Parlay comedy experience into getting noticed

April 14, 2014

Hi Dave – I’m in a big city, have gotten invites and done showcases (not at comedy clubs), have a professionally shot ten minute set, ordered business cards, and am set to headline a C-level club three hours from my city. My question is this, are there ways to parlay this experience into getting noticed by agents or bookers or NACA? If so how? I know networking is the best way and I’ve made some friends, but I’m horrendously shy when not on stage. Thank you so much – ER

Hey ER – I’m going to have to make an assumption here. It sounds to me like you might still be a bit new in the comedy business. I don’t mean that as a bad thing and please don’t think I’m about to write off your question due to lack of experience. That’s not what’s happening here. I’m just trying to figure out where this FAQ and Answer is gonna go based on what you’ve told me…

You’re in a big city and have done showcases and have a ten minute video, but not at comedy clubs. So I’ll have to guess we’re talking about performing experience at schools (high school talent shows or some college gigs) or if you’re out of that age group it’s probably through local events, private parties or associations (Rotary Clubs, etc…).

But you haven’t done any showcases at comedy clubs.

I can make you a star!

I can make you a star!

Especially in a big city, that’s where these guys – agents, bookers and talent managers – find most of the comics they work with. From my experiences in NYC and LA they would hang around on weeknights to watch the newer comedians. They didn’t have to do that on Fridays and Saturdays because those shows would feature more established comedians that already had agents, managers and full schedules.

In other words, there was no reason for them to hit a top LA club on Saturday night to see Dave Chappelle or Drew Carey. Those guys already have representation to take care of their bookings. Agents and managers looking for new talent can take the weekend off and start back to work Monday night checking out local showcases.

Who's on first?

Who’s on first?

If you’re already scheduled to headline a comedy club outside the city and have a professional promotional video, it’s a good idea to start showcasing at the better clubs to be seen. If you’re not in NYC or LA where they have showcase clubs (lots of acts doing short sets on the same night) then contact the better clubs in your area and ask about auditioning or submitting your video. But keep in mind you’ll still need to keep building other performance credits if you want most agents and bookers to take you seriously.

Even if the first contact you make is through your website with video link, the general opinion is that they’ll want to see you perform live before putting you up for any bookings. This is especially true in the competitive college market.

BUT if you have experience and a good video – BUT not personal contacts through showcasing opportunities, you can check out agency websites for submission policies. Most of them will spell out exactly what they need from comedians they might want to work with.

BUT again, a lot of it will be based on experience. They’ll want to know what clubs you’ve played, corporate shows or benefits. And to repeat myself – this is especially true in the competitive college market.

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv

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Visit The Improv website for details and to register.

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For anyone not familiar with NACA, it stands for National Association for Campus Activities. There’s also another group called APCA or Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. I talk about working with both in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works. You can also do a Google search for NACA and APCA to find out more about what they do.

To work in the college market the agents will want to know if you have an act that works for college audiences.  Some will represent new talent based on videos and previous college performing credits, but keep in mind some will also charge you $$’s in advance for various doing business costs, such as submission fees to even be considered for a showcase at NACA and APCA conferences. Again, this is all in my book, so let’s cut to the chase…

Rock and a hard placeA lot of it is based on experience. Dave Chappelle and Drew Carey can book as many college shows as they want because they’re known. For newer comedians it’s tough to get colleges shows without a college booking agent. AND it’s tough to get a good college booking agent without any college performing credits.

Talk about a Catch-22 – that’s a big one. There’s a way to do it – and again, I’ve talked about it in the book. But to get back to today’s specific question, it comes down to getting experience on stage and being seen by the right people.

The best thing to do is parlay your upcoming out of town gig at a smaller club (don’t ever call it a “C-club” in front of the owner or booker if you want to play there again) into more shows. Ask for a return engagement or the best way to send in your avails. Use marketing techniques (sorry, I don’t want to keep plugging my books, but that’s why I wrote them) to announce this new credit to other clubs and bookers.

Do your best to get over being horrendously shy in this business. You never want to come off as pushy, but smart marketing and promotion will help these bookers find you. The good ones – the busy ones – are always looking to discover new talent. They can’t keep running the same acts through the same clubs over and over and over…

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Also keep in mind there are good smaller agencies near just about every big city. They may not book the mega-rooms in NYC and LA that will get you seen for Jimmy Kimmel or Letterman, but they can get you work. They might book a string of one-nighters and will take a chance on comics based on a good video and some credits. Usually they’ll send a comic out as an opening act and get feedback from the club owners or managers. If the reviews are good, they’ll continue to book them. Your goal as a comic is to use this experience to get better and eventually work up to the feature and headliner spots.

You can do this at the same time with other booking agents and continue to build up performing credits. Again, I’ve been more specific about it in my books, but I at least hope this gives you a good start. Have a killer set at the C-club, network, promote and work to put yourself in a position to be seen.

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv starts Saturday April 26, 2014 and includes an evening performance at The Improv on Wednesday, May 14th. For information and to register visit The Improv website at this LINK.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

 

The silent treatment from talent bookers

April 7, 2014

Hi Dave – I’m a new comic – elderly- but enjoying it a lot. Last year I entered a competition and I got into the semi finals. It was quite exciting. This year they are having it again and I thought it would be fun to enter again to keep up the momentum and get back in shape. I have responded to the organizer over 3 times and did not get an answer. I now see they have posted the lineup and I am not to be found. I sent him another note and still no response. What do I do in a situation like this? Is it because he doesn’t like me or something? Or that I was too old? I think it’s terrible that I don’t get an answer. What would you do, or better yet, what should I do? Thanks for your help. – D.

Hey D. – Okay, I’ll plan to hear from some of my talent booker friends (and maybe some non-friends) about this, but what the heck. I’ll go with my thoughts and let the chips fall where they may. And by the way, “chips” is a more polite word than I was tempted to use…

To simply state it, I think this person is unprofessional and rude.

Skeleton waitingWhen I hear about comedians and humorous speakers that have worked with an “organizer” in the past and are not receiving any kind of response at all… well, that’s wrong. Of course this treatment will send all kinds of questions and doubts through a performer’s mind. In your case you reached the semi finals in one of his past contests, so he has to know who you are. But his silence is causing you to think he doesn’t like you or maybe you’re too old.

