Always ask before you audition

September 19, 2016

Hey Dave – I have a big audition coming up. I’m not going to have any profanity in my (comedy) set, but I’m thinking of having a cleaner version and another one that is a bit edgier. I’m thinking of asking the panel of judges what type of set they want before I perform. Do you think this is a good idea? Thanks – DS

eintsteinquestioneverythingHey DS – Yeah, I always think it’s a great idea to ask the judges at a contest – or talent booker for a club or any other venue where you’re showcasing – about any restrictions they might have on material and language. In fact I emphasize this point in my workshops for a couple reasons:

  1. It shows experience. You can adjust your material depending on the audience – and talent bookers like that. (It’s a business – remember?)
  2. It can give you an edge over the competition. I know I talk a lot about how supportive the comedy industry is (nothing has changed my mind about that), but the bottom line is that they can’t hire everyone so you need to stand-out at showcases. Again – think business.

For an example, there may only be five performance spots available for a television show. But you know as well as I do that a LOT more than five comics will be auditioning. Of course being funny is the No. 1 factor – and face it, sometimes it’s who you know (am I right Hollywood comics?!).

So let’s assume everyone at the showcase is funny and knows the same people, so those requirements are met. The tie-breaker would be knowing who the audience will be and adjusting your material and performance for that audience.

You’re not going to perform the same set on The Disney Channel that you’d do on a Comedy Central Roast. Get it?

Here’s another example…

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – October 8, 2016

Space limited to 10 people – see link below to register!

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes a performance at The Chicago Improv

Wednesday – October 26 at 8 pm

For details, reviews and to reserve your spot visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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If you’re auditioning for work on a cruise ship and walk on stage dropping “F-Bombs” and complaining in detail about your sex life, you might as well pack your bags and consider a career on dry land. Half of the on board comedy shows are early evening family events with blue-haired ladies and their preteen grandchildren in the front rows. Later after the kids are asleep the parents will go out for the adult humor comedy shows by the same comics in one of the ship’s late night lounges. But if you can’t show at an audition that you can play to both crowds, you won’t get hired.

cruiseHow would you know this if you’ve never been on a cruise or had a chance to pick the brain of someone who works cruise ships? The only way I know would be to ask the person auditioning you for the gig BEFORE you audition.

Of course this advice means nothing if you’re already settled into who you are on stage (your comedy voice) and it doesn’t work in certain venues. Trust me, I’m not trying to push everyone in the same direction or preach work clean at all costs. That would only create comedy clones and make the industry pretty boring.

Comedy is a creative art and a form of free speech. If you want to be an x-rated comic, go for it. Just don’t go to showcases where you already know your style will not be acceptable for work – like a kid’s show or family cruise. You’re not only wasting your time, but also taking opportunities away from other comics who would want to audition for the gig.

Here’s another example of knowing beforehand what you CAN talk about vs. what you can NOT talk about depending on the audience…

When I booked A&E’s An Evening at the Improv we had certain “rules” for the performances. During a noon meeting with the comics who were taping the show that night we’d go over the rules…

  1. Don’t make fun of God or religion. Our highest ratings were in The Bible Belt and we didn’t want to lose viewers. Higher ratings attract sponsors (again – think business).
  2. Don’t knock specific products because we didn’t want to be sued. You can’t say a specific car is dangerous or a specific fast food restaurant will give you food poisoning. (Do I need to say it again – business?).
  3. Don’t sing a song parody for longer than (I think it was) 18 seconds. Producers were not going to pay song royalties for television broadcast, which is what would happen if any song was played for longer than (I think it was) 18 seconds. At that time it seemed a lot of comics were singing funny words to The Brady Bunch Theme Song. They could still do the bit, but it would be cut out of the show if it went over the time limit of being “free.” (This time – music business rules).

What about comics that didn’t follow the rules? If you watch reruns of A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, keep in mind the comedians were each given 7 minute sets. But some are on screen for less time – like only 4 or 5 minutes. What’s up with that?

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They didn’t follow the rules.

In the business it’s easy to correct these mistakes in an editing room – or in the case of live performances, auditioning the acts first and not hiring the ones that can’t follow the guidelines.

In fact, when it comes to working clubs I can’t even think of a situation where you wouldn’t have an opportunity before showcasing to ask the talent booker if there’s anything you shouldn’t say or talk about. Even if it’s only in an email or phone call prior to going to the audition. They should be straight with you, since they know their audience and what they’re looking for better than anyone else.

The goal for talent bookers is to find comics that can appeal to the venue’s audience. This includes comedy contests since the business goal is to always turn first-time audience members into repeat customers. As a performer, you need to find that out. And unless your talent is mind reading, the best way I know to do that is to ask.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

 

Seeking help for a “stuck” comedy career

September 4, 2016

Hi Dave – I’m not so sure stand-up is for me. I think I may be better suited for improv acting such as The Groundlings, Second City, etc… I’ve always been told I’m funny and animated, but am not so sure how to focus or direct it. I am interested in the profession / business and think I would enjoy it. However, I feel stuck! How do I know if stand-up is for me? What advice do you have as to getting in touch with my creativity and directing it in the right way / format? Any advice would be very helpful, welcomed and appreciated. Thanks so much. Best – C.H.

Just give it a try!

Hey C.H. – The only way to find out what you’re best suited for, whether it’s stand-up, improvisation or anything for that matter, is to try it. And since a lot of people like the controlled environment of having a safety net, take a class. Check out local improvisation groups and see if they offer classes. Most do. You might really take to it – or you might not.

I know a lot of stand-ups that do both. But most (in my opinion) seem to stick mainly with the one that best suits their creativity and style of humor. In other words, some comics enjoy working with a team while others enjoy flying solo.

Similar to a lot of other creative and professional interests it doesn’t hurt to take a class. A good coach can give you insights into the craft and business aspects. You would also get experience actually doing improvisation or stand-up and can make the decision yourself on whether you’re into it or not.

