10th July 2015 – Do venues, promoters and comics actually care about their audiences?

A few thoughts by Dave.

As fervent comedy fans, it is important to us to know who is on at a gig when making our choices of what to see. The last thing we want to do is to turn up to a gig and find it is the same show we saw a week ago elsewhere. We are in a minority in this respect as most people might go to a regular club, or more frequently might just turn up to comedy in a group with no real interest.

So we tend to look at the line-ups quite closely before choosing to book a night. At this time of the year money tends to be tighter as we are saving for Edinburgh, so often we will go to a preview night which will free us to see someone else at Edinburgh. As we have been collecting autographs in Steve Best’s Comedy Snapshot book we often make seeing an act we haven’t got there a priority too, as this means we are unlikely to have ever seen them or it would have been some time ago.

So it is a constant source of irritation when we book for a named bill and find it is changed and we don’t know about it.

In the last two weeks alone we have had four examples of this that illustrate how frustrating this can be as well as time consuming and costly.

One has been handled in exemplary fashion by the organisers / bookers / acts. The other three have been disgraceful.

Example 1 – Plymouth B-Bar – 1st July

We used to be regulars at this night. But as have only been once in 2015. Being supplied by Mirth Control, the quality is often mediocre and the named line-ups change so frequently, you can turn up and find a completely different line-up to that named on the venue’s website. Generally, this is not down to the venue, as they are often not told the final line-up until the day of the gig. Mirth themselves have a site where they have the next month line-up, but this is usually unreliable, and often not populated at all. We have had a huge number of issues with Mirth over the years and it is clear they do not value the paying public in any form. I had an email conversation over two years ago with the company owner Geoff Whiting. In it he blamed line-up changes completely on unreliable comics.

In many cases I can agree with this, we have often seen people booked for gigs in the South West, then pulling out, and mysteriously then turning up at a gig elsewhere. The money for these regional gigs is shit. And as soon as someone finds a better paid gig for a night, or often one closer to London, it becomes more cost effective to them to do that instead. This shows contempt by the acts for the booker/venue and punters. We have seen acts be pulled from local gigs due to illness, then tweeting about how well the gig they actually did that night did. This is contemptuous to the people you are trying to cultivate as fans while climbing the greasy comedy pole.

However, when an act does drop out it is the responsibility of the venue or promoter to let the people who have paid for this gig know. And this is where Mirth are the worst in the business. Frequently acts will pull a gig months in advance and yet the venue will not know until the day of the gig. If you are comedy savvy you can usually know this by following the Mirth Control weekly gig list, where they ask for replacements. But you shouldn’t have to.

I asked two specific questions to Mirth two years ago. The first, why don’t you let the venues know of changes as they are made, and the second, why don’t you keep your own pages up to date with the latest acts. I was told in essence that it was too much effort. So in essence, they are unreliable – like the comics.

How much effort would it take for Mirth to have a page of upcoming gigs linked to the spreadsheet or database that maintains the acts and keep everyone up to date with the latest line-ups? As someone with a programming background – not long.

We monitored Mirth Gigs over a period of a year at one point and found over a 40% average act dropout rate. Interestingly, one of the biggest culprits was Geoff Whiting himself, who was often the named headliner, but then ending up dropping himself off the bill, so now who’s being an unreliable comic? This happened four times during the period we monitored this.

Interestingly, at the time of writing, the line-up for 5th August is: Closing – Geoff Whiting, Opening – Neil McFarlane, Compere – Chris Norton Walker, Open spot – Josh Smith. (According to https://www.facebook.com/events/488911831261153/) Let’s see how this ends up.

I digress, so this Plymouth gig, example no.1, was booked by us on 9th June. Headliner Bennett Arron and Tom Appleton MC on the bill persuaded us to go along as both were in Comedy Snapshot. I contacted Bennett on 25th June to ask if he would mind signing the Comedy Snapshot book. He replied that he was sorry but he had pulled out of the gig over three months before so was very surprised he was still being listed, which he was on both the Mirth Site and the B-Bar page. I queried it with the B-Bar who had no inkling of a change, but then got back to me to say the headliner was Tim Clark. An old pro, but one we have seen many, many times before. So we asked for and got a refund. I have no idea what the actual line-up was on the night, but at 5:30pm on the day before the gig I did see a Twitter post from Mirth asking urgently for an MC for the gig, so I presume Tom also pulled out.