I’ve seen comics completely stress themselves out because they’ve worked hard at what they do and have followed submission policies, rules or whatever you want to call it from “organizers” (we’ll use talent bookers and agents for the rest of this) to make contact. And for their efforts they receive nothing but silence in return.

Busy office guyNow, I understand many of the BIG agencies and BIG club bookers are very busy. I know, because I’ve done it. They can’t possibly answer or reply to every unsolicited phone call or email. There aren’t enough hours in the workday – seriously. When I booked A&E’s An Evening At The Improv we had literally hundreds of recent comedian submission videos stacked on shelves in my office, in Budd Friedman’s office, in the hallway between our offices, in my apartment – and even in the backseat of my car. No lie. I’ve been known to tell the story of opening the back door of my (lemon of a…) Mustang in The LA Improv parking lot and having a pile of videos fall out.

I watched them all – that was part of the job – but couldn’t possibly call everyone. But I kept notes while watching and could at least give a response to the comics when they contacted me. It may not have always been what they wanted to hear (that they weren’t ready yet to do the show) but it wasn’t fair to just brush them off with a silent treatment.

And you know what? I still maintain that a lot of the bookers and agents I knew at that time in NYC and LA were the same. Even the ones that were HUGE had assistants or secretaries that would deliver the good or bad news about bookings. In fact, I’m sure that’s how I learned the policy because I considered them to be professionals and that’s what they did.

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Visit The Improv website for details and to register.

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If a performer has done the work, they deserve some kind of response.

*And let me say one important thing here. Almost all the business today can be done online. A lot of bookers and agencies don’t even have phone numbers on their websites. It can all be done through email and links to websites and videos. Many of the larger agencies even have submission forms to fill out online – without revealing their email address. Yes, it can be very frustrating for comedians and speakers that want to make immediate contact, but these forms are also programmed to send an automated response that the agency has received your submission and will contact you if they’re interested.

At least it’s a response. In my book, that’s better than silence.

Ignore signI know an extremely busy and important talent booker in the Midwest who can’t possibly answer every call and email he gets from comics that want to work for him. He doesn’t have a submission form on a website, but there’s information on what he needs to consider a comic for possible bookings. After he receives the submission and if the comic is not ready to work in his clubs, they receive a pre-written (form letter) email giving them the bad news. Again – at least it’s a response.

If he decides to work with a new comedian – and even for those that have worked for him in the past – he’ll ask them to stay in touch once a month by emailing their avails (the dates you’re available for bookings). Again, he can’t possibly send everyone an individual email because he works with too many comics. But he’s professional enough to have an auto response email sent to each comic he has worked with or might work with saying he’s received their avails and will contact them if anything is available.

And on top of all that – he has set times each week when he’ll accept phone calls. It’s on the website. If you call during “off hours” and don’t get a response, well that’s your fault. Read the instructions and follow them.

Again this is all better than silence. I’ve talked with quite a few comedians that work for him and they’re very happy with this method. In fact, I’ll even say some are “relieved” they hear something. They like knowing their emails are not being sent out into some cyberspace black hole never to be seen or acknowledged by someone they hope to consider a business partner.

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Which brings us back to the “organizer” that has not answered (according to D’s message, which by the way I’m responding to – ha!) four emails… well, that’s not very professional on his part. Mainly because unlike the example I used above about agents and bookers receiving too many unsolicited submissions, this guy has worked with D in the past.

As always, there could be other factors involved. As I’ve advised in these articles and the sections in my books about marketing, you never want to be a pain in the you-know-what. I’ll assume you’ve read those and you know what I mean.

But even if the organizer (booker, agent, etc.) doesn’t like you or doesn’t want to work with you – and you’ve already had some type of working relationship in the past – you deserve an answer. It sounds to me like this guy is either full of himself, or afraid of you.

Karate Guy

I’m gonna kick your you-know-what!

And don’t laugh at that last one! I once had to tell a third degree black belt comic he wasn’t ready for A&E’s An Evening At The Improv. I still did it, it was part of the job, but wasn’t going to take any chances. I broke the news to him over the phone…

I also consider it to be the organizer’s job. Good will, reputation, contacts and networking count for a lot in this biz. Someday when you become a headliner and he wants to book you, you’ll remember the silent treatment. Your fee might be a little higher for this guy than someone else. And again, don’t laugh. I’ve seen it happen.

One last word. To make it in this crazy business you have to develop a thick skin. You’ll probably hear “no” a lot more than you’ll hear “yes” – especially when you’re starting out. And there will be times you’ll just hear the sounds of silence (and I don’t mean by Simon and Garfunkle). Yes, I think in many cases it can be considered unprofessional and rude, but the bad news is that sometimes it’s just a part of the business.

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv starts Saturday April 26, 2014 and includes an evening performance at The Improv on Wednesday, May 14th. For information and to register visit The Improv website at this LINK.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at theChicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

How long do you go until you hit with a bit?

April 2, 2014

Hi Dave – At what point do you drop a bit? Is there a magic number or amount of time that you spend refining before you shelf a joke or bit? Thanks! – WK

Hey WK – I enjoy this type of question because it’ll always start a debate. In fact, it’s already started one – with myself. In other words, I have two answers…

The first falls back on my dedicated opinion that comedians and humorous speakers are creative artists. Writing and performing original material is an ongoing process. You create something and continue to develop it and make improvements. Will it ever be perfect? Not really… at least for a creative artist.

Here’s what I mean.

Big Laughs

You’re killin’ me!

A lot of comics I’ve worked with have had killer sets. They come off stage knowing they’ve nailed it – the crowd laughed all the way through and both the performer and audience feel pretty good. But then the performer (the artist) can usually find some fault. It could be delivering one line a different way or even using another facial expression that could’ve taken everything over the top.

Could it be called a perfect set? Maybe for the audience – but a creative artist will probably always feel there’s some room for improvement. It’s the curse of being creative.

Here’s another example…

I’ve heard too many interviews with recording artists who’ve had No. 1 songs, but can pick out moments (that listeners wouldn’t notice) where – if they could record the song again – they would do something different (in their mind – better). The song may have hit No. 1 on the music charts, but they can see room for improvement.

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv starts April 26, 2014 and includes an evening performance.

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The artist doesn’t stop selling the music – because it’s still good. It’s just not perfect. They might continue to change and develop the songs in live performances, which is something that has driven fans of Bob Dylan crazy for decades. He never seems to play his songs the same as the recordings.

