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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Dave’s Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – August 6, 2016

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm – space limited to 10 people

All workshop members perform at The Improv

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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Dave’s Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – August 6, 2016

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm – space limited to 10 people

All workshop members perform at The Improv

On Wednesday – August 24 at 7:30 pm

For info and to hold your space visit TheComedyBook.com

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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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All workshop members perform at The Improv on

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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!

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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 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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Father's Day Cover

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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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Dave’s Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting June 11, 2016 is SOLD OUT!

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All workshop members perform at The Improv on

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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!

————————————————————————————-

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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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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Flying under the radar to avoid Bad First Impression Land

May 2, 2016

Hey Dave – How do you know it’s time to start applying to the bigger clubs for MC spots? I know you said that the person booking talent will let you know, but I guess I mean on a more personal level knowing when it is time. I have been really good at keeping myself in check to not think I am better than I am and trying to do things I am not ready for (this could be a blessing and a curse), but I am coming off two comedy contest wins where I didn’t bring anyone and no one knew me, which I think is notable. But I am not sure if that translates into me being ready for something bigger. Thanks – CC

Under the radar

Under the radar

Hey CC – Thanks for asking this question because it reminds me about a very good friend who didn’t “keep himself in check” long enough and tried to move ahead into the bigger clubs before he was ready. The end result stranded him in Bad First Impression Land, which in his case was located in a place where impressions can make or break a career – New York City.

Here’s the story…

My pal had been doing comedy on and off for at least five or six years before I even met him. I was just getting into the comedy biz by running a small club in the Gramercy Park area and invited him to do a set.

My first impression seeing him on stage was that this guy was going to be a star! He simply TORE the house down! He was extremely funny and the audience LOVED him. It was obvious he had the experience, material and a great stage presence. But I couldn’t figure out why he was so willing and available to play our small club for free on a Saturday night, when the best comics played paid sets in the big-name NYC rooms.

A few months later I had a major “IN” at the top club in NYC. My friends and cohorts know the one I’m talking about. This also meant I was my pal’s Golden Ticket. In other words, I could invite him to skip the audition process and just do a guest set. After that I figured he would be a paid regular at the club because he was that good.

My pal said he didn’t think that would happen.

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Say what?!

Then he explained he had auditioned at the club way before he was ready. He had only done about three open-mics, but thought they had gone great. The crowd laughed, he assumed he was a natural comedian, so he started showing up at auditions for the major clubs.

In those days we had the lottery system. A hundred or so comics would stand in line outside the club once a month in pavement melting heat (summer) or sub-zero temps (winter) hoping to pull an audition number. There were usually about 100 blank pieces of paper in a champagne bucket and fifteen printed with a number.

If you pulled out a number you auditioned that same night.

My pal would’ve been better off playing the Power Ball Lottery instead. He considered himself lucky by pulling audition numbers at the best clubs. The unlucky part was that he had only been on stage three times before his chance to make lasting-impression auditions in front of the most powerful club owners and talent bookers in New York City.

According to his painful memory, he bombed horribly. He hadn’t been ready and when faced with a real-life comedy audience, as opposed to a group of comics drinking beer in a late night open-mic, he didn’t have the material and experience.

Still, I told him that had been years ago and it shouldn’t be a problem now. I had seen him and knew he was funny. I approached a powerful club owner with his name and immediately learned a lesson in the importance of making a good first impression.

Oh, I’ve seen him. He’s not very good. Use that guest set to see someone we don’t already know.

His audition had been years before, but it was enough to keep him out of the clubs he couldn’t wait to play when he first started.

So when do you know it’s time to move up to the bigger clubs?

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That’s not an easy question and there’s no standard answer, but here’s how I see it…

You never want to get stuck in the open-mic scene. Too many comedians (again, from what I’ve seen) make it their social life. It’s a night out with friends who have something in common (comedy) and it eventually turns out to be almost an after-thought to take a break from partying to run up on stage and do 3-5 minutes of “inside” jokes. After that, it’s back to socializing around the bar.

Potential working comics don’t do that. They use the open-mics for what they’re meant to be: a place to work on material and get on stage experience. The goal is to create an act that a talent booker would be willing to pay for.

