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.

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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.

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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

Comedy contests offer stage time

July 16, 2014

Hi Dave – I did a Tuesday Amateur Night and saw the club was hosting another round of their “Best Amateur Comedian” contest. I want to enter, but not sure I’m ready. What’s the deal with comedy contests overall? – L.P.

Hey L.P. – Here’s a big chunk of personal opinion. I like comedy contests in clubs for one simple reason – stage time. Otherwise I’m not a big fan. Winners are usually decided by audience applause and the person who packs in the most friends (voters) will win. I’ve seen this happen over and over and can’t remember ever seeing the funniest comedian (another chunk of personal opinion) actually win one of these contests. Whoever can coax in the most paying customers will be awarded, “Funniest Comedian.”

If I only had one more friend!

If I only had one more friend!

Doesn’t seem fair – does it?

Of course the club owners and management have no problem with this because they make money from paying customers. And you know what? I also have NO PROBLEM with that because it’s show BUSINESS and if the club doesn’t make money, then comedians have one less place to perform. That’s the business part that comedians and performers in general need to understand. So from that point of view – I’m a BIG fan of comedy contests.

But since you’re a comedian, let’s stick with the comedian’s point of view…

There are other ways to decide contest winners. Like on American Idol, there might be a panel of judges making the award-winning decision. That seems fairer than performing in front of a loaded audience, but then you need to impress the judges. Depending on what they personally enjoy (clean comedy, dirty comedy, etc…) this might compromise your comedy voice and material.

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This is also true if you have to play by their rules. For instance, I’ve seen comedians disqualified from contests because they accidently dropped the F-Bomb (against the rules) or went 10 seconds over their allotted time – even though the only reason  they couldn’t get through their set in the allotted time was because of audience applause and laugh breaks. But again, you need to follow the contest rules and if you don’t – then you just blew it in front of the judges.

Again – doesn’t seem fair, does it? The losers will tell you that, while the winners will add the award to their resumes.

1295028566-big-deal-logoHere’s the real scoop about comedy contests. A BIG name, BIG time comedy contest is a BIG deal and will open up BIG opportunities for the BIG winners.

Think BIG – like Last Comic Standing or contests associated with a major city or festival like Montreal, Boston, New York, Las Vegas or San Francisco. Win one of those and you not only will be seen by many important entertainment industry  movers and shakers, but you could even wind up with your own sitcom. No BS – I’ve seen it happen.

Of course there are always two sides to everything. Some of the best comedians I’ve worked with and respect the most never won a local comedy contest. And you know what? I don’t think any of them really care. They were simply dedicated to being good comedians and losing a contest never stopped them from working toward their goal. They also would never have considered changing who they are on stage and instead develop material that the judges would approve of next time. That’s not why they got into the biz in the first place.

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I’ll also make an assumption and say that during the early days of their careers they MIGHT have entered a local contest or two. But I’m sure they only did it for the same reason I’ll tell you to do it – STAGE TIME. I remember a few comics at the NYC Improv going to other clubs for contests and not even staying to see who won. That wasn’t important – getting on stage was.

tumblr_n7opk9sbkw1sh1435o1_500Any time you have an opportunity to get on stage and work on your act, grab it and use it to your advantage. As you should know, improving as a comedian (humorous speaker or performer in general) can only happen through performing experience. And you know what comedy contests offer? STAGE TIME.

Yeah, they may also offer cash prizes and more stage time – so of course you want to win to reap those benefits. But if you don’t, there’s no reason to sweat it or feel bad.

By the way, that’s why I’m not a big fan of comedy contests. Not everyone starts out in the business with a thick skin. That has to be developed if you ever plan to be serious about a comedy career. Newer comedians might put too much weight behind a comedy contest and feel if they don’t win, they’re not talented. No – it just means you didn’t bring enough friends, didn’t cater to the judge’s sense of humor, or haven’t had enough stage experience, (there are no short cuts – sorry!).

But you still win – you get stage time. So contests are good for that reason.

If you win the contest – that’s great! I hope it leads to more stage time. But if you don’t…

Like I mentioned, a lot of top comedians have never won a contest and never lost any sleep over it. They took advantage of the stage time and used it to become better comedians.

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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 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

Promotional video length for club, corporate and college gigs

July 8, 2014

Hey Dave – I’m real serious about doing stand-up comedy and I wanted some info on making my audition tape. How long should it be? Are bookers looking for something specific? If u can help me out please write back – B.T. / The Future of Comedy

Back To The Future!