Bob Dylan

Play it again Bob

Okay – now back to your question about comedy bits.

Just because a bit doesn’t work, that’s no reason to think it will never work. If you think it has promise and you’re dedicated to working on it… well, there’s always the chance.

In that case you would keep working on a bit for as long as you believe it can be made funnier. It will never be perfect, but in the back of your creative mind you always think it can be better.

Okay – that was answer No. 1. Now I’ll share with you a different opinion that I’ve also heard from so many comedians that I can’t ignore it. I also share this in my workshops as a method for putting together a comedy set that might someday get you hired. It doesn’t take away from your creativity, but it saves the audience – and also importantly the club booker – the agony of paying for performances where the comedian is continually working on improving the same not-yet-working bit.

By the way, that’s great for open-mics – and what open-mics are for. But when customers are paying upwards of $20 for a ticket, a two-drink minimum and parking – it makes good business sense for the club owner to give them a show with proven comics and proven comedy material.

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This different opinion also shares the name of another comedy writing theory:

The Rule of Three.

The best known example of this in writing comedy concerns the actual structure of a joke or bit. For an explanation I saved you time and looked it up in Wikipedia. Here’s the scoop:

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Guy reading dictionary

Say what??

One of the best examples of the power of rule of three is in comedy, where it is also called a comic triple. Two is the smallest number of points needed to establish a pattern, and comedians exploit the way people’s minds perceive expected patterns to throw the audience off track (and make them laugh) with the third element. Example: “How do you get to my place? Go down to the corner, turn left, and get lost.”

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Okay, okay… sounds too much like text book theory, which is something creative artists don’t worry about (at least too much). It also doesn’t pertain to your question, but it leads me to a different Rule of Three…

I remember conversations about this at the NYC Improv. As I like to say, I don’t make this stuff up and this idea seemed to be a general opinion with a lot of the comics hanging around the bar waiting to go on stage.

The idea is to try a bit or a joke three times in front of three different audiences. Three things can happen:

  • The audience will laugh
  • Some of the audience will laugh, but not all
  • The audience won’t laugh

After doing this, you add up the score:

  • If they laugh all three times, you keep the bit in the act
  • If you get some laughs – rework it and repeat the process
  • If they don’t laugh, cut the bit from your act

Of course the first result is the goal, while the last one is pretty much a death sentence for the material.

The second should spark the creative mind to continue improving the bit or joke. But eventually you’ll need to make a decision. If it’s only going to be a mediocre piece of material no matter how many changes you make, file it for later or dump it for something new.

strike three

You’re out’a here!

If you want to work (for example – hired in rooms that charge $20 per ticket) in this business, you need material that works in front of an audience. The creative artist will always continue to develop new material. The working comic or humorous speaker will have material that has already been proven to work in front of an audience – and that’s what they will be paid to deliver. So if the bit or the joke is not working, then follow a similar Rule of Three from the game of baseball theory:

Three strikes and you’re out.

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv starts Saturday April 26, 2014 and includes an evening performance at The Improv on Wednesday, May 14th. For information visit this LINK.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at theChicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

Revealing, doing face time, and being sneaky

March 24, 2014

It’s time again to go through the inbox and share some of the best thoughts, opinions, experiences and (gulp) backlash from readers about past FAQs And Answers. Thanks to the following contributors for taking time to share and I hope everyone appreciates your valuable insights and advice as much as I do.

Here we go…

From February 3rd – Don’t reveal too much in your promo material. The example was a female comedian who had her home phone number and address on her promotional material. You never know who’s going to find it…

Hi Dave – I may have told you this before, but I’ve got a female friend who’s also a comedian. We were co-featuring at a club several years ago and at the end of a show a female audience member was all over her, telling her how funny she was, etc… The woman and her husband kept trying to get my friend to have a few drinks with them, but she couldn’t.

As they were getting ready to leave, my friend gave the woman her business card – complete with her address and cell phone number. She got a half dozen calls over the next week. Turns out the woman is bisexual and wanted my friend to join her and her husband for a romp. The calls stopped after a week, but she learned a lesson the hard way.

Coyete Business Card

Too much information?

I told her that’s why I’ve always carried two business cards. They each have a different headshot and each is laid out different so I don’t grab the wrong one at the wrong time. One is for bookers and other comics I want to stay in contact with and it has my full contact info. The other just has my email address and Facebook link. That’s the one I hand out to drunk fans after the show. And since I never hear from most of these folks, I have to assume the cards are getting dropped off or left on a Waffle House table after the pre-hangover breakfast binge. God only knows who’s actually getting these cards in the end.

I do have my phone number on my website, but it’s buried in the Bookings page and not anyplace most stalkers would automatically look. Even still, I think I’ll go ahead and take it down because as you said, it only takes one. I guess I could always change the number if I had to, but too many of the right people in this business already have my current number, even if they never use it. – Dave

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv starts April 26, 2014 and includes an evening performance.

Visit The Improv website for details and to register.

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From February 11th – Doing face time in comedy clubs for bookings. This one concerned a comic who showed up outside a club every night and swept the sidewalk until they hired him. A good game plan? Could be…

Dave – First, if you’re booked at the club, pitch the local daily paper, entertainment driven weekly, and any appropriate website, and get some publicity for your shows. Clubs like nothing better than seeing publicity about your shows at their club that they didn’t have to do the work to get.

Doorguy

What are you laughing at?

If you’re not getting all the bookings you want and have your evenings free, I’d suggest a part time job working the door, seating and greeting at the club. You’re not really doing the club a favor, other than providing them with good help. But it puts you on the premises, frequently, and sometimes being at the right place at the right time trumps talent. Also a lot of comics aren’t willing to “stoop” to do that kind of labor, so you’ll have an edge.