No complaints about how the B-Bar handled this, once I identified the issue, but should it fall to me to identify? Mirth was disgraceful in not telling the B-Bar of the changes; how are you supposed to promote a gig if you do not know who you are being sent? However, the B-Bar do share certain responsibilities in so much as they should update their own event page with the final line-up when confirmed. And they should surely expect Mirth to keep them up to date with line-ups?

It would surely benefit the venue as well to keep things up to date as, for every time we have a problem with someone dropping out, there would also be the reverse, with a line-up we might not have wanted to see originally, becoming irresistible by changes to it. However, if we don’t know what a line-up is, we cannot make an informed opinion.

Big Boo to both the B-Bar and Mirth for this one.

Example 2 – Bigmouth Comedy Club Totnes – 8th July

We have been attending this gig along with the Plymouth Comedy Club which is also booked by Chris Brooker for a few years now. They are both head and shoulders above any of the club gigs within 100 miles. They pay well (so I am told) and there are rarely any issues. In three years I can only recall three line-up changes. And on every occasion they have communicated it promptly, apologised for the inconvenience, and replaced the act with someone usually better than originally booked.

This was the case here. The change was announced six days in advance and communicated to the punters. For us, the replacement was someone we had only seen fairly recently, as the act who dropped out was then the only person on the bill we had not seen before. So for us a better option for us on this night was to go to Exeter for two Edinburgh previews on the same night.

As always, Bigmouth were understanding, and courteous and happy to provide a refund or transfer our tickets to the next night.

A wonderful club and as always a big thumbs up from us.

Example 3 – Hannah’s Comedy Festival – 9th July

We haven’t been to Hannah’s before, their normal monthly nights are often similar to Plymouth Ski Lodge, with the same booker. This festival looked good, with five nights of decent offerings. Two nights tempted us for different reasons and we were very excited to choose them and visit somewhere new. Normally this week we would have been off to Bristol for their superb comedy garden gigs. But with our current schedule, lack of money, being close to Edinburgh and not winning tickets this year another long trip up the M5 was out of the question. Hannah’s is a wonderful local charity so it is quite difficult to have to write something disparaging.

This particular night featured two Edinburgh previews. John Robertson’s Dark Room and Mark Felgate. John’s show has been seen by us many times and is probably our favourite comedy show of all time, this was due to be a warm up pre Edinburgh. Normally I would have seen The Dark Room in Edinburgh.

Mark is also a friend of ours and we were looking forward to his show as well as we had seen him headline several club gigs, but never do a full hour. When we booked the two nights here a few weeks ago I got in contact with John and offered him our spare room when he was down, as we knew he was doing another gig on the following night at the same venue. At 10:30 am on the day of the gig I dropped John a quick message to asked whether he needed to stay, only to find out from him that the gig had been cancelled a few days before due to lack of sales. ( Edited 11/7 name of booker removed at the bookers request) the booker told me later that we we had bought the only two tickets that had been sold. So, I looked on the event website to find there was a notification there to say the gig had been cancelled “Due to unforeseen circumstances, we have been forced to postpone the Thursday night cabaret event. Full refunds will be offered to everyone who has booked, or tickets for another evening.”

Quite frankly this explanation is a lie. It is not unforeseen circumstances, you have only sold two tickets. At this point no-one had contacted me to tell me it had been cancelled and it was less than seven hours before we were due to travel. If it had not been for Twitter we would have had a wasted nearly two hour round trip.

