Hey Dave – I’m trying to put together a resume for my comedy stuff. I’ve only been doing comedy for a few months and just a lot of open mics. Should I bother with a resume at this point? – Bob
Hey Bob – In all reality, since you’ve been doing comedy for only a few months, it wouldn’t be a good idea to throw yourself into the competition as a “professional comedian looking for work.” So there really is no point in having a resume – yet.
Yeah, I know there are exceptions. For instance, you might have the “right contacts” after a couple months to score a gig hosting your frat brother’s bachelor party or have a friend of a friend ask you to do a few minutes at a local benefit show. But since you’re still in the very early stages of developing both your writing and performing style, you probably shouldn’t charge a fee for that. Be thankful for the on stage experience. If they want to be generous and throw you a few bucks, consider it a donation toward your career goal rather than a paycheck.
Don’t get me wrong because these gigs still count as valuable experience, which is what you need to get ahead in this business. But these very early performances don’t exactly grant you admission into the ranks of professional comedians.
Am I being a too blunt, cold-hearted or closed minded about this – classifying you as a “non-professional” without even seeing you perform? Not really.
Every talent booker that wants to keep his job knows experience counts. You’ve only been in this for a few months. The comedians you see in the legit comedy clubs, on the college circuit, and doing corporate gigs have a LOT of experience and have paid a LOT of dues to get there. In fact, I doubt any of them would disagree when I say they’ve put in YEARS of work dealing with rejection, bad nights, bad breaks, hard knocks, hack jokes, idiot hecklers, and shows that make them feel (as George Wallace described in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers) like they want to drive off a bridge after the gig because they’ve bombed so bad.
But now that I’ve said all that and (hopefully not) deflated your ego or crushed your comedy dreams, there’s no reason why you can’t start building a resume NOW. In fact, I think it’s a pretty good idea.
You have to start somewhere when your goal is to score paid bookings. No booker is going to hire a comedian with no experience. As I also say in Comedy FAQs And Answers and have often repeated in these articles:
They may call it amateur night, but nobody’s looking to hire an amateur.
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Bookers know the deal about working your way up the comedy ladder. You have to start somewhere and it’s NEVER at the top, which would be headlining in a legitimate comedy club. Yeah, I’ve known a few “acts” (term used loosely in this case) that had rich, famous, or connected parents and thought they could buy their way into the exclusive professional comedians club. In one case I saw firsthand, the act had daddy schmooze or practically buy the club to get his wanna’be famous son on stage. But it didn’t work. Junior may have had a joke writer, director and daddy’s agent, but he hadn’t paid his dues to become an experienced comic. He hadn’t developed his comedy voice – including timing, delivery and an ability to work with and off of an audience.
He was an actor acting like a comedian. Once the novelty of booking an act with a famous parent wore off, there were more experienced comics that talent bookers knew were better at entertaining – and therefore, better in the long run for business.
A club’s reputation depends on providing great shows. To stay in business it must be profitable (paying customers). Inexperience doesn’t sell unless it’s billed as “amateur night” or “open-mic night.” And even then many clubs can only make those nights work (profitable) by making them “bringer shows.”
Wow, isn’t it amazing how I can go off on a tangent by just trying to answer a simple question? If you’ve stayed with me so far, let me get back on track…
YES – if you want to become a professional working comic, now is a good time to start putting together your resume. And in case you’re not sure what goes into a comedy resume, it’s a list of your performing credits as a comedian.
In the beginning of your career it can include:
A list of your comedy performances and the venues. If you haven’t played any true comedy clubs, list open-mics. Talent bookers from out of the area may not have heard of any of them, but that doesn’t matter. This list shows you have at least some stage experience.
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When you’re starting out in the business you’re only looking for a showcase (audition) or a gig as an opening act in a comedy club. You don’t need to have headlined or even featured (middle act) at The Improv or other known clubs to be considered as an opening act. You need to be funny AND show the talent booker you have enough stage experience so you won’t suffer a meltdown when you walk on stage in front of a live audience. If you’re funny and show enough stage presence to pass the audition, but all you have are open-mic credits – then that’s what you’ll list on your resume as experience.
List them under the header Clubs or Open-mics.
If you have plenty of open-mics and have also done shows outside of these clubs – list them under separate headers. You can have one titled Benefit Shows or Special Events.
You can also add any comedy workshops or seminars you’ve attended. If it includes a comedy club performance, put that on your resume. But be honest! Add the disclaimer that it was a workshop or seminar performance. It still shows experience – and in this case, “guided” experience from a coach. That can be more influential to a talent booker than flying blind through a string of late night, unheard of open-mics.
You can list these under Workshops and/or Training.
Do you have special talents you use on stage? This could be anything that helps you get laughs from an audience including singing, doing accents, playing guitar, balancing stuff, juggling stuff, riding a unicycle, setting yourself on fire – whatever. If it’s in your act it’s a Special Talent or Special Skill and can be on your resume.
This will also give bookers a better idea of what you do on stage.
Now here’s the deal. This is how you start and build a comedy resume. BUT you want to keep replacing lesser credits with “known” credits. For instance, it’s great to have Johnny’s Yuk-A-Torium and five or six other open-mics on your resume to show experience. But do your best to eventually replace them with credits from legitimate comedy clubs, (The Improv, Zanies, Funny Bone, Comedy Zone, etc.). But until you get on those stages, use whatever you have, open-mics, benefit shows, frat parties, to show you have experience and have not just been doing stand-up in your living room in front of a video camera.
And yeah – someone once sent me an audition tape for A&E’s An Evening At The Improv direct from his living room. Did he get the show? Nope. It was obvious to me he had no on stage experience.
Here’s a good rule to remember – don’t try to move up the ladder too fast.
You’ll need a lot more than a few months to become an experienced act and ready for the best stages. But you can start keeping track of your performing credits now and have a decent list when you’re ready to start showcasing. The experience you get while putting together a decent list of comedy clubs for your resume will eventually help you break out of open-mics and into the world of paying gigs.
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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 Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com
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