More advice about corporate holiday gigs

September 29, 2014

The past two FAQs And Answers have been about booking holiday parties. Specifically, the higher paying corporate events. I’m always looking for feedback and happy to pass along experienced advice that can be helpful for other comedians and humorous speakers. So if you ever want to join in on the conversation, just send an email to dave@thecomedybook.com.

Comedian Dave Glardon did that and (with his permission) I’ve designated him this week’s “guest columnist.” I’m sure you’ll find his experiences in the corporate holiday market helpful. And when you finish reading, check out his website at www.daveglardon.com.

Thanks for sharing Dave!

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Hi Dave,

One thing I’d add. I’ve learned over the years never to believe the party coordinator when they say “give us your club show” because all it takes is one semi-prude in the room and things can spiral down really fast. That happened on my first corp gig, a retirement party. They asked me to keep it semi-clean, but in two separate emails reminded me that there would be no kids there and “please don’t baby us – we’re all adults“.

funny-ugly-mature-senior-woman-shock-surprise-book-24014412

He said WHAT?!!

Yeah. The first time I said “ass” the room went dead silent, and stayed that way for the remainder of my set.

I learned pretty quickly that in a corporate gig you have one person to please, and that’s the boss or the guest of honor. If they’re not laughing, nobody’s laughing. And if the company prude is getting visibly upset, the boss tends to stop laughing pretty fast.

So add one more to the “must please” list.

A few years ago I did two holiday shows in the same weekend – one for a group of women from various trucking companies, and another for a construction company. Both told me to just do my normal set. I was most concerned about the women, so I started off easy and tested the waters a bit. Every time I went a little dirty, they howled. So I ended up giving them my best club set and they treated me like a comedy god.

The next night for the construction company, I started off doing the same set. Before my set I sensed a lot of tension in the room, and I noticed as the owner moved around, nobody except his son and girlfriend approached him. During the show, they were seated at the front with their backs to the room. The boss chuckled at most of my jokes, but not enough that anyone could tell. Nobody else laughed at anything except when I picked on one of their competitors.

Massimo-DAlema

Expecting snowflakes & glitter

Found out later they’d just had a big lay-off and the VP thought a comedian would relieve some tension and improve morale. Thanks!

Anyway, I’ve learned to turn down the ones that tell me they want adult humor, or at least talk them out of it, because the odds of bombing are about five times greater.

If you want me for a frat party, we’ll get down and dirty.

Company Christmas party? It’s snowflakes and glitter.

There is so much to learn in this business and, after 11 years and about 1000 shows, what I’ve learned is that I still have an awful lot to learn. I just appreciate the fact that you do what you can to give the newer folks constructive and honest advice, while discouraging things that only serve to pollute the pool for the rest of us.

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I avoid most corporate and holiday gigs right now because I’m a club comic. Last year I rocked the house at the Stardome six nights in a row, but that was a well-honed club set that took me years to develop. When it comes to the private events, I normally pass along the name of someone better suited.

Last year a company contacted me about their holiday show. The year before they had a comedic magician, and he was already booked. That set off all kinds of red flags with me, and I told them they’d probably be better suited with someone else.

The woman insisted she’d heard I was really funny, and this is an adult party, so I should be fine.

o-SHOCKED-WOMAN-facebook

THAT’S an innuendo?!

I sent her a link to my full feature set from the Stardome. She emailed the next day to say that probably was a little rough for their party. I put her in touch with a couple of other guys. One was a comedic magician.

And Dave, the thing is, I’m not really dirty. Most bookers describe me as PG to mild R, depending on which jokes I use and which ones I leave out. I use a few words here and there that I can cut out with no problem, but my material still deals with adult topics with a lot of innuendo. I’d say 90% of my set could be done on network TV without giving censors a heart attack.

But to the point you made very clearly, adult audiences don’t always enjoy adult humor, especially in a more dignified setting. Sometimes all they want is Santa Claus and the little drummer boy.

Anyway, I’m glad you tackled this topic. It needed to be said.

And my web URL … oddly enough, it’s www.daveglardon.com. Imagine that! :-)

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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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Part 2 – Time to start booking holiday parties

September 22, 2014

Hey Dave – Last week you wrote about booking gigs for holiday parties. Good tips, like planning your promo, networking, and working clean. But you left us hanging about the money and how comics can charge more for holiday gigs. You said you’d cover that subject this week. So what’s the pay-off, you handsome devil? – Dave

Hey Handsome Devil Wannabe…

Okay, I’ll stop the BS. In case you haven’t figured it out, I wrote the above question. I could’ve just continued from where we left off last week by announcing “Part 2″ in bold, italicized CAPS, but what good is it to call these articles FAQs and Answers if there’s no Q kicking it off?

Guess I’m a stickler for sticking with the format. So with that said…

PART 2:

Most experienced comedians will raise their corporate performing fees for holiday parties. Notice I said experienced. Rookie, open-mic comics (though I love you guys!) should not get into the private party (holiday gigs) market until you have an act that is audience-proven and worth the money businesses will pay for entertainment.

Satisfaction guaranteedIn other words – like a good business – you want satisfied customers. Word gets out that you were an asset (business term) to the party, it could lead to more work. If you do a crash and burn, take the money and run (hack comic term) performance, that word could also get out – and your next holiday gig might be working for the caterer.

Know what I mean?

Yes, there are (as always) exceptions. For example, your aunt’s boyfriend offers you 20 bucks to say something funny at his retirement roast. If you don’t live up to the (headline) billing your loving aunt was probably using to influence this decision, you might just get a few dirty looks from the boyfriend and the other witnesses. Do the same (bomb) at a big-money corporate holiday event and you might have a hard time getting paid.

As a booker I’ve felt the wrath of clients who thought a comic was so bad that they refused to pay – or have demanded a refund. Do you think I’d work with that comic again? No way. I’ve also known a few contacts in the business world that have actually picked up the phone and called me – and other booking agents – and warned us not to use a certain comic for ANYTHING.

Believe me, bad reviews seem to travel a lot faster in his biz than good reviews.

So – let’s put it this way. If you’re just starting out as a comic and working your way through the open-mic circuit, chances are you’re not going to be headlining The Improv next weekend for big bucks. Use this same business sense when it comes to booking holiday parties. This is also true for humorous speakers still doing free gigs (your open-mic circuit) to put your presentation together.

