Say something funny on demand

April 20, 2015

Hi Dave – I want to ask you if you had any advice for when you tell someone you’re a comedian and the first thing they say is “tell me a joke” or “say something funny.” I think it’s a little rude of them. Also since my sense of humor is about storytelling, they seem really disappointed that I just don’t tell them a joke. Is there anything polite I can say when people say things like that to me? Thanks – K

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Everybody join in!

Hey K – First of all, thanks for driving this week’s FAQ into Audience Participation Land. I’ll have something to say about this (as usual) below, but the best answers will come from working or aspiring comics who’ve had to deal with this.

So…?

This is where I’m throwing it out to everyone reading this. Have YOU been asked, “Tell me a joke” or “Say something funny” after someone found out you’re a comedian or humorous speaker?

* There’s a comment form at the end of this article.

Let’s hear what you’ll say when someone asks you, “Tell me a joke.”

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“And what do you do for a living?”

As anyone who has been around the entertainment industry will tell you, this is not a new question or dilemma. It’s been a potential headache for performers whenever word gets out about what they do for a living.

An example of dealing with this from a Hollywood point of view is a classic scene in the film Loving You with Elvis Presley (humor me, I’m a classic rocker). A local greaser bullies him to sing a song. When he finishes, Elvis (“Sideburns”) asks what this guy does for a living – and tells him to return the favor, “Cuz I usually get paid for singing.”

You can see how it turns out at this YouTube LINK. Fast forward to about 1:30 into the clip – then duck & cover.

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Tell me a joke” has also been the topic of more than a few comedy rants for probably longer than any of us has been around. I can’t remember who was on stage the first time I realized comedians dealt with this on a regular basis, but I’m pretty sure it was at the NYC Improv. And as a cheesy lounge singer in a cheesy lounge might introduce the bit:

It went a little something like this…

Comedian: So this guy says, “If you’re a comedian, then tell me a joke.” So I tell him a joke. Then I ask what he does. He says he’s a chef. So I say, “Okay, now you show me what you do. Make me dinner.”

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“This is sooo embarrassing!”

In an Elvis movie, that would lead to a fight. In a fantasy movie, it could lead to the guy actually fixing the comic’s dinner. In real life – the guy asking the question would probably think the comic was trying to be funny and laugh it off (with a bit of deserved embarrassment, I hope).

You can also say you get paid for your work. Making audiences laugh is your job and you don’t work for free. If they want to cough up the bucks, you’ll tell them a joke.

My way of thinking – and this is probably from hanging around too many comedians for too many years – would lean toward the insult comic response. I can crack up just thinking of how Lisa Lampanelli, Bobby Slayton or Don Rickles would answer such a question.

I’d take a seat and enjoy the free show.

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But you mentioned being polite about it. That’s also clear when you said that you tell stories and your style of comedy – storytelling, rather than jokes – may disappoint them. So in your case… uh… well, I guess you should be polite.

I wouldn’t exactly want a seat to enjoy that type of free show, but since you’ve asked…

Thank them for their interest in your career and change the direction of the conversation. Most people like to talk about themselves, so go ahead and put the focus on them. Find out what they’re interested in and what line of work they’re in. And… uh… well, then (sorry for this, but I can’t help myself)…

Ask them to do it for you – FOR FREE!

You’re a chef? Then make me a burger.

Have a better comeback? The form is below…

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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 2015 – North Shore Publishing

Comeback? Use this form…

Where’s the best place to get started?

April 6, 2015

Hi Dave – Where do you think is the best place to get started as a comedian? I know that every comedian wants to move to New York, but I’m about to move to Los Angeles in a little while and wanted to ask if that was a good place to at least start experiencing stand-up on a higher level. Sincerely – J.H.

Hey J.H. – It seems this question is asked in every one of my workshops. I have an answer that I’ll share with you in a moment, but I’m sure there will be comics in New York and Los Angeles – and in between – that will argue with me. Then again, I know there will also be many who agree.

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I’m somewhere in between

First of all I’ve worked in all three places – New York, Los Angeles and in between – as a comedy talent booker. I’ve also interviewed a lot of working comedians and written books about the business. That doesn’t mean I know the definitive answer to your question, but I can share observations, experiences and opinions.

So with that being said, let’s start with observations

New York and Los Angeles are the main focuses of the comedy biz as far as television and films are concerned. These are the entertainment media capitals of the world. That’s a no-brainer when you look at where the major networks, film studios, production companies, talent agencies and managers are located. If your aspirations are to be BIG in this business, you’ll eventually wind up working in these cities.

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Every BIG comedian already knows that. It’s where they work and where they live – until they get so BIG they can afford to live someplace else and only go there for work in films and television.

But these comics also need stage time to work on new material. And they still do this at their local clubs. It may make the morning headlines if Jerry Seinfeld surprised an audience by walking on stage in any other city, but in New York and Los Angeles it’s just another night at the comedy club.

From experience, I’ve seen it. During my time at the LA Improv Seinfeld and Jay Leno (to mention only two) were regulars. They could walk in unannounced at any time and would immediately be asked to go on stage. My line to them was always, “Would you like to say hello to the audience?” Of course they would because they were always writing and working on new material.

And that, by the way, is great advice for any comedian regardless of where you are in your career. Continue writing and performing – the best ones always do.

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One BIG love fest!

The “star” comedians who were offered stage time the moment they walked into the club had worked hard for that recognition. They deserved it and I’m sure, appreciate it. The audience always loves it and the club owners love it, and management and staff love it since their appearances are great for business.

All were winners – right?

Wrong.

The lesser known comedians that might originally have had those performance slots were either pushed back until later or cancelled for another night. And there was never any guarantee it wouldn’t happen again.

So another option…

There were always a lot of open-mic during my time in both cities. But the best ones were always crowded – and I’m not talking about audiences. A comic might sign up for an open-mic at 6 pm and not get on stage until 4 am. I know because I saw it happen all the time. But if you were a night owl and fortified with patience, at least you could get in five minutes of stage experience in front of a few night owls fortified with alcohol before last call.

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The complaint I hear a lot is that most open-mics in New York and Los Angeles are bringer shows. Comedians are required to bring in paying customers – sometimes as many as ten or more – before they can go on stage. If you’re just moving to either city, do you know ten people who will pay to see you? Every night?

So it’s tough to get stage time if you’re just starting out. Not impossible, just tough.

Another obstacle is the main reason why you’d want to perform in New York or Los Angeles. Comedians want to be seen by the industry people who can help guide them to BIG careers. But are you ready to be seen? If not, then you might want to wait.

I know I’ve used this example before, but it’s a good one worth repeating. So here’s the experience part of this answer…

A New York comedian who also happens to be a very good friend, had GREAT sets the very first two times he ever went on stage at an open-mic. This rare experience convinced him that he was ready to be seen and BIG. He scored a lottery number at a MAJOR comedy club in the city and his third performance EVER was a BIG audition. He bombed BIG TIME and this first impression came back to haunt him.

