One of the top questions comics ask- along with, “Can I get a free beer?” and, “Can I at least get a discount?”- is, “Why won’t that club book me?!” This is a question that can fuel hours, if not years, of angry speculation. However, the true answer is usually simpler than we’d like to admit.

I’ve met a lot of club owners. I’ve run three myself. No matter the club, whether it’s an open mic or high-cost admission or the nichest of niche clubs, the decision to book or not book is based on the same three questions:
– Will this comic do well at my club?
– Do I like this comic offstage?
– Do I think this comic is funny?

Of the three questions, only the first is objective. As much as we like to compare them to plantation owners or vampires or vampires who own plantations, club owners are human just like the rest of us. Comedy, like so many other things in life, is subjective.

Let’s say I run a club and Jeff Dunham’s people contact me, asking me to book him. If you don’t know who that is, he’s an American comic, a ventriloquist act, one of the most successful comics in history. He’s had his own TV show, he sells out arenas worldwide. So the answer to the first question is yes, obviously.

Do I like him offstage? I have no idea, never met him, never even heard any stories. He might be a real sweetheart.

Do I think he’s funny? No. Good Lord, no. I think he’s brutally unfunny. I think he’s so unfunny that I get offended when I see him on TV, performing to a sold-out arena and everyone is pissing themselves. He’s extremely successful and has millions of fans, so am I wrong? Of course not, he’s just not my taste. I like tomatoes virtually every way but raw and that puts me in the minority, but my taste is my taste. Also, I’ve read that not liking raw tomatoes is a sign of intelligence and that fits.

Would I book him? In a heartbeat. Would I book him if, in addition to not liking him onstage, I thought he was an asshole offstage? I’d love to say no but I would. He’s a big get, sue me.

Even if those are the only questions in mind, there’s no formula to it, like, if the answer to any question is no, then the comic doesn’t get booked. I’ve seen club owners book comics they don’t think will do well, don’t think are funny, but like them offstage. I’ve seen club owners book comics they don’t like on- or offstage but know they’ll do well. I’ve seen club owners not book comics they think are funny, know will do well at the club, but not like offstage.

This is a huge stumbling block for comics who approach club owners cold or- worse- just send a DM. “Hi, you have no idea who I am and I don’t have a clip, but can I get a spot?” Pretty difficult to succeed when the answer to all three questions is, “I have no fucking idea.”

In my experience, it’s as simple as that, but we’d love for the reason to be something other than our likability or talent. I’ve heard enough stories to accept that there have been club owners who were sexist or racist, but I haven’t encountered any myself. That said, there is a fourth question that some- but far from all- club owners ask themselves: “Is my lineup diverse enough?”

The issue of why so many lineups are overwhelming- or completely- male is a hornet’s nest I have no desire to kick right now. We can argue over how little or how much extra effort it takes to create a balanced lineup, so let’s just say it takes some extra effort, and not all club owners have the energy or desire to put in the work.

The bottom-line is that, no matter how funny and talented and gifted you think you are, no matter how many people agree with you, not everyone will. Not everyone will even like you offstage. And that’s okay, because that’s how life works. You’re not going to get every opportunity, so take full advantage of the chances you do get. “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” as Steve Martin famously said. Hey, if you’re consistently killing on stage, you can be a complete dick offstage and still get gigs.

Lastly, if you don’t feel you’re getting the stage time you deserve, that you’re not seeing the lineups you desire, start a club! Yeah, it’s hard work. Will take so much of your time, you probably won’t have the energy or desire to book comics you don’t know or particularly like. Congratulations! You’ve become another asshole vampire slave driver.