again when trying to get butts in seats for a show.

Trust me, I know this from personal experience: I help promote Trustfall & Friends’ monthly show at The Pinch, as well as post content for shows at Dojo Comedy. And during my years in DC comedy, I’ve performed in shows with a packed house and shows with only one teammate’s boyfriend in the audience.

My point is that promotion is hard. And it’s never guaranteed that, just because you work your butt off posting all over Facebook, you’ll sell out your shows. But promoting your group well is also the only way to let people know your shows are happening in the first place.

To help you avoid some common promotion pitfalls, I’ve thought of eight tips I’ve learned from my experience promoting my own group’s and Dojo’s shows. Keep in mind that the advice I give is geared more towards running and promoting your own indie show around DC. However, it can definitely be applied to broader ventures on a larger scale if you want to try it out.

*Coconuts clap while I ride away to the main point of this article.*

How to promote your comedy show: 8 tips

Marketing your shows can be a blast, but you should also be aware of the amount of time it can take to truly get the word out. Whether people even see your promotional material can be very dependent on the day of the week, the weather, the venue where you’re performing, and whether the finale of The Bachelor is on that night.

Basically, it’s trial and error to see what works for your audience.

But if you follow some of these tips, you should have a good chance of reaching at least some of your fans to let them know you’re about to put on an amazing show.

1. Get your Facebook on

…Or any other social media site of choice, but don’t miss Facebook.

Once you make your group page, talk about your group and add photos. Make it a page about your group before diving into Facebook events.

Once it comes time to promote your show, make a Facebook event as soon as a date is set. Then post it to DC Indie Improv and any student networks from local comedy theaters.

As a general rule for social media, don’t just post to promote. People like content, so you should also post fun stuff from your team. Post about birthdays or things you found funny. Post after shows to thank the people, places, or groups that hosted you.

Be real people on social media, and you’ll have an easier time getting a following before asking fans and followers to come to an event.

If you’re really looking to get people to come to a show and have a few dollars to spare, you can dip your toes into paid advertising to promote your Facebook event. Of all the social media hullabaloo, it’s one of the better bangs for your bucks and can cost as little as a few dollars just to get more eyeballs on your posts.

A great example: Church Night does a great job of creating content before, after, and around their shows. They post vlogs as their characters and podcast episodes and comment on fans’ posts with the same outrageous spirit that fits their show’s brand.

2. Get your schedule locked in

Once your team has availability locked down with a Doodle poll or something similar, keep an eye out for any festivals, improv theater runs, or schedule openings to apply to ASAP.

Sure, you can play some stages on short notice in DC, but the more ahead of time you have to apply, the better chances you have to get in and promote your show.

The DC Indie Improv thread is a great way to keep an eye on opportunities locally. Some teams also keep a Google Doc of researched festivals and when they start accepting applications.

As a side note for festival applications, you should always have a recent video of your team with ALLteam members in the last year on hand. The same goes if you’re applying for a run at any local DC theater. The Washington Improv Theater does an excellent job of taping its shows, helpful for your future use in applying to stuff.

And if you’re thinking of applying to one of the non-traditional comedy venues in DC (The Pinch, Colony Club, Reliable Tavern, or any of the other sprouting comedy hubs), have a flexible schedule for the next few months when reaching out about show opportunities. Give date ranges and nights of the week you want to hold, and be gracious about what they end up offering your group.

3. Post to local blogs and event sources

DC has a lot of events going on that your event will have to compete with, so get comfortable posting to groups outside of your friend network.

730DCDCist, and BYT are great event outlets you can use if you convince them your event is interesting enough to mention. You can even try reaching out to any neighborhood blogs where your event is held, such as The X2 or Popville. Kudos to you if you can get one of their reporters to come to a show with comp tickets and then write about it. (You can use their write-ups for future marketing endeavors.)

If you’re really hosting an out-of-this-world event, try pitching to The Washington Post’s Going Out Guideor Things to Do DC.

(And don’t forget, you can always get a comedy event posted in the weekly DC Comedy Lineup, published by this very site if you submit it here.)

4. Get your friends and connections to post about your event

Facebook algorithms seem to change on the daily. At the time of these hands clacking out letters on this keyboard, the algorithm is set to favor people in your network sharing something over you simply creating a post.