If you do corporate comedy work and the club has a corporate booking arm (all of the Helium clubs do), then rather than booking a corporate gig that you scared up yourself direct, take it to the club’s corporate booking person. Offer to let them do the contract, collect the deposit and take a 10 or 20 percent slice. Trust me, they’ll remember you because NOBODY does that. Short term loss, long term gain. – Frank

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From March 11th – A sneaky tip to grab cancelled bookings. Being a local comic can sometimes help you score last minute local bookings. But if you stretch the truth too much can it have the opposite result? Oh yeah…

Dave – I strongly disagree with not coming clean about where you live. I believe in total honesty. It can/will come back to bite the comic. In order to work for me, I must know everything about you, including your address. This opens the door to a comic stretching the truth about everything. I had a comic take a gig by telling me that he had a car. I stopped looking to fill the spot. It turns out he was lying, and was trying to get a comic to drive him for a few bucks. He actually told these potential lifts that they could do a guest spot (unauthorized by me) if they drove him. Word got back to me while he was pursuing a lift. I cancelled him and will never use him again. You see, the old adage is very true in comedy: give an inch and he will take a mile. If you tell a comic that he can stretch the truth about where he lives, this will give the comic the leeway to fudge much more. Your thoughts are appreciated. – S (Dave’s Note: S is a very respected comedy booker and someone I’ve worked with)

Hey S – The example you used – the comic who didn’t even have a car and promised a guest set to his pal (?) sounds like a real scam artist. I would never use him again either.

You’re also a booker for a lot of clubs, venues and private gigs in different areas and need addresses to mail comics their checks. You can’t physically be at all your gigs on the same night to pay everyone in person, so that’s common practice. I’ve also learned from similar experience booking road clubs and corporate gigs to receive a deposit and full payment before the performance date. Then we mail a check to the comic, which means we need an address.

Broke pockets

Here’s your percentage

Talent bookers and agents have a lot of war stories from trying to chase down non-paying clients after a gig so they can pay the comics. And unfortunately we’ve also all encountered a few comics paid in full immediately after a gig that have forgotten or ignored the fact they owe the talent booker or agent a commission. Anyone who’s been on that side of the business has learned from personal hard knocks – and can always have a number of good reasons why the U.S. Postal Service and online banking are considered valuable business partners.

What I was referring to in the article – and maybe I wasn’t clear enough – was a club booker or manager for a single major club. I know the manager and club I used as an example in the article. He books one club in one major city. That’s his job and he’s there for all shows. I was in the same position when I managed the NYC Improv. It was the only club I was concerned with at that time. The comics were all paid cash when they finished their sets (the manager in the article does the same) and there was no need (or real interest) to know a home address for mailing a check.

Keeping with this thought, at the NYC club (and the one in the example) local meant someone who was seen a lot at the club. They could live in Manhattan, but with the cost of living a lot were in the Boroughs, New Jersey or Long Island. Two of my favorites at the time were Louie CK and Nick DiPaolo who would drive down from Boston every week. I considered them local because I knew they’d be around the club on weeknights, so they’d be on the list for any fall-outs.

Train commuter

In training

But here’s another thought behind my reasoning. If a comic at that time told me he lived in Princeton, NJ – no way. I would’ve thought it was too far. It wasn’t until my cousin moved there that I found out it was only an hour train ride from the city. A comic from Princeton could probably get to West 44th Street in Manhattan (a short walk from Penn Station) faster then the guy fighting traffic from Long Island. So yeah, I should’ve thought of that comic as being local – except I wouldn’t have.

BUT all he would’ve had to do was tell me he lives in “‘Jersey” – and not a particular area I might have thought was too far away – and could be in the club within an hour or two. If I’d had a fall-out at noon (like the manager in the article) for an 8 pm show, the ‘Jersey comic might have been one of the local comics I would’ve called. It didn’t make a difference to me if he lived in Manhattan or not. I only wanted to know if he was in the area and could make it in time for the show.

But when travel is involved and gigs are paid by a check through the mail, my booker friend is absolutely correct. Honesty is the best policy.

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv starts Saturday April 26, 2014 and includes an evening performance at The Improv on Wednesday, May 14th. For information visit this LINK.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at theChicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

Twitter

Promotional videos need an audience

March 17, 2014

Dave – Does the promotional video have to be in front of a live audience? Most open-mics are restricted to 5 minutes and my bits are longer. Also, many open-mics are poor venues to make quality video. – ET

Hey ET – If you’re promoting for a live performance gig you need to show the talent booker what you can do in front of a live audience. Maybe if you’re sending in your “reel” for an acting gig – commercials, TV or film – I doubt it would matter. Then again, since we’re dealing with comedians and humorous speakers and not actors (well, not necessarily) the answers to your questions – in order – are:

  1. Yes
  2. Tough
  3. Figure out another option

Okay, I know the last two sound kind’a harsh, but I’ll explain my reasoning in a moment. But for right now I’ll fall back on a standard reasoning that this is a business. Yes, its a creative business that survives on talent and continues by discovering new talent that is different, innovative and sometimes not afraid to push down a few established barriers. But when it comes to the business of promoting, there are some established thoughts I don’t think are going to change anytime in the near future.

One is submitting a promo video filmed in front of a live audience.

Floating on stage

The audience loves me!

When you want to be considered for a performance gig – you need to show the talent booker a performance in front of an audience. They want to see how you work on stage and an audience reaction before they’ll take a chance on you. There’s no other way outside of a live showcase to do that.

Think of it like test driving a new car. A buyer wants to know how it runs on the highway – rather than just taking the seller’s word on it. Same thing with live performers. A good talent booker wants to know what he’s buying before putting the comic (or speaker, or musician…) on stage in front of a “live” audience. If the audience enjoys the show they might come back for another (clubs like returning customers) but if it’s a bomb they might just go to a movie or another club next time.

It’s pretty much impossible to get an accurate feel for a comedian or speaker without an audience. Yeah, I know Last Comic Standing used to have comics perform in front of only three judges in the first round – but those three people were still an audience. I’m sure most comics know what I’m talking about from doing open-mics in front of only two or three people. They’ve learned that you still need to perform for them.

I remember getting videos for A&E’s An Evening At The Improv from aspiring comedians that were filmed in their living rooms, basements, bedrooms and even outside. No audience – just them in front of a camera. Honestly, they were laughable because they came off as amateurs that really had no performing experience (an experienced comic should know better). And as I like to say…

They may call it amateur night, but no one is interested in hiring an amateur.

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So don’t even consider sending a promo video – for a performance gig – that was not filmed in front of an audience. The talent booker will be wondering why you couldn’t get on stage anywhere and had to do this.

Now as far as a time limit of say… five minutes. Again, it’s the business.

