Customer Stories, Marketing

Boots-on-the-ground: People-based marketing to promote your comedy show

Learn about a novel way of marketing with standup comedian Jeremy Smerling: using people-based marketing at Facebook events to promote your show.

Customer Stories with Jeremy Smerling

As it turns out, being a standup comedian, especially when you’re handling all aspects of your show independently, is about so much more than knowing how to work a crowd.

We had this revelation during a conversation with standup comedian Jeremy Smerling of Derailed Comedy, who explained to us a unique, but effective marketing strategy: frequenting Facebook events to promote his show.

Read on to learn more about this people-focused, on-the-ground, highly localized form of marketing, and how a small business owner in a small community makes it work wonders for him via confidence, charm, empathy, and a lot of knowledge of the local scene.

Hi Jeremy! Could you tell me a little bit about Derailed Comedy? And your role in it?

It’s a small company that I own. I produce and promote comedy shows at local bars, restaurants, breweries, and other venues, so it’s a very local thing. I go to bars, breweries, and restaurants, and ask them if they’re interested in having a comedy show there. If they are, then I’ll book comedians to come and perform, and we sell tickets for an audience.

We had a show last night; it was sold out, about 110 people. And it was a lot of fun.

How long have you been working with Derailed Comedy? Did you start it? 

It’s my company. I started it around seven months ago. 

We’ve done around seven or eight shows, and maybe another six or seven open mics. The open mics are held at local bars and restaurants. That’s where comics can come in and work on new material that they’re practicing to perform at a bigger show. These are always free. 

Then we also do the paid shows for bigger venues.

Is this your main business?

I have a full-time job so I do this kind of as a side job, something fun that I like to do. I like to perform, I like to make people laugh.

Putting together a comedy show

What would you say your responsibilities are?


One of them is going out and acquiring a new venue. This involves talking to general managers of restaurants, breweries, and bars, meeting them, and seeing if we’re a good fit. 

Once I have the venue and we set up the date, then the next task is reaching out to comics that I know, respect, and like their material.

I’m in the southern New Jersey, Philadelphia area, there are hundreds of great comics down here, and you meet them through doing open mics and other shows. 

Once they’re booked, and the date of the event comes up, I go set up my equipment. I have speakers, a mic, backdrops, and lighting, and I go to the event by myself to set it up. 

I set up the event, get ready for the show, and meet and greet the people who are coming to watch the show. And then I do about 15 to 20 minutes of material. After that, I’ll host the other comics one by one.

At the end of the night, I break it all down and pack up and go home.

What are you looking for when you’re scouting bars and other places for shows?

It can be the customer base of the restaurants. Everyone likes comedy, but it helps to know what makes up the customer base of the restaurant, which also helps to determine what type of comedians to book. 

I also like if they have a separate party venue in the establishment. If they have a separate party venue you could put people there and then it functions as an extension of their food and beverage. Ideally, restaurants, bars, and other venues are always looking to maximize food and beverage sales. So if they’ve got a spare room that you can put a show on in, and people are buying food and alcohol and beverages, then you’re helping them maximize their sales and profits.

What are you looking for in comics to perform at your shows?

A lot of times I already know them. I either book comics that I already know, or people that are becoming big in the comedy community around here. Or I’ll ask for recommendations from other comics that I know and trust.

What is your target customer?

I don’t think I really have a niche. I think everyone likes to laugh. Everyone likes comedy. So young, old, gender, race, it doesn’t matter. Everyone likes to laugh. 

What are some challenges you face while promoting?

I’m a one-man operation, and fairly new, so there are definitely some challenges.

I do a lot of boots-on-the-ground promoting to tackle these challenges. I’ll go to local events and meetups, and talk to people. There’s only so much ground I can cover by myself, so that is a bit of a challenge. But it hasn’t stopped me from doing it. And it’s been going well, we’ve been selling out shows recently. 

