Showcases can be a ticking time bomb

September 12, 2017

Hey Dave – You sent out an article last month about how important it is to stay within the amount of time you’ve been given to perform on stage. My question is why are showcases so short? In most cases I don’t think you have enough time to prove how good you really are. – S.K.

Hey S.K. – In case anyone missed it or wants a reminder of the article you’re talking about, it’s still posted below: Stick to your time on stage (August 1, 2017). And now that we’re all on the same page…

Showcasing!

To clarify for anyone just getting into the comedy or speaking biz, showcase is another word for audition. A successful showcase can lead to work (auditioning for talent bookers, event planners, etc.) or representation (auditioning for a talent agent or manager).

Why use the word showcase? I don’t know… maybe it sounds more professional or less stressful, but it means exactly the same as audition.

I’ve been involved in a lot of showcases for comedy clubs, television shows, corporate events and college gigs. And here’s a behind-the-scenes truth about this business. The industry people – talent bookers, agents and managers – looking to hire or represent performers want to make the most of their on the job time. In other words, they don’t want to spend every night of the week going to a club and only seeing one performer showcasing each night. It makes much more sense (time management) to see a number of performances during one show.

They also don’t want to sit through ten, twenty or thirty minute sets when it’s obvious within the first three minutes the showcasing performer is not what they are looking to hire.

This is why industry showcases include numerous performers doing short sets. For instance…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Begins Saturday, October 7, 2017

Includes performance at The Improv on Wednesday, October 25

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – limited to 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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When I was auditioning comedians for the television show A&E’s An Evening At The Improv, I would schedule showcases for Monday evenings at The Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. I’d block out about 35 minutes to see ten comics do three minutes each. The extra five minutes would be a buffer for MC introductions and time for the acts to get on and off the stage. If everyone kept to their time – and it was more than just expected they would – then Mission Showcase would be accomplished.

Within that short period of time ten comedians would have an opportunity to book a television show.

And it wasn’t just me in the audience on Monday nights watching the showcase. There were talent bookers for The Tonight Show, HBO, MTV and other shows and networks checking out the new comics. They knew this was happening on Monday evenings and everyone could all get a lot of work done in a little over half an hour.

But it was never a surprise when some of the comics complained that three minutes was not enough time to showcase their talent. But you know what?

They were wrong.

Enough already!!

Three minutes is PLENTY of time for an experienced talent booker to know whether or not they want to hire the showcasing performer. In my case, if you couldn’t prove you were ready to perform on A&E’s An Evening at the Improv within three minutes (to be honest it was more like within 30 seconds) then you weren’t right for that particular show.

This was also true for the other talent bookers watching these showcases.

If a comedian couldn’t demonstrate what he can do on stage within the first three minutes, there was NO WAY a talent booker will hire him to do those same three minutes on a television show. Even if the comic suddenly became hysterically funny at the end of this showcase – the first three minutes will have lost viewers channel surfing for better entertainment.

It’s similar to auditioning for Last Comic Standing, America’s Got TalentAmerican Idol, The Voice or So You Think You Can Dance. Before anyone makes it to the televised episodes, thousands of hopefuls showcase in front of one, two or maybe three judges off-camera for (and trust me on this because I’ve been there) much less than three minutes. If performers can’t impress the judges within that time frame – they can forget about moving on in the competition.

Lesson?

If you think you have what it takes to get on any of those shows, don’t waste any time during your showcase. Bring your A Game and go for it asap.

It’s also important to realize this is your opportunity as a performer or humorous speaker (during speaking showcases) to make a good first impression with the industry people. It shows you’re professional by knowing the importance of sticking to a schedule – their schedule. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the August 1, 2017 article referred to above.

Another reason to stick to your showcasing time is consideration for your fellow comedians or speakers.

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It doesn’t matter if your showcase is done in front of a live audience, like we did at the Hollywood Improv, or just a few judges similar to first auditions for Last Comic Standing and American Idol. Anyone watching a lot of performers doing short performances will get burned-out faster than if they were watching one great performer during the same time frame.

For example, Jerry Seinfeld can do an hour set and leave the audience wanting more. He’s a seasoned professional entertainer. No one can argue that. But newcomers won’t have the experience or material to hold an audience that long. It takes time – stage time – and talent to reach that status. And if you are already there like Seinfeld – then you wouldn’t be showcasing anyway.

And no one can argue that either…

So one way to make these talent showcases fair (there’s a word you don’t often hear in showbiz) is to keep the talent bookers and audience from being burned-out for the later performers. It’s not fair to the performers at the end of the showcase.

Here’s another example…

During my comedy workshops ten aspiring comedians perform five minute sets during our evening graduation show. That’s 50 minutes – not including an MC warming up the crowd for ten minutes to kick things off and doing short introductions for each comic.

That brings our show to over an hour, which is getting into Seinfeld territory on stage.

The audience is fresh and excited in the beginning. And by keeping each comedian’s set short and funny, chances are the audience will not get burned-out by the end. There may be performers they don’t care as much for, but the next one will be on stage within a few minutes. The audience interest level can be held.

The goal for a good showcase is to leave the audience (or judges) wanting more.

At one workshop performance a few years ago, the FIRST comic in our show – for whatever reason – never took his eyes off the first few rows of tables. He kept his head down and never looked at the people seated in the back. He had been told to watch for my signal from the sound booth (back of the room) telling him his five minutes were almost up and to finish his performance.

Except he NEVER looked up. He kept his head down and didn’t stop talking.

He had a good five minutes – which is what he had created during our workshop. He had been prepared and did a good job. But when he finished his five minutes, he just kept rambling on. He didn’t stop talking.

Suddenly, it wasn’t funny.

Running on empty

In fact – it was the complete opposite. The audience lost interest. You could see them breaking up into small discussion groups at their tables, looking at the menus and trying to order drinks to ease their pain.

When he finally ran out of things to say, he left the stage. The audience had already checked out mentally and the comedian who was unfortunate enough to have the next spot had to work TWICE as hard to get the audience back (get them to pay attention). It was not an easy night for either comic, or even the next few that had to follow this showcase killing disaster.

The comic that went long found me at the back of the room. He had lost track of time and had no idea how many minutes he’d been on stage. So when he asked me how he did, I had to give him an honest answer:

You did ten freaking minutes!” I said.

Okay, I hope I didn’t sound as angry as that looks. But I was being honest. I took time to explain how what he had done affected the show. It really wasn’t fair to anyone that night – including him, especially since the first five minutes of his set was great. The additional time he did onstage (unprepared in advance) left an impression with the audience that he wasn’t very good after all.