Back To The Future!

Hey B.T. – The future of comedy relies a lot on the past. A dynamic, attention-grabbing and (most of all) FUNNY audition tape. BUT we don’t want to live TOO much in the past, so let’s start talking about this in terms of online videos and DVDs.

I don’t know anyone that’s using “tape” anymore…

Actually, that’s – just a technicality. But I want to make sure we’re using same terms and are on the same page… uh, “screen” here in 2014.

When I talk about relying on the past, I’m talking about how long your video should be. That hasn’t changed since I wrote How To Be A Working Comic and quoted comedian Bobby Collins, who was talking about video “tape” at that time. It should be 3 to 7 minutes long, with 7 minutes being probably the most common. That gives talent bookers a “taste” (Bobby’s term in the book) of what you do on stage.

Keep it moving!

Keep it moving!

Most talent bookers are pretty busy. You wouldn’t believe how many videos they’re asked to view every day. Since there are only so many minutes in a day – they can’t sit around and watch an hour, half hour or even 20 minutes of performance footage from each comedian. That’s why most only watch the beginning or hit the fast forward button and stop at random places.

When I booked the TV show A&E’s An Evening At The Improv, I would watch anywhere from 20 to 30 videos at one sitting.

No lie.

I couldn’t take (because of time – not interest) more than 5 minutes with each one. So the comedian had to come on strong from the beginning and prove they were already a working comic. If not, then I’d stop the video and move on to the next one.

Another thing I’ve always said is that a good talent booker will know 30 seconds into a comedian’s act if he wants to hire that comedian or not. Experience and talent shows (or should) right from the beginning of the set. You can try to fake it, but people in the biz can usually tell right away.

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Now, if they watch 3 to 7 minutes and are interested but not sold on hiring, they can contact the comedian and request more. That’s when you can send something longer (usually 15 to 20 minutes).

I once worked with a club booker that (seriously) said he wanted to see a full one hour video before he would hire an act. I thought that was a bit extreme, but if that’s the way he does business, well… it’s his club and it’s his time. I never met another booker who had that much time to watch videos.

It also depends what market you want to get into.

I’m talking mainly about clubs and television with the above advice. If you want to work in the corporate market as a comedian or as a humorous speaker, your video will be much different. That should be a production – rather than just an example of your live performance.

This means corporate videos can be edited showing not only segments of your act, but also audience comments, your credits scrolling across the screen – or any other techniques that make the comedian or speaker look professional and in demand.

Again, short and dynamic is best. The corporate videos I’ve been sent or have edited for myself and others are always five to seven minutes in length.

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The college market also plays out differently. When you’re involved in NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) and APCA (Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities) the college booking organizations I talk about in the book Comedy FAQs And Answers, they only want 3 minute videos. BUT the catch is if the college students like that 3 minutes and want to see more, you should have at least two additional 3 minute segments on the DVD so they can continue to watch until they:

  1. Give you a live showcase (explained in the book).
  2. Keep you in mind as a maybe.
  3. Move on to the next comedian.

And finally, what’s different now than in the days of using video “tape” is the method of delivery. Everyone now can watch online videos or will request DVDs.

I always thought it was funny that the last holdout for video tapes was the college market. Believe it or not you would think they’d be the most progressive, but they seemed to hold onto the older techno techniques long after the clubs and corporate bookers were requesting only DVDs.

On the cutting edge of technology

On the cutting edge
of technology

There was also an agent I used to work with who long after everyone else had made the switch, still insisted he only wanted video tapes. I don’t work with him anymore. If an agent can’t stay up on how the business is done today, then I doubt he will be doing much business. I heard through the grapevine that he finally has an email address, so maybe he’s been reading this newsletter and finally getting it

In 2014, everyone in the business has the technology to watch promotional video online. If not, then they’re in the wrong business.

YouTube is still the most popular, but I know there are also other sites that can allow bookers to watch your video immediately. The key is to have it available to them either embedded on your website or linked to YouTube.

* Last bit of advice about this.

I recently talked to a booker who said he expects comedians to have a website. It’s more professional. He told me he won’t even go on Facebook or other social media sites to watch. If the comedian doesn’t have a website, then he feels that comedian is not professional enough to work in that club.

