There are few people in Philadelphia as qualified to teach a class on producing a comedy show as Aaron Nevins. As the co-founder of Good Good Comedy Theatre and Five Dollar Comedy Week, he’s been involved in, he estimates, thousands of comedy shows. And he’s produced his own shows, too, including Hang On, a talk show that gained local accolades and a cult following, and Log On, a show about surfing the web still hosted at Good Good. I sat down with him in Good Good’s offices to talk about what led to the worst—and best—comedic moments he’s ever witnessed, hats, the eternal process of learning, and what the heck a producer actually does.
A lot of people don’t really understand what a producer is or does, whether it be in radio or television or comedy. So, in your words, what does a producer do?
In live comedy, the producer is typically the person who makes the show happen. Usually it’s just wrangling all of the logistics, whether it be who’s on the show, promoting the show, or making sure that the show runs smoothly from a technical perspective. It’s a role where you wear a lot of different hats.
Can you name as many hats as possible?
You’re a promoter, you’re an engineer of sorts, you’re a creative voice, you’re a manager of people, you’re an organizer, you may even be a performer, a host, an editor, an entrepreneur in some sense. There really is no limit to the titles you can hold.
Which is more important: having a funny idea or executing it properly?
Executing, 100%. It’s ideal when you have an idea with a lot of potential and you can execute that idea well. But if you have a shitty idea and you’re really good about execution, you can make that work. If you have a fantastic idea but your execution sucks, it will never work.
What’s the show you’ve produced that you’re most proud of?
I’m proud of a lot of different things for a lot of different reasons. I also have failed numerous times. Way more than successes.
What’d you learn from those times that you failed?
Everything I could possibly claim to be any good at is the result of failing at it prior to it. Anything I know at all about producing comedy shows, anything we teach in this class, is the result of us not knowing it at some point and that’s sort of the point of the class. We took all the things that we fucked up in the beginning so we can be like, “Oh okay, don’t do that.”
Without naming any names or giving away any identifying details, what’s the most spectacular failure you’ve seen happen at Good Good?
We do the Five Dollar Comedy Week festival. The whole idea behind the festival is that we’re doing 30 brand new shows. Some people have never produced shows before so it’s a big question mark whether they’re gonna work at all. So I would say the majority of the most spectacular failures that I’ve seen on stage have happened at that festival.
But on the flip side of that coin, the most spectacular successes that we’ve ever had—where we’ve been like, “Holy shit, we’re lucky to be in the room while this is happening, this will never happen again”—that has all happened at Five Dollar Comedy Week, too, which is why we still do it.
That’s one of the cool things about producing a comedy show: a person can take something they’re interested in and just turn it into a show.
Absolutely. And that’s actually the best starting point. Just do what fascinates you, what you’re interested in. Whatever esoteric things you think other people might not be interested in or might not be aware of, that’s usually the most compelling stuff.
What’s the most challenging part of producing a comedy show?
Just sticking with it. Staying committed to what you’re doing, even when it gets hard. It’s always gonna feel overwhelming. Nobody is going to push you to finish this. It’s just you.
Would you say that that might be hard for people that have good ideas and are good at executing but might have trouble leading a team?
Realizing they’re the boss of their own ideas is something that people have a hard time with. It’s about knowing your own vision and staying true to it while still letting other ideas in. Even now, years into producing comedy shows and having been involved in thousands of live comedy shows, I’m not as good at it as I will be in three years. You have to always be learning.
Aaron Nevins’ Producing a Comedy Show class starts on Tuesday, October 8th. You can enroll right here.