Getting your first festival is a rite of passage for a new comedian. You’re all excited because it’s going to be the biggest crowd you’ve ever performed to, on other stages musical superstars will be performing with pyrotechnics and dancers plus there’s every chance you’ll be offered A class drugs by a guy in parachute pants. It’s got the making of a perfect comedy experience.
I have to put a downer on it though. Your first festival is more likely to be awful than it is amazing. Most festival organisers have no idea about comedy and they’ll stick it on as an afterthought. You’ll either be sandwiched between musical acts unheard of outside of their own local pub or you’ll be on at 1pm in a tent with two audience members, one of which has taken unknown drugs from a guy in parachute pants and is now tripping balls, or you’ll be performing to just children as multiple parents have made the mistake of assuming that this is some kind of nursery tent and you’ve been pressganged into being an impromptu children’s entertainer/nursery nurse.
However if you get it right and you get booked for more and more festivals you’ll find they are the wonderous Narnia of gigs, providing you with an enormous potential audience and the opportunity to do things you’d never do in a regular comedy club.
(Burlesque plus moustaches, classic)
So how do you get the perfect festival experience? Well worry ye not because here’s my top ten tips for new comedians on how to do well at festivals.
1. Be exciting and enthusiastic – you’re going to be in the open air or in a massive tent either way you need to provide a shit load of energy to drive this forward. The energy you’d normally have at a gig is never going to be enough as this crowd didn’t pay £8 to get in and have probably been drinking since they woke up at the crack of noon. You need to bring nuclear level energy, your performance needs to be the comedy equivalent of Hiroshima. When you’re on stage government agents should be bursting in the tent with geiger counters looking for unexploded weapons of mass destruction.
2, Abandon your material – Not all of it of course, your material is good or you wouldn’t be at this festival, but on the whole the average festival goer’s attention span is horrendously atrophied by a combination of ear bleeding music volumes, alcohol supplied in plastic children’s cups and parachute pant supplied drugs. You need to talk to them, come up with stuff on the fly and relate any material you do back to specific audience members. Festivals are an exercise in MCing more than they are in good comedy. Now is the time to rely on your personality and charisma.
3. Relax – Dear god by now you’re looking at this and your muscles are bunching into knots tighter than an otter’s anus. Relaxing isn’t something you’d associate with a high energy gig but this is best time to do just that. Chill out. You’re at a festival. You’re going to try your best sure but the whole spirit of an event like that is wanton abandon. Get on board with it and embrace it. Get the crowd singing or fulfil that lifelong dream of crowd surfing out of a tent from the stage. Now is the time to really get into a flow and don’t force the gig.
(FYI this is too relaxed, if you find yourself here you’ve gone too far)
4. Stay onsite or nearby – Normally when you get booked for a big festival you’ll be offered accommodation in the campsite. Take it. There is no richer mine of comedy gold than the goings on around the festival campsite. Traffic is always heavy near festivals you want to be close by so you can just walk on to the stage when the time comes.
5. Try to reference other acts- You’re staying in the campsite and watching the other acts so talk about them. It’s unlikely that the audience came to see the comedy, they’ve probably come to see one of the bigger bands or DJs and you’re just something for them to watch while they wait for the MDMA to kick in. Talking about the band they love will get them on board faster than you can imagine.
6. Talk about the experience – You’re part of a shared experience so share it. Everyone else in the audience is going through the same things you are. Bad toilets, good drugs, expensive hot dogs and sex with strangers are all certainties at a festival so talk about them. 70% of your audience are going to love that you are describing exactly what happened to them last night and the other 30% are just waiting to crack out their acoustic guitar and bash out their own version of Wonderwall.
(Fuck this guy, right!)
7. Exploit the publicity – Depending on the festival the publicity surrounding it should be massive. Every single band on the lineup will be sharing the event across social media trying to prove to as many friends as possible that giving up their job in the factory was a great idea and they’ll soon be out of their parent’s basement. Exploit this free publicity. Share the event, tell everyone about it, if you can get comp tickets do it. You want everyone to know that you’re performing at the same festival as these massive (and not so massive) artists. When people Google “Red Hot Chilli Peppers” you should come up by accident purely by association.
8. Treat it like every other gig – Be clean, be professional, be funny and do your best. Although festivals are very different to your standard gig you need to be the best you can be and you need to make sure you’re showing the promoters that you’re a consummate professional.
9. Make sure you have a contract – Everything you’re offered get in writing. Festivals are a whirling melee of chaotic artists, organisation and planning go out of the window when combined with people who wreck hotel rooms semi professionally. Make sure you get how much you’re being paid, where you’re staying, what dates you’re performing and exactly what’s expected in writing. That way if there are any problems you have something to fall back on.
(I swear clothing was in my contract, no? Ah fuck it where’s that guy in the parachute pants?)
10. Enjoy it! – It’s going to be amazing so enjoy every second of it. Get pictures, make friends and definitely enjoy every single second of it. It’s going to be a whole barrel of amazings.
So that’s it those are my top ten tips for new comedians going to festivals. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and I love it when you give me feedback so let me know what you thought!