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It’s No Joke: A Look at Madison Square Garden’s Comedy Hot Streak

With sell-outs in recent months by comics Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari, Gabriel Iglesias and Russell Peters and three shows by Kevin Hart in July, Madison Square Garden and its parent company is taking…

The recent success of Madison Square Garden Entertainment in presenting hot comics is no laughing matter.

“This year, comedy shows at our venues have been incredibly successful and have resulted in multiple sold-out shows,” says Bob Shea, executive vp for bookings for MSGE, the parent company of New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The Garden itself has hosted multiple arena sell-outs in recent months by headlining comedians, including Gabriel Iglesias in April, Russell Peters in December, two shows by Aziz Ansari in October and four sell-outs by Louis C.K. in January (one of which had to be canceled due to snow emergency). Coming up: three shows by Kevin Hart at the Garden in July.

MSGE’s theater venues also have been on a roll in the comedy market. 

“At the Theater at Madison Square Garden,” says Shea, “shows over the past year include Mike Epps, the April Fool’s Comedy Show, Ron White and the sold-out Garden of Laughs comedy benefit, which supported the Garden of Dreams Foundation.”

In addition, New York’s Radio City Music Hall, hosted Dave Chappelle for ten sold-out performances in June 2014; the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan headlined John Oliver for two sold-out performances in January 2015; the Chicago Theatre had Amy Schumer for two sold-out performances in March 2015 and the Citi Performing Arts Wang Theatre in Boston booked Jerry Seinfeld for two sold-out performances in April 2015, to name just a few highlights.

Ahead of the Event and Arena Marketing Conference taking place in Los Angeles June 10-13, Shea offered comments on MSGE’s marketing strategies for comedy shows at the Garden.

“Our focus is on treating each comedian’s show at the Garden as a defining moment, which engages artists and fans alike,” says Shea.  “We work closely with our promoter partners, including Live Nation Comedy and the New York Comedy Festival, among others, to generate strategic, strong marketing plans.

“MSG Entertainment supports their marketing efforts using our venue assets, which include our social media channels, broadcast, digital, radio, print, out of home and more,” adds Shea.

Not surprisingly, social media “has been the driving force” behind MSGE’s success, says Shea. He described the ability of social media platforms to “amplify” press coverage of shows, comedians’ shout-outs to fans, and cross promote among MSGE’s venues.

“Our marketing support for comedy, not unlike our support for concerts, is heavily geared towards artist participation and fan engagement,” says Shea, “and we expect to continue to build upon our efforts with our upcoming shows.

The Garden’s success with comedy also is changing how comics view the potential of their performances.

“With some of these historic comedic bookings,” say Shea, “fans are growing accustomed to seeing their favorite comedians in an arena rather than a club. As a result, comedians are figuring out how to create an intimate feeling in an arena-sized setting.”

Shea recalled Ansari’s comments in an interview with Billboard magazine in May 2014, in which the comic said:

“There is something very insane and amazing about starting stand-up in New York City at the lowest rung — open-mic spots — and then many years later going to the other utmost, utmost extreme of playing Madison Square Garden.”

More recently, the impact of an MSG booking for a comedian was captured by Gabriel Iglesias’ post on Facebook after his April 17 show at the Garden.

“As comedians we have a list of goals in our career,” he wrote. “Make people laugh. Do The Tonight Show. Get a special. Be on a sitcom. Be in a movie. Star in a movie. Perform at Madison Square Garden. Tonight we complete the list 18 years and 7 days after I first hit the stage in April of 1997.

“Thank you to everyone who has ever let me make them laugh. You made my dreams come true. Monday I’m setting some new goals in my life. I love you all.”

MSGE’s goal, says Shea, “is is to take these sentiments and work with our promoter partners to harness fan engagement to truly make each comedian’s performance at MSG the “career-defining” moment that it is.”