Yes, there are very small parties with very small budgets that experienced comedians wouldn’t even consider doing. Let’s say in the $200 or less range. If you’ve had success doing 20 CLEAN (G-rated) minutes and can throw in a few holiday references, then partner with another comic who can do the same. Offer the potential client a 30-40 minute two-comic holiday comedy show and split the money with your new partner.

Seriously. It will give you experience, corporate credits for your resume – and gas money.

Do you really want to break into the market?

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Be smart about it. Don’t go in thinking you can stretch out your current 15 minutes of material by working the crowd for 40 minutes and get away with it. That’s why experienced headliners and strong features can clean up doing holiday parties. They already have the material and the stage experience.

Which brings us back to the beginning? You remember, right after that handsome devil reference…

Most experienced comedians will raise their performing fees for corporate holiday parties.

The holiday season is a short time of year to make a lot of money. Think about it. You may have to start promoting months in advance, but the season only lasts a few weeks in December. Parties can (and do) happen every night of the week, probably starting close to December 1st and going until Christmas Eve. But you have to realize there are only a few Friday and Saturday nights in those weeks when most of the parties take place.

Happy CEO

The Boss – and we’re not talking Springsteen…

The boss (the client that hires you) will be spending big bucks on the party room, (restaurant, hotel, conference center – wherever), and also on the food and booze. If he’s got half a heart and seasonal cheer, he might also be springing for bonus checks and even possibly gifts for all his employees.

So relying on what we know about today’s economy and that odds aren’t good Donald Trump is funding this holiday bash, a good guess is if the boss is hiring a comedian – chances are he won’t also be hiring a band, deejay, hypnotist, balloon artist, or Carrot Top. For a lot of companies, it’s not in the annual holiday party budget anymore.

So if the boss goes with hiring a comedian instead of another option – that comedian is the main entertainment attraction for the annual holiday party. This is the party everyone in the company will be talking about until next year’s annual holiday party.

If the comedian goes down in flames, the party would be a major bust and the boss would have to live with that reputation for an entire year. No one will remember what finger sandwiches were served. But if they had to sit in a room and listen to a comic not make them laugh for almost an hour… well, that’s memorable.

Therefore, the boss needs to hire a good, experienced comic. And if the comedian has the experience to make the party a huge success, then he deserves to be paid well for the effort (and should know it).

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Here’s another way to look at this. A hypothetical conversation – from the comedian’s point of view:

My fee for your secretary’s retirement banquet is $500. I’m really not busy that evening anyway and it beats sitting home waiting for the phone to ring. BUT if you want me to perform at your Christmas party, it’ll cost you $750. Why? (As the client is coughing and choking). Because four other businesses I’ve contacted are also having their parties that same night and I’m going with the best offer.

With a good business plan, luck, ability to schmooze, and geographically desirable locations, three or four of those holiday business parties can be booked for the same night at staggered times. That’s $750, (or whatever fee you charge), times four… equals… well, the total is staggering compared to what you might earn for two shows that same night in a comedy club – which is why comedians love holiday parties.

But once again, a major word of warning…

Not happy customers

Know your audience

This may all sound like easy money and temp you to jump into the holiday party pool headfirst (with no sunblock – a reference to last week’s Part 1 if you’ve paid attention). But keep in mind what I said earlier. The entertainment, (comedian or humorous speaker), can make the party a success or a bust. You need experience and a proven act – and some holiday references and jokes wouldn’t hurt. And the material must be CLEAN. No X-rated or R-rated stuff for all the reasons mentioned in Part 1 of this article. The only exception would be if this was a request from the client and worked out in advance with his approval.

Also never forget – experience counts. Just like there are no short cuts from playing an open-mic one weekend to headlining at The Improv the next. It doesn’t happen unless your aunt’s boyfriend runs the club and is pretty secure in his job.

If a client is willing to pay big bucks, you have to be willing to put in the work first. If you have the stage experience and proven material, then go for it. If not, start writing now and getting on stage as often as possible with an eye on next year. As mentioned last week in Part 1, the promotion process for performers starts right about now. You know, while we’re still thinking more about sunblock than Santa Claus…

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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

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

Time to start booking holiday parties

September 16, 2014

Hey Dave – What’s the deal with doing Christmas parties? I know some comics who booked a few last year and made good money. – T.R.

Christmas Party Invite

Time to spread the cheer…

Hey T.R. – Christmas / holiday parties are big business in the comedy biz. Corporate and humorous speakers (sometimes one in the same) can also score big during the festive season, but I don’t consider their bookings as seasonal as comedians in this market.

Why? Because comedians are considered entertainment and holiday parties usually want entertainment. Speakers with a message – whether informative, entertaining or both – can often find gigs at meetings and conferences year-round. For instance, I just spoke at a conference last week. With keynotes being delivered during breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings, and various workshops running concurrently over two days at this huge resort, there had to be at least 50 speakers involved.

I didn’t see any comedians…

Who's the boss?

Who’s the boss?

So with that personal observation in mind, we’ll focus this FAQ and Answer on comedians and entertainers looking to book holiday parties. But I’m also pretty sure humorous speakers will be interested in some of this stuff.

The time to get in on this action is now.

We’re hitting the end of summer and a lot of these holiday bashes are already in the planning stages. In fact, I’ve already gotten my first call for this holiday season, so the clock is ticking…

Most of these holiday parties are planned way in advance because the bosses (employers) have to rent party rooms or restaurants in advance for this once a year company-paid blow-out. They also know somewhere in the back of their minds the approximate date when they have to cough up holiday bonus checks for their employees – so that also goes into factoring when these parties will occur.

Once the party date has been confirmed, it’s circled on every employee’s calendar and they’re expecting the boss to show them a good time. Of course the smart employees won’t have too much of a good time, but for those who cut loose a little too much…

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Dave with the great Phyllis Diller

Dave with the great
Phyllis Diller

As the great Phyllis Diller once said:

I hate Christmas parties. You always have to wake up the next day and start looking for a new job.

Booking holiday parties is similar to working in the corporate market. You may imagine employees overindulging in the eggnog and walking around wearing Santa hats with mistletoe pinned to the white fluffy ball at the top, but the boss is still in charge of the toy factory. With lawsuits about sexual harassment, discrimination, mental anguish, and whatever other reasons and insults that could cause the company to continue paying a future former employee for not working at the company anymore (and their lawyer fees) the boss is not gonna take any chances. The only exceptions I can think of might be if they’re a strip club or a construction crew – and then they’ll most likely wind up having their parties together.

