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Can Improv Offer More Financially?

Before I begin, let me clarify the financial relationships between the Comedy Providers and the night-clubs where we do our shows who, for the sake of this blog, I’ll call our Host Partners.

For the majority of venues where I’ve produced the Comedy Providers keep the ticket money and the Host Partners get the bar and kitchen sales. They have their money and I have mine and we keep them separate. We see this in many venues as the 2-drink (or 2-item) minimum on top of the show ticket price.

A free ticket to an improv show?  Unheard of!

Notable exceptions are larger companies that operate both sides of the equation and pay their talent as staff members.

Some venues are only that, venues. Comedy Providers rent the space at a set fee and keep whatever profits we can reap from ticket or merchandise sales. In this case we don’t have Host Partners. We are their customers. We also take on all the risk. Win lose or draw, their rent gets paid first.

This is for the rent.  YOU get paid in "exposure."

Finally, some venues require comedians to perform for free and keep both ticket sales AND bar sales. For this they take on all the financial risk. So the Comedy Providers don’t make any money… But we also can’t lose any which to some, is a fair deal… I guess.

Pictured here... every improviser everywhere.

Ok. Let’s talk about draught beer...

Go on... we're listening...

About 30 years ago my troupe Comedy On Wry had a weekly show in a little night club in Toronto called Stingray’s.

The club was doing quite poorly, so they took a chance on our Thursday night sketch & improv show. After we’d been playing there a while the owner told me that he was doing SO poorly that he only sold 2 kegs of beer per week. 1 keg on our night… and one for the rest of the week.

Pictured Here... NOT Stingray's

At our next venue, the Tip of The Top O’ The Senator, I’d make sure that the troupe got served a cold pint of Creemore Springs lager (a local beer they had on-tap) on-stage at the top of the improv set. According to the bartender, when the lights hit the cold beer, condensation would form on the glass and beer sales would spike.

Go ahead.  Get one.  I'll wait.

Later, in NYC, I helped produce some shows in the Triple Crown Underground. Our Host-Partners didn’t put a server in the basement with us. As much as I applaud The Triple Crown for wanting improv in their premises, I heard from my own patrons that what was missing from their experience was a cold beverage. I talked to my audience and learned that they would be happy to get up from their seat and go to the bar if it was in the back of the room BUT they were unwilling to climb a flight of stairs... and more importantly walk back down a flight of stairs with a drink (or 2) in their hands. Our Host Partner was leaving money on the table and ignoring a terrific reason to have improv in their establishment… more beer sales.

But with 2 beers in your hand and 4 in your belly!

These experiences cemented my belief that comedy sells draught beer. But it’s healthy to challenge our beliefs.

In a time when drinking seems to be on the decline (or at least drinking in bars) and legal responsibility for over-serving patrons appears to be falling more heavily on our Host Partners shoulders, I’m left asking the question... what else can we be selling to maximize profits?


The mark-up on draught beer is in the 80% range. That sounds like a lot, but a New York Magazine article from 2009 lists booze costs as being only 40.42% of the monthly cost of running a bar in New York City.

- New York Magazine

On the other hand, from an article in The Motley Fool...

“...bottled water, soda, and tea all have dramatically higher markups then beer, wine, and liquor. Some food products are also a better deal for restaurants. Potatoes, for example, can be marked up by a multiple of 100%, and pizza has a 600%-800% markup.

Lime AND mint??  YOU MONSTER!!!

The difference is that soda, water, and tea are still only a few dollars, so even a few of them won't dent your wallet too much. A pizza or order of fries may cost a similar amount to a cocktail or a beer, respectively, but you're unlikely to overdo it and order half a dozen pizzas.”

- The Motley Fool

Apparently it's NOT customary to eat 6 of these...

I’m not a bar or restaurant owner (nor am I likely ever to be) but it seems that in a situation where the Comedy-Providers bring in customers for 1-hour to 90-minutes, it’s reasonable to figure that 2-3 servings of a non-alcoholic beverage and a plate of fries or a pizza can offer as much (or more) opportunity for profits for our Host Partners with far less legal liability and insurance costs.

Side of fries with that insurance?

So here’s my question. Would you attend an improv comedy show with a PG-13 rating (or maybe ever R) BUT no adult beverages for sale? Or to put it another way, would you be happy with soft-drinks & food only at a comedy show, or is draught beer an integral part of your experience?

Great.  Now I have to pee...

I’d also love to hear from restaurant & bar owners. Please feel free to tell me if I’m talking out of my backside! It won’t be the first time… It won’t be the last.

Let's connect!

Scotty Watson

I'm still thinking about the 6 pizzas...

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