I rang the venue and received a very apologetic response from the person who took my call, and told me he thought all the people (me) who bought tickets had been contacted. He asked me if I wanted to transfer the tickets to another night, I said no as we had already bought tickets for the other night we wanted which was the Saturday and that we were looking forward to Saturday and could you please refund the tickets which he said he would do. He made some mention of doing something to compensate for our trouble on the Saturday (I didn’t care too much about this but thought this might be a free drink or something). In some ways I was glad this night was cancelled because it freed us up to go a bit further up the road to see two previews from Tom Parry and Matthew Crosby. Though I did already have a ticket to see Matthew in Edinburgh so this meant a wasted £5 or seeing the same show twice. As it turned out Tom’s show was pretty much the same show we had seen twice previously at Machynlleth, but it was one of those guaranteed to be enjoyable time after time. But Carole will be blogging that night, which was superb.

The final point about this gig was that I sent Mark Felgate a quick message, to say sorry we weren’t seeing him, to find out he had only found out late about the cancellation having ‘allegedly’ sent an email telling him about it that he didn’t receive. He nearly made a wasted trip from London.

So to sum this night up we were extremely upset we were not told about the cancellation, the lies we were told about the circumstances from the venue, and that the booker ( Edited 11/7 name of booker removed at the bookers request) had not told us either (we are Facebook friends, or probably were now, and he knows we have had issues with cancellations and changes before).

Example 4 – Hannah’s Comedy Festival – Saturday 11th July

So, it is Thursday evening at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter and we have just seen Tom Parry and are in the interval and I connect briefly to the Internet and find a message from another comedian friend, checking whether I knew tonight’s show (The Dark Room/Mark Felgate) had been cancelled and that the line-up for the Saturday had changed dramatically. I didn’t have time to go into this in detail until we got home from Exeter at 11:30 that evening.

We had chosen this evening over a trip to Bristol for the Comedy Garden for the lure of three previews from Steve Hall, Ed Gamble and Nathan Caton. As with the Dark Room and Mark Felgate, seeing these previews freed up space in my Edinburgh schedule to see other acts. This year, no world records, and it was touch and go whether we would make it at all because of funds. And I am only going on my own for a few days as Carole insisted “I don’t want you depressed for the rest of the year because you haven’t gone”.

So back to the message on Thursday night. My friend informed me that he had heard both Ed Gamble and Nathan Caton had pulled out of the gig. Matt Forde was apparently a replacement for one of them. I knew nothing else. We arrived home at 11:30 and I logged in and went straight to the festival page which still showed the three acts originally there. So we went to bed and I thought I would check it out in the morning.

I saw the booker ( Edited 11/7 name of booker removed at the bookers request) online in the morning and asked what was going on and got this reply “Didn’t want to announce anything until acts were confirmed and in place, but yeah Nathan and Ed both dropped due to filming, nothing I could do about it. Fern Brady and Matt Forde now in place”. OK fine, but the webpage still showed the original three acts. As I replied to ( Edited 11/7 name of booker removed at the bookers request), this change was far from good for us as I already had a ticket for Fern in Edinburgh which again meant I would be seeing something twice or having paid for a show twice as with Matthew Crosby. I said “Not much use to us, I already have tickets for Fern in Edinburgh. Don’t want to pay to see same show twice” I got no reply which was fine as I was going to ring the venue to sort it out as they had my money and were ultimately responsible.

I noticed at this point on the Hannah’s website a small link at the bottom saying refunds policy, which took me to a terms and conditions page. The most interesting sentence said “Hannah’s at Seale-Hayne will only keep details of your booking on file. Card details are not held on file.” Ummm, I thought, so how were they giving me my refund for the cancelled show?