To end this lesson on a positive note, he’s still doing comedy. And since talent bookers are hiring him, I know the lesson about sticking to his time on stage was learned.

So whether you’re showcasing or doing a paid gig, remember the importance of time. It’s a ticking time bomb – and we all know how comedians and speakers HATE to bomb!!

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

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Submission tips for comedy festivals

August 28, 2017

Hey Dave – Your newsletters always advertise the next big comedy festival and website information. I have submitted to a few each year over the past few years. It can get pretty costly, so I limit myself to only three or four a year. Other than the general submission of filling out the forms and sending in a link to a video, are there some tips to getting noticed and accepted into these festivals? Thanks and I always look forward to receiving your weekly letters. – RT

Hey RT – Here’s one thing I love about the comedy industry in general:

The unknown.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows!

As always, more than a few people reading this will have opinions and advice concerning your question and I’ll share mine in a moment. But concerning your question about comedy festivals, what makes this biz so lovable – and sometimes maddening – is how diverse and contradictory much of the opinions and advice might be. I’ve spent too many late nights in comedy clubs (and NYC diners) talking with and listening to comics and industry people discussing trends, formulas, theories, what works, what doesn’t work, how to get work and where the industry is headed.

Then WHAM!!! A comic will come out of (seemingly) nowhere doing something completely different and opinions change.

To give this historic reference, go back to the generation that first watched George Carlin do his Hippie-Dippy Weatherman routine on national television. Then a few years later he released Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television. I can only imagine a lot of comics from his generation immediately scrubbed the grease out of their hair, grew beards, ditched suits for faded jeans and stopped worrying about censorship.

It was the WHAM!! of the unknown – the unpredictable. That’s what makes comedy exciting and funny. But then again, maybe that’s just my opinion…

—————————————————————————-

Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Begins Saturday, October 7, 2017

Includes performance at The Improv on Wednesday, October 25

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – limited to 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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So what does this have to do with RT’s question? There’s no general (safe, trendy, formulaic or whatever-you-want-to-call-it) answer. When submitting or auditioning for anything in the entertainment industry, there’s always the unknown factor.

Comedy festivals are like a comedy club audience. Each one has its own personality. Some are huge and slick entertainment extravaganzas and showcases for experienced and already popular performers, along with those they consider worthy of the title “up-and-coming.” Others are smaller events spotlighting local talent, local venues or even the hosting city in general.

There can also be a festival theme. For instance, with “Women In Comedy”… Well, guys need not apply. And if you want to be part of the “Clean Comedy Challenge,” don’t send a submission video loaded with F-bombs and tales about your sex life.

All these (and much more) are factors organizers consider when selecting comedians for festivals.

I specifically mentioned the unknown because unless you are the person or part of a group reviewing submissions, it’s impossible to predict what they might be looking for at that specific moment. You may send in a video you think is appropriate for all audiences, while another comic goes in a different direction aiming to offend everyone within earshot and gets the final festival slot in a late-night “anything goes” show. And of course the opposite could also happen. You never know.

It’s called the unknown factor.

There have been FAQ And Answer articles in the past about networking, “who you know” and basically, building connections in this business. In the chapter from my book How To Be A Working Comic about agents, it’s very clear the good ones know who the good comedians are in various cities. They score insider info through the comics they represent, by following what comics are getting bookings in good clubs, and talking with the talent bookers the agents work with. It’s the same with many festival organizers. They might give special attention or consideration based on great recommendations from other comedians and industry insiders when reviewing submissions. You never know.

It’s called the unknown factor.

But for my advice (you’ve been waiting patiently – correct?) a good way to put the odds in your favor is by treating this business as a professional. This is a major element of success. Your goal is to be funny, original, dedicated, experienced and reliable. These are the key factors for anyone that wants to be taken seriously in this business.

Without those… Well, pretenders need not apply.

Good talent bookers – and festival organizers – are very aware of this. Their jobs and/or festivals may feature amateurs, but to be successful they don’t run them as amateur events. If audiences leave disappointed chances are good they won’t return.

So how can you improve your chances of being selected?

Understanding there is an unknown factor you can’t control (organizers’ taste in comedy, themes, location – whatever), it’s important to show you can be a factor in making the event a success. And the best way to do that is show them you’re serious about the funny business.

When it comes to showing someone what you do without a live audition, your video submission is KEY. Yes, organizers want to know how much experience you have (resume / credits), but there are plenty of comics with plenty of experience who are still not funny. Video actually shows if that experience has paid off and if you really are funny.

Never submit an amateur-looking or sounding video. NEVER!

It’s not a big production effort or big money cost anymore to get a good quality video. Do some research to find out how much a local videographer charges to get a film of your set with good quality picture AND audio. Even a decent camera set up on a tripod in the back of club can also work. But NEVER submit a low-quality, hard to listen to video. You know the type I mean – filmed through a friend’s cell phone from a table with glasses clinking, people talking and the guy filming trying to steady a shaking hand.

Bookers want to see and hear you AND hear laughter from the audience. Having a good quality video shows you treat this business as a professional.

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Also don’t waste any of the valuable time organizers will spend watching your video.

During a recent coaching session I was working with a very funny young comedian. He also had the same dilemma – not being chosen for a comedy festival. We watched his three-minute video submission and the FIRST thirty seconds included the MC walking on stage and introducing the comic. Then the young comedian came out and went through the old comedian tricks of shouting:

  • Hello (mention the city)!
  • Keep it going for your host and MC – isn’t he great?!” (Who cares? They want to see YOU).
  • Give yourselves a round of applause for coming out and supporting live comedy!” (The most overused stock line of all time).

How much time?

That was the beginning of his video submission. Not funny or original. I can’t imagine that would make a great first impression on an experience talent booker looking for experienced talent. It was basically a waste of valuable submission time.

So what’s my point?

The best advice I can give is to treat your career as a business. Especially if you are planning to someday be a professional comedian. Show this in your festival submissions by sending in a good quality video. You NEVER want to look like an amateur – even if you are.

And BTW, there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur since everyone has to start out somewhere. But when you feel it’s time to go for that next career step, don’t give anyone an opportunity to reject you because a low quality video submission makes it appear you’re not ready for that opportunity.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Experienced advice on getting hired as a comedy writer

August 14, 2017

Some time ago I ran an article about getting hired as a comedy writer. I asked if anyone had experienced advice to share with us and my not so subtle request reached one of my favorite writers in the comedy biz.

I’m happy to pass along his words of experienced wisdom.

Marc Jaffe is a stand-up comedian with numerous TV appearances, author (Sleeping With Your Gynecologist), playwright (Side Effects May Include…) and with his wife Karen founded Shaking With Laughter, an organization that helps support the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. In Fall 2017 Marc and Karen’s efforts will surpass the $1 million mark for funds raised.