So when is it time to get out of open-mics and into bigger clubs?

laughing crowd

You’re honestly funny!

One is when you honestly (important factor) feel you can consistently get as many laughs (that’s the type of performance talent bookers pay for) as the acts already MC’ing at the bigger clubs. You know who they are because you’re part of your area comedy scene (correct?) and you know who’s MC’ing at the bigger clubs (correct again?).

If you honestly think you’re on the same level as the MC’s at those clubs, then it’s time to arrange an audition. If it’s a lottery system – start standing in line. If there’s a contest with the winner getting a booking at the club – enter. If the booker watches videos – send him or her a link to your website (you have one – correct?) with a video. If they ask for DVD submissions – send one.

Another is by using the Golden Ticket I’ve talked about a LOT in these articles. If you’re a good comic, the other comics will know about you since you’re part of the same scene (again, correct?). If they really like your act and are already playing the bigger clubs you want to play, ask if they’ll put in a good word for you and help arrange a showcase.

If you’re not ready, they’ll let you know because they don’t want to make a bad impression with a talent booker by recommending someone who’s not ready. And then again, I’ve known others who won’t recommend because the newer comic is funnier and they don’t want to risk losing their spots!

So how do you know if you’re ready?

Listen to the audience and honestly evaluate how you compare with comics already working the MC spots in the clubs you want to play. If you (and here’s that word again) honestly think you have the on stage experience you need and comedy material you know works, then it’s probably time to take the next step.

FAQs 150 pix jpegWhat are talent bookers looking for? To make it clear, here’s a line from my book Comedy FAQs And Answers that’s worth remembering:

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

Get your experience under the radar first. This means in open-mic rooms and other venues where talent bookers are not as likely to see you. Be prepared when you have an opportunity to make a first impression that will get you out of the open-mics – rather than one sending you back to a long term residency in Bad First Impression Land.

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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When are you NOT allowed to use your promo video?

April 18, 2016

Hey Dave – I played a (known) comedy club and it went very well. I got constant laughs and had so much fun. But I’m a bit confused about something. The club sent me a video of my set and said “feel free to use it as you want, just as long as it’s not used publicly.” What does that mean? How else can I use it? Can I send it to other clubs? Am I allowed to post pictures? I wanted to use it for my website, but I am in total limbo with this. Thanks in advance for clearing up my confusion – ha! Talk to you soon – R.Y.

camera adventure

How NOT to use a video camera

Hey R.Y. – I just checked on YouTube and found more than a few comedian videos taped at the same (known) club. So I’m really not sure what they mean about “not used publicly.” I’ll tell you at the end of this how to find out, but right now I’ll take a couple guesses and explain why…

The known clubs – and many that are not so well known – are very protective of their images. In business terms, it’s called their brand. When you see an advertisement or commercial promoting an upcoming show, it’s going to be for a comedian that will deliver a performance the audience will expect from that caliber of a club.

Let me clear that up a bit. I won’t single out one particular known club because there are too many. So just pick out your favorite…

These clubs are in business. How they stay in business in this competitive field is by bringing in comedians audiences will pay to see. This builds their reputation (brand) with consumers (ticket buyers). They want you to feel confident that if you attend a show at their club you’ll see a very funny comedian.

That’s the image they want potential and returning customers to have. Buy a ticket to this (known) club on the “nights advertised” and you’ll have a great time.

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But these clubs are also interested in finding new talent. Again, it’s part of the business. They can’t bring in the same comics over and over and over because a large segment of their audiences are returning customers. Yes, there are certain comics that are more popular than others, which is why they will have more return engagements. But especially in the clubs where using three comics (MC, feature and headliner) are standard, they don’t want the exact same show. Talent bookers will schedule different opening acts for that reason.

To help find these new comedians or to give local comics more experience, known clubs might have an open-mic night, showcase (where management is auditioning) or host a comedy class that includes a performance night. Usually the comedians can get a video of his or her performance.

watching-scary-movie

THAT’S my act?!!

For some it’s a souvenir of a memorable night. For comics serious about building a career, they’ll use the video to get better. They watch to see how they look on stage, what material worked and what needs work, and to analyze timing and delivery.