Okay, okay… I know!! Sometimes I think I’m funny when (maybe) I’m not…

Your audience

Your audience

What I’m trying to say is that except for the rare exception, company holiday parties have turned into family style events.

There may or may not be kids involved, but there’s usually an office prude or uptight spouse keeping an eye on everything. And the best way to avoid hassles is to stay politically correct. If you want to be offended by a comedian, go to a comedy club. If you want holiday laughs where no one has to wake up the next day and look for another job, hire a comedian that works clean.

Speaking of clean, a lot of the comedians who are cleaning-up dollar-wise with holiday parties start their booking efforts in late summer and early fall. Seriously. I can go into my files as a booking agent and see contract signing dates in August and September for Christmas parties. The performances were signed, sealed and deposits were paid while I was still trying to get my kids to put on sun block before they’d go outside.

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The process of promoting yourself for these shows is the same as I’ve written about for the corporate market. Only now you want to aim it for the Christmas / Holiday season. Put it right on your emails and postcards, and mention it if you’re calling businesses:

You are available for office holiday parties – and work clean.

Your promotions can start in late August (past that) or early September (right now). Do a mailing or emailing to your regular contact list, (you should have one if you’ve been reading these articles) and then follow up with phone calls. If you don’t have the proper contact person, ask who is in charge of the company party. That person is probably looking just as hard for entertainment as you are for gigs. With the right promotion and networking skills, (again – business techniques you should already have if you’re been reading these articles), you can make their life easier by hiring you as the entertainment. This will give them more time to choose the table ornaments and who should not be seated next to each other to avoid company in-fighting.

Goin' for broke!

Personal friends with The Man In Red

Again, it’s all about finding leads, networking and promoting – which are business techniques I talk about in my book How To Be A Working Comic and these newsletters.

I know comedians and speakers who have promo photos taken wearing Santa suits or with other holiday themes. Their websites and online networking are advertising their skills at entertaining for holiday parties. In the entertainment biz, the holiday season has already started.

But there’s more to this than just getting the gigs – it’s also about getting paid. And yes, the rumors are true. Entertainers can charge more during the holiday season than any other time of the year. But I’m going to ask you to hold that important thought for awhile. We’ll get to the part we’re all interested in – the money – next week. See’ya then!

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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

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

The cure for stage fright?

September 8, 2014

Hi Dave – I have terrible stage fright. I think I’m a pretty good writer, but I can’t even think about getting up in front of an audience without breaking into a sweat. Have any cures? E.M.

sweaty-guy

Is it me, or is it warm in here?

Hey E.M. – Don’t sweat it (sorry – you set me up and I couldn’t resist opening with that line) because you’re not alone. I’ve read that stage fright – or the fear of speaking in public – has been called the number one fear most people have. Even more than death.

And now that I’ve set this bit up, Jerry Seinfeld has a very funny observation about the subject…

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.

Now that we’ve established you’re suffering from a very common fear, you need to be told there’s no quick fix. But there is help:

Preparation and experience.

The best advice I have for aspiring comedians going on stage for the first time is to prepare in advance what you will say. Unless you have an innate (natural) talent for ad-libbing and improvising, don’t just try to wing it or hope something funny will happen. You can work on those aspects of your performances later when you’re more comfortable on stage. Do your best to either write out or at least outline a short comedy set – and know it. When starting out at open-mics you can even take your notes on stage or have them in your pocket to use in case of an emergency – like a security blanket. After all, your first times on stage will not be auditions for The Tonight Show, so put the odds in your favor of at least getting through what you want to say in spite of any nerves or stage fright.

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I’ve talked with comedians about this because as mentioned above, you’re not alone. It can be very scary walking on stage by yourself in front of an audience for the first time. One thing most (I want to say all, but can’t remember for sure) of them told me was that they relaxed (a bit) after getting a laugh. It meant approval from the audience, which gave them enough of a confidence boost to continue talking. So let’s include that one in the advice column:

Try to get a laugh as soon as possible.

The best way to do that is to open with what you feel is your best chance to get that laugh. It could be your funniest joke, line, bit, prop, story or whatever. I remember a very famous comedian opening his set at The Hollywood Improv by pretending to slip and fall down because he “accidentally” knocked over a drink on the front table while walking on stage. Silly? Yeah. Stupid? Some might think so. Did it get a laugh? HUGE!!! He stood up, the audience was still laughing – and he was in complete control for the rest of his show.

X Factor 2008 - Week 4

That was funny? I don’t think so…

Yeah, I know he had a lot of stage experience – but that experience told him to open his show with a laugh. And in the comedy biz, laughter can build confidence. If you don’t believe me, imagine how you’d feel on stage without it.

You won’t really know how funny your material is until you try it in front of an audience. But when you’re just starting out the goal is to actually have something to say, rather than opening your mouth and risk having nothing come out. Preparation may not cure stage fright, but it could help take away some of the nerves and make that first step easier since you’ll already know what you will say.

Many experienced comedians have also told me the first laugh they received from an audience is what made them continue going on stage. The word most used is “addictive,” (a word that’s been popular in the comedy biz for a long time). When you get that first laugh it feels so good you want to get it again.

There’s no guarantee and as mentioned, this is not a quick fix for stage fright. But one thing I love as a coach (and also when I used to attend countless open-mics in NYC and LA) is watching a new comedian get more confidence with each laugh from an audience. Seriously, I can actually see it on their faces and in their delivery. It’s very cool (for lack of a better term at the moment).

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When they get a laugh – that great addictive feeling – it helps motivate comedians to see if they can make it happen again. It’s the main reason to get back on stage. It builds confidence and dedication to do comedy.

That in a nutshell is the preparation part. The rest of the cure comes through experience. Stage time. The more you do something that is enjoyable or at least somewhat successful, the less you should fear it.

At first you may just have to psych yourself out and do it.

article-0-0EE24E1E00000578-297_468x386

Think I made a big mistake!

For example, I hate heights but love roller coasters. Yeah, I know… but I don’t have enough money for a shrink…. Some of the tallest in the world are in an amusement park not too far from us and they scare me to death just looking at them. My knees literally shake (like the first time I did an open-mic in NYC). But I (actually my kids) wouldn’t let it stop me. I may have to ride it once, twice – or even a dozen times with my eyes closed, but eventually I’ll take a look around from the top of the highest hill and watch the rest of the ride while screaming all the way to the end.