Years later I saw him killing regularly at open-mics. I was working with a very successful talent booker and recommended my friend for a showcase. The booker turned me down saying she had seen the comic before at that MAJOR comedy club during his audition and was awful. There was no need to see him again when there were so many other comedians he hadn’t seen.

She was remembering him from years before!

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Keeping a low profile

In some cases first impressions count BIG TIME and can last a LONG time. The comic would’ve been better off keeping a low profile at the beginning of his career, until he had more experience and was truly ready to be seen.

I don’t know where you’re located, but my opinion (you knew it was coming – right?) would be to check out your local comedy scene before making a career move to New York or Los Angeles. Do your bombing (and everyone does when starting) under the radar. Eventually, you’ll know when you’re ready to be seen.

Plus the comedy world is actually pretty small. Good comics know who the other good comics are. And the word spreads – which is networking (the best PR tool).

Los Angeles producer and talent manager Dave Rath said in my first book How To Be A Working Comic, the goal is to be the best comedian in your city. It doesn’t matter where it is because eventually they’ll hear about you. They always do. Other comics will talk about you and even recommend club bookers, agents and managers take a look at you.

In past articles I’ve called that your Golden Ticket. It’s a personal recommendation from a respected source. People in the entertainment industry that work with talent are always looking for new faces. That’s how they stay current, grow their businesses and make money.

But I won’t fool you into thinking they’ll regularly travel to your city just because they’ve heard you’re funny. You should consider visiting New York or Los Angeles to get a feel for the comedy scene. Hang out in the best clubs and watch the shows. Try to get onstage at open-mics and showcase clubs (pay admission for ten people to be your required audience members if you have to!) and see how you do compared with the other comics. If you’re confident in your material and experience – and audience response, then you might consider making the move to one or the other.

So the answer? You can start out and become a great comedian in New York and Los Angeles. Lots of BIG comics have. But before packing up and moving, work in the comedy scene where you are now. Get stage experience and get REALLY good (REALLY funny!). After all, that’s what the talent people in New York and Los Angeles are looking for – comics that are ready to be seen and ready to work.

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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 2015 – North Shore Publishing

Using a stage name – can you live with it?

March 31, 2015

Hello Dave – I am very proud of my name, but for as long as I can remember people have never been able to say it. I’m starting to wonder if I should go with a stage name. Even if you are against them, how do you go about using a stage name? How do you manage introducing yourself and, in the future, how do you handle payment when you go by a stage name? Thanks – K

Hey K. – The question you need to ask about using a stage name is if you can live with it. And if you happen to become successful – can you live with it for a looong time?

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It might be cool now, but what if you get tired of it later? If you’re just starting your career and still learning who you are on stage, what if that name doesn’t fit anymore? For an extreme example, using the name Dopey Joe might get some laughs at an open-mic, but somehow I don’t see it enhancing the career of a corporate comedian.

I could be wrong, which is not unheard of. Then again, it’s something to think about.

Let’s put it another way. If you’re just starting out in your career, you might be wearing jeans and a t-shirt on stage. But as you progress, maybe you grow into wearing a suit and tie. I’ve seen it happen. But if all your promo material (photos and videos) shows you in jeans – then you’ll have to update everything. But one thing that is more difficult to change is name recognition. If all your contacts and clients know you by name, then changing your name means you need to introduce yourself all over again. It’s like starting from scratch.

Carrot+Top+Michael+Jackson+ONE+Cirque+du+Soleil+eCz3-ETWC1Gl

Scott Thompson

So if you’re considering a stage name, be sure you can live with it for a looong time.

This topic has come up in my books How To Be A Working Comic and Comedy FAQs And Answers. In the first one, Scott Thompson told me there was already a comic actor with that name. Since Scott was a marketing major in college, he was educated enough to know he needed something that was different and “marketable.”

So he went with Carrot Top.

To quote him from the book:

The first time someone across campus yelled, ‘Hey, Carrot Top!’ I thought, ‘Oh Lord, do I really wanna do this to myself?’ But now it’s second nature.

Earthquake

Nathaniel Stroman

The second book example comes from the comedian Earthquake:

Earthquake was a childhood name. My real name is Nathaniel Stroman. And when you play for an urban audience, it just don’t roll off the tongue. You know, ‘Give it up for Nathaniel Stroman!’ ‘Boo, *#@#*! Boo!!’ That’s right off your name! So I had to get something that would give me a fighting chance.

A stage name is totally a personal decision. If you already have a nickname or come up with something memorable, give it a shot. But keep in mind if you start finding success under that name, it’s very tough to change. Just ask John Cougar

…uh, I mean John Mellencamp.

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Introducing yourself is another matter. You can choose to have an entertainment persona and a personal life. There are some very famous celebrities who do just that. The former drummer of The Beatles is known throughout the world as Ringo Starr. But his family and friends call him “Ritchie” since his real (and legal) name is Richard Starkey. To the best of my knowledge, his appearances, promotions and autographs are by “Ringo Starr” and for contracts and payments it’s for “Richard Starkey.”

So in your comedy career, you should promote yourself as your stage name and handle all business as your legal name. When it comes to your personal life, do what you wish.

how-to-change-name-legally-in-indiaIn the comedy biz I’ve seen more stage names than you might think. And usually I’ve had no idea the performer was using a stage name until their real name was on a contract.

So if you don’t change your name legally, you’ll eventually end up using both. It can be confusing sometimes, but for promotional purposes everything is done using your stage name. For legalities it’s your real name.

BUT before I go into this more, it’s important for me to make it clear I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. I’m just passing it along based on my past experiences. So before you even think about following the following, make a smart move and talk with a real lawyer….

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Years ago when I was managing comedians and speakers, I asked a lawyer and a banker about performers using a stage name. I thought they would be the two most important people to ask if the talent wanted to get paid – and pay me a commission.

The advice was to have a bank account in your legal (real) name. If a talent booker writes you a check using your stage name, you sign the back with your stage name. Then underneath, you sign your real name.

It’s a double endorsed check, which is legal and can be deposited in your legal name bank account.

But if you’re looking at direct bank deposits (rare in the performing biz since most bookers and event planners pay with checks, cash or through an online service like PayPal), then you’ll have to use your stage name for all appearances and promotions, and your legal name on all contracts and other business paperwork.

Using two names has been done a lot before and will continue. You just need to be very clear about everything for contracts, tax forms, and all the other important legal stuff.

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“Say my name.”

Many performers have chosen not to change their hard-to-pronounce names, have become famous, and people learn to say their names correctly because they hear it so often. Arnold Schwarzenegger is an example. I saw him interviewed on television once and he said his goal was to become so famous that Americans would have to learn how to pronounce it.

At first his mispronounced name was a punch line for every late night television and radio host. But eventually, everyone knew it and could say it. Guess his plan worked – all the way to blockbuster movies and the California Governor’s Mansion.