I’d say because it’s just me, there are only so many people I can reach out to.

Promoting your comedy show using Facebook events

How do you promote your shows?

When I know I’m having a show at a specific venue, I’ll use PosterMyWall to create business cards.

I’ll print out 700 of those in bulk, and I’ll give them to the venue. Then they give them out to every single customer every time someone buys their food or their drinks. That seems to be working well.

I also like going out and talking to people from different local Facebook groups. I’ll pick a social event happening close to me, and go out and meet people, face-to-face. That’s where I distribute my business cards to try and bring in new people. 

I know in our show last night, we brought in about 30 to 40 new customers. The show was about 110 people. So that’s nearly 40% new customers.

When I go and meet people at events, I’ll bring business cards as well, to hand them out when I meet people there.

Is there anything in particular that you have in mind when you’re designing a card?

I typically focus on two business cards, I have two types.

One is just with my logo and my website on one side, and the other side has all my social media. So that’ll have Instagram, Facebook, and my email address. I’ll hand that out to people if I’m talking to someone and they want a business card.

But if I’m going out to an event or something with the express purpose of trying to promote a specific show, I’ll use my other type of business cards. These ones have both my logo, the venue’s logo, and then all the information for the show on the other side.

I’ve been trying to focus on those two main business cards. One is to try and grow my social media, which, in turn, theoretically, should help sales, because I post my shows on my social media, so then they would get exposure that way.

The other card is when I’m meeting people in person, and I’m trying to promote a specific show, and then I’ll just hand them a card with all the show information on it. This lets people know the venue and time, and where to buy tickets, along with the ticket price.

How do you promote yourself at Facebook events?

I search for local events in local Facebook groups. There are a ton of different Facebook groups in southern New Jersey and Philadelphia. 

I try to focus on groups that will both have a lot of people and close proximity. It’s not really going to help if I go to meet up with people, and they’re over an hour away, as they would be less likely to come to an event. 

If I’m going to an event that people are going to, I already know those people are willing to go out and do things, to come to events and have a good time. So why wouldn’t they want to meet up and come out to watch a comedy show? That’s my thought process.

How is this way of promoting yourself working out for you?

Like I mentioned before, last night was actually the biggest show that I’ve done. And we sold out. Over 100 people attended. Everyone came up to me after and told me how much fun they had. So far, it’s been working well.

What kind of events do you target? Are they comedy events?

No, they very rarely are. They might just be town events. They might be singles’ events, or events for people that have a common hobby. It really varies. It covers the gamut of what people are doing in the area on any given week.

What’s an example of a recent event that you promoted at?

People at a happy hour, going to meet up with other people and have a couple of drinks, eat some food, and just hang out.

What’s your strategy when you actually get to a Facebook event?

I think part of my strong suit is being able to talk to people. That goes hand-in-hand with shaking off the nerves and getting up on stage and performing. I like to think of myself as a personable person. I try – sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail.

But I think it’s important to talk to people, and not only to talk to them; I think it’s equally, if not more, important to listen.

I’m not just going to go up to someone and say, “Hey, I produce comedy shows if you want to come to a comedy show.” I’ll ask them questions like, “What do you do? Where are you from? What are you interested in?” And see how things go from there.

I think it’s important to talk to people and learn about them and see what they like before you pitch yourself.

Do you think someone who doesn’t have that ability would find it harder to promote their shows in this way?

Yes, if you have more difficulty talking to people, it’s definitely going to be harder to promote in-person and talk to people, I would imagine. Automatically, those people will probably focus more on social media, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Because all my shows are so local, everything’s within half an hour of where I live, I think the kind of boots-on-the-ground approach, where I get to meet people, helps a lot more, because people can put a face to a company.

Whereas if you’re doing everything on social media, it’s a lot more impersonal, especially for a local approach, which isn’t to say it doesn’t work.

Do you sell any tickets at events?

I’d say 95% of the tickets are sold on my website.