But we also know video is the best way to promote your career. If you have a great video the goal is to get it in front of talent bookers. But sometimes depending on “where” you filmed that great set it can be a little confusing on how you’re allowed to use it.

Let’s say you’ve done an open-mic at a known club and have the video. Let’s also say you’ve had some experience and might be ready for paying gigs at lesser known clubs, but not where you made this great video. And even if you are, you’re not the headliner the club would promote to sell tickets.

If you put this video online and make it seem like you were a paid “regular” performer at this club, it’s not going to live up to their brand. That’s an important factor for the club because they’ve worked hard to build their reputation. This happens (a lot) with newer comedians. They’re proud of what they’ve done, but need to remember the clubs are also proud of their brands. I know club managers that have contacted comics and demanded they take the videos down.

It’s business.

That’s also why many clubs hide their onstage logos during open-mic and showcase nights. When their brand is presented publicly they want the public to only associate it with the best comics.

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All workshop members perform at The Improv on

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Another answer to this question would be using it for publicity. You might score a gig at another club or even a benefit show and a clip from your video at the known club is used to sell tickets. Without written permission it’s not a good idea to use video showing their brand (the logo on stage) in the background while you promote a show at a different venue. That could cause more headaches than you’d care to have, so never use one club to promote another.

Again, it’s business.

In your state of confusion, the best bet is to call or email the club and find out exactly what they mean. And since we’re talking about business that’s also a good way to stay in touch. Any time your name is mentioned to a talent booker, you’re promoting yourself (your brand). This is a legitimate reason, rather than an email or postcard just “saying hello and keep me in mind for work…

Be honest. Tell them you’ve received the video and you’re not sure what you’re allowed to do with it. Then let them tell you. You don’t have to say you want to post it on your website, YouTube or send to other clubs. The club manager / booker should fill in the blanks. Then just follow what they say. Either way they’re doing you a favor. You’ll have a video to help you improve as a comedian or help promote yourself as a comedian – or both.

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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How old is too old to start?

April 4, 2016

Hi Dave – I worked as a comedian for ten years, opening and featuring. Is 51 years of age too old to go back into it? – D.K.

Hey D.K. – You know what? That’s one of those questions only you – and anyone else who checks out a calendar before making a move – can answer for sure. But also “fer’sure” I have a few thoughts about this, so here we go…

First of all, I consider comedy – writing and performing – to be a creative art. I’ve written that countless times in countless FAQs And Answers, so no detailed explanation is needed. It’s just the way it is.

Fountain of youthI also believe using your creativity and being psyched (excited) about sharing your “art” with others is like a Fountain of Youth. Don’t laugh. Again, I’m serious. I’ve had too many former friends (and I mean former because I have no interest in hanging out with people like this) hit a lazy-boy chair (yeah, I know it’s La-Z-Boy, but I don’t feel like getting sued) at the age of 30 and announce they’re over the hill. They hang onto jobs they hate because it’s too much work to find another. Their free time is spent vegging and basically, watching and critiquing other people that are doing or creating other things.

They never seem to create anything except annoyance. And at least to me, they always seem to look and act a lot older than they really are. The only thing they accomplish is getting older.

Am I being too hard on these people? Maybe, but they won’t read this anyway.

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April 2016 Comedy Workshop at

The Cleveland Improv is SOLD OUT!

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And now that I’ve made my opinion perfectly clear, let me tell you about another creative artist who doesn’t look at his age as a barrier. Oh yeah, and we’re still friends…

A musician pal I hung with during my years living in NYC was deeply into heavy metal rock’n roll. We’re talking Led Zeppelin, KISS and Guns & Roses type of screaming vocals, guitars, drums and, as expected, The Look of being a rock star. He didn’t make it as a teenager, or even into his 20′s or 30′s. But you know what?

He’s now in his 50′s and rockin’ out harder than ever.

SimpsonHe has a real job to support his creative endeavors, but instead of investing his salary into buying a more comfortable chair and big screen TV experience, he build a recording studio in his basement. He’s continually writing (creating) and recording (performing). It’s his creative outlet and passion, but also more than just a hobby similar to playing in a local band on the weekends.