Another consideration for a name change should include any future showbiz career goals. If you ever get into acting or voiceovers, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors (AFTRA) – merged since 2012 as “SAG-AFTRA” – only allow ONE name in their membership. So if you choose something simple like “Dopey Joe” and someone else is already registered by that name in the union, you’ll have to pick something else.

That’s true also if you’re using your legal name.

John_cougar-jack_diane_sSo my advice is to make the change only if you think it’s really necessary and will further your career. But be sure you can live with it.

The only one I can think of who “took it back” after he became famous was John Cougar…

img_7…uh, I mean John Mellencamp.

More advice?

My last name has been mispronounced every way possible. So when I have a speaking gig, I give the person introducing me a printed introduction (in a larger font than what you’re reading here).

On it I have my name spelled out phonetically as “Sch-wen-sen.” That way they can usually say it correctly. Since you mentioned being very proud of your name, I would suggest trying that for a while before making the huge commitment of changing it.

If you still decide to go with a stage name, keep in mind there’s already a Carrot Top and Earthquake in the acting unions. You’ll have to come up with something original and one you can live with – maybe forever.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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How tacky is your sales pitch?

March 17, 2015

Hey Dave – One of the guys I work with was telling me how he does these after hours networking things where people (mostly young adults) from all different businesses hand out business cards to each other, and get to know each other and see if they can make a bridge to possibly do business in the future. He told me they have entertainers there (mostly DJ’s). I want to go to this thing when I get my DVD, and try to plan for booking Christmas parties and other parties these places might have. Any advice on what you would be looking for if someone came to you looking to get booked for your company/event? Would it be tacky to carry around my promo stuff like my bio and resume with me? Or should I offer to send that to them at a later date? – DB

Annoying salesman

“But seriously, these are some funny jokes!”

Hey DB – Why am I having a hard time thinking of anyone in this crazy business who isn’t tacky at least once in awhile? You can put on a suit and be a complete professional to represent yourself, but sometimes you need to have a little “edge” to make your presence known if you want to get ahead.

I’m not talking about being too pushy, but hopefully you get the idea. If not, here’s what I mean…

Good promoting can lead to good sales. There are a lot of salespeople that get business by being total professionals with a good “sales pitch” and promotional material. Then again, there are times when a door is starting to close in their face and they just can’t help it… call it instinct, training, experience or determination… but they just can’t stop themselves from sticking their foot in the door and making one last sales pitch.

Tacky?

Yeah, that term has a way of coming up when talking about certain sales techniques. But if you want the business and have a product (in our case we’re talking about your comedy act or speaker presentation) that deserves to be considered, you have to find ways to let the buyer know. If you don’t, you can bet someone else will.

Okay, first things first. What would I be looking for if it was my job to book someone (a comedian or speaker) for a company event? I’ve said this numerous times in past FAQs And Answers, but will use the opportunity for a quick reminder…

When I was booking corporate (business) shows we always looked for G-rated material. Okay, PG at the max – and that only depended on the type of company and what the boss or event planner requested. But honestly, those were few and far between. Everyone else was too worried about someone – anyone, including the boss and employees – being offended during a company event.

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The comedians I used the most knew how to entertain these audiences with their regular topics (the material they were also doing in the comedy clubs), but could keep it squeaky clean for corporate events. In other words, the laughs didn’t depend on dropping an F-Bomb, graphic sex jokes, or bathroom humor. The guy at work who stands around the coffee machine telling jokes and the company prude could both be entertained at the same time.

Can you do that? If you want to be player in the corporate comedy or speaking biz, it’s a requirement. That’s the first concern and there’s no getting around it.

Now that we’ve made that perfectly clear, I’ll stick my foot in the door and continue his conversation…

The after hours business card meetings sound very promising. Your goal is to connect with any event planners and people from the Human Resource Departments. From experience, other than the boss, these are the people that are usually in charge of the company events, or at least have some say in how it will all work. Of course anyone can put in a recommendation if they have an event or party coming up, so don’t be tacky and avoid anyone who might not appear to be important enough to give you a job. They might just be the break room jokester or office prude the CEO is concerned with keeping entertained and not offended.

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“Tacky? I’ll show you tacky!!”

Is it tacky to carry your promo material with you?

Not if you’re professional about it. In fact, I recommend you always be prepared to make a sales pitch if the opportunity arises. That’s why every professional still carries business cards. You never know when or where you’ll make your next valuable connection.

But again, being professional is the key. And it’s different in the business world than in the entertainment business world – and I’ll give you an example.

When I was at The Improv in New York and Hollywood, there were always a lot of showcases (auditions) for television shows. And not just for The Tonight Show, Letterman or An Evening at the Improv. Quite often they were for sitcoms or movies and with these types of showcases, if the casting person was looking for a certain “type,” all the auditioning performers would fit that “type.”

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For example, you might have ten comedians auditioning for a specific role. If they were looking for a male – there would be ten men auditioning. Female – ten women. The showcase would be booked around the casting call for a specific type.

But not every comic that fit the desired type could be on the showcase.

There were only x-amount of spots to be seen over x-amount of time. So usually there were lots of comedians that didn’t get the opportunity to audition. But quite often the professional comedians in NYC and LA had their promotional material with them – or close enough (in their car) so they could have it within a matter of minutes if there would be a chance to network. And a lot of times if they weren’t on a showcase but thought they should’ve been given the opportunity, they’d hang around the club until the casting person was leaving and ask if they would accept it as a submission.

What’s the worse that can happen? Being told NO? You’ve already been told that when you weren’t asked to be part of the showcase.

So is it as tacky as a salesman sticking his foot in a closing door? Yeah, but like a final sales pitch for a good product, sometimes it works. There’s an example of this from comedian-actor Reggie McFadden in my book How To Be A Working Comic.

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The idea is not to waste an opportunity.

But remember, the business you’re talking about networking for – bookings in the corporate market – is different than the entertainment business I was just talking about. It would definitely be tacky to carry around full promotional packages at one of these business card-trading events. But you mentioned having a DVD, which is your calling card (in addition to your business card) and good way to be seen.

Most promotion today is done online. When you personally hand someone your business card with your website and contact information, there’s always a chance they’ll go online and tune in. But if you’re looking for an edge (the foot in the door) you might consider also carrying a compact version of your promo material to these events.

Let’s face it, a DVD sitting on someone’s desk is a bigger reminder to watch your set than a business card in a wallet. And here’s something else. I’m still handed CDs by comics and musicians, because they know it’s easy to listen to in the car immediately after I leave a show. In your case, it would be a business card networking event.

You already have a DVD and even a techno “duh” like myself knows it’s easy make a CD (for car listening) on a computer. I suggest making one or two of each and have them in your pocket at these networking events.

26fb69f368b6ad9ef88070e782aee076But make them for business purposes, rather than the copies you might sell after a show to adoring fans. On the cover have your headshot, name, website and contact info. Inside as an insert, or as the back cover have a short bio and your best credits. I’d also repeat your contact info, especially if you’re using an insert, since it could end up being separated from the DVD case. Always make it easy for a potential client or talent booker to contact you.