And if you like it, another plus is that a good class should take time off the learning curve you’d be dealing with if you just went out on your own. Here’s what I mean…

Improv Rules

The Rules

Without ever taking a class you could still audition for an improv group. Your natural talent might be great, but you don’t know the “rules” of improvisation or have had any practice doing some of the standard games. You might learn some of this through the audition experience, but someone else who is already familiar with improvisation would have an edge at the audition.

A class would have prepared you in advance.

The same can be said about stand-up and creative writing. Some comedians have a natural ability to go on stage and be funny. Others have no idea what it’s really like to perform in front of an audience or how to create a comedy set. I’ve seen aspiring comedians come at it from both directions and it can be great fun to watch, pure misery – or a little of both.

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – October 8, 2016

Space limited to 10 people – see link below to register!

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes a performance at The Chicago Improv

Wednesday – October 26 at 8 pm

For details, reviews and to reserve your spot visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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For instance…

When I was running the once a month auditions at the NYC Improv all you had to do to get on stage was draw a lottery number. No experience necessary. Usually there would be about 100 aspiring comedians lined up hoping to pick one of the 15 audition spots. The lucky ones went on stage that night for three minutes.

The comedians with stage experience knew what they would do. It didn’t matter if they had taken a class or not because they had worked out a set in front of an audience prior to their big audition. But others had only thought about it and had never even tried stand-up comedy. They’d had no guidance, coaching or any audience response to learn if their material actually made people laugh. And in both cases it was always obvious.

Here are two from the “no guidance” category that I’ll never forget…

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One woman went on stage with a role of paper. This was the type of roll you’d put in a cash register to print out receipts. She had written jokes on the roll and would simply read them into the microphone. When they received no response from the audience (and none did except groans) she would rip that joke off the roll, toss it on the stage and say, “Well, that didn’t work.” It was misery to watch, but funny to talk about later.

An older guy showed up for his audition with a female mannequin dressed in sexy lingerie. I’m not kidding. He took the mannequin on stage, sat her on a stool and completely ignored it… or her… or whatever you want to call it… while he told a few unfunny jokes. He never referred to the mannequin once. When he was greeted with nothing but weird silence, he put the mannequin under his arm, walked off stage and headed towards Times Square – never to be seen again on the comedy scene. Once again there were plenty of laughs when he was out of hearing range.

Mathew

“Where’ya from?”

Would they have done this if they had gone through a class or workshop? Well, you never know. But if they’d had any type of advice or guidance from someone that knows about the business or at least had some prior stage experience they probably would have made better choices about what to do for an important audition.

If you’re “stuck” or unsure about what’s right for you but have a desire to try, then take a class or a workshop to find out. A good one will help you tap into your creativity and give you decent insights into writing, performing and the business. It should also give you a push (kick in the butt) in the right direction to give it a prepared shot. Then you’ll know if it’s right for you. The bottom line is that it can’t hurt.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Different performances for different audiences

August 21, 2016

Hey Dave – Last week you talked about personalizing material for corporate shows. So when comedians talk about “knowing your audience,” does that mean you should have entirely different acts for different audiences? – S.A.

Hey S.A. – That depends on a few things such as the material, how it’s delivered and the audience. A lot of comedians are experts at “crossing over” and playing to a wide range of audiences. Others have a niche – an audience demographic they focus on – and know better than to perform where they probably will not be welcome or appreciated.

For two extreme examples…

  • An x-rated comedian is not going to do church shows. On the other hand…
  • A Christian comedian probably won’t be included in an adults only x-rated comedy show.
shocked-crowd

A lesson to be learned

That’s pretty much a no-brainer in the biz. Comedians should know that. If they don’t, then they’re setting themselves up for a hard-learned career lesson. But it’s also important to realize…

Comics have to stay true to themselves and “who they are.”

Many have no interest changing who they are on stage – their comedy voice – just to play in front of an audience that won’t relate to them or laugh at their material. But on the the flip side, others know a few simple changes in their material and delivery can open the possibility for more bookings.

How you want to play it depends on you. I’m just telling you there are ways.

Experienced comedians and speakers often customize their shows. There are a couple benefits in doing this:

  • It could lead to more paid bookings and…
  • It could lead to charging a higher fee for your performance.

Let’s tackle that second one first. I know the term higher fee has the ability to raise the interest of some readers. Especially in the higher paying corporate market when an event planner might contact you to discuss a corporate show booking.

You could have a set fee just for your regular performance. BUT if they would like you to customize it for a specific audience – say a group of financial investors, gourmet chefs, flight attendants or whatever – you could customize the material toward that audience for a higher fee.

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I wrote about this in the last Comedy FAQ And Answer, but I’ll repeat the important stuff…

The selling feature is that it will take extra work on your part in researching who they are (your audience), writing new material, or making specific changes – customizing – what you already bring to a corporate show. But you explain to the event planner that it’s worth the extra money because your performance would be specifically for their group. For instance, you would actually use the name of the company in your performance, what they specialize in, their clients or competitors, where employees hang out after work, the city where they’re located, and even mention the names of a few key people in the company.

What you come up with and can offer in a customized performance is up to you.

For all the extra work and research you put into preparing the customized gig, you ask for a higher fee. A lot of comedians and speakers do this. If the client responds by saying your fee is now too high for their budget, you have room to negotiate. Explain they can still book you for the event at your regular (lower) fee and you will do your regular act, which is what they called you about in the first place.

Customizing your material means to personalize it toward the audience. But it also doesn’t mean you need a completely different act. It’s all about knowing your audience.

Here’s an example…

A very good friend of mine in the comedy biz – and I won’t mention his name here, but as a hint he’s interviewed in my book How To Be A Working Comic – is a master at this. He has decades worth of material and can do a different act every night if he wants to.

laughing audience

Earning the BIG bucks!