Marc is also known to many of us as a writer for the legendary television sitcom Seinfeld.

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

Re: How to write for others.

Good advice given. For what it’s worth here are a few things I would add.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Stick to your time on stage

August 1, 2017

Hey Dave – Without revealing my secret identity, I heard you talking not too long ago and know you were pretty upset with a comedian who went over his time and was on stage too long. It’s probably safe to say he overstayed his welcome. Care to elaborate? – G.

Hey G – What are you a secret agent with a secret identity listening to my not-so-private conversations? Oh well, I guess it could be worse. Instead of a sleazy private eye snooping on me, you could be a self-centered comedian (or speaker) who goes over his allotted time on stage.

Want to kill a potentially great relationship with a comedy club or make sure you’re never invited back for a return gig at a college or corporate event?

Go ahead – ignore it!

When you’re given the light (the signal) to end your set and leave the stage – ignore it. Go ahead and do another 5, 10, 15 minutes, half an hour… an hour… Everyone will surely love and worship your amazing and boundless talent that you’re compelled to share so unselfishly for however long your ego needs to be stroked on stage.

And in case you don’t recognize sarcasm in the written word, insert a capitalized “NOT!” after that last sentence. In a creative profession that thrives on having no rules (being original and unique is a big plus) going over your time on stage breaks a big business rule – and is a big minus.

As always there are exceptions that depend on your status within the industry and everyone starting out in the business needs to realize that. There are special events where more time on stage is a benefit. For instance, fundraising efforts that are planned in advance to set records for time on stage. I remember reading about a comedian who did forty hours of stand-up years ago and raised at TON of money for a hospital. That’s truly awesome, but not what we’re talking about today.

Another exception is having your own hit television show or enough name recognition to sell out theaters and arenas. That’s like being the favorite child or grandchild. You get special privileges.

When you’re a major star and selling out arenas, theaters or (sometimes) a club and charging big $$’s for tickets, fans expect a “concert” experience and more than just a half hour or hour show by the headliner. It’s like seeing Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, or U2 perform three hour concerts. Their fans are into it, paid money to see that particular artist, and these acts have the material to entertain for that length of time. But until you’re working within that stratosphere of popularity, stick to your time on stage.

Reasons why? As always, I’m glad you asked…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Showcase performance on Wednesday, August 16th at 7:30 pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Fall 2017 Chicago and Cleveland workshop dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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It’s a business, which is a fact I emphasize in many of these FAQ’s and Answers. Some club owners are in the entertainment biz because they enjoy it and like to nurture and promote new talent. Others are only in it to make money. But the bottom line for both is if they don’t make money (and yes, this includes the nurturing types) they go out of business. When a club goes out of business, comedians have one less place to work.

Clubs earn money selling tickets, selling food and drinks, and keeping expenses (rent, utilities, inventory, payroll, etc…) under control. The comedian you reminded me of in this week’s question – and I won’t mention his name – actually told club management (me at that time!) after the show that he was doing the club a favor by going more than an HOUR over his scheduled time on stage. He pretty much wanted a “thank you” for giving the serving, kitchen and bar staff more time to sell food and drinks.

That consideration for the club deserves a bigger laugh than any he received on stage. After all, Dumb and Dumber was a popular movie and now in my opinion this comic is the live version. Good thinking! (Again – this is written sarcasm so please add a big “NOT!”).

You know why? Because the business doesn’t work that way…

Shows at this particular club (a world famous comedy club, I might add) are timed. Staff arrives at a certain time, the doors open at a certain time, the show starts at a certain time and the comedians – opening act, feature act and headlining act – are given set times. The headliners, of course, are the privileged members of the family, but most know how the business works.

It’s a profit deal!

As Steve Martin said in The Jerk:

I get it… It’s a profit deal!

The behind the scenes business – kitchen crew, servers, food-runners, bars, box office, security, management – revolve around the show schedule. For instance, the box office closes when the headliner goes on so customers won’t complain about getting ripped-off by buying a ticket after the show has started. So that profit opportunity is ended when the headliner walks on stage.

Are you following me so far? Good, because I’m not done yet…

A sad fact about the nightclub biz is that some people like to skip out on their checks. In other words, if they can sneak out without paying they’re getting a free night out. The truth in most cases is that the servers – the waiters and waitresses – are stuck with these checks and have to pay for these uncollected profits out of their own pockets. They foot the bill and end up paying for these jerks (and I’m not referring again to a Steve Martin movie) to have a fun night out.

Not fair – is it?

This is why comedy clubs have “check spots.” Experienced comedians know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s when the checks are put on the tables to be paid by the customers. The show doesn’t (or shouldn’t) end until all the checks are paid – by the customers. That makes it difficult for deadbeat customers to blend in and sneak out with customers who have already paid. It’s a sad truth about the nightclub business.

So based on the time allotted for the show, last call is given when there is still enough time during the headlining comedian’s set to give customers their checks and collect the money. No more drinks or food are served after last call because the checks are closed. When the show ends and the final comedian has walked off the stage, customers can head to the bar or another club if they want to continue drinking and eating.

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This means the final two profit opportunities for the club has ended – food and drinks.

But what about keeping expenses under control? When the staff has finished serving and collecting checks, they have to hang around and wait for the show to end and the customers to leave. They’ve also lost any opportunity to make additional tips because the checks are “closed” and they can’t start new ones for thirsty customers because no one knows for sure when the show will end.

In the case of the comedian referred to above, that meant the staff sat around for over an hour – on the clock and getting paid by the club owner – before they could prepare the room for the next show or  finish their shifts, shut down the club and leave.

Doesn’t make great business sense for a good business plan – does it?

I’m sure you can imagine the chaos this can cause for clubs that have two or three shows on a weekend night. If the first show runs even 10 or 15 minutes late because a comic goes over his time, the audiences coming in for the later shows don’t know this. They’re on time and lined-up to enter the showroom, while the earlier audience is still inside. When that audience is leaving the new audience is trying to get in and…

Well, I’ll refer to another Steve Martin quote that also works from the management point of view:

Comedy isn’t pretty.

Closed doors

I don’t need to tell you what the management and staff are saying behind the back of the comedian that went past his time and stayed on stage too long. I’ll just let you know it isn’t pretty.

The same holds true for corporate and college performers. These business people and students are usually on a schedule. It could be a training seminar, class, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour / social time – whatever. The contracts I’ve seen for these types of gigs are very strict in their performance times. Go short (leave the stage before completing the time you’re contracted for) and the clients won’t want to pay you. Go long and they won’t even think of booking you for a return engagement since you’ve disrupted the event schedule.