Anyone you give this to can slip it into a coat pocket or purse with the business cards they’ve already collected at the networking event.

And don’t forget your business cards. That’s the simplest business tool for networking and promoting. But if there’s also a way to get an edge on the competition by giving the extra effort (foot in the door), then go for it. If you don’t, someone else will.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Networking for stage time

March 9, 2015

Hey Dave – Love your posts. I have a question that you may be able to share and help me with. I am at an Emcee status. I have worked a few shows with some other good comics and they (believe it or not) are helping me out. My question is I live not far from NYC and Philadelphia. How can I get hooked up with someone that can get me some MC gigs? I look online but it seems like you really have to jump through hoops. The bringer shows are a waste of time because they love you until you can’t bring people in.

I produced a show in my area and it went GREAT! I had 2 comedians from NYC. Any advice… I know I threw a lot at you but maybe you could give me some feedback. Thanks – PD

Hey PD – First of all talent, good (funny) material and stage experience are requirements. Since you’re getting on stage I’m guessing you already know that.

6-easy-ways-make-meetings-fun-least-not-suck

We paid a cover charge, so this better be funny.

And just about everyone reading this knows what you mean about bringer shows. If not, it means you have to bring x-amount of paying customers to the club if you want to perform. If they require ten people and you only show up with five – chances are you’re not going on stage that night. But since you made that more of a statement than a question…

When you’re ready to move into new territory – in your case New York City – it’s a lot easier when you know someone already working there. In other words:

Connections.

And it always helps when your connections also have connections and you can all help each other get stage time.

SO what we’re really talking about here is networking.

This is the third week in a row we’ve hit on this topic, but that wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t important. Networking is also covered in a lot of business (other than the comedy or speaking business) training seminars. That’s how a lot of companies stay in business. They network to gain new customers. Comedians and speakers should also network to get bookings.

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For example, I did a training seminar at a big conference. They must have liked what I did because they asked me to recommend a speaker for their next event. I gave them the name of a good friend I knew would be great for the gig, and then called her and said to get in touch with the event planner.

She got the booking AND for more money than they had paid me! Fast forward in the networking process…

original

Yeah, I got rid of the flip phone. Why?

A few months ago she recommended me to one of her past clients. They called – we booked it – and they paid me more money than what they had paid her. It’s called pay back.

It’s also called networking and it works.

Let’s get back to your goal of getting on stage in NYC. You have the first step in place…

You’ve already produced a “GREAT” show and brought in two comics from NYC. I’m assuming you paid them (always a great incentive to get comics to leave NYC), which means you have two connections.

  • Did you do much talking (networking) before, during and after the gig?
  • Did they (be honest) like your set?
  • Did you mention you’re interested in performing in NYC?
  • Did they offer any help?
  • Did you offer to bring them back for another (paid) gig?
  • After that – did they offer any help?
  • Did you ask for any help in getting on stage in NYC?

In other words, did they have any connections for you? In the quest for stage time, helping someone else can (if deserved) result in a pay back. Here’s another example…

I got into the comedy biz because I wanted to be a stand-up. Guess that’s how most of us fall into this. And like some of my friends, I wound up behind the scenes. But that’s a different story….

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I knew the importance of stage time. I was living in NYC, but it was tough to find. Yeah, there were lots of open-mics and some of them were bringer shows, but there were also lots of other comedians working hard for those performing slots. You had to arrive early to sign up and then usually wait hours to get five minutes on stage.

Usually other comedians ran these open-mics and if their friends showed up, they would get favored treatment. If someone had ten paying customers in the audience… well, you know how that works.

Sometimes I wouldn’t get on until almost 4 am. Other times not at all.

To get around this, I started my own open-mic club. And to be honest, it was very successful. We always had a full audience, no bringer policy, and it became a popular weekend stage for the open-mic comics at that time. Included in this group were a lot of the comedians who were also running open-mics around Manhattan. Are you following me so far?

SO I started networking with connections.

If a comedian who ran another open-mic wanted stage time I’d give it to him or her – no problem. AND in turn, if I wanted to go up at their open-mic – no problem. They would return the favor.

* I didn’t invent this. I just saw through experience how it worked and played the connections game.

SO, back to you PD…

If you’re producing a successful show with NYC comics, then you need to start networking and ask for their help in getting you on stage in NYC. Obtaining a name, phone number, email, or in-person introduction to a person booking the shows should be your goal and the least they can do.

rbz-kelso-big-bird-voting-02

Lining up to be funny.

If not – book two different NYC comedians next time. Believe me, there are plenty who would appreciate the opportunity. A personal connection beats the heck out of cold calling, blind emails, countless postings on Facebook or LinkedIn, or arriving early to sign up and hope they find time before the end of the show for your five minutes.

But first of all you need talent, funny material and experience. If you can’t deliver the goods – NEVER ask someone to put their reputation on the line for you just because you gave them a gig. That’s one way to short-circuit your potential reputation and have possible connections avoid you at all costs. If you don’t believe me, scroll down to my article from two weeks ago about being a “pain” when it comes to getting referrals.

Be serious and honest with yourself. If you can back up your act or presentation with those requirements, then start to pay it forward. Help someone else find stage time and hopefully they’ll return the favor.

And for anyone who thinks this is just a topic for a business-training seminar, you’re correct. It is. In fact, successful business people call it good business sense.

Now I’ll sign off before I use the word business again. It sounds too cold and calculated and you really shouldn’t be that way. Right? Well, not unless you want to get your comedy or speaking business going with more stage 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 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 comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Don’t waste a Solid Gold opportunity to be “seen”

March 2, 2015

Dave – I have a question for you. I know who makes all the booking decisions for a club I want to play. It’s local, but I’ve never met him so can’t say I know him personally. I wanted to see if you had any suggestions on how to go about getting a guest set there. I had another comedian friend who already plays this club email the booker a clip of me from another club. How should I follow up on this? Just wanted your take. Thanks – JW

Hey JW – I hope you read last week’s article about getting a Golden Ticket. If not, scroll down because you might have one. Most of these FAQs And Answers are about the business side of the “business.” Yes, you must have talent – both as a writer and performer – and on stage experience before you really need to concentrate on the business. But once you’re ready, you need to think about promoting your career.

PS_0702_DO_I_DRA big part of promoting is networking. And as I’m sure you’ve heard (because I don’t make this stuff up) sometimes it’s “who you know.”

It’s great you’ve already had someone that works for the club put in a good word for you. Performers need to protect their own reputations in this competitive business and I highly doubt another one would recommend you to an important talent booker if he didn’t believe you were “ready.” To repeat what I said last week, a good recommendation from a comedian or speaker already working for a talent booker or event planner YOU want to work for is like having a Golden Ticket.

It’s not a guarantee you’ll be seen (given an audition or showcase), but your chances are better than making a cold call or sending blind emails.

So… you have the referral – right? How should you follow up on this and make it really work for you? Here’s a suggestion:

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According to your email, you live in the city where this club and the talent booker are located. And since your referral – the Golden Ticket – performs at this club, he either lives in the area or is working there on a somewhat regular basis.