But he also has a definite comedy voice.

He probably doesn’t know anything about investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants, but put him in front of an audience of investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants at an event and he’ll make them laugh.

That’s what he gets paid big bucks for.

This comedian can do an adult midnight show in a comedy club and be as raunchy as any x-rated comedian in the biz. A lot of his material is about growing up with a large family in an inner city and all the characters in his life. His language can be filled with “F-bombs” and other choice words and I’ve seen him – many times – bring down the house with the bluest (adult) comedy you can imagine.

But the next day (and he’s done this for years) he could be wearing a suit and tie and doing a clean, G-rated corporate show for a group of say… investment bankers, gourmet chefs or flight attendants. Since this is not a typical comedy club audience, the x-rated “F-bombs” are definitely not welcomed – or tolerated.

But the comedian’s job requirement is the same. He is being paid to make them laugh.

So what does he talk about?

The SAME topics he talked about at the late night, x-rated comedy club show the night before. His large family, growing up in an inner city and the characters in his life.

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Wednesday – August 24 at 7:30 pm

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But he customizes it based on the audience. He simply takes out the raunchy stuff. His punch lines and descriptions don’t rely on “F-bombs” and other choice words. The material and stories are just as funny without the added adult language and delivery.

He doesn’t have two completely different acts. He has two completely different audiences.

He knows his audience and plays to his audience.

Would this work for you? It depends on who YOU are on stage as well as WHO your audience is. Could your current set with a few changes work in front of very different audiences? If it does, then you don’t need two completely different acts. If it doesn’t, either write a separate act for clubs, corporate events or colleges (I know comics that do this) or find your niche and stick with it.

The choice is completely up to you as a creative artist. Some comedians could care less about the money and different markets because they’re more interested in the art of creating, performing and personal expression. Others find a good corporate booking helps fund the raunchy madness at a late night adult comedy show. How you want to play it is all up to you.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Personalize material for corporate gigs

August 8, 2016

Hi Dave – Can you give us a few examples of how to work event themes into your material for a corporate gig? What is the process like? – MD

Hey MD – Comedians and speakers that work corporate gigs on a regular basis will have their own ideas and techniques about this process. As always, I’ll throw the offer out for any of you that would like to contribute. Send suggestions to dave@thecomedybook.com or leave a comment below and I’ll share the best ones in an upcoming FAQs And Answers.

But in the meantime, since you asked…

When it comes to performing at corporate events, I’ve always felt it’s important to personalize your comedy act or presentation to the event and audience. Even the big stars will do this. A few years ago Jay Leno was the surprise performer for an corporate event my cousin attended in Florida. It was a big deal just to have Leno there, but when he mentioned the name of the company and a few of the CEO’s during his act it made the audience feel they were part of an even more special event. It’s fun when a comic of Leno’s stature cracks jokes at your city or a news event you’re following, but when he’s talking specifically about your business or someone sitting only a few tables away it becomes a memorable event.

AudienceEvent planners, CEO’s and employee-audiences love that stuff. It can make the company look good and the event a success. And a great way to make this happen is when comedians and speakers show they know their audience.

Comedians and speakers (and performers in general) call this personalizing or customizing their material. And even though they might be telling the same jokes or giving the same presentation as they did a thousand miles away the night before, they’ll insert references to the area, the event theme and/or the audience.

Think of it this way…

Paul McCartney (I’m a classic rocker) is on tour this summer. He’s doing pretty much the same set (song list) for every show. He needs to do this because of the stage lighting design, special effects, video displays and other techno stuff that is designed and rehearsed in advance. The crew needs to know what song he’ll be playing and where he’ll be on stage when they set off the explosions for Live And Let Die or any fireworks during the final encore. It’s the same with other large arena acts.

To continue this thought, it’s like a speaker with a specific power point display or a comedian with a killer closing bit. They HAVE to do it for their program to be successful and what corporate clients pay big bucks for. BUT it can be tweaked to make the audience feel this particular program is special for them.

Example:

If McCartney is playing The Staples Center in Los Angeles you can bet he’ll shout something close to, “Hello Los Angeles – we’re rockin’ tonight!

The next week he might be at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Would he welcome Los Angeles again that night? No – he would personalize it for his audience.

Hello New York City – we’re rockin’ tonight!

Get it? That’s a very simple example, but demonstrates how personalizing your material works.

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Another example:

I’ve booked a lot of comedians from New York and Los Angeles to do shows near Cleveland. Unless they’re from the area or have spent a lot of time there, they don’t know a heck of a lot about Cleveland. But the experienced ones will usually look for ways to relate to their audience. A popular question the comedians ask…

What’s a suburb of Cleveland that the locals makes fun of?

No offense to any residents, but I tell them Parma (don’t ask if you don’t know). Then during their show, the comic will reference Parma and the crowd will feel he really KNOWS them!

But you know what? They know nothing else about Parma except the name. Next week when they’re in another location, they’ll ask someone else the same question and substitute that area suburb into the same joke.

It’s called personalizing your performance for that particular audience. And it works – BIG time!! Audiences, talent bookers and event planners LOVE it!

survey saysHere’s what I do for corporate bookings…

Enclosed with the contract sent to the client or event planner (snail mail or as email attachments) is a one or two-page questionnaire. The best way to learn about an event and audience is to ask. Based on the answers, I’ll ask the comic or speaker to work some of the shared info into their presentation.

Some of the questions I’ll ask…

  • Is there a theme for the event? If so – what is the theme?
  • Is there anything you’d like me to know about your city or event location?
  • Who are some key people in the company?
  • Will there be anyone in the audience you would like me to focus on as an audience participation volunteer or for special recognition?
  • What are products and/or services of the company?
  • If there a friendly-rival company I can mention – or not mention? Can I use (politically correct) humor at the expense of this rival company?
  • What are some favorite local hang-outs for employees?