Talent bookers get a LOT of videos and simply don’t have the time to watch a string of comics doing… well, a LOT of time. Usually most of them know within the first 30 seconds if the comedian has the experience and material to maybe be hired. It’ll show right away. Many also keep their fingers on a fast forward button and stop at random places to see if the comic is getting laughs from an audience. I’ve sat and watched promo videos with more than a few very influential bookers in NYC and LA and have seen this happen. So whatever the length of the video, it should be your best (and in front of a live audience).

Keep your timeBut saying five minutes is not enough time for your long bits could hurt you BIG TIME when you’re just starting out. An important part of the club business is keeping comics “within their time.” Headliners – the acts audiences are paying to see – have the most flexibility when it comes to time. I’ve seen many do an hour or more if there’s only one show that night and the audience is really having fun. But the opener and feature need to “stick to their time” so the headliner doesn’t go on too late or in front of a burned-out audience.

Sometimes an opener can be given 15 minutes. But other nights – especially when there are two or three shows and maybe a guest set thrown in, the manager might tell the opener to do 5 minutes or less.

Can you do that? If they manager says “do five minutes” and you go over because your bits are too long, chances are you won’t work that club again. I also remember a former member of my workshop calling me to say he’d had his best set ever during a contest at The Improv but was disqualified. Why? Because comics were given five minutes – and he had done five minutes and TEN seconds. I’m not kidding. Again – it’s the business.

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So if most open-mics only give you five minutes and your bits are longer, then you need to find other clubs that will give you more stage time. You don’t want to break their rules if you want to be invited back.

And again, time limits are important to remember if you want to get hired in most clubs. If you can’t stick to five minutes and that’s what they’re looking for, then turn down the gig. It won’t work in your favor.

Not every open-mic is crappy looking (your comment about poor venue to make quality video) and if that’s all you’re running into it might be it’s time to expand your horizons. Actually some of the places I’ve seen in various cities would be cool settings for a promo video. They may not have “IMPROV” or another club logo on the back wall, but a stage, microphone and spotlight will usually do the trick.

The deal is that you want a real audience to make a decent promo video. A room full of open-mic comics who’ve probably heard your set a dozen times and are trying to figure out what they’re going to do on stage won’t be your best audience.

So this is where you figure out another option.

Handing out flyers

The guy’s got an act!

When you’re going to do a promo video – promote the gig. Seriously. Invite friends, family, co-workers and anyone else you can get in the club. I’ve seen comics in NYC standing on the sidewalk handing out flyers not because it was a bringer show, but because they wanted an audience for their promo video.

Another option is to get a few other comics involved that also want new promo videos. Again, I learned this trick in NYC. Five or six comics would plan to do their videos on the same night and PACK the club with just about everyone they knew. Once the scene was set – all they had to do was be funny (not an option – ha!).

At the end of the night they had new promo videos filmed in front of a “live” audience that (from what I remember) got them work from talent bookers. Then when they were booked in better clubs, they got better videos – and the cycle continues for anyone who wants to be a working comic.

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv starts Saturday April 26, 2014 and includes an evening performance at The Improv on Wednesday, May 14th. For information visit this LINK.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

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A sneaky tip to grab cancelled bookings

March 11, 2014

Hey Dave! That whole thing you told me, “If someone asks where you live, say you live on the east / west side of, (fill in a city within driving distance), so it sounds like you live closer” thing… it worked! I just got a call from a club manager (within driving distance). He said his guest emcee for tomorrow canceled last minute and guess who he just got off the phone with to replace him tomorrow? Thanks for the tip!! – DB

Hey DB – You and I know the city you’re referring to, because you named it in your email. For everyone else I’ve left that info to be filled in since the same tip can be used just about everywhere to get nearby gigs. It’s a universal sneaky trick and as you just proved – it works.

Sneaking aroundThe advice I gave you is nothing I made up. Comedians and speakers have been doing this for years and filled me in about it. At first I was like… are you serious? But if its worked for others, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take advantage of it. Let me explain how this works…

One of the problems talent bookers must deal with is last minute cancellations by comedians or speakers. Every booker who has been in this crazy biz for any length of time has had this happen. And it registers on their mental charts as an emergency because if a show is canceled no one – including the booker – gets paid. The only solution is to find a replacement fast. And a good way for a performer to get in with the talent booker is to be that replacement – and be that replacement fast.

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The tip DB is referring to starts with your promotional material – both online and printed – and networking. Talent bookers, (in this case a club booker), want to know what acts live close enough to call in case of an emergency. When they need someone fast, they start calling local. If you’re within driving distance to be there by show time – and that could mean hours as well as minutes – there’s no reason why you can’t be considered local.

Here’s an example of how this can work…

A manager of a major comedy club called me because he had one of these emergencies. His feature act had canceled and he needed to find another one FAST!! The show started at 8 pm and his call for help was coming to me at… well… around noon. In other words, eight hours before show time.

panicHe was in a panic and wanted my help to find a local comic who was available and funny enough to play his major club that night. I knew a few and gave him names. He wanted to know where they lived.

Every honest location I gave him was at least an hour or two away and his panic shot up a notch. He kept saying he needed someone local – even though a two hour drive in my mind, (and I’m sure in every comic’s mind), was local in this case. He still wouldn’t listen and probably wasted the rest of his afternoon raising his blood pressure trying to find someone within a 20 minute radius of the club.

So here’s the tip. The goal is to keep your name in the emergency pool for the clubs within driving distance by appearing to be local.

Sneaking around 2For instance, if the closest club to you is in Dallas and you live an hour or two from Dallas – use Dallas as your home location when you audition and on your promo material. Same for those of you who live near Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta – or whatever major city that’s within driving distance. That’s your home base – your home city.

It’s not important what suburb or small town you really live in – because the booker might not even know where it is. But when you say Miami, New York, Cleveland or another major city, even the “duh-ist” talent booker can find it on a map. Especially if it’s the same city where his club and emergency are both located.

* And to backtrack a bit, a recent FAQs And Answers was an article about not getting too personal with your promo material. In other words, you don’t want to put your home address on anything because you can’t control who will see it – and find you. If you didn’t see it scroll down to February 3rd and it’ll find you.

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So when you have an opportunity to showcase or meet the club booker, let him know you’re local and available in case of last minute cancellations, (emergencies in their mindset). And if they ask where you live, be vague. Just say east or west side, or north or south – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you’re in the same city (okay, close enough) and have a great chance of being there when needed.

Warning hand

Wait a minute!