BUT he EMAILED your promotional video clip to the talent booker!

Okay… that’s better than nothing. But when an opportunity arises, you sometimes have to kick it up a notch. As I’ve said, this is a competitive business.

Most of the talent bookers I know are busy people. They’re booking not only clubs, but also colleges, corporate shows, cruise ships and other events. The ones that work solely for the independent clubs are usually also the club managers and in charge of the staff, kitchen, box office, running the shows and a lot of other “stuff.” So sometimes watching unsolicited videos (cold calls, blind emails, etc.) is not a priority.

I’m not saying they don’t watch, but it can take longer to be seen than you’re probably hoping for. It can be easier and more time efficient for them to book the performers they’ve already been working with and know they can rely on.

592d5c2da5db041388b7220db06909263a612943e5d1a3bdaac716f7283db464BUT I also know from “being there” if a comic or speaker they already work with (and respect) pops by to say hello, they won’t scream for them to, “Get out of here!” Okay, maybe some will, but every business has its share of (insert your own derogatory adjective). Usually they’ll take at least a few minutes to make small talk or trade a few friendly insults (again, experienced from “being there”).

So here’s where you need to step up your networking game…

You, the club, the talent booker and (at least on occasion) your Golden Ticket contact are all in the same city at the same time. BUT again, your contact EMAILED the booker a clip of you performing! The best scenario is to have your contact provide you a SOLID Golden Ticket (I just made that up by the way, not bad…).

That’s another name for a personal introduction.

Yeah, I know… Some of my friends that are talent bookers read these articles and are not shy about emailing me their thoughts. I’m already thinking of a few that will say, “You’re crazy! You can’t have comics stopping by. We’re too busy!

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True, but again from “being there” I’ve seen it happen – and I’ve seen it work. A headlining comedian will bring in a friend and ask if they can do a short, five-minute showcase before his set. If it’s not a big weekend night – Friday or Saturday – it’s always a good possibility. Also coming by the club early with your Golden Ticket for an introduction and to hand the booker a DVD – personally – can make a difference in how fast that video will be watched.

Again there are no guarantees. But you never know unless you try. And a personal touch is always better than a cold call or blind email. In fact…

Just a few minutes ago – as I’m writing this – I received an email from a comedian who wants me to hire him. Everyone who reads these articles know I’m all about promoting and getting your name out there, so emailing is not bad. After all, no one is going to find you unless you know how to promote yourself. I’m a big believer in networking, but also a big believer in doing it correctly and finding an edge over the competition.

no-personality-480The email I received from this comedian didn’t offer any type of personality.

Like when I talk about using a hook in your promotional material and all that other useful and proven promotional advice I’ve shared. Again, I don’t make this stuff up – it works for advertising companies, publicists, and working comedians and speakers. I have yet to meet a successful publicist that didn’t include a healthy dose of personality in their promotional campaigns.

Anyway, this comedian just sent me his credits with a list of websites, Facebook and YouTube links. Also one sentence that says he’s available for bookings. There’s nothing else. No personal touch (or personality) and therefore – no edge over any other email looking for the same results.

So let me see… the email didn’t come from anyone I know, so there’s NO chance I’ll open any of the links. It also didn’t come off as professional (think short cover letter), interesting or unique. And here’s something else that will back up what I’ve mentioned above about busy talent bookers:

It’s the third email I’ve received this week from a comedian looking for work and I’m not even booking anything! Can you imagine how many emails are sent to active talent bookers every day?

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That’s why a “delete” key is so important. Most bookers use it more often than you’d like to know. So when you are in the same city as the club, the talent booker and your Golden Ticket contact, you need to take advantage of that edge over the competition. Pick up the Golden Ticket at his hotel or pay for his cab, buy him lunch, dinner – whatever – and ask for a personal introduction to the talent booker. If he’s truly a fan and agrees, ask if he can also help you score a guest set.

Again, I’ve seen it happen.

download+(1)I remember a then-new comedian (very well-known today) making his first visit to the Los Angeles Improv (I was there). He was introduced to us by another comic (that worked for us) as one of the “funniest guys in New York.” Before he was even done shaking hands he was offered three minutes on stage that night – that moment – to “prove” he was so funny. He was ready, he did – and was on our regular roster from that night on.

Again, this is a competitive business.

If you can find an edge – a Golden Ticket – don’t be afraid to use it. As some of my talent booker friends will tell you (and hopefully they’ll be nice to me in the emails I’ll probably receive) it’s easier and more accurate to watch a live showcase than wade through a long list of YouTube videos. It’s also the best way for a performer to be seen – in person – which is the best way to get hired.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Getting a referral is good – being a “pain” is not

February 23, 2015

Hey Dave – I was in a comedy club competition, I made it to the semi finals. But I was just asking if you know anyone I could maybe open for. I don’t want any money, and I’ll go anywhere! I’ll take any help I can get. Thanks – H.A.

First a note to everyone: This email is from a young (18 years old!) new comedian I’ve corresponded with. I’ve written back that I love his enthusiasm and the fact that he’s really out there going for it. I’ve also sent him back a private answer to his question because I doubt he emailed me thinking it would end up as this week’s FAQ And Answer.

willy_wonka

“Has anyone seen Richard?”

That said; here are some thoughts about asking for referrals…

I’ve written a lot about the importance of getting references for showcases and bookings. When you have the right comedian (or speaker) telling the right talent booker to hire you or to schedule a showcase, it’s like receiving the Golden Ticket in that Gene Wilder movie Johnny Depp remade about the candy maker.

Sorry, I just can’t think of the title at the moment…

Oh yeah, Willy Wonka. I’m pretty sure I was already listening to albums by Richard Pryor – Wilder’s frequent on screen partner – when that movie came out and it didn’t even register a blip on my entertainment radar. Trust me, I’m a loyal Gene Wilder fan, but didn’t get back into kid’s movies until I had kids.

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Anyway, a good reference will usually result in being seen. It doesn’t guarantee a paid booking, but when it comes from a reliable source you can pretty much bypass all the marketing advice I’ve shared in past articles when focusing on that particular talent booker. Phone calls, postcards, emails, websites, videos, Facebook and LinkedIn are not needed to make a first impression when you can walk into a club and showcase for the booker because a comedian he/she respects put in the good word for you.

Of course those marketing tools will be needed to stay in touch afterwards. But that’s not what we’re talking about today.

It sounds easy – yeah, I know. However, don’t be too anxious or overbearing to get that Golden Ticket reference. Otherwise you might wind up being a pain in the you-know-what and have your efforts working against you.

article-0-0EA4CA3200000578-31_468x462

And you are…?

Of course you want to have a good relationship with the referring comedian (or another talent booker you’d like to have as a referral). You don’t have to be best friends, but at least know each other on a professional level (it’s a business, remember?). It’s pretty annoying when someone you hardly know comes up and asks for a referral:

Yeah, sure… what’s your name again?