Of course there are other reasons why you must stick to your time on stage. The No. 1 reason for beginning comics and speakers is to prove to talent bookers and club management you understand how important this is and won’t cause a potential nightmare in the future. But in an effort not to take longer than expected when you started reading, I’ll stick to my time and sign off. I think you get the idea.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Don’t reveal too much in your promo material

July 17, 2017

Hey Dave – I took your workshop about a year ago. When you did the session about business you talked about not putting your home address on your promotional material. Another comic told me I should put my address on my website, promo material and DVD’s if I’m serious about doing this. He said to give bookers every way possible to find me to hire me. What do you think?- E.H.

Hey E.H. – I think you need to hang out with different comics. Of course it’s good business sense to give talent bookers the best and easiest ways to contact you, but let’s not get too personal. When you’re promoting your business – which is you when you’re a comedian or humorous speaker – you have to network and let buyers (in our case meaning the people hiring you) know how to find you.

Never know who’s paying attention…

But it’s also important to realize it’s pretty much impossible to pick and choose who will end up viewing your promo material.

Everything you post online or even post through the Postal Service (sometimes I embarrass myself with this word play) is fair game for just about anyone to see. So not only will talent bookers have a way to find you – so will everyone else.

As usual, I have a story about this. And I’ll share it with you – in a moment…

First of all, business methods have changed a LOT over the past few years for both comedians and humorous speakers. It wasn’t that long ago during my comedy workshops that I’d bring in a stack of promotional packages developed by big-name public relations firms for big-name comedians such as Ray Romano, George Carlin, Ellen DeGeneres, Dave Chappelle and others. These were great examples of how professional promotional packages should look, but you really don’t see these much anymore because just about everything today is done online.

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Wednesday – August 16 at 7:30 pm

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In the “old days” these were hard copies (paper and photos) displayed in designer folders or even plain two-pocket versions (like you “old timers” probably used in school) that agents, managers and talent bookers could actually hold in their hands or spread out on their desks to read. Just the memory of sorting through stacks of folders and photos is making me feel ancient…

BUT now with this information online, I haven’t received a hard copy promo package in… well, since everyone realized it was cheaper, faster and easier to have all this information on a website or attached to an email. It’s all online, easy to view, and the modern way of doing business.

BUT just like in the old days, you never know who will find this information. If you include a home address or home phone number, any wacko can find you. That’s why I suggest never sharing too much personal information on your promotional material.

Don’t worry, I’m getting to the story…

Posting a letter

BUT first, think about this. The only time someone in this business really needs your address is when they’re sending you a contract or payment. Yes, the more convenient way is to also do this online – but many of us are still working with event planners and talent bookers who keep the Postal Service in business with snail mail. If they want to know where you’re located to see if a specific booking is do-able for both of you – give them the nearest city. Could be New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc… That’s all they need to know. When they’re sending contracts or a check, then give them an address.

BUT since you’re a business (correct?) I suggest having a business address. And if you need to, think about this. If you work with an agent, they have your contracts and payments sent to their business and not their home address. You need to think the same way. And unless you have a separate business office, use a Post Office Box instead of your home address.

I know with cell phones it’s always convenient to give out that number for important contacts and potential bookings. That’s why answering services for performers are going out of business because no one is far from their phone anymore. But think twice before you share that number online. Unless its a phone dedicated strictly for business, anyone can find your personal number online and make a call. And I’m not just talking about past annoying ex-friends, employers or relationships, but also the wacko looking online for someone to talk to – and annoy.

Besides, it’s much easier for someone to contact you (for bookings and not always annoyances) by clicking an email link through your website. Websites and other online marketing tools should all include your email. And since it’s easy to have separate business and personal email addresses, keep your business and personal emails separate.

For instance, mine is dave@thecomedybook.com. I can tell you that because it’s for business. You don’t really think my family uses that address to contact me – do you? They have my personal email address – and you don’t.

And now to wrap this all up, here’s the story I promised. It will give you a good reason why this all makes good business sense. And as some comedians and humorous speakers like to say, this is a true story…

I received a call from the owner of a well known comedy club who suggested I look at a young, up-and-coming female comedian who needed a manager. I met with her, watched her set at the club that night and knew she was really talented and had potential to make it big.

In the years since, that prediction came true. You would know her as a national headliner and from television and movies if I mentioned her name. But even if she said it was okay, I wouldn’t. She went through enough grief from being too personal on her promo material during the early stages of her career and I don’t want to focus attention on her again in that light.

As I said, you never know what wackos are reading…

Anyway, she wanted to make sure every booker in North America could easily find her, so her home address and home (pre-cell) phone number were plastered all over her (hard copy) promotional material. It worked and she was booked for a week at a great comedy club only a few hours drive from where she lived. It was a big career break and she was psyched. But she was about to learn how much she really didn’t know about this crazy business.

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Oh, and I need to mention one other thing. She is very attractive and her promotional pictures (head shots) proved that. The club had her photo on display with the headliner’s outside the club – and you don’t usually see that happen for an opening act.

When she finished her week’s booking on Sunday night, the club owner took her into the office and paid her. Then he threw her promo material in the garbage can. When she asked why he said it had nothing to do with her performances. She was funny and he planned to bring her back. But he also knew it’s important for performers to keep their promo updated and next time she was booked she should send him a new resume, bio and head shot. Most bookers did this because they just didn’t have the file, desk or floor space to keep everything they received.

A few days later the comedian received a call from another “booker” who said he had her promo material. You know where I’m going with this… right?

Turns out it wasn’t really a booker, but a wacko comedian who had been hanging around the club. He had seen her photo on display and then in the garbage – with her home phone and address on it – and taken it. After a few more calls it started to get weird and then scary when he became a full-blown stalker.

Hello it’s me!

Our female comedian was learning a tough lesson the hard way and not only had to destroy all her promotional material (back in the days when copying head shots was expensive), but had to order everything printed again with a separate business phone and email as the only contact information.

Today it would mean changing the contact info on all your websites and online marketing which doesn’t always work the way you think it will. Web pages seem to have an everlasting life. I can Google and find pages about myself and my business that were posted years ago and extremely outdated. In fact I just did and found a newspaper review I wrote about a Paul McCartney concert back in 2003. I don’t even remember writing it – and it was like reading for the first time. Since I don’t write for that newspaper anymore, the contact email no longer works. But if they’d had used my home address with the article…

Now back to the story, because we’re not done yet…

The worst part was that she actually had to move. Imagine how you’d feel when someone wacko and scary can honestly say, “I know where you live.” If it’s not said on a Hollywood movie set, it’s no way to live every single day. She found a new apartment and had some BIG guys not only help her move, but also make sure a certain wacko wasn’t hanging around when they did it.