Of course the list can go on and on, depending on how deep you want to get into personalizing your program.

Now, you might remember that in addition to personalizing, I also used the term customizing at the beginning of this article. This is an extra added attraction many speakers and comedians offer – usually for an additional fee.

In other words, they can ask for more money when they do more work.

Customizing involves finding out EXACTLY what the client wants you to talk about AND creating a comedy act or speaker presentation based on that specific information. Again, the final program is usually based on the type of performance that got the comic or speaker hired in the first place.

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Example:

If you talk about communications, no client is going to hire you to customize a program on accounting. Same with comedy. If you’re Carrot Top, they’re not going to tell you to leave your props home.

When it comes to Paul McCartney, stadium audiences will pay big bucks to see him. But he’d better play more than a couple Beatles and Wings songs or a majority will leave disappointed (and feel ripped-off).

But customizing does involve more work in learning more about the client, company and audience, and then actually creating material and using it during your performance. In my experience, customizing has involved interviewing (phone and/or email) the event planner, the client and other key people from the company. On the lesser hand, to only personalize an existing program I’ve never done more than ask for them to return the completed questionnaire with the contract.

Other thoughts? We’d love to hear what you do…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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Dave’s August 2016 Comedy Workshop at

The Cleveland Improv is SOLD-OUT!

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Showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday – August 24 at 7:30 pm

For information about upcoming workshops visit TheComedyBook.com

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Comedy contests offer stage time

July 25, 2016

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.”

Not FairDoesn’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. Similar to the format used on the once popular television talent show 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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On Wednesday – August 24 at 7:30 pm

For details, reviews and to register visit TheComedyBook.com

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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 given amount of time was because of audience applause and laugh breaks. But you need to follow their specific 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.

Enter to WinHere’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 the winners of Last Comic Standing or contests associated with a major city or festival like Montreal, Boston, New York 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 or what language they use, 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.

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.

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Any 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.

blog-photo-loserYeah, 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 because 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 experience on stage and used it to become better comedians.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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Getting started as a comedy talent booker

July 11, 2016

Hi Dave! Great article about talent agents. I am moving in the next few months to pursue a career as a comedy booker. I am entry level right now with nothing but passion and probably an unhealthy dose of optimism. I can’t seem to find any information anywhere about where or how to start out…or even how much money bookers make. What is your advice? Thanks for your time – SR

Hey SR – Thanks for the compliment and great question. As I replied to you earlier, being a comedy talent booker can be very rewarding. But since it’s “showbiz,” there will always be a few surprises around every corner.

Show BizFirst of all, how much you can make scheduling performers (comedians, musicians, speakers, variety acts – basically “talent”) depends on the venue and budget. For this FAQ and Answer I’m going to talk in general terms for live comedy shows because there’s already a wide range within just that career focus. If we were to add booking comedians for television (think HBO or Comedy Central Specials)… well, those are full time jobs. From my experience I never knew anyone that booked high profile national TV gigs and comedy clubs at the same time.

Of course I’m sure there are exceptions depending on where you’re located. I know there are very good comedy bookers in smaller markets booking their club comedians on local shows. But what I’m talking about was the case when I worked in NYC and LA. The television comedy bookers would call the comedy club bookers to set up showcases to audition comedians. Both were full time jobs.

Okay, let’s get back to starting out…

If you were booking shows at a small club (think bar or local social club) I wouldn’t plan on quitting your day job just yet. To make it a career, you should think about putting together a network of clubs running shows on different nights to earn a regular income for yourself and the performers. I know large talent agencies (bookers) that started this way. The different networks would be separate “tours” and each club would be charged a fee that would cover pay for the comedians and the talent booker.

How much? Again, it would depend on the market and size of the club.

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For a VERY small example that goes back MANY years ago, I had four bars in four different towns within a couple hours driving distance from each other that did comedy shows on “off nights.” This meant they didn’t want to compete with established clubs that were doing shows Thursdays through Saturdays, but also wanted experienced comedians (not open-mics). I’d put together a “tour” of Sundays through Wednesdays at these clubs and book two comics – an opener and headliner. Each club paid $300 per show plus accommodations and a meal for both comics. Again, this was a long time ago and dollar figures have changed, but that was an acceptable asking price given to me by friends working at more “established” Midwestern booking agencies.

For each show the headliner was paid $200 for a 45-60 minute spot and the opener $50 for 10-15 minutes. I kept $50 per show for booking the comics and taking care of the arrangements (contracts, making sure they knew how to get there, where they were staying, etc…). So for four shows a week, the headliner made $800 and the opening act $200. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember these were not established big-name clubs. They were places to “start.”

The headliners were normally “feature” or “middle” acts at the major comedy clubs on weekends and openers were just moving from the open-mic scene and into doing paid gigs. All were glad to have the work and would contact me on a regular basis saying they were available to do the clubs again (and again, and again…).

$200 bill

As the talent booker I earned $200 per week. Not enough to be considered a full-time job, but if I had continued and eventually ran five of these tours every week, that would’ve been $1,000. Quite a few talent booking agencies started this way.

Again, that is just a very small example of how you might want to start.

Depending on your experience and networking skills – which are majorly important in this biz – you could look into booking comedians for the college or corporate markets. I consider these more lucrative than the clubs and have experience doing both. But to keep this from continuing for pages and pages, I covered these topics in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers. Here’s the link on Amazon.com.

How you would go about getting into these markets depends on your experience and connections (also very majorly important in this biz). You could jump right in – or look for a job or internship with an established college agency or event planner to learn the ropes. Eventually you might find you have a great job with them or could branch out on your own.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this can be a very rewarding and fun career. But just like any other business there are surprises around every corner. Some of these you’ll inevitably have to deal with if you do this long enough include last minute cancellations (by both club owners and talent) and comics that don’t think they’re paid enough and club owners who think they’re paying too much. These are only a few examples that every talent booker has dealt with at one time or another. I don’t want to be a downer, but keep your people skills sharpened and ready to use at any time.