It’s a business.

About once a year he has enough material to release a CD of hard rock originals on his own independent label (same as self-publishing your book). Through the internet and YouTube he’s developed a fan base in Germany and some Eastern European countries that the more youthful independent (and inexperienced) bands haven’t even discovered yet. It keeps him off the couch and more importantly, from wondering:

“What if…?”

So, how would you answer that question ten years from now? You might think 51 is old – but it’s not as old as you’ll be tomorrow, next week or next year. If you have a creative passion and want to give comedy a shot, there’s no better time than now.

And yeah, I know. That sounds like such an overused, tired and old cliche. But it wouldn’t be overused, tired and old if it didn’t make sense.

I won’t even get into stories of creative artists making it in their careers until they were older (Google Grandma Moses if you really need an example). I’ve heard Rodney Dangerfield sold paint until he was 40. Not sure how true that is (anyone want to throw me some facts?) but I tend to believe it.

There are different ways you can get back into the comedy game at a more advanced age.

You need to consider your material and audience. But then again, that’s what just about every comic needs to do anyway.

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For instance, you have a better chance of winning the Lottery than making a comedy career on the college circuit. Through my experience as a college agent I know that’s true. And as father to a teenager, there’s nothing easier for them to tune-out than an old person (think over 30) trying to make them laugh.

I remember interviewing Bill Engvall for my book Comedy FAQs And Answers and mentioning that I thought he’d get a lot of work in the college market. He told me I was nuts. He said his material was about being married and raising a family, which ain’t exactly what college audiences relate to.

I’m only surprised he didn’t hand me the invisible sign that read, “Here’s your sign!” He was sooo right…

But as you know, I also talk about the potential for work in more mature (think again over 30) markets, which means pretty much anything other than college and high school prom shows. Your open-mic circuit can include Rotary Clubs as well as comedy clubs. It’s a matter of writing material your potential audience will relate to and laugh at – and then finding the best venues to deliver it to them.

It’s also about telling yourself you’re not too old to do something you really want to do.

So for another inspiring example to get you off the lazy-boy and onto the stage…

The age range in my comedy workshops has been pretty wide. We’ll go as young as 13 and as old as… well, there’s no limit. The record so far is 72 years young. And you know what?

He ended up working a lot more than some of the much younger members.

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This late-starting comedian knew what he was interested in talking about and what potential audience would be interested in hearing it. His material was about being 72 and some of the things he – and others near his age – was doing and dealing with. He was fun, funny, active and creative. And believe it or not, he started working almost immediately because he was an original rarity.

An older adult doing comedy.

He booked MC spots in good clubs, but made a financial KILLING playing events for senior citizens. I kid you not! Last time we talked – and this was a few years ago – he was a working comic and bouncing around like a guy half his age.

Okay, maybe except for the ones half his age that are stuck in comfortable chairs and critiquing him for being “too old” to do that sort of thing…

So, are you too old at age 51?

It’s up to you, but I don’t know if that reason alone could truly hold a creative artist back from at least giving it a shot. As far as I’m concerned, it beats the heck out of vegging in a chair and watching someone else go for it on your large screen TV…

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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Record for your own protection

March 21, 2016

Hi Dave – I was talking with another comic about that court case in Canada a few years ago. A customer in a comedy club sued the comic over his (adult) language. She claimed to be stressed and shocked and won the case. We record every set mainly so we can hear which jokes work and how well. Now it’s important to document what was actually said. This was a case of a comic being accused of using inappropriate language in a mandatory “clean” show. – BM

"Say WHAT?!"

“Say WHAT?!”

Hey BM – I remember that case and wrote about it in a FAQs article when the verdict came down. A lot of people in the comedy biz were shocked over what happened. To borrow a phrase from an influential club booker who seems to repeat it every time we talk, comedy clubs are “The Last Bastion of Free Speech.” In other words, he feels as long as the comedian is funny it’s okay to have an opinion to say what he or she wants on stage and not worry about being politically correct.

But it’s not that simple.

It didn’t take a court case for most working comics to understand there are limits on language and topics depending on the venue, audience and event. For example, what you can expect to hear during a late night show in a comedy club vs. a corporate event will be different.