The lesson is an old one. You have a business, so treat it that way. Keep your personal life and contact information out of it. You never know who’s going to find it.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Money – how much should you ask for?

July 4, 2017

Hi Dave – The talent booker for a comedy club sent me the following: “How long is your routine and how much would you want to come to (city) to do a show?” I do 45 minutes to an hour, but on the money question I have no idea how to answer them. Obviously, I’d want enough to cover airfare. Between you and me, I’d stay with my grandmother who lives near the city. Any ideas? Thanks! – B.K.

Hey B.K. – I know the club you’re referring to. They’ve been in business for a long time and have a good reputation. And since you didn’t mention this being an offer for a one-time gig – like a holiday party, private or corporate show – I’ll assume it’s for a weekend worth of shows at the club.

Let’s negotiate…

It’s really a tough call for me because I don’t know what the club manager / owner pays his acts. It’s not an “A” room like The Improv and too many others to mention (think of the top clubs in your area), so a good guess is his price will be lower than what comics are paid in those clubs. But honestly, I don’t know that for a fact.

The bottom line is the talent booker asked you a wide open question – putting you on the spot. Between us (and readers) the guy asking you is playing his strength off your weakness. He books a club that operates every single weekend – and has for years. He knows the going rate for openers, features and headliners.

He has to because he’s been paying them.

So for him to ask YOU this question means he’s hoping you’ll come in lower than someone else just because you want to “get in” with the club.

And the fact of the matter is he’s probably right. Comedians that have yet to really establish themselves will hesitate to quote a high price. They want to work at the club, but don’t want to ruin their chances by asking for too much. The thought is that later they can negotiate a higher price when they’re a proven audience attraction.

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Starts Saturday – July 22, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

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Wednesday – August 16 at 7:30 pm

Space limited to 10 people

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

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This is part of the continual game played between bookers and newer talent. Entertainers – in our case comedians and speakers – riding high on popularity with solid credits and drawing large audiences can pretty much name their price as long as the club can still make a profit.

For example, years ago when I was booking talent for The Great Lakes Comedy Festival I contacted talent reps for two HUGE television stars (think top-rated sitcoms) for two theater shows. Hey – sometimes it’s “think BIG or go home,” right? I’ve known both comedians personally, but when it comes to business you always deal with agents and managers.

The fee I was quoted for each was even HUGER than expected and completely out of the price range for a small, start-up comedy festival. And one of the requests included use of a private jet to fly in before the gig and leave immediately after. It was part of “the fee” and not negotiable.

When your career reaches the stratosphere – that’s how you can do business.

In the case of a newer comedian or speaker, you need to have the business sense (no fear!) to ask for more information. The first question:

“How many shows do you want me to do?”

If it’s a series of shows – for instance, five shows over a weekend – ask what they pay per show. Headliners at small local clubs (think Holiday Inn on a weekend) can get anywhere from $100 and up per show. Even the major clubs have different pay rates depending on the night. For instance, they might bring in a cost-cutting headliner for a Thursday night and pay HUGE bucks for the star headliner on Friday and Saturday. It depends on the club reputation and size of audiences.

The next question:

“What do you usually pay your first-time headliners or first-time features, (or openers if that’s what you’re going for)?”

Also, do you know anyone who has played this club? Are you on good enough terms that you can contact the comedian and ask what he or she was paid? If so – do it. Comedians don’t have a union, so at least in my opinion you need to find a way to work together. Otherwise the club bookers will always have the upper hand.

* But don’t “push” this last question. Many business people (and that’s what you are as a paid performer) are very private about their earnings. Basically, it’s nobody else’s business. So please note the stipulation above: “Are you on good enough terms?” If you are and it won’t damage a friendship, then ask.

Instead of throwing an open question at you – again, hoping you play low ball – the booker should make an offer. He should come right out and say, “This is what we pay our headliners and/or features and/or openers.” And then ask if you want to work the club. Of course that’s in a perfect world and we don’t happen to live in one…

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But as far as asking, “How much would you want?” That’s what they say in the corporate and college booking worlds. And when you’re working in those markets, you should already have a price. You throw that back at them and leave room to negotiate travel, accommodations, food, merchandise and other $$$ stuff.

There are also other factors, especially in doing club gigs.

Comedians, speakers and any type of performer will need to consider his/her own track record. For instance, if a comedian consistently gets $1,000 per weekend – that’s his price. Options are plus airfare, hotel and food. The comedian tries to get his price up – and bookers try to get it down. It depends on the performer’s current popularity. If you were on TV starring in a Comedy Central special last week, you can ask for more than if your face hasn’t been seen on TV in over a decade.

In the case of a newer comedian or humorous speaker there are different considerations. Would you want to do this club as a chance to visit your grandmother? Would this club be a great credit on your resume? Are you going to make new contacts that will lead to more work?

All things you need to think about.

Your best bet is to be up front about it. Send back a message asking what they are offering. Mention you’ll most likely be happy to work within their budget, but let the booker make an offer. Then you can negotiate if necessary.

Hitchin’ a ride

For instance, he might pay you more if you don’t use a hotel room that the club would normally provide. You can stay with grandma. You might also use grandma’s car, so there’s a few more bucks you’re saving the booker that (maybe) can be passed along to you.

You also mentioned airfare. A lot of clubs today are not paying airfare – and they used to. So yes, the bottom line is that you need to cover your expenses. When you’re working a club for the first time, come up with a total you need for expenses. Then see what they offer you and if your expenses are covered. The amount of profit on top of that… well, since you’re a first-timer and weren’t on Comedy Central last week, your negotiation power might be limited.

In the end – if the club booker makes an offer – the decision is all yours. Is it worth it? Only you know for sure.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Breaking down gatekeeper blockades

June 16, 2017

Hi Dave – No, I’m not a comic. However, I’m a WGA screenwriter with a total focus on comedy screenplays. Can you tell me how to contact comedians’ agents without running into blockades? I mean the blockades typically set up by the gatekeepers of those agents. Best – HK

“Someone will get back with you. Yeah… right…”

Hey HK – The bigger the comedian (think celebrity) the bigger the agency blockade will be. When you make a call without prior personal contact or a great reference, plan some extra time for holding, transfers and a final request to leave a voice message and “Someone will get back with you.”

Does anyone really know who that “someone” is? I doubt it because they rarely call back without the prior contact or reference. And unless you left a voice message with a great pitch (offer) that includes the opportunity for a lot of potential $$$’s (yeah, I’m jaded) you’ll spend a long time sitting by the phone waiting for that return call.