But the one thing I want to say is that a lot of success in this crazy business depends on your reputation.

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I’ve known talent bookers in the past that thought they were meant for the stratosphere of “big business,” only to be out of the business completely because they were rip-off artists and taking advantage of the comedians. What goes around usually comes around.

In other words – keep things honest.

One way to ruin a career as a talent booker is to be caught “double-dipping.” I had no idea what this meant until a good comedian friend I was also managing told me I was doing it!

While booking the club tour mentioned above, I scheduled one of my comedian clients. My contract with him as manager paid me 10% of his income for all bookings. But each of these clubs was also paying me $50 per show. That meant I was taking an extra $20 from the total show cost that should have been paid to the comedian I was managing. In other words, he would’ve only made $180 per show.

I wasn’t doing that with the other comedians.

I was being paid by two different sources for the same job, but only when the comedian I managed was playing the club. That’s called double-dipping. When he pointed it out I felt… well, “duh.” It was a good business lesson and why I’m pointing it out to you. It’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes before you make them on your own.

I kept my pay from the club and made sure the comic was paid his full $200 per show.  After all, since I was his manager, it was important both his career and income continued to grow.

Some talent bookers still try this and need to be called out for taking advantage of newer talent hungry for any paying gigs they can get. But when it “comes around” and the comics are in demand for attracting bigger audiences and making more money for club owners, the “double-dipper” is the last talent booker they would ever work for again.

So my final bit of humble advice (is there such a thing from me?) is to start small – if you’re planning to book comedy talent on your own. Just like the comedians do with open-mics, check out the local scene and get some experience. Get to know the comedians and what they do (example: are they family friendly or x-rated). Schedule a fundraiser or benefit show. Network with club owners to see if they would be interested in a comedy show with you as the talent booker. There might also be local business parties or special events that would like entertainment. You’ll have to network to find out.

shut-up-and-take-my-money-300x225And don’t be afraid to ask to be paid. Freebees are good to get your name out and make contacts, but you’ll never quit your day job doing that. When my first business partner (hey buddy if you’re reading this!) approached our local bar and proposed a weekend comedy show, our idea was just to get stage time for ourselves and our comedian friends. We were shocked when the owner offered to pay us $150 per show. Yeah, we took it – and it became a launching pad for much bigger things.

If you’re lacking in experience, connections or anything else that might hold you back, search out talent agencies and event planners and see if there are any jobs or internships available. It would be starting at the bottom – just like going at it on your own – but the learning process could be the launching pad you’re looking for.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newslettervisit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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Getting an audition at a comedy club

June 26, 2016

Hey Dave – I hope all is well in Comedy Land, a strange but fun and twisted place! I wanted to reach out to you to see if you could offer a suggestion or any advice. I am definitely interested in performing at (a well-known comedy club) and doing a guest set so the club booker can see my stuff. I just wanted to see your take on what was the best bet to get in front of him. I just want him to know who I am. I have video clips I can send. Any advice would be great. Thanks – JW

Hey JW – First of all, that was a great description of Comedy Land. You not only described a place, but also the inhabitants. We all have a lot in common.

You specifically mentioned a well-known comedy club, but the suggestion I’ll throw at you is the same for just about every club.

auditionsI’ve been really fortunate in my career to have been involved in the audition / showcasing process with three major comedy clubs. I’ll even brag a little and tell you I’m the only person who has managed the New York and Cleveland Improv clubs and was talent coordinator for the Hollywood club. And since the NYC Improv is no more, I’ll continue to hold that record until the end of time.

Guess that secures my space in Comedy Land – ha!

I’ve been involved with auditions, showcases and guest sets (all the same thing) at all three clubs. From experience, I can tell you there are different ways to be seen by the club bookers. Contests, workshops, pre-scheduled audition showcases and email submissions are standard options.

There is also a reason why comedians have been hanging out at comedy clubs since the beginning of comedy time. They hope for the chance to meet the club booker in person and ask for a showcase. If the comic already knows the booker, he or she can still hang out and hope they are picked to do a set if another act is late or cancels. It’s like being on “stand-by.”

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Dave’s June 2016 Comedy Workshop at

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This was always a great opportunity for newer comedians at the NYC Improv. We’d only pre-schedule comedians until midnight, but if there was still an audience wanting more laughs we could keep the club open and the show running until 4 am.

That meant the last four hours of the show had performance opportunities for the newer comics on the roster that hadn’t been given earlier “assigned” spots. As the manager, I’d walk around the bar area to see who was hanging out and ask if they’d like to do a set.

To share with you one of my name-dropping memories from doing this at the NYC club in the late 1980′s, I remember walking through the bar with comedian Dave Attell. This was before he scored BIG TIME as the host of Comedy Central’s Insomniac and went on to become one of the funniest comedians working today.

I was looking for someone new to do a short set and saw a young comedian I didn’t recognize. So I asked Dave about him. He told me the guy’s name was Jon Stewart. I asked Dave if he was funny and he said, “Yeah. He’s pretty funny.” So I asked Jon Stewart if he’d like to do a five-minute set.

But Dave was wrong. Jon was MORE than just pretty funny.

In Los Angeles the comedians still hung-out, but we relied more on video and promo packages to find new comedians for showcases. There was also a New Faces Workshop at that time where the new comedians could benefit from coaching and Monday evening showcases on stage at the (now gone) Santa Monica Improv. This could eventually lead to a showcase and MC opportunities at the main club on Melrose Avenue.