Much like the first time I did an open-mic in NYC…

Consider stage fright similiar to other fears you’ve overcome. You might have been scared about a first day of school, moving to a new city or starting a new job. But you kept with it and eventually felt comfortable. It can be the same going on stage and speaking in public.

I know comedians that have told me they’ve never gotten over stage fright. They just wouldn’t let it stop them and learned how to deal with it. They say their nervousness keeps them more aware – more real – on stage. There’s no way they could ever sleep walk through their act – which is what you call it when someone goes on stage and just repeats their memorized act word for word in a way that’s old, stale and boring both for the audience and the comedian. Their heightened nerves keeps them more in tune with everything that’s happening in the room and their minds in the moment.

And that’s where you need to be when you start taking advantage of your innate talent for ad-libbing and improvising off an audience.

As usual, I have one last example. Fans of classic rock should love this. The younger comics? Just humor me for moment…

george-harrison-john-lennon-shea-stadium01

One good laugh should lead to another

My latest book is about The Beatles‘ 1965 concert at New York’s Shea Stadium in front of 55,600 fans. At that time it was the largest rock concert ever held and The Beatles were the biggest rock band in the world. They had played hundreds of shows and performed live in front of millions of viewers on the most watched television programs in the world. But the one common thread I found from all the interviews I did with people that were with them backstage at Shea Stadium was how nervous they were. The Beatles were shaking in their Beatle boots. But after they were introduced and ran onto the stage, their preparation (knowing their act) and experience (hundreds of shows) took over. By the end of the concert they were doing comedy bits between songs and having as much fun (probably more) than anyone else there.

Stage fright? I don’t know of a quick fix or a cure. But I do know if you want it bad enough, preparation will help you get on stage and experience will keep you going back.

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Working Comic

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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 ComedyComedy 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 2014 comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

Finding stage time in Los Angeles

September 2, 2014

Hey Dave – I won a contest for a trip to Los Angeles to appear in a commercial. Unfortunately, since I’m not in SAG, (Screen Actors Guild), I’m being buried in the background as an extra. I’m pretty stoked about the trip though. I plan to hit one of the comedy clubs in Hollywood, but was wondering if you have any recommendations for shows, venues, etc… I’ll be there next week, (six days). – S.

Hollywood_signHey S. – Congratulations! Winning the contest is very cool, but sorry you’ll be buried in the background of the commercial. Consider it an incentive to get a SAG card. Then again, I had a SAG card for a lot of years and they still kept me buried in the background…

Here’s the scoop and as always, you may find it’s different for you, but it’s REALLY tough to get any type of stage time at L.A. / Hollywood comedy clubs when you’re just out there visiting. The acts that live there are investing their time and energy hanging-out, showcasing, schmoozing, taking workshops, bringing paying audience members (bringer shows) and basically doing whatever it takes (hopefully most within reason) to get on stage.

DUESThe L.A. comics are paying dues and positioning themselves to eventually be seen. You’re a visitor for six days with no dues paying receipts and no reason to be seen by anyone that could put you on stage.

The bookers (and I was the one at The Improv in L.A. so this is experienced information) are NOT going to give you stage time if you’re just visiting for a week and then leaving. It doesn’t do them any good job-wise. Bookers need to spend their time showcasing comedians they can use in the immediate future, rather than someone they may not see again.

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I don’t mean to discourage you, but it’s very unlikely you’ll get on at The Improv, The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory, or the other high-profile and popular clubs (the ones that draw industry people as well as locals and tourists). Your only chance is to score a recommendation from a comedian who is already a regular at the club. And I’m talking regular regular and not someone that just moved out of the open mic scene into MC’ing Sunday and Monday night shows. If you’re on Budd Friedman’s or Jay Leno’s holiday card list, you might have a good chance of getting on stage at a major Hollywood comedy club within six days. Otherwise, don’t waste your time or energy only hanging around, hoping you’ll be noticed and asked to do five minutes. It doesn’t work that way.

Now that I’ve said that, here’s how you can still make it a productive comedy visit…

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Go online and start searching. I just did by Googling “Los Angeles comedy open mics 2014” and came up with 296,000 results. Start reading.

Don-Adams-239x300These will be your best options for stage time in Los Angeles. Like in NYC, there are plenty of performing opportunities in small places you’ve never heard of. But always call the venue in advance to make sure they’re still doing open-mics or even still in business. Some of these clubs are here one week – and gone the next. But that doesn’t matter because there will always be another one opening in a bar, coffee house, pizza parlor or bowling alley. All it takes is a dedicated and stage deprived comedian or future comedy entrepreneur to convince an owner he can make money charging a two-drink minimum while providing up-and-coming comics with valuable stage time.

Wherever you find comedians, you’ll find comedians looking for stage time. They have to – or they won’t improve as comedians.

It’s also important to contact the club or if possible, the person that books the shows and find out what you need to do to get on stage. Reserve a time? Bring paying customers? Just show up? Sometimes if you admit you’re only in the area for a short time they’ll be kind enough to give an out-of-towner a few minutes on stage. You never know unless you ask.

You’ll also want to go to The Improv, The Comedy Store, The Laugh Factory, etc… just to check out the scene. As long as you’re in Los Angeles, get a taste for it. See one of the weekday shows. Weekends are always for tourists and feature comedians you can see at home on television. You want to see the up and coming acts;, the ones that are still hungry and pushing their way to the top. That’s where you’ll want to be eventually.

The comedians performing on the “big name stages” will give you an idea of what it takes to get to that level. You’ll also see some of the same acts at open-mics trying out new material, along with many just starting their comedy careers. It’ll be a great comedy learning experience and as long as you’re there – take advantage of 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 ComedyComedy 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 2014 comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

Freedom of speech comes with a price

August 25, 2014

Dave – What are the implications of mocking a device or its creator? For instance, I’ve made comments in my act about a medical device that could be construed as less than savory, yet funny. But the backers of this device are my current employers and have been known to be surly regarding their investments. I know of one nurse who wrote a novel about her experiences and was summarily fired. Not that I fear such action, but… well… I still have a mortgage. – M

Hey M – Any topic is pretty much fair game in comedy. But you’ll have to make your own decision about this one since it involves your current employer. I believe in and support freedom of speech. But in practical real-world situations (your mortgage would qualify as one of those) you have to consider the consequences. If you think the material will come back and bite you in the you-know-what and cause you to lose your job, then it’s best to keep your mouth shut.

images-4I like to point out that “star power” makes a difference in how far you can go with free speech. If you’re making a living as a comedian, then making fun of your former employer (former husband, wife, teachers, presidents – you get the picture) is no big deal. They’re all fair game. But “star power” also only goes so far.