HK and I traded a couple emails and I remembered a past FAQ And Answer article about dealing with gatekeepers (the person who answers phone calls and forms a human blockade to keep you from speaking directly to an agent or celebrity). Except the suggestions in that article are different from the answers you’re looking for since it concerned comedians getting past gatekeepers to book paying gigs.

This week’s question is about contacting comedians and agents that would be interested in a screenplay.

But the theory is the same. You have to be SEEN and involved in the SCENE.

I know through experience from working at the LA and NYC Improv clubs (talent coordinator) that a lot of valuable entertainment industry contacts are made by networking. It’s being part of the scene. Not only did I get to work with many great comedians, but I also met a lot of agents, managers, producers and writers just by being in the clubs during shows. They’d come in to watch the comics, and then socialize (network) in the restaurant or bar areas after the show. Sometimes they were there because the comedians they already represent were performing, or they were looking for new talent.

On the lookout

And believe me a good agent or manager is always on the lookout for new talent. Some of them may claim to have a full roster and not accepting new clients, but if a performer simply blows them away and the agent or manager sees a good career opportunity for both of them, it’s their job to pursue it. That’s good business sense.

Now, to get back to today’s specific question…

I’ve also seen this with producers and writers looking to interest comedians and agents in a particular project. For instance, when I worked in LA I remember getting a LOT of calls from television and film people looking for comics that fit a specific “type.” The casting call could be for male or female, tall or small, fat or thin, black or white – or for whatever the TV or film part called for. They wanted to know if any comedians fitting the desired “type” would be on the show that night or if we could put together a live showcase (audition) during a future show.

That’s why you can sometimes go to a comedy club in LA or NYC and see a number of comedians in a row who are similar in type and only do a few minutes (3-5 minutes is norm) of material. They’re showcasing (auditioning) for someone in the audience.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – July 22, 2017

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Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm

Includes a performance at The Cleveland Improv

Wednesday – August 16 at 7:30 pm

Space limited to 10 people

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

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After the showcase you can usually find everyone – comics and business execs – networking in club’s restaurant or bar. Business cards are exchanged and meetings are scheduled for agents and comedians who are right for the project.

The ones selected for these meetings and potential projects should have no problem getting past any gatekeepers. They’ve made a personal contact.

My point is that the comedians were SEEN because they’ve worked hard at becoming part of the SCENE. They were known by the club bookers as someone who fits what the writer, producer or casting person is looking for. That’s why the comics were called in for the showcase. It’s rare (in fact I’ve never seen it happen) that a booker will call in a comedian he’s never seen perform and knows nothing about for an important industry showcase.

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It’s the same when you’re looking to hire talent or get them interested in a project such as a screenplay. Quit a few newcomers (amateurs) with stars in their eyes will jump at a chance to “be in a movie!” But the comedians who’ve been around for a while will not be so naïve. They understand it’s a business (at least they should). They might listen to a pitch if it’s from a reliable or known source (friends in the biz are always throwing ideas at each other) but if they’re really interested and have decent credits, they’ll probably have an agent you’ll end up pitching to before any deals are made.

Hang up and make the scene!

So basically in your case, I’d forget about battling the gatekeepers by cold calling and scope out the comedians in person who you think would right for your screenplay. Become a part of the SCENE by going to the clubs and checking out their live performances. You might even discover a comic you’ve never heard of and further discover he’d be perfect for your film. Don’t be too aggressive (as a talent booker, that’s what turned me off the most). But take an opportunity to network after the show. Be professional and don’t come off like a stalker (you know what I mean) when you tell the comic about your project.

If the comedian is interested he can get you past any agency gatekeeper with one phone call requesting his agent talk with you. If you meet the agent and he thinks the project is right for his comedian client, he’ll have his gatekeeper set up a meeting.

Sound too simple? It’s really not and I shouldn’t make it sound that way because there are a LOT of people in the entertainment industry who practice the art of schmoozing. I assume that’s where the phrase, “Let’s do lunch,” was developed. But remember one thing:

No one would be doing it if it didn’t work.

If you’re already a known name with a big number ($$$’s) gatekeepers are no problem – you’ll get through. For everyone else (assuming talent and experience are already a “given”) it’s all about networking and contacts. Be part of the SCENE and there’s always a chance you’ll not only be SEEN but also HEARD.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Only clean material? Know your audience

June 5, 2017

Hi Dave – I have one question. As a new comedian does my material have to be clean? – J.N.

Did you hear that?!

Hey J.N. – Your question will sound familiar to more than a few readers because it comes up quite often. But you know what? New comedians ask because it’s important. And there is no right or wrong answer.

Comedy is both a creative art and a business, but to be successful in this business as a creative artist there is one first goal:

Be funny.

How you get there is totally up to you. As one very famous comedian told me (and it’s in my book How To Be A Working Comic), “If you swear in real life, you’re going to swear on stage.” On the other hand, if these words aren’t already in your vocabulary, don’t add them simply because you think it’ll make you funny. That’s not who you really are and an audience will pick up on that.

There seems to be a market for everything, so whether to work clean or dirty is a personal decision. But since you brought up the question and I’ve never been known to give short answers, let’s look at your potential choice from another point of view. We’ll call it…

Your audience.

The deal is that everyone has to start at the beginning. Since you specifically said “new comedian,” that’s what we’ll focus on. Speakers already know they have to work clean. If they don’t, then they’re not speaking much – if at all.

Along with learning how to write and perform, you’ll also experience different audiences, different venues and different types of shows. For instance, many comedians love late night, beer-soaked crowds in loud comedy clubs. Others would rather perform for more sophisticated (and I’m using that term loosely) audiences at corporate events.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Summer 2017 Dates TBA

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Cleveland Improv

For details, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

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Have you thought about that? I’m guessing it’s still too early in your career to even consider since your first step should be just getting experience on stage. But eventually it will become both a creative and business decision because different markets have different audiences and hire different types of entertainment.

What markets do you want to play?

Confusing?

These are questions every entertainer (not just comedians and humorous speakers) have to consider. As a creative artist with a unique way of expressing yourself, who is your audience? And as a business person (successful creative artist), how can you build an audience to support your creative endeavors?

When you’re just starting out it could be any demographic you can think of, from late night open-mics to charity fundraisers. And if you’re serious about this biz you need to understand the value of stage experience. You won’t become a working comic just sitting in your living room doing bits in front of your mirror or for the family dog. You must get in front of an audience and shape your material and delivery based on their response.