I’m just passing that thought along because I know you’re interested…

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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 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

Going for the perfect performance

June 30, 2014

Dave – I’m working to get the whole stage fright thing out of my system. (My first time on stage) I was so nervous because I didn’t know the material that well. The problem my friends and I noticed is I am too much of a perfectionist. I understand things won’t be perfect but for some reason I feel the need to make it perfect. – T.D.

Hey T.D. – A lot of comedians and speakers are perfectionists. They struggle over finding the right word or phrases. For instance in the comedy world, they always want to know what word is funnier than another.

Banana Suit

Bananarama

Example: Cucumber or banana. This debate will go on forever…

That’s why they continue to write and test out material (words and phrases) during live performances. They record their sets and listen to audience reaction. When an audience laughs – it works. If they don’t laugh – then the comic needs to edit or rewrite the material and repeat the process until it does work. If it still doesn’t get a laugh from the audience, then the comic needs to discard that bit and write something else.

Of course there’s more to it than just that simple explanation.

Stage experience, your comedy voice, delivery, timing and the make-up of the audience will also determine what works and what doesn’t during any performance. But even when everything is working in your favor, will it ever be perfect?

In a creative artist’s mind – probably not.

You might debate this, but I believe that creative artists always think they can do better. It’s a creative person’s curse. It’s also what drives them to constantly do better work. The goal is perfection, but it’s like trying to find a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It’s a never ending journey to a place impossible to reach.

Let’s put this into musical terms, as I tend to do when coaching comedians and speakers. And since I’m a “classic rocker,” stick with me while I use a classic example from the mid 1960s…

Staying cool in the recording studio

Staying cool in the
recording studio

Sited as one of the greatest songs by The Beatles is A Day In The Life. It closed the legendary album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album and is a true John Lennon & Paul McCartney composition. That duo is also often sited as being the top composers of the decade.

So put it all together – and it’s the perfect song. Correct?

Well, it could have been better. Listen closely as the final chord fades out. Someone forgot to turn off the air conditioner in the recording studio and it’s heard in the background.

Perfect? Close, but not quite.

Comedians can walk off stage after an exceptional performance and say they “killed,” which is the comic’s term for having a great show. But I sincerely doubt many would say they could never do better. They could watch a video of their set and probably have no problem finding a gesture or a facial expression – or a line or phrase or whatever – that might have been done differently and gotten a better audience response.

It’s the creative curse. There’s always room for improvement.

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So my point is not to worry about being perfect. Just do your best. Film and television actors – and musicians in a recording studio – get to do multiple takes and use editing in an effort to make the end result perfect. But just like with A Day In The Life, a creative artist will probably think they could have made it better.

In fact, the imperfect result could even be better than you’d planned. And in case you haven’t caught on, this is another excuse for me to share a great story…

A number of years ago in one of my comedy workshops at The Improv, an aspiring comic wanted to be “perfect” – his exact word. (And if T.S. is reading this – yeah, I’m talking about you!). He wrote and memorized his set word for word and went on stage prepared to deliver it that way.

Perfectionist

Perfectionist

He was doing an okay job of it, but a few minutes into his set he forgot his material. He suddenly yelled, “Oh ****!” and THREW himself against the (fake) brick wall, fell over a stool and landed on the stage.

It was pure frustration and the funniest thing we had seen in that workshop. We all cracked up in laughter. It was a GREAT comedy performance!

We all tried to convince him that he had found his performing style. It was honest and real. It was comedy and funny. But he didn’t believe us. It was not his idea of the perfect set and he would never allow himself to do that in front of an audience – even though it happened during every one of our workshop sessions.

The night of our show at The Improv, I talked with each workshop member and reassured them they would have a good set. No worries. But when I got to T.S. – I told him that I hoped he would screw up and forget his material. He looked at me like I was nuts – “Are you serious?” He said there was no way. He had been practicing for days and would do the perfect set.

Do I need to continue with this? Okay…

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He went on stage – got a few minutes into his set and WHAM!!!! He forgot what he was going to say next.

He threw himself against the wall, over the bar stool and hit the floor in frustration. It was the highlight of our show and he earned the biggest laughs of the night. I thought it was perfect. He had a great time, but thought he could do better next time…

The bottom line is to be creative and have fun. Every opportunity you have on stage or on the speaker’s platform is an opportunity to grow as an artist. You want to experiment and take chances. Creative people need change, which is why comedians write new jokes and speakers spin off their messages into different programs for different audiences.