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Most regional clubs (for example, The Cleveland Improv) rely on local comedians for the opening / MC spots. So you need to find out when your area clubs are doing showcases, workshops or both to be seen in person. That’s always a step up from sending in YouTube videos or “blind” submissions – though I still encourage you to do both.

BUT what is the best way to be seen by a comedy club booker?

Get a referral from a comedian who already works at the club. As I’ve often said in these articles, that’s your Golden Ticket.

If you’ve worked with a comedian who is a headliner or even a feature act at a club where you want to play – AND (this is the important part) that comic LIKES your act – ask him or her to refer you to the club booker or club manager (not always the same person).

Ask the comic to ask the booker if you could have a guest set, which would be an audition.

This is the number one best way to be seen. There’s no waiting in line to pull a lucky number from a lottery for an audition spot, no wondering if your emails with links to your video are being seen, no late night hanging-out (at least to be seen the first time), and no sitting through long open-mic audition nights as the club booker watches dozens of other comics.

A good referral from a comedian who is already a regular performer at the club is your “in.” He or she is your Golden Ticket to be seen.

You need to start by networking with the comedians you’re already working with. And I’m not talking about kissing-up or being a pain in the you-know-what. Comics and bookers already get enough of that from the hacks and wannabes. You really need to have the material and experience to be ready to play The Improv or any other major club before you approach these opportunities.

jump_off_cliff

Heading for the big time!

Don’t fool yourself and think you can jump right into the big-time because you know the right people.

It doesn’t matter if the referring comic is your best friend. If he’s smart and cares about his career, he’s not going to stick his neck out and refer someone who is not ready to perform at that particular club. He may say he will just to shut you up – but he won’t. Working comics have worked too hard to get there and they’re not going to blow it on someone who will make them look bad.

So that being said, experience and stage time will put you in contact with comedians working clubs you want to play. Using J.W. (who asked today’s question) as an example, I went to his website and saw two fliers for shows coming up this month that also include TWO comics who are regular performers at The Improv. Both comics play his area Improv club and ONE is also a regular performer at the Hollywood club.

If J.W. does an outstanding set opening these shows and the comedians like his work, then J.W. should ask them about referring him to the club bookers. They may say yes or no, but it’s an opportunity for a Golden Ticket that he shouldn’t pass up.

Personal references can give you a Golden Ticket.

Just like the time Dave Attell told me Jon Stewart was funny. I would have never known it that night if it hadn’t come from a comedian I respected and who was a regular performer at the club. The choice to put him on during a late night show at The New York Improv didn’t make his career, but at least he got stage time that night and that’s how you build experience and contacts. And as anyone who’s working in Comedy Land knows, experience and contacts can help you grab a Golden Ticket to get inside.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

————————————————————————————-

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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Blurbs and letters of recommendation

June 13, 2016

Hey Dave – I remember you had an article about what goes into a good recommendation letter. I have a few from doing corporate shows and fundraisers. Since you’ve also pointed out that promo is online I was wondering how to get these letters in front of talent bookers. It’s not like the old days when we could make paper copies to send in with a promo package. Thoughts? – J.W.

Hey J.W. – The article you’re talking about was on what would go into a good letter of recommendation. The idea is to share a client’s positive review about your performance and what you contributed to the event. The idea is to show potential clients, event planners and talent bookers you have a track record – experience – at helping to make other events successful. And as we know, they also want their events to be successful.

Thumbs Up 1Here are a few examples of feedback that work in a good letter of recommendation:

  • Great performance
  • Lots of laughs
  • Engaged the audience
  • Easy to work with
  • Great audience feedback
  • Went out of your way to make the event a success.

All that type of good word is… well, good word for you.

You still want to collect letters – or emails – of recommendation. But yeah, the days of printing up paper copies are pretty much ancient history. That’s good for the trees – and also good for streamlining your promotional material. Not to mention saving postal costs from the days when we had to send everything via snail mail.

Today everything goes on your website. And like a modern 15- 20 second television commercial (in the “old days” they could last a minute or even 90 seconds) you need to promote yourself and your services with the best attention-grabbing statements.

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What you are looking for is one great sentence or a few short ones together that you can pull out and use on the homepage of your website, LinkedIn, Facebook or other one-page promo.

Something like…

Thumbs Up 2J.W. was very funny and our audience loved him. We look forward to working with him again.” – name of client / company / event, etc…

The idea is to use this sentence as a blurb, which is a short and positive review similar to what you see on the back of book covers. Or now that so many books are eBooks, these blurbs – recommendations from reviewers – usually follow the book cover image. These are enticements, which is another word for advertisements that will keep potential buyers interested in buying the book.

I know I’m getting off track (my track record?) but for an example of how a good blurb should be written go online to the Amazon.com and look for Kindle books.

You don’t need a Kindle reader to do this. Find any book and click the Look Inside feature. The following will work with almost any eBook…

When you click Look Inside a separate window will open and you’ll get a free sample of the book to read. It’s just like the “old days” of going to your local bookstore where you could pull a book off the shelf, do a quick look and decide if you want to buy it or not.

Ebooks do this online for the same reason. You can read a sample before you buy.

Okay, like I said I’m going off track (you were warned) but follow me on this. It’ll make sense at the end…

Unlike physical books with real paper pages, eBooks only offer the beginning of each book you want to sample. It’s usually only the first 10 or 20 percent. To see the rest, you have to buy it.

So publishers and advertisers (enticers) need to grab a reader’s attention right from the first page and hold it for that first 10% or 20%. There should be no wasted space.

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Instead of being similar to a paper book that starts out with title pages, copyright pages, dedication pages, thank you pages, blank pages and other traditional book beginnings, it’s important for eBooks to entice readers right from the very start into purchasing the book. There is also no back cover for an ebook to display descriptions (advertisements) about what’s inside.

Immediately after the cover image you’ll see a short overview (enticement) of the book and the best reviews (advertisements). Since the publishers want to display as many good reviews as possible to convince you to buy it and only have 10% to 20% of an ebook to do that, they’ll only use the best statement(s) from reviews that were probably longer.

