Hey Dave – I was in a comedy club competition, I made it to the semi finals. But I was just asking if you know anyone I could maybe open for. I don’t want any money, and I’ll go anywhere! I’ll take any help I can get. Thanks – H.A.
First a note to everyone: This email is from a young (18 years old!) new comedian I’ve corresponded with. I’ve written back that I love his enthusiasm and the fact that he’s really out there going for it. I’ve also sent him back a private answer to his question because I doubt he emailed me thinking it would end up as this week’s FAQ And Answer.
That said; here are some thoughts about asking for referrals…
I’ve written a lot about the importance of getting references for showcases and bookings. When you have the right comedian (or speaker) telling the right talent booker to hire you or to schedule a showcase, it’s like receiving the Golden Ticket in that Gene Wilder movie Johnny Depp remade about the candy maker.
Sorry, I just can’t think of the title at the moment…
Oh yeah, Willy Wonka. I’m pretty sure I was already listening to albums by Richard Pryor – Wilder’s frequent on screen partner – when that movie came out and it didn’t even register a blip on my entertainment radar. Trust me, I’m a loyal Gene Wilder fan, but didn’t get back into kid’s movies until I had kids.
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Anyway, a good reference will usually result in being seen. It doesn’t guarantee a paid booking, but when it comes from a reliable source you can pretty much bypass all the marketing advice I’ve shared in past articles when focusing on that particular talent booker. Phone calls, postcards, emails, websites, videos, Facebook and LinkedIn are not needed to make a first impression when you can walk into a club and showcase for the booker because a comedian he/she respects put in the good word for you.
Of course those marketing tools will be needed to stay in touch afterwards. But that’s not what we’re talking about today.
It sounds easy – yeah, I know. However, don’t be too anxious or overbearing to get that Golden Ticket reference. Otherwise you might wind up being a pain in the you-know-what and have your efforts working against you.
Of course you want to have a good relationship with the referring comedian (or another talent booker you’d like to have as a referral). You don’t have to be best friends, but at least know each other on a professional level (it’s a business, remember?). It’s pretty annoying when someone you hardly know comes up and asks for a referral:
“Yeah, sure… what’s your name again?”
It’s also a no-brainer the person you want the referral from has actually SEEN you perform AND actually likes it. In fact, you should really wait for them to tell you:
“Hey, that was a great set. I really liked it.” (Or something close to that).
And be sure they really did and are not BS’ing you just to be polite. Sometimes it takes a mind reader to know, but do your best to make sure they’re sincere.
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Now in a perfect world, the comedian could offer to put in a good word for you with a talent booker he (or she) works with. It’s not impossible; I’ve seen it happen. But if not and you truly think they are sincere about liking your act, then go ahead and ask. You have to be aggressive in this business.
The key is not to be so aggressive that you become a pain in the you-know-what.
Here’s an example of how being a pain can come back and bite you in the you-know-what…
When I was booking comics in New York and Los Angeles, I used referrals from comedians already working with us to help set up talent showcases. I still went through tons of promotional material and watched videos to find new comics, but if one of our regular comedians (already working for us) called or walked into my office and said we should see a comic he had just worked with, I’d add the referred comic to my showcase. It would be a done deal and I’d thank the referring comedian for making my life easier.
The already-working comic couldn’t even walk into the club without having the referral-hungry new comic asking him (bugging him, annoying him, etc…) for his help in getting a showcase. So what would happen is that the working comic (the one being asked, bugged and annoyed) would make a point of telling me the new comic isn’t ready to play the club. BUT he was being such a pain in the you-know-what the comic could now say he had mentioned the new comic – and now he was off the hook.
Are you following me so far? Yeah, I know it’s confusing. Basically, he could tell the new comic he dropped his name to the talent booker. This way (he hoped) the new comedian would stop bugging him. The ball was now in my court.
And do you want another behind the scenes insider insight? Okay, here’s the blunt honest truth…
Since the so-called referring comedian wasn’t really referring and was also telling me the newer comedian was a pain in the you-know-what, I had been forewarned. There would be no Golden Ticket showcase. No way. I didn’t want to be hassled either. So my response would be to tell the newer comedian I couldn’t work off any recommendations, (a big fat lie – sorry to admit). He would have to send in promo and video just like everyone else.
Sounds a bit cruel? Yeah, well showbiz ain’t easy. You gotta know how to play the game…
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So the whole process could backfire against the newer comedian. He hadn’t earned the recommendation, so the word put in by the referring comedian was more negative than positive. And on top of that, the word would get around that he could be a pain because it was probably safe to assume he was asking for recommendations in this same way from other comics at other clubs.
Similar to many other businesses, news and reputations can travel fast in the comedy world.
The result was the newer comedian would find it more difficult to get an audition anywhere because he had earned a pain in the you-know-what reputation, rather than a good recommendation. He would’ve been better off putting that energy into working on material and getting on stage more.
Referrals can be the Golden Ticket. But if you don’t have one, don’t try to force it. Work on getting so good on stage no one can ignore you, and learn to professionally promote yourself. If and when a recommendation is made on your behalf, it’ll be like an extra coating of chocolate in that movie Gene Wilder made that I can never remember the name of…
Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.
For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Chicago and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com
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