You can try to be perfect on stage, but don’t sweat it when you’re not – because nobody is. The idea is to be even better next time.

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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 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

Experienced advice on getting hired as a comedy writer

June 23, 2014

With last week’s FAQ and Answer about getting hired as a comedy writer I asked if anyone had further advice to please share it with us. My not-so-subtle request reached one of my favorite writers in the comedy biz and I’m happy to pass along his words of experienced wisdom.

Sleeping with your GynecologistMarc Jaffe is a stand-up comedian with numerous TV appearances, author (Sleeping With Your Gynecologist), playwright (Side Effects May Include…), producer/writer (Bonk – the live game show), and with his wife Karen started Shaking with Laughter, an organization that helps support The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. Marc is also known to many of us as a writer for the legendary TV show Seinfeld.

So for some very worthwhile – and again, experienced – advice on writing for other comics, here’s Marc Jaffe…

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Dave,

Re: How to write for others. Good advice given. For what it’s worth here are a few things I would add.

Tremendously important to have the voice of the person you are writing for as you said, but I would point out that often you’ll have a better chance of getting the comedian’s voice if you like their act, so go after people who make you laugh, not just any hot comedian.

Paul_Reiser

Paul Reiser

The best time to get an opening if you haven’t been a hangout pal is when the comedian you want to write for is busy or in transition and are taking the next step. I approached Paul Reiser just as he was getting hot and was doing Tonight Shows and Letterman regularly. He wasn’t doing sets on those shows, he was already a name movie star, but he was a regular guest and didn’t have enough material to “waste” on panel on those shows. So he was happy to have someone work on new things for TV that wouldn’t eat up his club act.

Seinfeld needed someone because he got a TV show and I think he felt this was something new for him and he needed to find someone other than a friend to help him.

So, much like comedy, timing is everything. Timing and being funny and prolific. If you do stand-up, you know the percentage of stuff you write that actually works and stays in your act is minor – 10% would be great. You have to churn out a lot of stuff because that percentage will probably hold when you write for others.

Be honest with yourself as a comedian too. I always knew I was a much better writer than performer. If your act is working because you are a great performer who can get away with mediocre writing, don’t try to write for others. When I got the opportunity to write for top name guys, it was phenomenal because suddenly 20% of the stuff I was writing worked. That was because the people I was writing for could always make what I wrote better. They also had a higher standard than I had so that even though 20% worked, it was back down to 10% that made it, because it had to be killer.

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Be ready before you seek out an opportunity. If you are good for that first guy, they will recommend you. Reiser recommended me to Seinfeld and then I got other jobs because Jerry’s management was happy with my work for Jerry and they had a roster of other great comedians that needed help at various times.

Also, one of the great things about being a writer is that you can just call yourself a writer. Go to the clubs and give comics a line or two after their show. If they like them, tell them you are a writer, and you’d be happy to submit some stuff to them if they need material.

seinfeldYou never know who has something going on and is in need of some quality help. Reiser did a guest set at a club I was at in Pittsburgh and I asked him afterwards if he needed any help on anything and he had a Letterman coming up that he was too busy to work on. I got the Seinfeld gig because I went up to Jerry after a show and asked if I could submit some stuff right at the time he was looking for someone on staff for his just picked up sitcom.

I gave him some great pages and he loved them. And got a good word from Reiser, but if I hadn’t approached Jerry, I would have never gotten the job.

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Thanks Marc. This is not only great advice, but also experienced advice. I’m sure everyone appreciates you sharing this. Now go get a real job… HA!! Okay, okay… I know… that just proves I won’t be writing comedy material for anyone in the near future.

Shaking with Laughter 200

One last thing – I want everyone to check out the website for Shaking with Laughter at this LINK. You’ll be one of the first to know about a MAJOR fundraising comedy show starring a MAJOR stand-up comedian at Cleveland’s Palace Theater on September 27th. Believe me, you won’t want to miss this show!!

Thanks again Marc and as always… Keep laughing!

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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 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

 

Getting hired as a comedy writer

June 16, 2014
As I was saying...