For an example, think Charlie Sheen. Once considered indispensable for the success of the sitcom Three and a Half Men, his choice of words aimed at his employers is why Ashton Kutcher has taken his place as one of the “men” and earns million dollar pay checks.

Freedom of speech is the center of the comedy universe. From talking about your family (Ray Romano) to taking on the government (The Smothers Brothers). It’s about telling it as you see it and why comedians look up to legends such as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin.

On the flip side of this universe is the comedy business. What you say can sometimes affect your career. Here are some thoughts…

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When I scheduled comedians for the television show A&E’s An Evening At The Improv, we had to give the performers some guidelines on material. These were strictly for business reasons such as ratings and legalities.

First of all, demographics showed that our largest viewing audience was in the U.S. Bible Belt. Therefore, we couldn’t let the comedians make fun of God or religion. If they did, a lot of fans would stop watching the show, advertisers would stop buying commercial time because there wouldn’t be as many people watching their commercials – and everyone involved in the show would risk losing their jobs.

Secondly, no one involved with the show wanted to get sued. For example, comedians couldn’t say McDonald’s sucked or Taco Bell gave them heartburn. Those companies would come down hard on the producers to protect their reputations.

2527358Comedians were warned before show tapings not to practice their freedom of speech when it came to these topics. Of course some ignored the warnings. But it didn’t matter because they didn’t have any control over the final outcome – it was all business related. That’s why you can watch episodes where certain comics are only on for four or five minutes instead of the standard seven minute set. They didn’t follow the “rules” and the forbidden material was cut out and left on the editing room floor (this was before the “delete” button became the norm with digital filming!).

It’s also important to note saying the F-bomb on network television is still forbidden. You can say it at certain times on certain cable shows, but not on The Tonight Show. So as a comedian, you have to play by the rules if you want to sit on the chair next to Jimmy Fallon.

But on stage in a comedy club, comedians can say those things. You can make fun of companies, religion or whatever you want as long as – and this is the business side talking – you bring in paying customers. Most club owners support the art and creativity of stand-up, but are still in it to make a living.

Now in your case, as a beginning comedian who still needs a regular paycheck until your career takes off, you have to protect yourself. How far will your employers let you go before they get offended and fire you?

I’ve had more than a few comedians in my workshops who were police officers. I always found it interesting because some felt they had to use a stage name and never mentioned police work during their sets because they were afraid their superiors would crack down on them. Others didn’t care and talked about being a cop and what they did on the job. It’s a personal decision that I couldn’t make for them because I couldn’t predict the repercussions.

So in your case – since you’re not a “star comedian” yet (but soon – right?) you need to figure out what or if there will be any fall-out or flack from your bosses if you do this material on stage. You want freedom of speech, but you also have a mortgage.

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One last thought. Even “stars” have to be careful in certain situations. Without mentioning names (but if you’re really into the comedy biz I’m sure you can think of a couple), they’ve made headlines practicing free speech on stage by making horrendous remarks about race or sexual preferences. It probably wouldn’t have been that intense or newsworthy if they only performed in comedy clubs, but these comedians were well-known from starring in sitcoms and movies. There were a lot of protests and they eventually had to publicly apologize to salvage their careers.

images-3I happened to see one of these (no names!) comedians a couple weeks later at a popular comedy club. He confronted the situation right away and admitted to the audience he got in a lot of trouble for what he said. He promised he wouldn’t talk about it and was finished with the subject. But as a comedian – he then told the audience he was going to  pick on a different group instead and launched into that material.

Some audience members laughed while others didn’t.

But he was practicing the art of free speech and made a choice about how far he would go regardless of what the consequences might be. That’s a personal decision and you have a right to make it. But just make sure you have both your artistic and business thinking caps on when you make 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 ComedyComedy 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 2014 comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

Will lack of references hurt?

August 12, 2014

Hi Dave – I just took a look at the registration for an upcoming comedy festival. The form asks for any references. Does it hurt that I don’t have any? Can I put your name down to verify that I’ve at least completed a comedy workshop? Thanks for your thoughts. – L.P.

Hey L.P. – References can be another word for networking – which is a key buzz word in almost every industry today. If you know the right people who can give you a good referral, it’s almost like having a free pass to be “seen.” But if you haven’t yet built up a list of right people, don’t let it stop you. You still need to put yourself out there, (network), and make good contacts, (references), along the way.

Computer-Addcition

Wait… I’ll find what I’m looking for… just a few more minutes…

I subscribe to a lot of informational emails on a variety of topics. Some are about the entertainment industry and business in general. Others are about training or help in researching different projects like a book or presentation. Google Alerts are great for that and for, (hint, hint), writing comedy material.

My point is that I use these emails to keep up with what’s happening with stuff I’m interested in and the world in general. And the one thing that’s hammered into my head every day is that a lot of people are looking for work. Not just comedians, but people looking for real jobs. And yes, being a working comedian or humorous speaker is a real job. But I’m talking about the real jobs (think 9-5) that real comedians try to avoid like hecklers and hack jokes. Everybody’s filling out registrations, (job applications), and one of the sections will always ask for references.

One of the email lists I subscribe to covered this topic last week. It was from someone looking for a real job (9-5) job, but the advice also makes sense for comedians like you who might be registering for comedy festivals or looking to contact talent bookers, (avoiding a real job).

So I’ll pass it along here.

kevin-bacon-9710-kc1

Only six degrees from where you are now

You never mentioned making-up references, so I’ll commend your honesty and assume it never crossed your mind. That’s good. If you start putting down references you don’t have, sooner or later it will come back to haunt you. The comedy biz is actually a smaller world than you might think and there’s a lesser degree of separation between you and Jimmy Fallon than the more famous Six Degrees of Separation between you and actor Kevin Bacon.

If you don’t know the game I’m referring to, Google it.

If you start dropping names in a small world, sooner or later that “name” is going to find out and deny any knowledge of your existence. You might also run into a booker who is good friends with the “name” and can back you into a tight corner.

Either way, your reputation will take a hit as word spreads through the, (smaller than you might think), comedy world.