If I’m talking to someone, I’ll hand them the card and say, “Hey, if you want any more information, it’s all on my website. And you can buy tickets right there.”

How can you know that the tickets that are being bought are by people that you meet at these events?

I can see the names of people who RSVP to the events that I go to whether it’s a Facebook group, or a meetup group on another type of social media. If people RSVP to an event, I can pretty much always see their names.

So if I’m going to a Happy Hour, or going bowling with other people, I’ll be able to see who’s at that event. Then, when I get all the tickets that come into my website, I’ll cross-reference the names. I’ll look at the names of people who bought tickets and see if they match a name to someone who was on an RSVP. And if it’s the same name, I know that person came from a Facebook event.

Do you retain the audience that you end up getting to come to your shows?

I have noticed a decent retention, there are definitely repeat customers that we’ve had. As a matter of fact, people who went to the show last night, I’ve already seen them buy tickets for our next show.

We are getting repeat customers, because people had a good time the first time around, and are coming back. I always want to put on a show that will bring people back. I try to book very good comics to perform. I try to bring in new comics that people haven’t seen. 

Is there anything else you do other than getting fresh comics and making sure the shows are good?

Customer service is important.

I’ve probably met a lot of the people that are coming to the shows, maybe 30 or 40 of them, in person. When they come in, I think it’s important to welcome them and help them out, or I might be seating people.

I think having my face attached to my business, it’s important to lean heavily on customer service and show people I want them to have a good time. If they can tell that I’m there to help them have a good time, they’re going to want to come back. It’s always important in any industry to build a great rapport with the client base.

I also give them business cards, with all my social media, at each place setting at the tables.

You meet people in person, you invite them to your shows. Then you also give them your cards, which have your social media on them. So you’re creating a link between physical marketing and social media.

100%. Exactly.

Promoting your comedy show using social media

Let’s talk about your social media marketing, then.

I put the flyers that I make on PosterMyWall on my social media. I make flyers with comedians’ faces on them and post them on my Facebook and Instagram.

I also take pictures at shows and open mics, and post pictures of the comics, with sometimes the audience in the background.

And sometimes I post clips of upcoming comedians. I go to their show, I’ll get permission, and then post a funny little 30-second clip of them performing. I feel like videos get a bit more engagement than just a regular picture.

What are your plans for social media?

Ideally, I’m going to stay the course in terms of going through events, and meeting people out in public. Anytime I host or produce an event, I always end with, “Hope everyone had a great time. Please check us out at Derailed Comedy on Instagram, and Derailed Comedy on Facebook.” I’ll always ask people to find us on socials while closing the show.

What kinds of flyers do you design for social media?

I like to make a different flyer for every venue. Right now, there are two kinds of flyers on my social media. There’s one for the Ark Brewery, which is red and blue.

And the other one is for Pizzeria Uno, which has a big green ‘Uno’ and a red backdrop. 

Every time I do a different venue I want to differentiate. So I’ll create a different flyer based on a template or an idea that I see from PosterMyWall because you have a vast, vast selection of templates, which is great.

Jeremy’s tips for comedians and future plans

What advice would you give to other comedians who want to promote their business?

I think it depends on what they’re good at. If they’re a master at social media, and they’ve already got a huge following, maybe stick to socials.

If you’re more like me, and you need to grind on the pavement and get out there and meet people face-to-face, and that’s what’s going to work for you, do that.

I think it’s going to vary depending on the comic, what their particular skill set is, and what they’re already good at. It might be a hybrid of the two, you might have a good social media following but you want more engagement so you might find that going out and meeting people would help with that.

For me, because I’m very local, it’s important to get my face out to local people. That’s what works for me. 

How would you like to expand or enhance your marketing in the future?

I think social media is a big one for me. So the area that I would like to expand and be more successful in is building my social media following.

Good luck with that. Thanks for such an enlightening discussion about how you market your shows, Jeremy.

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