As you mentioned, it’s important to record all your sets. This is a great way to help you improve as a writer and performer. If your performance is funny the audience will laugh. If it sucks, you’ll hear crickets from the segments of the room where your family and friends are not sitting. You can develop your act off their response.

As you also mentioned, recording your set is a way to “document” what is said on stage. Based on the result of the court case, having proof of what you said can be just as important.

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Some performers may not realize this, but did you know that some club owners or managers record the shows? It’s nothing new. Many clubs have a permanent camera installed and aimed toward the stage. Before that in “ancient times” (pre video cameras) quite a few had an audio recorder going.

Ancient Times

Ancient Times

I know. I’ve been around since the “ancient times” and saw this happening.

I’ve also seen this documentation (proof) used to show performers that what they advertised (promised) was not what they delivered. And in some cases, it justified the talent booker not paying the performer.

Example…

This past winter I received a call from a booker to warn me about a certain comedian who was promoting himself as a clean (G-rated) act. He had scheduled the comic for a corporate show and was called-out by the client because the comic not only talked graphically about sex, but also dropped the F-bomb in the process.

Of course the comic protested. He said his material was not that dirty.

So the talent booker told him to prove it. Send the audio or video. The comic couldn’t because he didn’t record. So it came down to the client’s word vs. the comic’s word.

Can you guess who won?

Yeah, the angry and offended client with big corporate $$’s to spend on his next event. The booker still hoped some of that money would be spent on one of his performers, so case closed. The client demanded and received a refund, so neither the talent booker or the comic was paid. And since the talent booker wasn’t used to getting yelled at by clients because the performers he works with are expected to understand the event and “know the audience,” he called other talent bookers to warn them of the potential nightmare that comes from working with that particular comic.

That’s how I heard about it.

So now getting back to the article you mentioned, I’m guessing the judge made a ruling based on whose lawyer sounded most convincing. I don’t remember reading about the comedian recording his set. If he had, it might (or might not) have saved him time, trouble, money and future work. It’s important for creative artists to have freedom of expression, but I’ll also add this from a business side of the creative entertainment business:

There are certain limits.

What do I mean by that stipulation?

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A comedy club normally is for people ages 21 and over. If someone fits that demographic but is easily offended, then they need to follow the rule of “buyer beware.” If the show is announced for mature audiences only you can bet the comic on stage will practice his or her right of free speech at some point or another. If someone doesn’t like it – they should leave.

It’s similar to watching television. If I don’t like a show I’ll change the channel. But I won’t impose my beliefs on someone else who might enjoy it. As an example I’ll use all the violent murder and detective shows on prime time that I have no desire to watch. But they pull in high ratings, so who am I to prevent others from tuning in? Instead, I’ll just change the channel to The Voice or a rerun of Seinfeld. Those are the types of shows I enjoy watching.

But performers also need to be aware of the event and audience.

As mentioned above, a late night comedy club show will be different than a corporate event. Comedy clubs are where comedians can practice free speech, while corporate comics need to be funny using G-rated material.

To prove (document) my point, here’s an experience with someone that “did not know his audience” that I still find unforgettable and unforgivable…

Says it all.

Says it all.

Many years ago I took our then 5 year-old son to a very well-known amusement park. It wasn’t Disney because they have standards about this stuff. But as we walked around all these rides and games meant for little kids, I saw a guy wearing a white t-shirt with the F-Bomb spelled out in all it’s four-letter glory in BIG bold black lettering as in “F(bomb) YOU!

Sorry Mr. Living-On-The-Edge, but that was not the time or place for your political incorrectness. Performers who work in the comedy and speaking biz will understand. It’s called knowing your audience and the audience this idiot had was a bunch of 5-year old kids with their parents.

This goes both ways.

Performers must know your audience. Audiences must realize where they are. If it’s a corporate show it’ll be clean. If it’s a comedy club, chances are something will be said that’s not appropriate for 5 year old kids or anyone easily offended.

When you cross the line, that’s when the trouble – and bad-mouthing phone calls – can start. Your best defense is to always record your set and be sure it backs up what you’ve been hired to 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 Clubs, and private coaching by Skype or phone visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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