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Also never claim experience you don’t have. Your sister’s best friend might be good friends with someone working at The Tonight Show who mentioned you once to Jimmy Fallon. Drop his name on your reference list and bookers will expect a set that Fallon would be proud to endorse. But if you’re barely out of the open-mike scene… Well, word will get out and all you’ve achieved is locking in your career at the open-mike level until you get a real job of the 9-5 variety.

images

Okay… here’s what I really meant to say…

The best advice is “honesty is the best policy.” There’s a reason why that’s an old saying – because it’s true. If you’re new in the comedy business, a good talent booker will see that during the opening of your set. There’s nothing to be ashamed of – everyone has to start somewhere. But if you have potential, a good talent booker will recognize that also. You may not be ready for prime time, but you could make a good impression and be remembered in the future. And as you grow as a comedian, that too will be evident and respected.

So to repeat myself, if you don’t have references now, don’t let it stop you. Fill out the registration and put down whatever you have – even if it’s just open-mikes, benefit shows or even a comedy workshop. The talent booker might recognize potential from your video (which all festivals and bookers will require if you’re not available for a live showcase) and give you a shot. Believe it or not, a good talent booker enjoys discovering a “new face.”

If it doesn’t happen for you now, you might be remembered the next time you apply. If you show growth and experience in both writing and performing, that will definitely help the recognition factor. And by that time you might also have a few references from the right people, which can only be earned by putting yourself out there, doing great sets and networking.

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August 11, 2014 – Like everyone in the comedy world, I’m shocked and sad about the death of Robin Williams. I don’t need to tell you how important and influential he was not only within the comedy community, but also the entire entertainment industry. People are expressing their sadness, shock and sorrow on the internet. Read it and you’ll understand.

images-3

A comedy genius.

Robin was already a major star when I got into the comedy biz. I was fortunate to see him once in awhile through my work with The Improv in New York and Los Angeles. I won’t pretend we were buddies or anything like that. He had true friends in this business – the comics he came up with and performed with and hung out with. You guys know who you are and I send my condolences to you also. You lost a good friend.

But I was fortunate to be his buddy for one night – and it’s a very fond memory I share whenever anyone asks me if I’d met him. It was many years ago in New York City and before I had ever started working in the comedy biz. The kicker is that the place we hung out is where I would start my comedy career later.

I was managing a restaurant in Gramercy Park called The Honey Tree. Really REALLY “seasoned” comics from the NYC comedy scene in the late 1980’s will remember it as a weekend comedy club I ran with my good pal, comedian and comedy coach Chris Murphy that we renamed The Funny Tree. There are great stories about that place and the comedians that stopped by looking for stage time, but not as good as this one about Robin Williams…

One night I was working late. My girlfriend at the time called and said she was hanging around the New York Improv with Robin Williams. My response (and I thought this was very funny since I had borrowed it from a movie or TV show) was: “Yeah, right. Now tell me a western.”

In other words, I thought Robin Williams was too big of a star just to be “hanging around” with regular people. Turns out I was wrong…

About half an hour later the door to The Honey Tree opened and my girlfriend came walking in with Robin Williams.  Okay… sometimes westerns can be based on true stories.

We ended up hanging out for about an hour. Robin drank club soda and I drank a mix of club soda and Tab (that’s how long ago this was!). We had a fun (for me) and informative (especially for me) conversation about acting – not comedy! In fact, his first words were, “No jokes” – after I had already given him the “Orkan salute” (Mork fans know what I mean). We talked about his upcoming movie (wish I could remember which one), the reason why he was in NYC (I think it was the movie) and SAG – The Screen Actor’s Guild (I had just become a member).

We finally walked out to Third Avenue where he hailed a cab to go downtown. Again – there had been no jokes. Just good conversation.

Once he was settled in the back seat of the cab he rolled down the window. As New Yorkers know, the rear windows on taxis only come down about halfway. Next thing I knew he crammed his upper body through the open window and did his best “Robin Williams schtick”  – ranting, screaming, mugging, yelling, howling and laughing – as the cab took off down Third Avenue.

And you know what? It was like a private performance by Robin Williams. I’ll always have that memory.

He brought a lot of laughter to a lot of people – and I can’t think of a more important and valuable legacy. Everyone misses him already.

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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 ComedyComedy 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 2014 comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

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Comedy stylings by The Rolling Stones

August 5, 2014

Dave – I am still trying to find my “style” or whatever it’s called. I have a lot of single thoughts, but I just never used them because I’ve always felt compelled to do longer bits on a specific topic instead of one thing after another on unrelated topics. I don’t have the transitional material thing down. I listen to some comics and they can go from short topic to topic without it. I just don’t feel comfortable in that manner yet. When I leave one topic for another, I want to be sure the audience is along for the ride with me. Any help is greatly appreciated. – S.E.

Hey S.E. – I’m coming at this with some insider knowledge because I’ve seen you perform in my workshop. It’s obvious you already have a lot of comedy material and it’s a good mix between long and short bits. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, mixing things up might really be your “style.”

Ramones

Gaba Gaba Hey!

I’ve been fortunate to watch a lot of live comedy and many times I’ve compared a great comedy set to a rock concert. Like with any creative art, there are many styles. Some comics can blast an audience in the face for an hour – like The Ramones – or change tempos and take the audience on a bit of a roller coaster ride with some ups, downs, and unpredictable U-turns.

The example I use often relates to a Rolling Stones concert. They’ve been “The greatest rock’n roll band in the world” since Mick Jagger himself announced it at the beginning of their classic live album, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out back in 1969. Their concerts have been selling out for over five decades because they are excellent performers AND because their song choices and playing order take audiences on a ride.

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For instance, they may open with Start Me Up and Jumpin’ Jack Flash – then slow it down with Angie or Wild Horses. The songs are all still classic rock, but the slower ones give the audience a moment to catch their collective breath. Then they’ll kick it back up into high gear with Brown Sugar and Satisfaction.

article-2583097-1C615F5500000578-34_634x468

I can’t get no…!

The Rolling Stones take you on a musical ride with different tempos, rhythms and lyrics. A good comedy show can do the same with long bits, short bits or variety (think props, music – whatever!). Just substitute the word “material” for “lyrics.”

Does each song flow into the next one? Sometimes and sometimes not. Songs can be short and sweet like the original recordings, while others stretch out so Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood can have a smoke. I’ve also noticed there are a few more slower songs lately since Mick ain’t 25 years old anymore.

Okay, let’s take this back into the comedy world.

Bill Cosby is a great storyteller. Rodney Dangerfield basically had a set-up, middle and punch line for his jokes. They have/had their style – learned through many years of experience – and it worked for them. Does one or the other style ONLY work best for you? Since you have both long and short bits, I highly doubt it. But there’s no reason why you can’t mix it up.