It’s also a no-brainer the person you want the referral from has actually SEEN you perform AND actually likes it. In fact, you should really wait for them to tell you:

Hey, that was a great set. I really liked it.” (Or something close to that).

And be sure they really did and are not BS’ing you just to be polite. Sometimes it takes a mind reader to know, but do your best to make sure they’re sincere.

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Now in a perfect world, the comedian could offer to put in a good word for you with a talent booker he (or she) works with. It’s not impossible; I’ve seen it happen. But if not and you truly think they are sincere about liking your act, then go ahead and ask. You have to be aggressive in this business.

The key is not to be so aggressive that you become a pain in the you-know-what.

Here’s an example of how being a pain can come back and bite you in the you-know-what

When I was booking comics in New York and Los Angeles, I used referrals from comedians already working with us to help set up talent showcases. I still went through tons of promotional material and watched videos to find new comics, but if one of our regular comedians (already working for us) called or walked into my office and said we should see a comic he had just worked with, I’d add the referred comic to my showcase. It would be a done deal and I’d thank the referring comedian for making my life easier.

goldenticketBut there were also times comedians would stop by and give me some inside scoop. In other words, they’d fill me in on someone who was being a pain. The scenario went something like this…

The already-working comic couldn’t even walk into the club without having the referral-hungry new comic asking him (bugging him, annoying him, etc…) for his help in getting a showcase. So what would happen is that the working comic (the one being asked, bugged and annoyed) would make a point of telling me the new comic isn’t ready to play the club. BUT he was being such a pain in the you-know-what the comic could now say he had mentioned the new comic – and now he was off the hook.

Are you following me so far? Yeah, I know it’s confusing. Basically, he could tell the new comic he dropped his name to the talent booker. This way (he hoped) the new comedian would stop bugging him. The ball was now in my court.

And do you want another behind the scenes insider insight? Okay, here’s the blunt honest truth…

Since the so-called referring comedian wasn’t really referring and was also telling me the newer comedian was a pain in the you-know-what, I had been forewarned. There would be no Golden Ticket showcase. No way. I didn’t want to be hassled either. So my response would be to tell the newer comedian I couldn’t work off any recommendations, (a big fat lie – sorry to admit). He would have to send in promo and video just like everyone else.

Sounds a bit cruel? Yeah, well showbiz ain’t easy. You gotta know how to play the game…

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So the whole process could backfire against the newer comedian. He hadn’t earned the recommendation, so the word put in by the referring comedian was more negative than positive. And on top of that, the word would get around that he could be a pain because it was probably safe to assume he was asking for recommendations in this same way from other comics at other clubs.

Similar to many other businesses, news and reputations can travel fast in the comedy world.

The result was the newer comedian would find it more difficult to get an audition anywhere because he had earned a pain in the you-know-what reputation, rather than a good recommendation. He would’ve been better off putting that energy into working on material and getting on stage more.

Referrals can be the Golden Ticket. But if you don’t have one, don’t try to force it. Work on getting so good on stage no one can ignore you, and learn to professionally promote yourself. If and when a recommendation is made on your behalf, it’ll be like an extra coating of chocolate in that movie Gene Wilder made that I can never remember the name of…

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Memorizing material – is it comedy or acting?

February 16, 2015

Hey Dave – Do comedians write down their monologues and memorize it thoroughly? The more I learn about being a comic, the more it sounds like acting. Is there much of a difference? – D.J.

t fan bad acting (8)

“Just follow the script and no improvising!”

Hey D.J. – Okay, before we continue with this, let me say that I respect the creative art and craft of acting. Make that good acting. It’s not easy being an actor because you have to learn how to express emotions on cue and make it all believable. When you’re in a long running play it involves a lot of repetition; every show, every night (including matinees). When you’re interacting with other actors you must be on the right spot at the right time and say the correct words to cue the correct response.

The words are in the script and need to be memorized to continue the scene as it was written – and how the writer intended it (and how the director interprets it).

Acting also involves the use of lighting, props, entrances, exits and even bows at the end. Plays, TV shows and movies are directed. Actors do what directors tell them and say what writers tell them to say. And one last thing – the audience is not usually involved. People in the seats are there to watch. There is a fourth wall on the stage, which is an acting term for an invisible wall separating the audience from the actors. The audience does not exist in the play or scene. Interaction is between the actors. If it’s a solo monologue, it’s a “private moment.”

20140323-groucho-marx-duck-soup

“I wouldn’t join that club if you hit me over the head with it.”

As with just about everything else, there are exceptions. Improvisational acting often involves suggestions from the audience. And Marx Brothers movies (I like the classics) wouldn’t be as funny if Groucho didn’t break out of scenes and deliver a few lines directly to the camera/audience.

And now we’ve set the stage for what follows…

I’ve known some very good actors that were very bad comedians. They’ve written material, practiced (like for a play), but couldn’t buy a laugh once they were on stage. They were acting the role of a comedian, but didn’t have the needed “on the job” training. And working comics know exactly what I’m referring to – stage time.

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A comedian (and yes, speakers too) needs performing experience, rather than directed rehearsal time. This is because comedians (and yes – speakers) have to deliver funny and practiced material AND deal with an audience at the same time.

There is no fourth wall.

A comedian who only memorizes a monologue and recites it with no regard to audience response is acting. They are basically doing a one-person (acting) show. It may be written as a stand-up comedy routine, but it’s not really stand-up comedy.

K_sleepwalking1

Not just the audience sleeping…

When I worked in New York, I heard the comics call it “sleepwalking through your set.” In a great comedy show, the audience is part of the ensemble.

Again, there are exceptions. Robert Dubac is a great stand-up comedian who does great one-man shows. He has a script and direction, but also works off an audience. Another is the popular English comedian / actor Dave Gorman. But talking about what they do would fill another article, so I’ll just drop their names and leave it at that for now.

My point in saying all this it that yes, you can write and memorize a monologue and perform it in a comedy club. Lots of comedians do it. But unlike acting, a comedian deals with audience response.

An audience is unpredictable.

They may not laugh when expected and laugh hysterically when it’s not. An actor will continue playing a part while a good comedian will react to the audience. If the material is not going over as expected, a comedian can switch gears. This means they can pull out different material, work-off (talk with) the audience, or change their delivery style, (example; from high energy to low energy). It involves having a lot of material, an ability to improvise, and lots of on-stage experience. Actors have to stick with a written script and hope the same material works better on a different audience.

If you memorize your comedy routine word for word, it should be conversational. The good ones make it seem as if they’re making it up on the spot and saying it for the first time.

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Imagine you’re at a family party. The old folks (think older than you) are sitting in the living room. They’re a conservative bunch, but you have a very funny story you share with them. They laugh and you didn’t insult or embarrass anyone who could potentially write you out of an inheritance.

Then you move into the kitchen where the crazy relatives (think of your peers) are hanging out. You want to tell them the same story, and there’s no worry about insulting or embarrassing anyone in the process. How would you deliver it in a way that makes them laugh?

