I love stand-up comedy. I hate comedy clubs.
My wife and I had our very first date at a comedy show, and for many years, we were semi-regulars at a number of mainstream and alternative comedy rooms. This summer we resumed that old past time, returning to two of the bigger LA comedy clubs. We saw world-class lineups of comedians, each bringing their A game. Comics like Chris D’Elia, Tom Papa, Sebastian Maniscalco, and Dane Cook (yes, Dane Cook, haters!) had Gen and I doubled over in laughter and gasping for air. It reminded us that stand-up is so much more powerful when it’s live. But our recent pilgrimages into Hollywood also reminded us why we stopped going to see live comedy years ago. We dislike everything about comedy clubs except the performers. At both clubs, we had a lousy time having a great time.
Comedy clubs haven’t materially changed since the late 70s. While movie theaters have been rethought with stadium seating, THX sound and upscale food options, comedy clubs are still little more than fire code violations with two-drink minimums.
The entire business model of the comedy club is a paradox. The goal of a club is to sell me, the patron, as much food and drink as possible, but the only way to do this is by interrupting and distracting me from the entertainment I came there to see. There is no better example of this than the comedy club nightmare of the “check drop.” At the end of each evening, 300 people have to pay their checks while the headliner comic is in the middle of his or her best material. I’m asked to quickly pay a bill in total darkness, and if I use my phone as a light-source, I get yelled at for being a distraction. Why do I need to apologize for trying to work within the system that the comedy club set up?
While other venues try to make their customers feel like VIPs, nothing about a comedy club makes me feel like I am appreciated. Our last outing was particularly egregious. We paid extra for what we were told would be preferred seats. After a frustrating game of musical chairs, it turns out the club “preferred” that we sit in the back of the club, off to the side. As I stewed pre-show, in our crappy seats, I knew there has to be a better way.
So what’s the Rich Fix?
There needs to be an app for that. We create the OpenTable of comedy clubs. An app that lets us buy tickets and reserve seats (yes, reserve seats) ahead of time. The app would run a rewards program for frequent chucklers. How about one free drink for every five shows attended, or a complimentary order of Funny Fries?
Once we’re at the club, we’re using our app as an always-on personal concierge. Instead of votive candles on every table, imagine the audience being lit by the cool blue light of smart phones. During a comedy show, the app would let us:
- Order food and drinks through the app, silently, when we want them.
- Act as a call button for the wait staff – like a flight attendant button on a plane.
- Anonymously tattle on the talkers at the table next to us.
- Pay our tab automatically through the app, with a credit card on file.
- Get an email as we’re leaving with the rundown of what comics we saw, with links to their sites, twitter feeds, albums in iTunes, etc.
Dealing with a comedy club digitally would be a better user experience for the audience, increase the amount of food and drinks sold by the club, and add a marketing opportunity for the comics. Like all my Rich Fix’s, everybody wins.
But my Fix doesn’t exist yet, and I don’t want to give up the experience of seeing live stand up, like we did years ago. Then I realized what is different about seeing comedy in 2012. The comedians are no longer the only people with a microphone. I have a microphone online - on a much bigger stage.
I got on Yelp, found the club in question and posted a negative review about my experience. To be fair to the club, I made clear that I was specifically bothered about how we paid for better seats and then kept being shooed away to worse seating. I wanted also included compliments about aspects of the evening that were quite positive, including the comedians themselves, and our waitress. My intent was not to blast a flamethrower, but to laser focus my unhappiness. Just because I wanted to vent doesn’t mean I couldn’t do it in a polite manner.
Days later, my post received a public comment from someone at the club, which was both apologetic and illuminating to the seating policy in question. Privately, I received a gracious offer to return to the club again. This won’t fix the fundamental flaws of the current comedy club experience, but at least I felt heard, respected and appreciated. Good enough. We will go back again.
There is still no digital solution, like my Rich Fix, to make the comedy club experience better, but I did find a digital solution outside of the club, that solution being Yelp. I no longer have to stew in silence. I got my five minutes onstage. On the public stage of Yelp, I had a good time having a lousy time. That’s my time, good night!