These are blurbs.

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Following the blurbs the same will jump right into a Table of Contents (more enticements) and the beginning of the book. This gives potential buyers an immediate feel for what they’re buying. The copyright pages and all the rest of the legal stuff and personal comments (“Thanks mom and dad for your support!”) will appear at the end of the eBook. The legal stuff is needed to keep the government and tax man off your back, while the personal stuff keeps family and friends happy. But none of it helps to make a sale.

Now, to get back on track. I detailed these standard publishing techniques because…

You need to start thinking the same way. You’re selling your service just like publishers sell their eBooks. These online books are great FREE examples of how advertising (blurbs of recommendation) should look and work for you. Take a look at the short and attention grabbing one or two sentence reviews at the beginning of an eBook and you’ll understand what you should be looking for in a letter of recommendation. You’ll know what to pull out and use on your website and in your promo material for a blurb.

Thumbs Up 3Get great blurbs (advertising) and put them where potential clients (buyers) will be sure to see them – near the beginning of your promo. It will entice them to read more about you. And if they like what they read, they’ll continue to read. And once they know more about the positives you can bring to their show or event you’ll have a better chance of nailing the job.

You can also check out websites for other comedians and speakers. Any of them that have great letters of recommendation will have the best blurbs posted online for potential clients to read. It’s also common to have a “Reviews” page linked to the home page with a list of blurbs.

Websites for working comics and speakers are loaded with them.

The deal is that you can talk yourself up all you want and great salesmen are skilled at that. But nothing beats someone else talking you up. That’s what a great review – blurbs and letters of recommendation – will accomplish.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Talent agents vs. talent bookers

May 30, 2016

Hey Dave – You’ve been referring to talent agents and talent bookers. What’s the difference? – Big G

Hey Big G – Good question. But even if it were a lousy question I’d still tell you it was great because… Well, let’s just call it a personal safety concern because nobody calls me Big Dave. I’m wondering… how BIG are you?

Talent agents are different than talent bookers. Here’s the scoop:

Silent Movie

It’s my agent!

A talent AGENT works with a selected group of performers. For our case, let’s use comedians. The talent agent’s business is called an AGENCY and the person working directly with a comedian would be his or her AGENT.

They are business partners.

A talent agent’s job is to get work for the comedian.

Talent bookers, event planners, club managers or anyone looking to hire a comedian would contact the comedian’s agent. The agent would work out the details, including the important where, when and how much the comic is paid for the gig. The agent would also take care of the contracts and in many cases collect the money, take out his (the agent’s) commission and pay the comedian.

Of course like a lot of stuff in the entertainment biz, there are different methods. I’ve worked with comics recently that are paid in full following their last show (for instance by a comedy club manager at the end of a weekend booking) and the comedian sends a commission to his or her agent. It all depends on what they’ve agreed to do.

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Starting June 11, 2016 is SOLD OUT!

Workshop Marquee 150

All workshop members perform at The Improv on

Wednesday, June 29 during a 7:30 pm show.

For info about future workshops visit TheComedyBook.com

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Usually this type of talent agent representation requires a formal agreement with a legally signed exclusive contract between the agent and the comic. Again from experience, I don’t know too many agents that are willing to free-lance. This term means they would schedule a comedian for a paid gig without a having a signed contract with that comedian. The reasons they would consider free-lancing might be:

  1. To see how well the agent and comedian work together before joining into a legal business partnership and…
  2. To see if the comedian can get bookings and is worth the time and effort the agent will need to spend building his career. In other words, can they both make money together?

Free-lancing seemed to be more common years ago (working comics please correct me if I’m wrong!). It was like dating without a promise you won’t see other people. You know – playing the field.

Baby-youre-the-only-oneBut things have gotten more protective business-wise as the business has become BIGGER money-wise.

Talent agents want to protect their investment, which is the time and effort spent finding work for the comedian. Sometimes this investment will include money, but honestly (think about it) they’re not going throw BIG money into a comedian’s career unless the comic promises not to see other people.

In this case it means not working with other talent agents.

Reason?

The free-lance gig might parlay into a BIGGER paying gig. Will the comic throw the talent agent a BIGGER commission for this second booking? Of course the honorable answer would be yes. But how often have you heard show business called an honorable profession?

That’s why most everyone today uses a contract – with all the “i’s” dotted, the “t’s” crossed and legal signatures at the bottom of the page.

Want more? Okay, here’s a different scenario on the same example:

A different free-lancing agent might get the same comic a gig with a BIGGER payday. More money is usually a good incentive for the comedian to stop working with the original talent agent and start working with the new one.

That means the first agent (following me so far?) is the ultimate loser. He had spent time and effort to build the comedian’s career – only to lose him to another agent when the comedian starts earning more money. He would have been smarter businesswise spending the same time and effort working with a comedian who was also a legally signed business partner so the agent wouldn’t be cut out on the future rewards gained from his work.

That’s why you’re not going to find as many talent agents that are willing to free-lance anymore. No one likes to get burned.

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So if a talent agent is serious about a comedian, chances are good (there are always exceptions) they’ll want an exclusive agreement. This is a signed contract promising you (the comedian) won’t work with any other talent agent for as long as the contract is binding.

But keep in mind this is a two-way business deal.

Sometimes comics (speakers or other performers) will go with any agent that will sign them – just because they feel it will speed things up on their road to success. As I’ve heard way too many times hanging around with comedians in comedy clubs:

“I NEED an agent!”

But signing with the wrong agent – one that doesn’t share the same vision for your career and goals – can be more of a headache than getting gigs on your own.

To quote Smokey Robinson: “You better shop around.

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As a comic you want to work with a talent agent that shares your career goals.

