How to Hire Comics for Temple Comedy Shows and Fundraisers

Some Guidelines for Synagogue Leadership, Volunteers and Staff

courtesy of comedian Shaun Eli
The Ivy League of Comedy, my clean professional comedy showcase, is available for synagogues— for fundraisers and shows to entertain the congregation (as is my one-man show "Business School... in about an hour").

After being asked the same questions over and over again about shows for shuls my Wharton education kicked in so I put together a bit of basic information for prospective clients... in addition to my on-line brochure which you can find here: Booking Stand-up Comedians for Synagogues, Temples, Shuls and other houses of worship

                       Where to start... You can start with me.
Synagogue Temple Shul Jewish Comedy Night       I can put together a professional show for your temple or other organization
      (charity, corporate, country club, alumni association, etc.).
      If you're just getting started or not even sure what you want, that's fine,
      I'm still happy to help answer any questions you might have.
            call (914) It's Funny (914 487-3866) oremail Shaun [at] TheIvyLeagueofComedy.com.
      Advice is free!


Often the first question I'm asked is "How Much?"

That shouldn't be your first question. It's a good question, heck it's a necessary question, but let it wait.
You can afford a great show.           First I will speak to you for a few minutes to find out your needs.

  • How clean a show are you looking for?
    (I put on exclusively clean shows but there are degrees of clean. NBC and Comedy Central may bleep out the F-word but comics may still talk about intercourse in somewhat graphic detail... to me, 'clean' is at least as much about content as it is about vocabulary)
  • What night of the week?
    (The answer's usually Saturday but don't forget about the possibility of an early Sunday evening show. And of course week nights and day times are available too and they're less expensive.)
  • Dinner plus a show? Dessert & the show? Serving/selling drinks? Just the comedy show?
    (I provide the entertainment- the rest is up to you)
  • What's your budget? How much do you think you'll be charging for tickets?
If you serve food— a week later nobody's going to remember the meal. They will remember having a great time at the show. And you'll get the credit for that.

A show is typically around ninety minutes, and should include a professional comedian as the emcee, plus two to three other pro comics. The experience, caliber and fame of the comics will determine the cost. Oh, plus the greed of the person putting the show together. It's not uncommon for a booking agency to make more money from a show than all the comics combined. I don't do that. I'm paid to perform; I don't build any other fees into my price.

I would suggest, though, not trying to find three or four comics by yourself, as too many things can go wrong.
For example, what would you do if one of the comics calls you at 6 o'clock on show day to say he's sick? Let that be my problem— I have a lot of comics' phone numbers, I know where they live and who has a car. I also know who needs to be reminded the day before a show, and which are the rare comics who'd think nothing of cancelling just because they got a better offer for the same night (I won't work with people like this). I work with a select group of hand-picked, professional comics.

Even just choosing the right comics, in the optimal sequence, takes a bit of expertise.

A comedy show is not a Chinese restaurant menu.

Which is why it's not a good idea to work with a booker who just gives you a price list of comics and says "Go ahead and choose."

For one thing, that's just encouraging you to choose the least- expensive (and least experienced, or even amateur, comics). He's hoping you'll choose two or three of the cheapest comics and one national headliner. It makes his job very profitable. But you get what you pay for, and in this case you won't be paying for the full professional show that you deserve.

A booker who gives you names and tells you to choose isn't only being lazy, he's not being respectful of your needs. And just like you wouldn't go to a Chinese restaurant with five friends and order six chicken dishes, you shouldn't just randomly choose comics. If you don't know, you might end up with four like-minded political comics in a row. Nothing wrong with political comics or comics of any other style but you don't want to sit through an entire show with the same point-of-view. Or the same energy. Or the same persona. There are a lot of factors that go into making a great show.
Part of what you're paying the booker for is his expertise and knowledge of his comics. And not for him to pass that task onto someone who doesn't have that expertise.

And another thing-- is your booker coming to the shows? If he's not out doing the shows, or at least attending them, he isn't keeping up with his comics. Because people change. Or they may get stagnant. Either way-- you have to be there to know what's going on. If your booker's in the show he's in tune with the market. If he just says "Don't worry about it, I'll send you three good comics, it'll be fine..." It might be fine.
It might not be.

I'm not a professional booker, I'm a comic; I get paid to perform. I don't build $750 to $1000 into the fee for a show; every cent you pay me goes to pay comedians for being comedians. I won't view your synagogue as an annuity-- every year cash a check and send three random comics. I'm AT the shows, giving them the personal attention they deserve. I'm there checking out the room, testing the sound... Often I'm even providing transportation to the comics, so you won't get a call "Hi, um, I missed my train, I'll be an hour late."
My shows start on time-- anything else is disrespecting everyone who's there when they're supposed to be.

