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.
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.
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.
Dave’s next comedy workshop at The Chicago Improv
Starts Saturday – August 23, 2014
Includes an evening performance at The Improv
Visit WEBSITE for details, reviews and to register now!
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.
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.
Receive 20% off at Amazon.com for How To Be A Working Comic
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.
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.
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 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
An 8-week online course
CLICK HERE for details and to register!