It’s not uncommon for performers to sign with different agents when ideas change or don’t go as planned. Always make sure there’s a time limit in your business partnership after which you can resign or opt-out of the contract. You don’t want to be stuck indefinitely with an agent that can’t help you.

Reason?

When you sign with a talent agent they receive a commission on any work you do during the time of your exclusive contract. I personally know a few comics that had signed with ineffective (small time) agents that didn’t do squat for their careers. But when the comic hit it big on his own or with someone else working for him and money started rolling in – guess who showed up?

Yeah – you’ve got that right. It was the small time agent that had an exclusive contract.

In all the cases I know they were paid BIG money settlements before agreeing to let the comedian turned star opt-out of the contract. So keep in mind that a talent agent can be a long-term business partner and you BOTH need to make a decision on whether or not you want to work together.

Now onto the talent booker…

A talent booker is the person that will hire you for work.

For instance, the guy (or girl) that schedules the acts for your local comedy club is considered the booker for that club. He’s not going to find you work at a rival club across the street because it will pay you more money. Your talent agent would do that.

On a larger scale, a nationwide chain of clubs like The Improv will have one booking agency scheduling the headliners for all their clubs. But don’t even think about asking them to book you into a rival club if all their slots are filled. Again, it’s your agent’s job to find you work.

Of course the waters can always be a little muddy with some talent bookers also acting as talent agents. What I’m telling you is only a simple overview of how it’s supposed to work.

If you want more details about what a talent agent does (and talent managers) check out my book How To Be A Working Comic. Yeah, I know that’s a blatant plug, but since I’m signed with a literary agent I need to follow my contract and sell books for her to get a commission.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Sending talent agents promotional material

May 16, 2016

Hey Dave – I just went to a (big) audition in LA but didn’t get in because there were too many people. Like you advised, I gave one of the judges my promo package though. I’m not living in LA and it was a long way to travel for this. Do you think it could be useful for me to send my promo materials directly to comedy agents in LA? Thanks – D.

Cattle Call

Cattle Call

Hey D. – Bad news that you didn’t get in for the audition. I know the one you’re referring to and since it involved television, it was guaranteed to attract a lot of comedians. In showbiz terms, it was a cattle call. Everyone in the entertainment biz knows what I’m talking about. You line up early with a ba-zillion others and hope you’re seen before they cut-off the audition.

This process makes everyone feel more like a number, rather than a talent. I remember a comic from one of my workshops traveled a long way to audition for Last Comedy Standing. They were only seeing the first 100 people in line and I’m pretty sure he was around #110.

He wasn’t seen either. He called me while standing in line and told me how some comedians were being given preferential treatment and were escorted to the front of the line and seen for the audition without having to wait at all.

What was up with that? Okay, I’ll tell you…

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Space limited to 10 people

For details, reviews, video and to register visit TheComedyBook.com

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It’s what happens when the powers that be are already familiar with a comedian. They already know what he can do and because of that, they already think there’s a good chance the comedian could be a good choice for that particular show.

So based on that past experience they will guarantee the comic will be seen during the audition. And in most cases, they will schedule a prearranged time.

It’s a lot easier for them to bring in a comedian they’re already familiar with and already know has the experience, rather than auditioning a long line-up of comics they know nothing about. I’m not saying these types of auditions don’t work. If they didn’t, no one would do them anymore. But talent bookers know that just because someone lined up early enough to be seen during a cattle call, it doesn’t mean they have the talent or experience they’re looking for.

It might only mean they have a working alarm clock.

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That’s pretty much how it works with talent agents in the big-time showbiz centers of LA (and NYC as long as we’re on the topic). To earn a living talent agents have to spend a LOT of time and effort getting their clients work. And for them to do this you can bet they’ll need to know exactly what the talent (comedians) can do.

The best way to do that? See them perform in person.

And not just once, but over and over in front of different audiences and in different venues. They really want to know the talent is worth their time and effort. And they need to know this firsthand.

Can a talent agent commit to doing this based on a mailed promo package or website? Not very often. But it can be a start (a good introduction) or a good reminder following an audition. That’s why I advised you to take a promotional package with you to the audition. If you don’t get in, there’s always a chance it could serve as name-face recognition (a reminder) down the road. It’s a long shot of course, but you never know.

As far as sending blind (not requested) promo packages to LA agents your best hope is that it serves as an introduction. To be honest – I don’t think they watch that much from comics who are not based in LA. Even if they do, they’ll still want to see you live. And not just once, but over and over. They’ll need to know firsthand that you can be relied on to give a great show and that you have the experience and talent worthy of their time and effort to get you work.

The best thing you can do if your goal is to eventually land an LA agent is to get REALLY good before you approach them about being seen.

For two great examples of what I’m talking about, read the interviews with Drew Carey and Jeff Foxworthy in How To Be A Working Comic. Each had the goal of appearing on The Tonight Show, but they couldn’t get seen by only sending promotional packages. It didn’t happen for either one until they were seen on stage by the producers in LA.

Looking for talent!

Looking for talent!

I know there are always exceptions. And some LA comics will disagree with this statement, but agents frequent the clubs actively looking for new talent. That’s how they earn their money.

If you’re truly interested in LA, make a trip to check out the comedy scene. Go to the clubs and the open-mics. Do you have any contacts who can help you get a showcase at one of the major clubs? Try to schedule one or two in advance, then use your promo material as a promotion for these shows.

It’s how public relations – advertising – works.

Think about whatever big-budget movie is opening this weekend. You’ve seen the commercials and read the print ads for weeks (promo packages) and now it’s time for the film to be seen. If the publicists have done their job by building up interest, there should be an audience.

That’s how you should work your promo material.

Talent agents may not specifically come out to see you. But your promotion might serve as name-face recognition if you’re in the right place at the right time – which would be on stage in a club where they’re looking for new faces.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading 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 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, Cleveland and Tampa Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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