Okay, now let's talk price.

We can meet a range of budgets. Our experience has shown that unless you're booking someone really famous, the fame of the comic isn't likely to significantly increase ticket sales, not for a synagogue show. If you pick the right person to put the show together you'll have a great show and an even bigger audience next year! But you have to have the right mix of comics.

Remember, it's our job to put on a great show. We've done this before, so if we suggest a certain way to set up a room, or ask for details on the sound system and the lighting, please understand we have your best interests in mind. If we don't sound good, we don't look good. Leave the details to us, but if we're not asking the right questions, something's wrong.

By the way we're occasionally asked:
"A member of our congregation wants to perform for a few minutes in the show, is that okay?"
Nope.
We're putting on a show of professional comedians performing for a paying audience. As pro comics we've each done thousands of shows, and we've gotten better from each one. I turn down ten comics for every one I book. And the ones I turn down? They've got years of performing experience too.

I recently spoke to an officer of one congregation who told me about a comedy show they had a few years ago. They were told to expect three comedians. Four showed up... the fourth was a friend of one of the comics and was new. She told me he wasn't funny.
I explained that I have sympathy for new comics, because nobody starts out funny enough to be a professional comedian and that it's hard to get stage time in front of an audience, which is what comics need in order to improve ("Stage time, Stage time, Stage time" is the equivalent of real estate's "Location, Location, Location"). But... I went on to explain that that's what amateur showcases at comedy clubs are for. Their temple's members should not have been subjected to a new comic if they were paying for a professional comedy show.

So some things to beware of before choosing comedians or someone to book a show for you:

1. Club credits. Newer comics will typically tout what clubs they've played at. This is completely irrelevant, since almost all comedy clubs have amateur or "New Talent" nights when just about anybody can get on stage regardless of talent.

I book a professional showcase (The Ivy League of Comedy) and I get a lot of newer comics asking to be on the show. Some of them brag that they're "regulars" at various clubs. When in fact they're "regulars" in the amateur shows, and apparently not even experienced enough to realize that I'd know the difference (in California they use the term "Paid Regular" to specify the professional comics who get paid to work at a comedy club, but that term isn't in use in NY, where people refer to being "Passed" at a club as being part of their professional rotation).

2. If someone uses the term "up-and-coming" or "new talent" that means amateur. It may be fine to have them as part of the show, as some comics with only four or five years experience can be decent, but you shouldn't be paying much to have them perform for you. And in my opinion (and it's an opinion your congregation will share) every show should have a nationally-known headliner to close the show.

3. Contests. There are thousands of comedy contests every year, and almost all of them are meaningless.
Here's why: Sometimes the winner is by audience vote. Which means the winner is the person who brought the most friends to the show.
Some contests will ask the audience to vote for two people in order to minimize this factor. But if the audience figures this out they vote for their friend and the worst comic... the worst comic ends up winning!
Some contests use what they call an applause meter, which is just a VU (sound) meter, to measure the volume of applause. One person yelling or whistling produces more sound than twenty people clapping... so that's not exactly scientific either. And even if it were, we're back to the 'who brought the most friends' factor.
And even if the contest has judges? Are those judges entertainment industry professionals? Or are they people who might not know that somebody did five minutes of George Carlin's material, or jokes that are so obvious that many, many amateurs tell them but professionals know not to?
In my prior career in banking I won an international prize for forecasting six economic variables a year in advance. Know what that means? Nothing. I guessed. And won. What does that say about the experts who used mathematical models for their predictions?
And comedy's rather more subjective than economics...

So if all that's irrelevant, what can you use to decide whom to work with? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Go See Them! Do they have regular shows you can come to? Or will they make arrangements for you to see them on stage? This is perhaps the best way to see whom to work with.
We have frequent public shows and if none will fit your schedule we'll try to make arrangements for you to see us perform elsewhere.

2. Watch Their Videos. This is a decent way to see if you want to hire a comic if you can't get to a club (or a neighboring shul) to see him/her perform. Does their material seem original and clever to you? If you can, try to ignore the audience reaction and just judge whether you like the comic's material. We've all done shows in front of a hundred of our best drunken friends who'll laugh at anything. And that's the one we send out.
But at The Ivy League of Comedy we do one better, as we make a DVD available of some of our comics' television performances. Just ask.

