[NOTE: In today’s blog I’ll be referring to rookies
often. I am a rookie with seven years
experience, which by Swedish standards makes me a veteran. I am writing rookie here to indicate rookie

I once had an argument with a newbie about setting the
lineup at shows. I’m very much a
traditionalist- put the least-experienced first. She was opposed to that- passionately, in
fact- believing this to be unfair, not just to the rookies but also the audience. At the time, I’d been running clubs for two
years and she was just starting out, so I figured I knew better, but she’s kind
of a big deal now and I’m not, so maybe I should’ve listened to her.

Nah, I’m sure I’m right.

I saw her point. Her
view was that, if an experienced comic goes first, the vibe in the room goes
higher than it would if a rookie went first.
The crowd would have more fun and the room would be warmer when the
rookie went on, which would make it more likely for the rookie to succeed. Everyone wins.

Here’s my take. First
of all, no one likes to go first. Okay,
there are times when someone just wants to get home or to another gig and is
more than happy to go first, but that’s not very common. Any comic that’s been in the game for a long
time has already gone through a period of going up first. It’s rarely a lot of fun.

Second of all, if a rookie is going up first to a cold room,
then the host did a shit job. Which,
admittedly, is all too common, but the last thing a host should do is throw a
rookie to the wolves without at least getting the crowd focused and ready. Even an amazing host like myself can bomb
sometimes, so, again, going up first stinks.

Third, and most importantly, you have to work harder when
the crowd isn’t so hot they laugh at your every word and gesture. This is where I say, putting rookies first is
the best thing for them and also the audience.
It’s a trial by fire: rookies have to get better or die, and this
process goes faster when they have to work themselves off the frontlines. They develop, and the more developed comics
in the community, the better experience we offer to audiences.

In any case, I have empathy, but not sympathy, for anyone
unhappy going first. I’ve gone first more
times than I can count and still do, from time to time. Sometimes by choice, especially at a club I
run, sometimes not by choice. It is what
it is, you just need to work with it.


At Power Comedy Club, managing the lineup is especially
tricky. Each show is two ”halves” followed
immediately by the Marathon of walk-in comics who get five minutes each and
introduce each other. We try to book no
more than five comics in advance, two of whom get ten minutes and the other
three getting seven minutes each. The
booked comics are on before the Marathon and they aren’t enough to fill out the
lineup, so we need to mix in a few of the twenty- on a slow night- comics who
come in off the street.

In theory, the order is determined on a first-come, first-serve
basis. Signing up for these walk-in, open
spots starts at 7 PM, but we’re there to set things up much earlier than
that. Didn’t take long for comics to
figure that out, so they began coming into the room ten minutes early. Then twenty.
Then forty. The night I walked
into the room at 5:30 PM and found comics waiting for me, I put my foot down
with my two partners and now we’re enforcing the stay-out-of-the-room-until-7-PM rule. I appreciate the enthusiam but
damn, give a brother a chance to eat dinner.

Our regulars accepted that without issue, however, and now
they wait patiently upstairs until we take the rope off the stairway at 7 PM and they move like a flash flood to the signup sheet. I keep saying I’ll just make a checklist of
all our regulars instead of a blank form, but I haven’t made good on that
threat yet. Anyway, I’m grateful for
their patience.

In practice, however, when they arrive is a factor, but not
the main factor that determines their places in the lineup. My partners and I decide who deserves spots
before the Marathon and how to balance the order so it’s not too many rookies
in a row. We haven’t always been so
particular and just did put comics on in the order they signed up, and this led
to a few brutal evenings with the crowd fleeing the room like rats deserting a
sinking ship.

Signup stays open the whole show, so when experienced comics
walk in at 10 PM and there’s twenty comics left to go, we usually stick them
somewhere into the lineup instead of at the bottom of the list. The danger here is pissing comics off, but people
seem to be pretty understanding. The
better the lineup, the more likely the audience is to stay longer. When we have a show that lasts more than
three, sometimes more than four hours- the record so far is 36 comics- no one
can expect a lot of people to stay to the end.
But, to date, we’ve always had at least one civilian, and usually more,
in the room, along with comics, by the end of the night.

So far, we’ve only pissed off one guy, at least openly. He’d been at Power three or four times
before, signed up one night at 7 PM, brought some people to watch him. We like it when comics bring support, so we
put him on early in the Marathon and his people sat right in front of the
stage. Great! Except it didn’t take long to see his people
were terrible, seemed completely uninterested in the show and just sucked all
the energy out of the room.

Meanwhile, more experienced comics were arriving, texting in advance,
looking for spots. We started plugging
them into the lineup to turn the night around, because no one was having
fun. This led to the aforementioned guy
throwing a shit fit- but not on us, on one of the freshly arrived comics-
because he was getting bumped later and later and that’s not fair, he was there
at 7 PM! Said shit fit was happening in the
room while the show was going on. We
took him aside, tried to explain, he mocked us for having the show on a
Thursday. ”You should have it on Friday
or Saturday! If you did, I have eighty people who would come, just to see me!” Well, if those eighty suck as bad as the four
he had that night, I’m glad they can’t make it.

He never did make it on that night. After pacing angrily around the room and
getting roasted by a comic we put on before him, he and his crew gave up and
left without a word. But that’s Power
Comedy Club- all are welcome! He’s
welcome back anytime, I look forward to giving him the last spot of the night.