As a comedian, you’re the writer and performer. Give your audience a Jumpin’ Jack Flash (short hard-hitting bit), and then throw in an Angie (longer storytelling), if you want to. No one says you can’t – and in the effort you’ll wind up finding your style.

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6a00d8341c500653ef01539082eda9970b

Not that kind of segue!!

As far as transitions – segues – some comedians need them and others don’t. It’s a personal choice and whatever makes you feel comfortable is what works for you. But either way, it’s how you deliver it (some prefer sell it) it to an audience. If they’re relating to you and laughing, then they’ll go with you if you want to take them in a totally different direction.

In other words, short bits and long bits can co-exist together. It all depends on your comedy voice – which is another term for style or who you are on stage. It may also include a transition or segue between every bit, some bits, or not at all. You’ll figure it out – your comedy voice – as you get more experience on stage.

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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 ComedyComedy 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 2014 comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

Contacting talent bookers

July 29, 2014

Hi Dave – Do you have any tips for contacting club bookers? When I was leaving a recent showcase, the bar manager said they would like to have me back. He gave me his card as well as the card for the person who books the room. I emailed the talent booker and she hasn’t responded. Should I call her if I don’t hear from her or should I try emailing again? I don’t want to be annoying, but if performing there again is an opportunity I would really love to do it again. Thanks! K.F.

Hey K.F. – That’s great news because you have an “in” – the bar manager. As I’ve mentioned in quite a few past FAQ’s and Answers a personal recommendation from someone who either works with or works for a talent booker is like having a Golden Ticket.

It beats the heck out of cold calling or blind emails (or snail mail). Now you just need to make the Golden Ticket work for you.

candyhanks

This guy’s funny!

The best scenario is for the bar manager to take you into the talent booker’s office and give a personal introduction. This of course would be followed by, “Put him on the schedule – he’s funny!”

But in this case you’re working off a recommendation – the (Golden) business card the bar manager gave you. It’s not a slam dunk, but you’re still in a better position than when you first walked in the club for your showcase.

You’ve already taken the first step by sending an email. But you haven’t heard back. So to put this into sports lingo – this means one thing:

Let the game begin!

Talent bookers for busy clubs are busy people. Their first priority is to book the shows. For showcase clubs in NYC and LA this could mean anywhere from 10 to 15 performers per night. This is also true for club showcase nights in many other cities like Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, etc…

But since you’ve already done a showcase, we won’t go that route. Let’s talk about actually getting booked in a club for a paying gig.

Now I have your attention – right?

the-marx-brothers-harpo-marx-chico-marx-groucho-marx-late-1930s

The Comedy Rule of Three

Okay, in addition to scheduling showcases the talent booker schedules the performers for the paid gigs. Most clubs, such as The Improv, Funny Bones, Comedy Zones, etc… use three acts:

  • Opener / MC
  • Feature / Middle Act
  • Headliner

Each week the booker schedules the three performance slots. That’s normally 52 weeks a year (most clubs stay open during holiday weeks and just close for the one day – for instance Thanksgiving, Christmas or Super Bowl). They have regular comics that can play the club a couple or few times a year, but they need to use a variety of performers so regular audience members will return and not see the same comedians over and over.

When you add it up – that’s 156 performance spots per year just for a 3-act club.

The club bookers not only have to deal with the talent needed for those spots, but in most cases with a headliner and sometimes with a feature, they’re also dealing with the comedian’s agent and manager. There are negotiations, contracts, travel arrangements, accommodations, publicity – and the always expected but unknown until it happens last minute emergencies. That could include a comic having to cancel at the last minute and another needs to be scheduled immediately, a missed flight, illness – and the list could go on and on.

But that’s only part of it…

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The booker is also fielding countless phone calls from newer performers that also want to play the club, and agents and managers who want their clients to play the club. On top of that there are TONS of emails and promotional packages to navigate through.

There also could be much more than only 156 performance spots they’re dealing with. They could be booking private parties, special events or other clubs. And if the booker is serious about the job, they have to deal with it all.

I won’t even get into the job duties that might include doing lunch, doing meetings or watching shows to see how the performers they’ve already booked are doing. My point is – from personal experience – there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that most performers don’t realize. Talent bookers can be busy people.

thepinkpanther2

The star search is on!

But one thing that keeps you as a new talent busy is that they’re always looking for new talent. If not – they’re not very good at what they do. Your goal is to be one of their new talents.

The key – as you’ve already mentioned – is not to be annoying.

I remember talking with comedians that were so frustrated because a certain talent booker never got back with them that they decided to call every day. Their thought process was that the booker would eventually have to deal with them.

I’ve got news for you. Talent bookers don’t have to deal with them or anyone they don’t want to. Imagine someone calling you every day for a job. It’s called being annoying – a pain in the butt – and why so many bookers screen their calls, have hold buttons on their phones, or hire receptionists as gate-keepers.

That method won’t work. That’s why you gotta play the game. You need to stay in touch and let them know you exist – but you can’t be annoying.

Here’s a game plan. And I know it can work because it worked on me when I was booking comedians in LA…

You’ve made the first phone call. I’m assuming you either reached the talent booker’s voice mail or receptionist.

  • Always leave a message with your name and phone number.
funny phone

Don’t hang up!

That bit of advice has been – and still is – debated by comedians and speakers I’ve worked with. Some only want to talk with a talent booker in person and won’t leave a message. To me that’s a wasted effort and phone call. The idea is to start building name recognition. You can’t do that by just hanging up.

  • Make it short and professional – get to the point:

*

“Hi Mr./ Ms. ______ My name is ______ and I showcased at (club name). Your bar manager (name) gave me your card and suggested I call you about a possible booking. I’m calling to find the best way to schedule an audition or send you a DVD or link to my website video. You can reach me at (your phone number) and my website is (website). Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.”

*

  • Then hang up.

Okay, put it into your own words. But that’s not a bad script. It succeeds in getting your name and contact info to the person you want to work for.

  • But don’t just wait. Take action – send a postcard.

Yeah, I know. Some performers think postcards are outdated. But are those performers working as much as they’d like to? If they are – then maybe they have enough contacts with talent bookers already. But I’ll tell’ya what. I’m not even booking anymore and I still get postcards.

  • Postcards have your photo, name and contact info.

Send one after your first call and it can add to your name recognition. Put a personal note on the back – “I hope you received my call, etc…”

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Wait a couple weeks and call again. You aren’t being annoying – but you also are not disappearing. It continues to put your name in front of the talent booker.

