Matt Blake, CAA’s Head of Comedy Touring, discusses the comedy boom and shares success stories of Jo Koy, Gabriel Iglesias, Trevor Noah, and more.
Live comedy, from clubs to arenas, is enjoying a banner season. What is contributing to this boom?
“Technology has been helping to drive the growth of the comedy business. Comedians are able to distribute their content directly to fans via YouTube, podcasts, Facebook, Instagram, and many other forms of social media. These distribution channels also allow audiences to more readily discover new comedians.”
What does it take for an artist to make the jump from comedy clubs to theaters?
“Artists can jump from comedy clubs to theaters for several reasons. It primarily happens when demand starts to increase exponentially due to an outside factor, or ideally, multiple outside factors. Jo Koy is a great example of this.
“First, Jo’s comedy style is very high-energy and grabs one’s attention on a mobile device. He wanted to exploit this advantage to drive new viewers to the launch of his Netflix special last March. He revamped his social media strategy, releasing viral content across multiple platforms to draw in new fans. By the time the special was released, his fan base had exploded and the viewership numbers proved the power of the social media campaign.
“This success then translated into his live shows. For example, last December he performed in Honolulu and sold 2,500 tickets. When he returned less than a year later, he sold more than 23,000! A similar thing happened in Seattle. We shot his Netflix special at the Paramount Theatre, then recently returned to the market and sold out two shows at accesso ShoWare Center.”
Tell us about Gabriel Iglesias’s fair dates in 2018.
“Prior to 2016, Gabriel wasn’t a fan of outdoor shows. He played a couple fairs booked by Romeo Entertainment Group in 2015 and was amazed by the professionalism of the outdoor show, as well as the massive audience that was there to see him. He ramped up his fair dates as a result, and by 2017 he had broken at least four attendance records at different fairs. His schedule this summer is filled with fair dates across the country.
“While some buyers initially thought he needed to draw a Latin audience, that soon ended as they discovered what we knew all along: his audience is built off of his specials with Comedy Central and Netflix, as well as the internet, which is why he sells out everywhere.”
What advice do you have for venues that are new to comedy?
“Comedy appeals to audiences everywhere, but it is important to be educated about what you are buying. If you are new to comedy, ask around and find out which comedians sell tickets and use trade publications as a resource to look up prior sales. Like any booking, the payday needs to justify the ticket sales. Once you build a customer base that enjoys comedy, there is a strong business to be had.”
What is your experience with comedy for corporate events?
“I was booking corporate dates before I knew my first fair buyer. Comedy is a cost-effective way that a company can entertain their workforce with big-name acts without the cost and logistics of bringing all the crew and equipment required to put on a show with a musician. We do many corporate engagements every year with artists like James Corden, Trevor Noah, Joel McHale, Dana Carvey, Frank Caliendo, and many others.”
Who are some artists buyers should have on their radar?
“A name everyone has heard by now is Trevor Noah. He is breaking records in markets across the entire country, selling out everywhere from casinos in Tulsa to fairs in California.
“A newer name is Ken Jeong (from Dr. Ken and The Hangover franchise), who has returned to his stand-up comedy roots. Ken recently began touring again and, similar to Jo Koy, has been using his social media reach of over 1 million followers to get fans out to shows. He’s crushing each performance. Casino buyers are reaching out weekly to get him in their venues and ticket sales for his new shows have been amazing.”