Armed with this info, I rang the phone number on the webpage and was greeted by the same chap I had spoken to the day before. I would have been happy to receive a further refund for the Fern show and attend the rest of the evening as we are big fans of Matt Forde and also wanted to see Steve Hall who we hadn’t seen before. I asked whether they knew the two of the three shows were now different. I was told they knew about one but not the other. I explained the situation with already having bought tickets to see Fern for Edinburgh. Then I got to the point that made me see red. I asked whether the cancellation refund had been processed and mentioned their policy of not holding card details and wondered how they were going to do this. I was told they were just going to wait until they saw us on Saturday and get me to give my card then to process this then. Whoa, what if I hadn’t brought my card? And why did you tell me you were going to process my refund during the first phone call, when you plainly couldn’t, thus LYING AGAIN. I saw red at this point and just asked him to process a refund then which I did over the phone. I remained polite and was told at the end of the call to have fun in Edinburgh. However, I am less than pleased. The actions of the booker and venue over these two events was really bad, wasted a vast amount of my time, as well as some money and threw my Edinburgh schedule into a minor bit of disarray.

I did have a bit of a go at Ed Gamble about this on Twitter when literally minutes after my second phone call, I spotted a promo for a gig in London that he was doing at the same time as the Newton Abbot gig he had pulled out of. He apologised and said he had to be in London on Saturday. OK things happen.

There is an interesting point of law here. Many gigs are promoted with disclaimers “we reserve the right to make alterations to the advertised arrangements or featured artists” or the like. Is this legal? I think under the consumer act, if I pay for a certain thing, I am entitled to a refund if I am given something else? Surely, no matter what the circumstances, this applies. We intend challenging this the next time we turn up to a gig where the lineup has changed. Also, with a disclaimer like that what is to stop unscrupulous promoters and venues putting a big name on every poster knowing full well they aren’t going to be there? I think this is fraud and I have seen this done many times in different ways.

From a punter’s point of view I have watched the recent news of a comedians’ union being formed and a code of conduct being drawn up between comedians and promoters with great interest, especially when the South West representatives include people directly involved in the bad examples in this post. Promoters and bookers and comics, isn’t it time you started treating your audiences with some respect? They are ultimately the people who pay you and keep you in business.

Dave

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4 thoughts on “10th July 2015 – Do venues, promoters and comics actually care about their audiences?

  1. Have to agree with this post 100%. I have travelled for hours for some gigs to find a completely different lineup to that advertised. The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth were still advertising Joel Dommett during the gig itself, even though he had been out of the country for days.
    That little disclaimer basically means promoters can put whoever the hell they want on the poster, with no guarantee they even tried booking that comedian.
    As a comedy fan, I find this shameless cheating of the audiences the worst thing about the circuit and I know people who won’t go to live comedy because they felt they were being ripped off. I get that comedians sometimes can’t make it. Just tell people in advance.

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    • We have made a 600 mile round trip to Liverpool, 488 to London, and 370 to Port Talbot in the past couple of years to find the act we had gone to see had been replaced and no-one has been told. We have another trip to the same club in Liverpool in a few weeks time – lets see if the lineup stays as “Matt Richardson, Pete Johansson, John Lynn, Adam Rushton”.

      Of our three local monthly ‘pro’ clubs one doesn’t ever post a lineup. So we dont bother going there. The other two use Mirth Control as bookers and are as reliable as a chocolate teapot.

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  2. I had a really interesting chat today with a consumer law expert.

    Those lovely disclaimers that comedy promoters and bookers like to put up saying ‘acts may be subject to change’ are in his opinion totally invalid. If you change an advertised line up, you have to notify the people who had bought tickets of the change in good time and they then have the opportunity to get a refund. If you let them turn up to an event without letting them know of any changes they are in their rights to watch the show, then claim a refund as they have not gotten what they have paid for. So, it is in your best interests to keep your audience informed of such changes.

    Bookers, you may not be directly responsible, BUT it is clearly in your best interests to let your venues know their responsibilities and let them know of changes in time to notify their customers.

    In his opinion notifications would need to be properly made and simply changing a Facebook event or your website is not enough. Why, when a customer has bought tickets, should they have the responsibility to keep checking back for line up changes.

    Things are not so clear on whether compensation can be claimed for travel costs and accommodation. But I look forward to a test case.

    Dave.

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  3. Pingback: 6th August 2015 – A rant or three and looking forward to Edinburgh | Plymouth Ho Ho Ho

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