  • Mix it up a little. Instead of following that with a postcard, wait a week and send an email.  Again – be short and to the point. Include a link to your website.

If you still don’t hear back wait a couple weeks and call again. Then repeat the process until you do hear back or the talent booker answers the phone.  Either way they will have heard of you (name recognition). Then use your Golden Ticket (in this case the bar manager) or plead your case – for an audition or booking.

  • If this is a local club, go to a show (or two, or three). Say hello to the bar manager again and ask if you can meet the talent booker. If there’s another opportunity to showcase – sign up and get on stage.

Of course there are no guarantees. But it’s a better game plan than being annoying or disappearing just because a busy person doesn’t return your first phone call or email.

Give it a try. As mentioned, I’m sharing this method because it worked on me.

In fact, a few times I was almost embarrassed because the comedians stayed in touch – without being annoying – and I started thinking that they were thinking I wasn’t doing my job very well.

So when I realized after some well spread out phone messages, postcards and emails that they might be calling again soon, I looked at their promo videos. When they called it was almost like an “Ah-ha!” moment for me.

“YES!” I had watched their video!

Now, whether they got a paid booking, showcase or “no thanks” depended on their performance and experience. But at least they had built up name recognition and were given the opportunity – and that’s what this method is all about.

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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 ComedyComedy 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 2014 comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing

You’ll never work in this town again

July 22, 2014

Hi Dave – I’m fairly new to this newsletter, so I don’t know if you’ve addressed this topic but I think it could be a good one. How to prepare yourself in the event of a car breakdown and what to do when it does. I was driving home from a gig last night and it happened…at 2 AM…with not a town in sight. I drove the car onto an exit, not realizing it was a merge ramp for a state highway. Ended up following the ramp around and saw a 24 hour gas station in the distance. It just so happened that a couple cops pulled in a little later. I told them what was going on, they paged another cop who’s a grease monkey, and he fixed it up. I have no idea what I would have done otherwise! – J.N.

greasemonkey02_animalFC

Throw a monkey wrench into the works!

Hey J.N. – Nope, we haven’t talked about this topic, so thanks for asking. I don’t have any solutions about what to do in your particular automotive case, so I’m glad to hear you have a grease monkey for a fairy godfather. As long as you made it TO the gig, what happens AFTER is all potential comedy material.

But I will comment on the importance of getting TO gigs…

Unless you’re near death, someone near and dear to you is near death, or you have this important stipulation – “due to an act of God” – written into your contract (and you should!) you never miss a paid performance. What the heck – I’ll say it – you also don’t want to miss an un-paid performance if you’ve promised a booker, club owner or event organizer you’ll be there, they’re planning on having you perform, AND it has the potential of leading to paid performances.

It’s your career and it’s a job.

Make sure your car has gas and is tuned-up, the flight’s not over-booked (if so, arrive early so you’re not the passenger getting bumped) or have an updated public transportation schedule. Unless you can show a photo of you in a hospital or standing next to your totaled doublewide house trailer after a tornado, you’d better show up and be ready to perform. If not, don’t expect a second chance re-booking from the same person.

Case in point…

When I was the talent coordinator at The Los Angeles Improv, one of my favorite NYC comedians was flying out for a television audition. She’ll remain nameless because she’s quite famous and I consider her to be a true friend in this business and would never write anything to make you think less of her. She called me and I told her to come to The Improv on Melrose Avenue and I’ll get her a few sets. Then I mentioned this to a higher-up (also nameless because he’s still my personal comedy hero) and he said no way. He liked her, but she had stood him up a few years earlier by canceling a benefit performance at the last minute. And without a near death photo or evidence of a destroyed doublewide, she had committed the worse sin in the business. So instead of watching my friend on stage at The Melrose Improv, we met for lunch at a deli next to The Laugh Factory.

Being a no-show is worse than ignoring the light while on stage and going over your performance time. Remember that.

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In my experience, you don’t miss gigs – period. It’s a business and you need to treat it like a business. I’ll tell’ya right now, all talent bookers want to work with professionals. If you don’t handle your career like a professional – then don’t bother contacting professional talent bookers.

Another case in point. In fact, here are a couple…

A few years ago I was booking a club about an hour outside Cleveland. There was a girl who came through my comedy workshop who really had promise – decent material and good stage presence. She really just needed stage time to get better. I had given her a few MC gigs, she did well – and since this club was only running a two person show, it was a good chance for her to do a longer set.

So even though she didn’t have a lot of experience, I told the owner she would be great and we booked her for the paying gig. It wasn’t so great when he called me about 15 minutes after show was supposed to start and asked when she would arrive. I called the phone number I had for her – and never heard back. I worried that she was stuck on the highway, got lost or suffered a near death (or worse) experience.

The show went on with only one comedian, but I lost a chunk of my fee for booking it since half the talent never got there.

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The next day she called and said she had gotten my message. She couldn’t call back because she had taken a WAITRESS job and had to work the night of the show! No warning and no, “can you find someone else?” She just never showed up. BUT (if you can believe this) she then asked if I could re-schedule her for the gig when she had a day off.

That was the last time I spoke with her.

Another example? Okay… This one is about getting lost.

200288279-001I had a comedian I was representing in the college market. He had showcased through NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) and I scheduled him for a number of good paying gigs. One was a Friday night at a campus in Pennsylvania. Not long before the show was scheduled to start, this idiot called me to say he was hopelessly lost.

I would think – and maybe this is just me (I say sarcastically) but if I were supposed to drive to a good paying gig, a GPS, MapQuest printout, or even a road map would be a good business items to invest in. He told me he THOUGHT he knew ABOUT where the college was – so just headed in that direction hoping to see signs to help him find it.

He missed the show – and again, I missed a booking fee. Do you think I ever booked him again? Yeah, I’m laughing (sarcastically) that you would even consider that one…

So this week’s message is simple. Don’t miss a gig if you plan to work for that talent booker again in the future. And if you do, just hope he sees you on the television news explaining how the tornado interrupted your rendezvous with the aliens who’ve been visiting the trailer park – and who were supposed to give you a lift to your comedy gig. If you’re lucky, he might buy that excuse – or find it entertaining enough to give you a rare second chance.

————————————————–

An 8-week online course

Corp Program Square Banner 150

CLICK HERE for details and to register!

————————————————–

Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy 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 2014 comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2014 – North Shore Publishing


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