But here’s a warning about this sneaky advice. If you get the emergency phone call, be honest about whether you can make the gig or not. Don’t push your luck and ruin any future opportunities you might have to play the club. If you live two hours away and the show starts in 20 minutes, thank the booker for calling and just say you’re not available. But if you have enough time – take the gig and be there.

I know that doesn’t sound completely honest, which is why I honestly admitted earlier that I didn’t make this up. This sneaky tip is nothing new for working comedians and speakers and I’m just sharing the inside scoop on how you can get away with it.

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Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Cleveland Improv starts Saturday March 22, 2014 and includes an evening performance at the club on Wednesday, April 16th. For information visit this LINK.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

NEWHow To Be A Working Corporate Comic an 8-week online coaching program. For information visit this LINK.

For info about this free weekly newsletter visit this LINK.

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

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Opener vs. Feature vs. Headliner

March 3, 2014

Hey Dave – I was reading your newsletter today and I’m wondering… What’s the difference between a Headliner vs. a Feature Act? Thanks – DS

Hey DS – Money. Next question?!

Okay… okay… sorry for trying to be funny. That’s actually a good question for comics starting out AND in certain areas of the comedy scene. And the above is only part of the answer. There’s more to it, so let me explain with a true confession.

Improv comedy club

A mic, spotlight
and brick wall

When I worked in the comedy biz in NYC I didn’t know the difference either. In fact, there was never even a reason to bring up the term feature act. The comics worked their way through the open-mics and auditioned for the major clubs in the city. You can Google for a list – but off the top of my head from those days we’re talking about The Original Improv, Catch A Rising Star, The Comic Strip, Caroline’s, Dangerfields’, NY Comedy Club and Stand-Up NY.

I’m sorry if I forgot anyone…

I was manager of The Improv, which in NYC (like the others) was a showcase club. Yes, most of our audiences were made up of locals and tourists (like the others) but comics knew it was an important place to be seen. On any given night there could be agents, managers, producers and casting directors watching. We also scheduled showcases (auditions) for The Tonight Show, The Letterman Show, HBO, MTV – and plenty of others.

As I said – it was a good place to be seen on stage.

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Non-industry nights were Fridays and Saturdays. This means the audiences (2 shows Friday and 3 on Saturday) were pretty much local comedy fans and tourists. Instead of going to a movie, they could see a live show. So the comics were booked in advance and mostly “A-Acts.” In other words, they were our headliners and the industry people already knew who they were. They had agents, television credits, etc…

Jay Leno Older

Showcasing?

Let’s put it this way. You, me and everyone on the planet earth know who Jay Leno is. So there’s no reason for him to showcase for industry exes. Just call his agent if you have a project in mind.

Make sense? Okay…

Sunday through Thursday were showcase nights. There would be several A-Acts doing 20 minute sets to guarantee good shows. But this is also when industry exes and audiences would see the up-and-coming comics. They would be given anywhere from 5 to 10 minute sets and we could have as many as 10 to 15 comics go on stage in one night. Since we could stay open until 4 am the length of the show depended on how many people were still in the audience.

So what I’m trying to say is in NYC (at that time anyway) we didn’t deal with or use the term feature acts. They were either A-Acts or working their way toward becoming an A-Act.

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The difference in terms happened when they worked the road – clubs outside of NYC. And since that wasn’t on my personal radar at the time, I never dealt with it.

It wasn’t until I got to Los Angeles and started working for Budd Friedman that I learned about bookings in the other Improv comedy clubs. The venue on Melrose Avenue was a showcase club like NYC (and still a GREAT place to be seen), but the others Budd had across the country did shows with only three comedians.

New Yorker Magazin

The view from
9th Avenue

Only THREE comics?

Yeah – I was surprised too! My mindset was like the old New Yorker Magazine cover from 1976 – that was still a popular poster around Manhattan twenty years later (and probably still today). Basically, Manhattan residents could look west from 9th Avenue (BTW – The Improv was located just east of 9th Ave) and not really acknowledge anything until the Pacific Ocean.

Stuck up? Well, when everything you need is on one island it just becomes a way of life. But I regress…

Outside of NYC and LA, the clubs in other cities scheduled three comics – an opener (MC), feature (middle) and headliner (closer).

Every club I’ve ever worked at – including showcase clubs – has an MC. That’s the comic who opens the show and warms up the audience. They’re also the ones required to make the announcements. You know – tell the audience about drink specials, future shows, sponsors, etc…

The headliner closes the show. That’s the star act – the comic the club is advertising and the one most of the audience is paying to see.

The feature act? You can guess – right? That’s the comic in the middle – between the opener and headliner. They do more time on stage than the opener – and less than the headliner.

And that takes us back to my first answer – money. The feature act is paid more than the opener and less than the headliner. And there’s never a mix-up over that cuz it’s in the contracts, which is another matter I don’t remember dealing with in showcase clubs. In NYC you showed up, did your set, got cab fare and a sandwich – and thanked the club when you were on The Tonight Show.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

NEWHow To Be A Working Corporate Comic an 8-week online coaching program. For information visit this LINK.

For info about this free weekly newsletter visit this LINK.

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

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Personal request from headliner to open shows

February 24, 2014

Hey Dave – After a recent showcase the headliner came up to me and asked if I’d be willing to open for him on his upcoming shows. What’s the best way to approach being a featured comic or host at this (major) club? I have the manager’s email and a DVD of the showcase set as a sample of what I can do. I also have a headshot and resume and can create samples on DVD and YouTube. Sincerely – L.S.

Hey L.S. – That’s great news! As I say in way too many articles, that’s your Golden Ticket. A personal recommendation from a headlining comic is ALWAYS better than trying to do it all on your own through blind mailings and emails, or hanging out at the club (topics we’ve talked about in the last few newsletters).

thumbs_up

You got it, dude.

Of course I’d never discourage comics or humorous speakers from promoting themselves with good business methods (promo, website, postcards, etc…). But when you have someone that actually works in the club as a headliner putting in the good word for you, it’s always easier to at least be seen (given a showcase).

And if you already have a track record – meaning decent performing credits, you might just end up with a paid booking. I’ve seen that happen a lot, meaning a good headliner will have his own opening and feature acts on the road with him. Clubs book the “package” – which makes the talent booker’s life a bit easier.