That means that if you post on your page, it won’t necessarily go through to the feeds of all the people who like your group’s page. But if people share it, the algorithm shifts to automatically prioritize your post, placing it higher in people’s feeds. So if there’s a big event coming up, get your crew and any other teams involved to share it.

Instagram has a similar algorithm based on how much you interact with other people. If you just post on your team’s Insta page without ever liking or commenting on anyone else’s, your posts might not even appear on people’s feeds. By interacting with other people on Instagram, you increase the likelihood of your posts showing up in more feeds.

Note that this is not a cue to start inauthentically typing unicorn emojis all over people’s ‘Grams. (Refer back to tip #1 about being authentic on social media!) But maybe consider giving a little love to those you follow right before you post.

5. Pick a theme, any theme.

Is there a gimmick or something different about your show? A Theme? A Cause? This isn’t a must have, but if you put on a monthly recurring show, it can help create returning viewers and tuned-in fans.

You can also look outside your group to pick themes to center your show around. You can pick a new nonprofit to donate to every month or showcase a new group or performer that will also appear in your show.

If you do decide to pick a theme of some kind, make sure to mention it in your social media messaging so fans know you’re doing something different.
Some great examples: Stacey With a Side of Schmear has a different bagel theme once a month, which keeps the fun going for a returning audience. If you go one month to hear about dessert bagels, you still need to go the next month to see what’s up with Montreal bagels, for example.

Comedy Potluck, hosted by Wonderland Ballroom, also does a great job with themes. Every show is hosted by a different character, with the entire run of acts weaving in and out of tie-ins to that host. At the last Potluck show I went to, every seat had a diaper on it for “when people shit themselves laughing.”

6. Get outside your bubble

The average improv show usually has a very large number of other improvisers in the audience. When I post about shows, it’s usually my improv friends who like and comment on the post.

I love these people; I try to be one of these people for my friends. But sometimes when promoting, I realize I’m talking to the same group over and over. This isn’t a big problem…until the Friday night comes when your 15 regular audience members have their own shows. In turn for their support for your group, they now want you to go to their shows, which, of course, are all happening at the same time.

What to do?

Since we can’t all have Hermione Granger’s Time Turner, the takeaway is to go out and support something new every once in a while. In short, grow your network.

You don’t have to start inviting your whole ultimate frisbee team to shows, but start by getting to know some of the other comedy communities in DC. Go watch stand-up (shout out to the monthly Schtick show), grab tickets to a Perfect Liars Club storytelling event, a historic comedy Time Machine Roast, a Brick Penguin sketch comedy show, or Wonderland Ballroom’s variety Summer Camp Show.

Even if you’re just expanding your comedy bubble, it’s good to meet new people and see what happens when comedy communities merge.

7. See what the venue can do

Depending on the theater, bar, or open space, most venues have their own promotion network. The Stew’s manager, for example, makes incredible posters to promote shows in her space, and most improv theaters will make a Facebook event that you can add to your page.

However, it’s still your job to make sure your bases are covered. If your show is at a bar or “popup” space, talk to the event manager about how you can collaborate. Maybe they can make a Facebook post (offer to write it and give images), or mention it in any newsletter they send to their own audiences.

Again, certain comedy communities can be very insular, so take advantage of any new audience your venue might offer for your event.

8. Give the best damn show you’ve got in you, no matter what

When you’re first starting a new show and haven’t built the audience you expect, still give that one teammate’s boyfriend who came to support you the best friggin’ show he’s ever seen.

No matter how many people show up, be gracious and inviting to anyone who comes to your show. Stick around afterward to chat with audience members and thank them for taking the time to support your team running around stage pretending to be wolves for 15 minutes. Thank your bartender and event manager when you see them (if it applies to the venue).

Outside of understanding Facebook algorithms and other marketing tips and tricks, the best way to get people to come see your shows is always to put on a show people will want to see. You can make a million flashy Instagram posts, but they won’t do you any good if your show is terrible.

Focus on good comedy first, then put your energy into promotion.

You can do it!

*Coconuts clap as I ride back for my outro.*

Now you have a few basics to get started. So go promote your shows and try to pack the house with fans!

Ultimately, promoting your shows takes time, patience, and creativity, but the process can still be loads of fun. Just remember: if you don’t give up you can’t possibly lose.

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