That’s the difference between being an actor and a comedian. It’s the same story, but an actor is trained to rely on a script and direction. A comedian has material (could be scripted) but can base his delivery on audience response.

I’ve seen comedians night after night deliver the same set word for word. Does it work? Yes, because the good ones have valuable on stage experience performing in front of audiences and can change their delivery by reacting off the response. At every show it will look like they’re saying the words for the first time.

For example, there is a VERY famous comedian I’ve booked dozens of times. I won’t give his name – but if you’ve ever taken one of my workshops you’ll know the comic I’m talking about because I tell this story and mention his name. At every show he delivered the exact same 20-minute set. We’re talking “word for word.” It took him years to write and develop on stage. It was funny and audiences loved it. We would stand in the back of the showroom and recite the act along with him (and we could do that with a lot of the best comics – we knew their acts by heart).

ilovelucy03

“Haven’t I’ve seen this act before?”

In fact one night during a very late show with a very light audience, another famous comedian stood on stage behind him and mimicked his act exactly. It was like having a shadow. We were all in the back of the club laughing – and so was the headlining “star” comedian, (he has a great sense of humor). But it didn’t matter because his material – his act – was practiced, audience-tested, and each time he did it he made it seem as if it was all brand new. Each audience thought he was making it up on the spot just for them – and that’s what counts.

Hang around comedy clubs and you’ll see what I mean. Watch some of the comedians more than a few times and you’ll see quite a few do the same routine in different shows. It’s memorized, but to make it work they don’t deliver it that way. It’s based on audience response – with no fourth wall.

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Other comedians will follow a mental outline for their material. They deliver the same jokes / stories with the same punch lines, but allow themselves to improvise and react off the audience. It also keeps the performance entertaining for the comedian and they don’t get bored doing the same show over and over.

There’s nothing wrong with memorizing your act if it helps you feel more comfortable. In fact, I just re-read an interview in my book How To Be A Working Comic from one of my favorite stand-ups with a reputation for being a great improviser. He said memorizing his act was the only way he could convince himself to go on stage in the beginning. The key is to make it look conversational and as if you’re saying these words for the very first time.

It’s like going to a different party and telling the same story to a different group of friends. If you did it successfully the first time and want the same reaction at this party, chances are you’ll deliver it in a very similar way. In other words – it’s your act.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Contacting late night TV talent bookers

February 10, 2015

Dave – I worked with a comedian last week who thinks I’m ready to do a set on one of the late night shows. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because I was wondering if you could provide some insights as to how to go about contacting these talent coordinators. The show I’d really like to be on would be Jimmy Kimmel Live. – MC

ac3269ad-1080-487d-92b6-eecd9a065a83Hey MC – First of all, it’s good when someone else in this crazy business says you’re ready to move up in your career. Especially when they think you’re good enough for late night television. Otherwise, you’d have to look at the source of this praise – and moms and drinking buddies don’t count. But when they’re peers and know the biz, you might want to start thinking about it.

Anyone with real experience in the industry knows it’s not easy to score one of these coveted late night performing spots that guarantees exposure to millions of talk-fest insomniacs. And by the way, that’s a good description for past, present and future comedians that grew up with Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno. So when another working comedian tells you this, you should be happy to have such a big fan.

But what do you think? Seriously. Do you really feel you’re ready for late night television? Are you working on a regular basis at the best clubs? Are you getting great audience response and killing on stage? Is your material “right” for these shows? These are questions you need to ask yourself and seriously answer.

It also helps when you have other people in the business saying you’re ready. That’s a positive and supportive step in the right direction.

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My first thought is that you have to be seen. And it’s always best to be seen in person. I say this from experience and also still keeping in touch with some of my friends in NYC and LA. So I believe it’s still true. The BEST way to get on television is to be SEEN in the clubs where the television talent bookers are hanging out.

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You’ve been seen!

For instance, all the high profile late night shows are based in New York and Los Angeles. The talent bookers, producers, writers and other important “showbiz connections” from these shows go to the clubs in these cities. That’s a fact because I would see them all the time when I worked in NYC and LA. They would hang out and watch the comedians. They knew who had the material and experience because they’d see it first-hand. They could also request showcases so they could audition a number of comics on the same night in front of a live audience.

Even if they were interested in a comedian through a video submission, they would eventually need to see a live performance. It’s all part of the process because they need to be sure the comedian will be successful on the show, since that’s what television talent coordinators are hired to do – find good talent for television.

To backup that opinion, I’ll rely on the interviews with Drew Carey and Jeff Foxworthy in my book How To Be A Working Comic. I interviewed them separately, but their experiences were similar since that’s how this business (sometimes) works…

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Both told me they couldn’t even get the attention of anyone at The Tonight Show when they submitted videotapes (the old days!) even though they had been headlining for years in the best clubs outside NYC and LA. And the reason why they weren’t working the NYC and LA clubs was because these are normally showcase clubs. You do them to be SEEN and not to make money. These guys had to make a living.

But each really felt he was ready for The Tonight Show. And they each felt they only needed to be seen by the talent booker.

carsonEventually they both had to bite the economic bullet and move to Los Angeles. It was the only way each could be seen every night for The Tonight Show (in the days of Johnny Carson when it really was a star-making appearance). They took a big pay cut by not playing their regular clubs outside of NYC and LA, but it paid off for both in the end.

But if you can’t afford to do that, the next best thing is a great video. You also need great references, experience and ways to market yourself without being a pain in the butt, or getting lost in the pack. We’ve had a few FAQs And Answers about marketing recently, so scroll down for a few suggestions. You can also check out the marketing sections in How To Be A Working Comic.

How’s THAT for a blindsided sales pitch? LOL!! Now that I have that out of my system, here’s what else you should do…

Play detective. When you’re in clubs and meet comedians that have done these shows, ask for advice. Ask what they did to be seen and how they were seen. If they appear to enjoy your performance (again – be honest with yourself) ask for the name(s) of people booking the comedians. If they don’t think you’re ready, they probably won’t tell you. You have to understand they have their own relationship with the talent booker and can’t make it seem they’re recommending every comic they come in contact with. It doesn’t help their reputation, so if they’re evasive drop the subject.

Don’t be a pain – and don’t try to push yourself on someone who may not see you as “being ready.”

You should also watch these late night shows and take notes. What is the name of the production company? Who is the talent coordinator listed during the ending credits? They don’t run these credits every night because of time restraints, but you can usually catch them once or twice a week.

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Again, play detective and Google the production companies and names for their contact info. Make a call. Don’t worry about having to sell yourself right away. These talent bookers are not easy to reach, so you’ll only get The Gatekeeper (another term for receptionist).

Then ask for “help.”

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“Who’s calling and why?”

Gatekeepers are assistants hired to keep you away from the people you want to contact. Again from experience and hearing this a lot from working comedians and speakers, Gatekeepers seem to respond to that term better than grilling them with questions. Ask for their “help” in learning what is the best way to be submitted for the program. It could go through a separate booking agency, or directly through the show’s producer, writing staff or others.