My advice is to stay in touch with the headliner about this. Ask him exactly what he has in mind. For instance, would it just be for his next show at this (major) club or (if doing a weekend) opening all his shows? Does he want you to go on the road and open for a string of clubs for x-number of weeks?

By the way, you should be able to find out what he has on the schedule by checking out his website. Most comics keep their online calendars updated not only for talent bookers, but also their fans. I always talk a lot about promoting and there are more than a few (smart!) comics who buy advertisements on Facebook and LinkedIn (more about that technique in the updated version of How To Be A Working Comic) aimed at the cities / areas they’re playing a week or two in advance. Clubs love it when comics  help promote their own shows. And since (smart!) comics also attach their websites to these ads to help build audience interest through their videos and credits, you can check out their touring schedule.

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Preferably you’ll want the headliner to contact the club booker or manager requesting you open his shows. He can tell them to expect your call or email, or just call you back to say it’s a done deal. Either way, he has to be the one to do this.

The headliner (or his agent) needs to personally mention this to the club booker. That’s what will cut through all the red tape. All it takes is one phone call from him or his agent.

Disbelief

Oh my gawd…
that’s such a lie!

That’s important because otherwise the booker might not believe you if you’re the only one calling to set this up. And I don’t mean to single out just YOU – it’s like that with all comics they don’t know. You’d be surprised how many comics “drop names” but don’t actually have that comic’s recommendation. I’ve had that happen to me in the past and it never works in their favor.

I’m sure there are more than a few club bookers who can relate to that last statement. Also some of the comics who’ve tried it.

If for some reason the headliner doesn’t follow through on this or just suggests you make the contact, then go to Plan B. Send an email to the club booker that the headliner talked with you about being the opening act for his upcoming shows. Ask for the “correct way” for you to submit a video and promo. Hopefully the booker will request you send a link to your website and video.

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If you don’t hear back, wait a couple weeks and send a reminder. The goal is to stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what. Know what I mean?

But again, I’ve talked about how to promote and market yourself via emails, postcards and phone calls in past FAQs And Answers so no need to repeat it all here. Just scroll through the topics listed on the right side of this page for help. There are also great marketing suggestions in How To Be A Working Comic (yes – another book plug!).

But again, if the headliner puts in a personal request for you to open his shows, chances are everything should work in your favor. This is your Golden Ticket – so use it.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

NEWHow To Be A Working Corporate Comic an 8-week online coaching program. For information visit this LINK.

For info about this free weekly newsletter visit this LINK.

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

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Getting an MC gig at an “A-List” comedy club

February 17, 2014

Hey Dave – My goal for 2014 is to host a show at one of the top clubs (like The Improv). I have video that I can submit and if nothing else, it will be good to get some feedback and be told what I have to do to get work there. In saying that, do you know how to go about submitting videos to the clubs and what should accompany it, i.e. bio, pics, etc? If you know who the contacts for the club may be or how to find that info that would be great as well. Thanks for your continued support in the comedy scene and I hope you are well. Talk to you soon – CC

Hey CC – Thanks for the support and well wishes. In answer to both I can say I’m trying my best…

And another thanks for your question since it gives me a chance to combine the last two articles into a (hopefully) working answer. Make sense? Again, I’ll try my best…

Corporate Office Headquarters

Corporate Office Headquarters

Usually with the major clubs, the headliners and most features (middle acts) are booked through a corporate office. They have a talent coordinator who books all the clubs in their chain. Opening acts are mostly local or within driving distance and are booked by the club’s in house manager. The opening acts don’t get flown in or put up in five star hotels, if you know what I mean.

When you’re going for an opening (host / MC) spot at an “A-Room” (pick the top club in your area) it’s about the total package. Yeah, of course you have to be a good comic with experience. But you also have to show that in your submission to even be considered. These bookers are not going to hire someone who’s not ready to play their club. The audiences pay for and expect a professional comedy show. And even though the openers won’t have the television and/or film credits the headliners or some features have, audiences are also not paying big $$’s to watch an amateur night.

Know what I mean? You should have experience and a list of credits from playing smaller clubs first, before you approach the “big guys.”

I was on a panel at a comedy festival a few years ago with the manager of a major club and an owner of another. One of them – in a very polite way – talked about the smaller clubs being like the minor leagues. He was comparing it to baseball. Get your experience there first to prove you can do it before trying to move up to the major leagues.

Assuming you’ve done that – here’s a game plan for your question.

Last week I talked about doing “face time” (networking) in comedy clubs. Before that the topic was promotional material. Now it’s time to combine…

I suggest calling the club and asking the proper way to submit a video for a showcase (audition). The people answering the phones will know – because this is a question they get all the time from comedians. Follow what they say.

Based on the two major clubs in my area, there can be two different scenarios. One is doing face time. For instance, one of the clubs has a bringer showcase once a month. Bringer meaning you have to bring x-amount of paying audiences members to get stage time. I won’t discuss the pros and cons of that now, cuz I’ve also done that in past FAQs And Answers. Let’s just agree it is what it is – and the only way you’ll be seen on stage at this particular club.

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Play the game (pay the admission for your friends if you have to) and get on stage. At least you’ll be seen by someone connected with the club. Afterward do some face time and network with whomever is in charge of the show. Ask them what your next step is (you asked about getting feedback so this is your opportunity) or how to be considered as an opening act during one of their regular shows.

Duh Winning

Best Scenario

Who knows? They might offer you a gig based on your performance (best scenario), say you’re not ready (worst scenario), or ask you to send them a video for more review. That last one’s okay because you’re still in the game. It’s also what you’d have to do for the other club I’m thinking about anyway, so here’s how that’s gonna work…

Again, you might want to consider starting with some face time. Go to a show and keep an eye out for a manager. Another hint – from experience – do this on an “one-show night.” Fridays and Saturdays usually mean multiple shows in the major clubs and everything is more hectic. Go on a Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday and chances are better you’ll get a minute or two with the person in charge.

Then ask. What’s the best way to get a showcase or submit a video? And again from experience – because comics ask all the time – they’ll tell you. Follow what they say.

If the club doesn’t offer a showcase night, then drop off (if you’re local) or send a DVD. If they accept submissions via email, get the email address.

If you’re submitting a DVD include it with a hard-copy promo package (like described in my book How To Be A Working Comic). It includes a DVD, photo, resume and bio in a two-pocket folder. And don’t forget to include your contact info on everything.