3. Are they professional? And by this I don't just mean are they paid for their work, I mean do they act in a professional manner? When you hire a comic you're not just hiring funny (and appropriate for your audience)— you're doing business with someone. Does that person respond to phone calls and emails promptly? Answer your questions clearly and completely? Have a professional website? (just don't choose a comic because of a great website— you're hiring a comic, not his web designer, and I say that as a comic with a much-admired website) Does this comic make you feel like this is someone you want to work with?
I've seen some comics' websites that had cut and pasted sales material from another comic's website; just today I found text at the bottom of one site claiming he's been a professional booking agent for 20 years (and the guy only started in comedy around three years ago). I copied the text into Google and saw that it was taken verbatim from a booking agency's site. Should we have much faith that this comedian's material is original or that this comic is even honest? That's two Commandments broken right there!
And don't be impressed by a website full of celebrity photos. I can hire celebrity comics just like anybody else can. I've worked with them too. It's like having your picture taken with the president; you stood next to him once, you didn't become his trusted advisor. So don't let the photos of Jerry Seinfeld or Jay Leno distract you; you can't afford them.

4. TV credits. It's better than nothing. Sure, we've all seen some unfunny comics appearing on late-night television. But at least a professional comedy booker thought they were funny (and while you didn't, a lot of other people probably did). If someone's appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno or on The Late Show with David Letterman several times, that's a pretty good endorsement. A Comedy Central Presents or HBO special is also a strong statement.
BUT— ask to see a video of the show, because some will... gasp... lie, claiming to have been on a show (or will have been in a comedy sketch, which is maybe a testament to their acting skills but says nothing about their ability to WOW an audience with stand-up). Any comic who's been on late-night TV but doesn't make a recording of the appearance available to you has something to hide or just doesn't care that much about your business.

One thing to realize, though, is that the people who book late- night TV shows have objectives other than simply finding funny comics. They're looking for young promising talent, people that will be famous and fit into sit-coms. Somebody who started performing at 40, or who's rather unattractive, or even someone doing intellectual material, is much, much less likely to get onto TV. But no less likely to make your congregation go wild with laughter.

To contact me, call (914) It's Funny (914 487-3866) or email Shaun [at] TheIvyLeagueofComedy.com.

More information about me is on my website:
www.BrainChampagne.com.

You can also find lots of information on how to hire comedians for any type of comedy show in my printable on-line brochure:
Choosing Standup Comedians for Temples, Synagogues and other Houses of Worship

Sincerely,
Shaun Eli
Comedian & Executive Director
The Ivy League of Comedy

Copyright 2009 by Shaun Eli. All rights reserved.


The Ivy League of Comedy, with our hand-picked Jewish comedians and non-Jewish stand-up comics, is perfect for:
Reform temple or temples
Conservative temple or temples
Orthodox temple or temples
Reconstructionist temple or temples
Reform synagogue or synagogues
Conservative synagogue or synagogues
Orthodox synagogue or synagogues
Reconstructionist synagogue or synagogues
Reform shul or shuls
Conservative shul or shuls
Orthodox shul or shuls
Reconstructionist shul or shuls

We specialize in:
Jewish fundraising for Reform Judaism, also known as Reform Jewish fund-raising
Jewish fundraising for Conservative Judaism, also known as Conservative Jewish fund-raising
Jewish fundraising for Orthodox Judaism, also known as Orthodox Jewish fund-raising
Jewish fundraising for Reconstructionist Judaism, also known as Reconstructionist Jewish fund-raising

Reform Jewish fundraising, Conservative Jewish fundraising, Orthodox Jewish fundraising and Reconstructionist Jewish fundraising all have this in common:
Our Jewish comedy shows, with or without elements of Jewish comedy, make great Jewish fundraisers, ideal ideas for:
Men's club programming, Sisterhood programming, Brotherhood programming,
Men's Club fundraising, Sisterhood fundraising, Brotherhood fundraising
Men's Club fund-raising, Sisterhood fund-raising, Brotherhood fund-raising

And feel free to contact us to ask about other Jewish fundraising ideas. Even singles events!
Yes, The Ivy League of Comedy founder Shaun Eli can help you plan your Jewish singles event too!
As an example, for information specifically catered to Orthodox Jewish singles event planning, click here:
www.BrainChampagne.com/comedy/JewishSingles.html

Call (914) It's Funny (914 487-3866) or email Shaun [at] TheIvyLeagueofComedy.com for details or if you have any questions.