Then follow their “help” guidelines. Start the process of submitting your video and promo information – or work your way into the clubs where talent bookers hang out looking for new talent.

But in the meantime, continue getting experience and getting better. As I love to say whenever possible in these articles:

They may call it amateur night, but no one is looking to hire an amateur.

This is particularly true when it comes to late night television. And if you really feel you’re ready, don’t throw all your eggs into one basket (have I spent too much time outside of NYC and LA to have picked up that old saying?).

Don’t just concentrate only on one show, (you mentioned Jimmy Kimmel Live). Do the same with the other shows on different networks. Start getting your name out to the “right people” whether it’s through live performances at showcase clubs, recommendations, or online videos. Just be sure you’re ready, because no one with a viewing audience of millions of talk-fest insomniacs wants to hire an amateur.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Still using promotional postcards?

February 2, 2015

Hi Dave – You recently talked about using postcards as a way to follow up with clubs and agents that you were trying to get work from. How would you suggest staying in touch when you already work for them (on the standard circuit, roughly once a year)? And does the approach vary when you’re dealing with a self-booked comedy club, a comedy club that uses an agency, and the talent agency itself? Thanks! – J.N.

Hey J.N. – Good question and good timing. I’ve been reviewing my postcard etiquette recently and have come up this final conclusion. The old way may not be the best way – but it’s still a good way.

Let me explain this better…

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U.S. Male delivering U.S. Mail

In the old days before technology made our promotional efforts easier with websites, emails, twitter, youtube, Facebook, LinkedIn and… well, whatever else I’ve missed, (it’s hard to keep track of them all), comedians, speakers and performers in general were sending out hand-written postcards to stay in touch with talent bookers. I remember these old days, because that’s how they stayed in touch with us if they wanted a showcase for the TV show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv. Our office was at The Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles and the comics that lived too far away to drop off a video or do a live showcase had to rely on the U.S. Mail to let us know they were out there and should be seen.

Not everyone used this promotional tool.

I don’t remember seeing postcards from the comedians I worked with locally in Los Angeles or when I was at The New York Improv. They could always stop by the club(s) to do a set or just network in person. But if you were in Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Toronto or… Okay, I’ll stop with the city listings. I trust you get my drift. If you weren’t in LA or NYC, you had to rely on your reputation, networking, recommendations, an agent or manager, and a relic from the old days:

A professionally printed and neatly tucked into a two pocket folder promotional (promo) package.

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I cover these marketing techniques in my books and in the modern era (these days) everything is online. For immediate examples, do an online search for your favorite comedians. On the websites I’m sure you’ll see a headshot, bio, resume, reviews, schedule and most importantly, a video.

The usual way to stay in touch after making first contact and after you’ve already worked with a talent booker is by email. You should already have (they’ve offered it or you’ve asked for it) the booker’s email address and your messages won’t be blocked or relegated to a spam folder.

But another (secondary) option is to send postcards.

Are postcards outdated? Only if the talent booker tells you they’re not necessary. Personally I would prefer everyone use email (I’m into saving trees) but in this competitive business you need to follow all different promotional methods to be noticed and hired.

sc002b6784Postcards are dispensable. In other words, they’re only a method to keep your name and face (your headshot) in front of a talent booker. It’s a simple reminder that you’re available for work. The booker will usually look at it, maybe read the message on the back (keep it short and simple) and then toss it in the trash. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just the way it works. If they saved every postcard it wouldn’t be too long before their offices were filled with boxes of them.

In hindsight, I wish I’d kept some of the postcards sent to me while I was at the LA Improv. Some of those comedians have gone on to mega-stardom and would be great examples to show when I talk about this in my workshops.

Anyway, you get the point. Postcards are still a great way to stay in touch and as mentioned a few weeks ago, I still receive postcards from comics looking for work. Now back to the future… uh, I mean these daysafter technology has made our lives way easier.

I’m a major proponent of using technology to promote whatever it is you’re doing. You know that already, which is why you’re reading this online. I also have a large email list of subscribers that is used to remind them I’m still out here every week and easy to find. The talent bookers – “the self-booked clubs, comedy clubs that use an agency and the talent agency itself” – that you’ve already worked with should be on your email list.

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You need to stay in touch on a regular basis to remind talent bookers you’re available for work. Clubs and agents have large rosters of performers and unless you’re a personal favorite or have a track record for drawing big (paying) audiences, it’s easy to get lost in the pack.

What’s a regular basis? Ask them.

Some bookers will want your avails (when your schedule is open and you’re available for work) once a month, every few weeks, an exact date (ex: the 1st of every month) – or whenever. Know when they expect it – and then do it. Send an email with your open dates and (always!) your contact info.

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No spam filter on these

In the old days, that’s what postcards and faxes were for. To be honest, I threw away my fax machine last year. We seldom used it since most everything now is via email. If I need to fax something I’ll just go to the library to use theirs.

But postcards are a different story.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the importance of comedians and speakers using postcards when they’re trying to connect – especially for the first time – with clubs, talent bookers and event planners. These performers are still unknowns to the people doing the hiring and may not have the proper inside email addresses. Their messages could end up going to the box office, telemarketers (pushing tickets for a show you should be on!), assistant managers, or other departments inside the club. In most cases, they’re going to hit “delete” because it’s not their job to hire you.

Your messages could also wind up in spam folders since the booker’s email program has no way to separate you from unsolicited advertisements (especially the ones comedians joke about). It may also be set up with a filter not to accept attachments (for your website and video) from senders they don’t know.

To play it safe, postcards are a great backup marketing plan. They’re not a pain in the you-know-what like an unsolicited cold call or “dropping by because I was in the neighborhood” personal visit. Even if you’re a working comic and not getting any response from bookers you’ve worked with in the past, it won’t hurt to send them an occasional postcard with a career update or open dates. They may still not hire you again, but at least you’ve made a good effort to contact them.

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I’ve made a few calls to talent bookers asking for opinions about postcards vs. emails. Yeah, they were unsolicited cold calls, but I’m known for being a pain in the you-know-what anyway, so I went for it. I’ve been surprised at the results.

And I’m also surprised at what markets gave me these results:

  • College programmers and…
  • Corporate event planners.
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Nope, not Newman!

Almost all told me they prefer postcards. Mainly because the emails sent by performers won’t make it through the school or business spam filters. Put a few links in your email such as “Click here to visit my website” and there’s a chance your message will be rerouted to the “undeliverable” folder and returned to you “unopened.”

When you put the effort in to design and send a decent promotional email, it’s wasted time and energy if potential talent bookers never even see it. That’s not good business strategy.

So I’ll say it once again:

The old way may not be the best way – but it’s still a good way.

If you’re an unknown to a talent booker you want to work for, send an email one month and a postcard the next. It’s not overdoing it – you won’t be considered a pain in the you-know-what – and chances are they’ll receive one of them. If they receive both, that’s even better. It’s a good marketing plan.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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