If they laugh it works. If they don’t, then you need to make some changes. An audience will tell you, which is why you want to get on stage as often as possible.

So… who is your audience?

Would they want clean or “adult” material? That will help determine what’s best for you.

I’ve worked with comedians who are Born Again Christians and I’ve worked with the most X-rated acts you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t bother me either way. I’m a coach and I’ll coach performers in whatever direction they want to go. And if you already know what direction that is, then find places to perform with audiences that will enjoy your material.

But regardless of what anyone else will tell you, there are also rules in the comedy biz. The rules are made by the people that hire comedians for specific audiences.

Should we allow that?!

For instance, you can’t perform X-rated material on network television shows such as The Tonight Show or Jimmy Kimmel Live. You can get away with a lot more than thirty years ago when Johnny Carson ruled late night, but these shows still have to deal with FCC (Federal Communications Commission) enforced  standards and censors.

On cable television and satellite radio, pretty much anything can be said. But it also depends on the show. I doubt The Howard Stern Show and The Disney Channel fight over guests from the same talent pool. But here are a few more questions to think about…

Would you rather appear on either The Howard Stern Show or The Disney Channel or someplace in-between? Who will appreciate (laugh at) your type of humor and material? What venues and markets do you eventually want to play?

It all comes down to knowing your audience.

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You can work X-rated if you want, but just be smart enough not to go on stage with your X-rated material if the audience is filled with grandparents taking their grand-kids out for a fun(ny) night of live entertainment. On the flip side, don’t expect to do your best Disney material in a late night dive bar in front of a beer fueled crowd upset that the bartender turned off the televised cage match wrestling extravaganza for your comedy show.

Get the picture?

A lot of experienced comedians can play to both audiences. Why? Because they have the experience AND material that can be customized (cleaned up or dirtied down) depending on the audience. In other words, their punch lines don’t get laughs simply because they contain the F-Bomb or other words that will get them banned by the FCC from network television. They can go either way because the material is just as funny with or without them.

A great example of this are comics that work on cruise ships.

These comics need two different sets; family and adult. The family sets are performed during the before and after dinner shows. These are two separate shows since passengers are assigned one of two dinner times. One group is entertained earlier in a large theater while the other group eats – and then they change places. As it says, these shows are for families. Later that night the same comics will do adult shows for (as it says) the adults in one of the lounges or bars.

Did you hear that?!

These comics go from G-rated to X-rated within a couple hours.

Keep in mind I’m not asking anyone to change who they are on stage if it goes against who they want to be on stage. Yes, this is a business, but it’s also a creative business and a way to express your creativity.

If your niche is X-rated, go for it. It’s the same with clean comedians. Just don’t go for it in front of the wrong audience. It’s really common sense when you think about it.

So to finally answer your question as a “new comedian,” I would suggest you work on writing funny material. And I’ll repeat: funny material. I’m talking about material that will stand up on it’s own and will be just as funny to an audience with or without a few gratuitous F-bombs and other choice words or expressions.

Practice and develop your talent as a writer. How would you deliver your set during an afternoon Rotary Club luncheon as opposed to at a late night dive bar? Better still – ask yourself which venue you prefer.

Wait a minute! I almost forgot to mention something…

Just to make your decision interesting, keep in mind the people that hire comics for corporate events, holiday parties, retirements, banquets, etc… are the ones who attend business or social organization meetings. They ALWAYS pay comics, humorous speakers and entertainers waaaaay more than any beer soaked guy in a dive bar. That’s why corporate events are much more desirable for many working comics than a weekend gig at Billy Joe’s Yucks at the corner of Dive and Bar.

Then again, an uncensored Comedy Central Special or a becoming a favorite guest on The Howard Stern Show can take almost any comic’s career to a new level. But to get there, the comics had to be funny. Working clean wasn’t a rule they needed to follow.

So…? Is it better to work clean or dirty as a new comedian? You need to make that decision – and one of the best ways to find an answer is to know your audience.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Being influenced vs. copying

May 22, 2017

Hey Dave – I’ve been working on material and continue to search for my comedy voice. Although I want to do some improvising, I want a good amount of material to work off of. Someone said I have a somewhat eccentric and iconoclastic persona and should take advantage of that. Therefore, I’ve thought about using Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright as influences and been writing material similar to theirs, especially since I like it. However, I’m afraid I’m not using them as an influence but just copying them. Is there a thin line between the 2 or just between fishing and standing there doing nothing? – JK

Hey JK – I was lucky to have worked with the late great Prof. Irwin Corey at the NYC Improv and interviewed Steven Wright for a magazine article. I consider both extremely smart and extremely funny. I also know that if I even tried to write like either one, I would be lost and confused. In fact, my brain hurts just thinking about it. But as usual I have a few thoughts about the topic, so instead of standing here doing nothing let’s go fishing for an answer…

“How did you say that?”

Yes – there is a line between being influenced and copying. Ideally it should be a wide one.

As Prof. Corey would have said, “Let me explain…

I often compare comedy to music. I’ve done this frequently in my workshops, books, and in more than a few previous FAQ articles. Basically, you can’t reinvent the wheel. And when it comes to music, someone somewhere had to hum the first tune. In comedy, someone somewhere made someone laugh for the first time. Musicians and comedians have been building on those firsts ever since.

One of my favorite all-time bands is The Rolling Stones. They’ve influenced countless bands for over fifty years and are considered by many to be the greatest rock’n roll band in the world. There are many bands that have copied their formula for success, but there is still only one Rolling Stones and their place in music history is written in… well, stone.

But who influenced them? Rock historians can trace the roots of their sound back to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many others.

Did they copy? Yeah!

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Thursday – June 29th at 8 pm

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

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They tried their best by performing a lot of cover songs when they first started out. But it’s not what made them superstars. Mick Jagger found his own voice as a singer and Keith Richards found his voice on the guitar. The duo ended up writing their own material and classic hits based on the type of music they liked and giving it their own spin based on their individual talent and personalities.

Like the Stones, comedians start by emulating what they like.

“How did you play that?”

Keith Richards is not going to play Bach or Beethoven because he likes Chuck Berry. Based on the way you described your humor in today’s email, I doubt you would consider bringing props on stage like Carrot Top or going redneck like Larry The Cable Guy. You like Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright so yes, they are both are going to influence you as a comedian just like Chuck Berry influenced the Stones as musicians.

But the big difference between being a comedian and being a musician, The Rolling Stones can (and often do) play Chuck Berry songs during their concerts. But comedians can’t go on stage and say, “Here’s one from Steven Wright” and do a few of his best jokes.