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Some comics will tell you this is not necessary anymore since all the booker is interested in is your video. But here’s another hint from experience. To stand out from the crowd (and they get a lot of videos) you should make the extra effort. It makes you look more professional and that’s how you want them to see you.

Again – none of these top clubs are interested in hiring an amateur.

If they tell you to submit a video via email, send a link to your website that has a link to your video. Yeah, you can probably just email a link to your video on YouTube – if that’s really how you want to play this opportunity. But again, it won’t look as professional.

I’ve written before that I’ve talked with bookers from major clubs who won’t even consider hiring comics who don’t have a website dedicated to their comedy career. A Facebook page wouldn’t make the cut. But don’t let that throw you off your game! Websites are easy and inexpensive. Check out WordPress and some of the others available for this.

BellsAndWhistles

Did I really use a picture
of bells & whistles? Sorry…

And they’ll understand (they should) that you’re not a headliner or feature act because you’re asking for a showcase to be an opener. They shouldn’t expect all the “bells and whistles” of a big-time website. Keep it simple with the same info you’d put in a hard-copy promo pack. Since these are “A-Clubs” we’re talking about here, they will expect you to be further along in your career than doing open-mics and using a Facebook page as your business site.

If you don’t hear back from them, stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what. An email or postcard every couple weeks should work.

But again, networking REALLY helps. If you’re part of your area comedy scene you probably know some of the comics who open at these clubs. If you see them at the open-mics or some of the other clubs – and they like your sets (important to know first!) – ask if they can throw in a good word for you with the booker. As I’ve written in the past, a personal recommendation from someone who already works at the club can be your Golden Ticket. That can either get you a showcase or have your video watched a lot faster than anything I just mentioned above.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

NEWHow To Be A Working Corporate Comic an 8-week online coaching program. For information visit this LINK.

For info about this free weekly newsletter visit this LINK.

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

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Doing face time in comedy clubs for bookings

February 11, 2014

Hey Dave – Isn’t “face-time” (not the kind associated with Apple iPhones, etc) one of the most important parts of getting work hosting in comedy clubs? What I mean is, doesn’t it make a big difference in someone’s chances of being MC for a weekend (or more) when they frequent the club, chat up the staff and tip well, and demonstrate a willingness to do grunt work? I think that is universal. Didn’t you have a story about the guy who showed up outside a club and swept the sidewalk every day until they hired him inside and he then moved up the ranks? – DM

Hey DM – I’ve gotta be honest with you. This is not an easy question because there are a lot of buts and depends that will go into any answer – from anyone. I know from experience there are some comics and club owners who will agree with what I’m gonna say, and others who will grab a broom and tell me to get out of the way.

Bruce Jenner

Face Time

But you know what? This is showbiz – which is an industry full of gimmicks. If you don’t believe me turn on the TV and the highest rated reality shows. You may not want to hang out in real life with duck callers, housewives and Bruce Jenner’s ex-family, but you have to admit they know how to bring attention to themselves.

So keeping that in mind, it’s not a bad idea to call attention to yourself by being seen around the clubs you want to play. To break into your local scene, you need to have the local bookers know who you are and that you’re a comic. The goal is to score an audition.

I’ve never heard of the guy who swept the sidewalk outside a club everyday and was rewarded with a paid MC (hosting) gig.  It’s not a bad way to call attention to yourself – but if you do end up with an audition it will only pay off if you have the talent and experience to back it up. Otherwise the only winner will be the club owner with a clean sidewalk.

My first thought is that the time could be better spent getting stage experience somewhere else. Earn a reputation as a good comic and do some networking. It’s a lot easier to score a showcase when you have a track record and recommendations from other comics and bookers who’ve seen you on stage. When you have that going for you, there’s no need to bring a broom to the club.

Guys with brooms

Who gets the spot?

Showbiz has always been about being different and standing out from the crowd. If you have the experience and truly believe you’re ready to play the club and sweeping the sidewalk gets you noticed by the booker, who am I to put it down? That’s why a lot of new comics are willing to hand out flyers for stage time or line up friends and family for bringer shows. Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

But your real question is about “face time.” That was always (and still is) a major networking opportunity and how a lot of newer comedians got on stage when I worked in NYC and LA. But I have to emphasize they were already experienced comics and not someone who thought keeping the sidewalk clean would be their best career move.

When comics were experienced and funny enough to start performing at a club like The Improv they still had to pass the audition. Working the door, bartending, or even sweeping the sidewalk could open the door, but didn’t guarantee future paid gigs.  You had to prove – on stage – you could do it.

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Even after someone passed the audition, there was no guarantee they’d get regular performing spots. They were on the club roster, which meant they were welcome to come in and “hang out at the bar” as a comic. Now if they wanted to sweep the sidewalk instead of sitting around – yeah, they’ll be noticed over the others. But if they hadn’t passed their audition, then chances are they’d still be sweeping when the show is ending.

But face time does count. For example…

During a week night in NYC we would schedule enough comedians to get us through until around midnight. If there was still an audience at that time (in NYC we could keep the shows going until 4 am as long as we had people in the showroom) then the manager would look around to see what comics were “hanging out.” They would make up the rest of the show until either the audience left or we hit last call.

That was face time and the manager / club booker already knew they were comedians. If they wanted to grab a broom and sweep up… well, thanks. But are you on the roster? Is there another comic who’s a regular performer at the club recommending you be given a shot? That’s the only way you were going to get on stage that night.

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Now I already know some comics and club owners will disagree and have examples to prove me wrong. I even have a story in one of my books from a favorite club owner who might trade performing spots for work around the club. So I’m not saying it won’t work, I’m just saying…

Mouth Guy

More Face Time

A great way to kill a show is by putting on someone – anyone – who doesn’t have experience and isn’t funny. That’s why clubs have auditions and already know who the comics are. Gimmicks like sweeping the sidewalk might get an audition, but the time could be better spent getting known as a good comedian – even if you have to perform somewhere else to make it happen. If you come in ready to knock everyone out with your talent, then you can get quality face time with the other comics “hanging out” instead of doing grunt work.

Your thoughts or experiences? Leave a comment below and I’ll pass it along in a future newsletter.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by phone or via Skype visit www.TheComedyBook.com

NEWHow To Be A Working Corporate Comic an 8-week online coaching program. For information visit this LINK.

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