As I was saying…

Last week’s FAQ ended with a promise for Part 2 – since the original question was not only about hiring a comedy writer, but also about being hired as a comedy writer. To repeat…

“I am a writer and I’d have to admit demand for my services has crashed in recent years. Although I’m writing for a major TV ventriloquist and for an instantly recognizable female comic, I’d struggle if I had to make a living.” – CA

That’s where we had left off and where I planned to pick up this week. But in the meantime I received another email from CA that makes the direction I want to go with this a little clearer…

*

Hi Dave – Thank you for taking the time to reply to the question I asked. In fact, I was suggesting it as a topic for the newsletter because it’s a question I’ve been asked before. However, your answer was full of insight I didn’t have.

I didn’t think about comics writing for comics, for instance – and the drawbacks that entails. I’ve heard comics say they couldn’t write for certain comedians because they couldn’t get the style. But that didn’t bother me. My feeling was if the gag was good enough he’d find his own way in. Of course I learned how to adapt my material for style, but mainly I just wrote the best gag there was. – CA

*

CA’s email went on longer – and the good news is that he scheduled a meeting with an agent to write for two of his clients. But his key word for us today is style. And if you want to get hired as a comedy writer, you need to write for that comedian’s style – or to use my favorite term, comedy voice.

* But before I go off on my thoughts about the topic, I’m asking for your help and advice….

How did you do that?

How did you do that?

I’ve worked with comedians that have used writers – and I’ve worked with writers who wrote for other comedians. I’ve talked with them and know how they got into the position of being hired as comedy writers – and I’ll share what I’ve seen and learned. But if you have any insider experience or advice that you’d like to share – I hope you’ll email it to me (dave@thecomedybook.com) or leave a comment at the end of this article so I can share with our readers.

I know we’d all like to hear about your success – and how you did it. Thanks!

But in the meantime…

The comedy writers I knew in New York and Los Angeles seemed to get the jobs because they knew the comedians. And I don’t mean just as friends – but also knew their comedy style (comedy voice). They had come up through the open-mic circuit together, or had performed with them so often they knew first hand how to craft a joke for that particular comedian.

Oh yeah – and a lot of times they knew that comic as a friend. Comics hang around together. That’s no secret. That’s what happens in just about every career – you hang around with people you like and who have the same interests. It’s human nature.

If a comedian looking for a writer already knows you and your skill as a writer – and knows you can write for his style – you have a good shot at being hired. Again, it’s like any other career where a friend recommends you for a job.

Here’s an example…

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When I was talent coordinator at the Los Angeles Improv, Johnny Carson retired from The Tonight Show and Jay Leno took over as host. Johnny’s writers left with him – and Jay filled the staff with writers who knew him. They were mostly friends (from what I remember) who had shared comedy club stages with him for years. In fact they knew him so well that they knew how to write Jay Leno style jokes.

It made a lot of sense to hire them rather than spending time sorting through countless submissions from comedy writers who might – or might not – know how to write material for Jay to deliver.

Another example…

When I was managing the The Original Improv in New York, Jerry Seinfeld was the top comic in the city. Hands down – no arguments. The comics who had come up with him through the open-mic scene and into the major clubs were some of his best friends. One was Larry David – and together they created the legendary sitcom Seinfeld.

Larry wrote almost all the scripts from the beginning. I want to skip the word “almost” in that sentence, but I don’t know for sure. Anyway, they had a tight group of comedian friends in NYC and shared a lot of laughs. I always said the best shows were not always on The Improv stage, but at The Improv bar where everyone would hang out before and after their sets.

If you watch the credits at the end of the later episodes of Seinfeld, you’ll see a who’s who list of stand-up comics from this group. Why? Because when it came time for new ideas and laughs, they went with writers who already knew what would work for Jerry and the show.

I could give similar examples for Everybody Loves Raymond and The Drew Carey Show, just to mention two more of my personal favorites.

Just do it!

Just do it!

My advice is to be involved with the comedy scene. If you want someone to know you’re a funny writer - get on stage and prove it. Get to know the other comics and let them know you. A lot of this business is networking and it’s much easier to have a personal connection, rather than sending out blind submissions and hope someone actually takes the time to read them.

BUT as I said earlier – there’s soooo much more to this that experienced writers could tell us. There are talent agents and managers who work specifically with writers. Again from my experience, I believe most of these writers are discovered by proving their talent on stage.

They are seen because they are part of the scene.

Do you know another way to get hired as a comedy writer? Let us know…

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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 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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