Home Hospitality Iconic Venues Iconic Venues: Comedy Cellar

Iconic Venues: Comedy Cellar


We discovered in one of our past explorations that there often exist some surprisingly blurred lines between the concept of event companies and the concept of clubs. I’d like to try to push the boundaries of that even further. I want to see just how prevalent events is as a core business model, in the businesses that most of us would never consider to be a professional events company.

Let’s look for example at a New York City icon: Comedy Cellar. Comedy Cellar is a standup comedy club in the West Village that regularly hosts comedic heavyweights like Louis CK, Dave Chappel, Amy Schumer, among many others. The club does shows 7 nights a week: 4 on Saturdays, 3 and Fridays, and 2 on Sundays through Thursdays. Each show is about 2 hours long, with usually about half a dozen comics lined up to do 20 minute sets each.

With 17 shows every week, you would think that seeing one of the shows is just a matter of walking in, right? Not so. The Comedy Cellar is consistently all booked up well over a week in advance, so reserving tickets online and showing up on time to the shows are critical.

I can’t remember if I’ve ventured to say this at some point in the past, but I’ve come to the conclusion that any event can be quantified up into 4 components: the audience community, the content platform, the sponsorship support, and the programming design. Different events and types of events have different needs and prioritizations of the above elements, but all 4 elements must ultimately be accounted for in some way for an event to be a success. So let’s see how that applies to a Comedy Cellar show.

The audience community. It is so crucial for any standup comic to have a good audience. If a joke is mildly funny but a good portion of the audience laughs, the rest of the audience will find it funnier. If a joke is hilarious but off color to the audience and gets no laugh, the instantaneous awkwardness that ensues in the room is unbearable. The Comedy Cellar has built such a reputation for itself over the past 35 years, that just by the difficulty of booking a table compared to the many other clubs in the area, it ensures a much greater chance that the audience at each show knows what they’re in for and are there to be susceptible to good laughs.

The content platform. Perhaps the most involved of the 4 elements that the Comedy Cellar gets into themselves, is curating the content platform. In their case, their contents are delivered by the comedians that they must book every night for every show. There are literally about 100 or so sets that the Comedy Cellar must fill every single week to keep up its show schedule.

The sponsorship support. Like with the creation of any other product, an event production needs to have its bills paid to be sustainable. In the case of the Cellar, their business model is to sell tickets to the audience for getting into the club, then subsequently the sales of drinks and food during the shows. That takes care of bills.

And finally, the programming design. The Comedy Cellar is famous for doing all their shows in a showcase format. That means rookie comedians get just as much attention as the veterans. The alternative popular format in the standup world is the headline format. This means a show would have a few featured acts who do short sets of around 15 minutes, then followed by the headliner who would perform for about an hour or more. A showcase format on the other hand, everyone gets about 20 minutes for a set. Designing a brand around this kind of programming is on the one hand less pressure to find headliner talents for every show, but on the other hand more pressure to fill up more slots since each show would have 5 to 7 performers as opposed to 2 or 3.

In the world of standup comedy, every show is really an event, because without the production elements a comedian would just be that friend we all have with a nice sense of humor. Watch a couple of videos of Jerry Seinfeld talking about his craft. There’s really a rigorously systematic process that goes behind a standup comic’s routine; how jokes are created, how they’re delivered, how they’re tinkered to perfection, how they come together to make a show. After the comedians, the other critical element that keeps this world of standup comedy running, are the clubs like Comedy Cellar. As an event company that produces 17 shows a week, the Comedy Cellar is one of the multitudes of comedy clubs that showcase comedic talents and curates audience experiences. And so it is, the concept of events in the world of standup comedy.

See you at the next exploration!



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