That’s copying and comedians can’t do that – period. Its called stealing material. There are some that do – and most of us know who the big-name guilty parties are. There’s a total lack of respect for these thieves from other comics and industry people, and a lot of us wonder how they can sleep at night. Must be the drugs, but that’s another article…

Being influenced is not the same as stealing.

Creative artists, (comedians and musicians to only mention two) don’t reinvent the wheel. They can build on what’s already there. Just like in many original Rolling Stones songs you can hear a Chuck Berry riff or Bo Diddley beat in the background, comedians can’t help but be influenced by the type of humor they like.

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For example, Carrot Top didn’t invent prop comedy. As little kids many of us can remember holding up two paper plates on the sides of our heads and pretending to be Mickey Mouse. Carrot Top probably did that too, thought it was extremely funny – and built on it.

You as a writer and performer need to do the same, but with your own influences.

I think you understand your style of comedy. It’s similar to Prof. Irwin and Steven Wright, but when it comes to writing and performing it’s important for you to realize you are also very different. There’s no way you would have the exact same experiences or live in the exact same environment (city, neighborhood, families, education, jobs, etc.). You have a different life, different personality, different relationships and different conversations.

You also have your own personal thoughts about all of these experiences.

That’s what you need to put into your writing and performances – your spin. Don’t think about what Prof. Irwin Corey or Steven Wright would say. But respect that you admire what they do, are influenced to perform comedy in the same style, and then say it in your own words. Basically, they are intelligent writers and your writing should also have some intelligence to it.

I remember two comedians I worked with in LA. Sorry, I won’t name-drop this time, but one is now an international movie star and the other is an all-time favorite television character. They both admitted to being HUGE fans of Jerry Lewis. They loved every movie and consider him to be the HUGE influence that got them both into the comedy biz.

No caption needed

But never in a million years would you see either of them on stage yelling out Lewis’ famous line, “HEY LAAYYYDEEE!” That would be stealing. But I’ve seen both make wild faces and pretend to slip and fall during their stand-up comedy sets similar to what Lewis did in his classic films while talking about their own personal experiences and thoughts.

That’s being influenced. And to take it a step further, Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx were doing pratfalls long before Lewis.

The idea is to use your own mannerisms and personality to deliver your material to an audience. You are not going to hold two paper plates to your head and hope people laugh. You’ll want to dig deeper and put some thought into why something is funny from your personal point of view and then convey that to an audience.

Everyone is influenced by someone or something. It’s human nature. Again, none of us can invent the wheel because it’s been done – and car companies are still building on it. The same can be said about comedians when it comes to writing and performing comedy material.

But understand what makes you unique from everyone else (we all are) and explore topics that interest you based on your style of humor. Keep writing and performing. Eventually you’ll find your own comedy voice. Then in interviews you’ll be asked who influenced you – and you can tell them. I’ve interviewed comedians for my books, magazine articles and newspaper columns and believe me; every comedian has someone who inspired them. What made them successful was when they realized they couldn’t copy, but could use that influence to build on.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Best revenge – laughs and bookings

May 8, 2017

Hi Dave – I had a great set last night and one of the other comedians that went on after me tore into me. It got real personal and it really hurt. The people running the show asked me if I wanted to go back on to get revenge, but I did not. Did I handle it the right way? – N.R.

A BIG mouth!

Hey N.R. – Sounds like the first shot has been fired in a comedy war. But whether or not you want to get down into the comedy trenches (common comedy term – not mine) with this big mouth depends on a couple factors.

  • Your personality on stage – your comic voice
  • How you want to be seen on and off stage in this biz

Maybe I’m naive, but with 25+ years of experience working with comedians, I’ve found this biz to be very supportive. Sure there are some real pain-in-the-butt jerks, but I don’t know of any career path that’s immune from that syndrome.

Usually it’s based on jealousy and/or a power trip ego. And the funny part of it – and again, I’m talking from experience – I’ve found the more powerful someone is in the biz, the more supportive they are of new talent. This includes comedians, talent bookers and other behind the scenes people.

Hmmm…. I feel a sense of disbelief running through some minds with that last statement. I think my experiences on this topic would make an interesting and opinionated future FAQ and Answer. I’ll wrap my mind around it for awhile, but in the meantime…

What you have to decide is who you are on stage and how you want to be seen by others – your co-workers (other comedians) and the people who can hire you – in this biz.

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – June 3, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Chicago Improv

Thursday – June 29th at 8 pm

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Comedians who are good friends can tear each up on stage. No problem. It’s like a sport and can be very funny. We used to do that at the NYC Improv – to the extent of taking a microphone into the men’s room and holding it over a flushing toilet when a friend’s joke bombed.

It was hysterical and the comic on stage could rip into us for the rest of his set. Not a problem – we loved it.

But when it’s mean – as it seems to be in your case – there’s no point in it. This comic’s attack on you is either based on jealousy or a power trip – or both.

“That was a cheap shot!”

This big mouth is trying to make himself look better at your expense. You can handle it two ways – and this is based on what decisions you made when I asked earlier.

If you are the type of comedian that can rip this guy apart verbally – then go for it. I can’t imagine another comedian taking a cheap shot at someone like Bobby Slayton (The Pit Bull of Comedy) and walking away with his or her ego still intact. Slayton would verbally slaughter him.

The same holds true for Lisa Lampanelli, Dave Attell, Chris Rock… you get the picture, right? These comics can hurl verbal hand grenades at anyone who dares mouth off at them first. I’ve seen them all in action and believe me, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the insults.

Are you similar? If so – next time go for the throat.

But if that’s not who you are on stage (or in real life) and you’re not up for verbal comedic warfare, then you did the right thing. Let this blowhard blow his own horn and reputation with other comedians and bookers.

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Comics are not going to want to work with someone that has a reputation for taking cheap shots. And bookers want to deal with the least amount of problems as possible. Again from experience as a booker, I’ve known non-headline comedians (important factor because a headliner that brings in paying customers can pretty much do what he or she wants) that are very funny, but a pain to work with.

So guess what? We don’t work with them when it’s at all possible.

Just be funny!

Who needs the extra aggravation when the job itself can be aggravating sometimes? Like with any job, you go for the least resistance. And if someone else is just as funny and easier to work with – that’s who gets the gig.

The bottom line is that in an ideal world, all you should be concerned about is becoming a better comedian. If someone with the same career goal doesn’t like you, then you must be doing something right.

Want revenge? The best way to get back at this person is to get more laughs, which will lead to more bookings.

So use this as an incentive to focus:

If your hard work and dedication pay off, maybe someday this loud mouth will be parking cars at a comedy club and ripping into his new co-workers while you’re inside headlining. Make it happen.

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.