How tacky is your sales pitch?

March 17, 2015

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

Annoying salesman

“But seriously, these are some funny jokes!”

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

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

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

Tacky?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

tacky1

“Tacky? I’ll show you tacky!!”

Is it tacky to carry your promo material with you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The idea is not to waste an opportunity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Networking for stage time

March 9, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connections.

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

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

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

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

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

original

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

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

It’s also called networking and it works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SO I started networking with connections.

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

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

SO, back to you PD…

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

rbz-kelso-big-bird-voting-02

Lining up to be funny.

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

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

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

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

Now I’ll sign off before I use the word business again. It sounds too cold and calculated and you really shouldn’t be that way. Right? Well, not unless you want to get your comedy or speaking business going with more stage time.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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

March 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s another name for a personal introduction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, I’ve seen it happen.

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

Again, this is a competitive business.

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

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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

February 23, 2015

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

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

willy_wonka

“Has anyone seen Richard?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

article-0-0EA4CA3200000578-31_468x462

And you are…?

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

Yeah, sure… what’s your name again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Memorizing material – is it comedy or acting?

February 16, 2015

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

t fan bad acting (8)

“Just follow the script and no improvising!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no fourth wall.

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

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Not just the audience sleeping…

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

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

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

An audience is unpredictable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Haven’t I’ve seen this act before?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Contacting late night TV talent bookers

February 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You’ve been seen!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then ask for “help.”

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“Who’s calling and why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Still using promotional postcards?

February 2, 2015

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

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

Let me explain this better…

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U.S. Male delivering U.S. Mail

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

Not everyone used this promotional tool.

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

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

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

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

But another (secondary) option is to send postcards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s a regular basis? Ask them.

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

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No spam filter on these

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

But postcards are a different story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I’ll say it once again:

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

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

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Working the audience

January 26, 2015

Dave – I’ve noticed that in some (comedy) rooms you can just get up on stage and begin your material. Other rooms are a little stiff, but sometimes these rooms respond well with a more interactive style of comedy – where the comedian talks with the audience. Do you have any tips, questions or strategies one should use for this type of interactive comedy? – B.T.

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Tough crowd

Hey B.T. – You’re talking about the dilemma comedy club MC’s / opening acts go through every time they step on a stage. Depending on the audience (and experienced comics and speakers already know each audience is different and has its own personality) the MC has to make a decision about how much material he can do and how much he’ll have to work the audience.

The decision is based on audience reaction.

I’ve heard a lot of comedians describe it as, “reading the room” or “finding the level of the room.” Whatever you might call it, the ultimate decision should be quite easy. If they’re not laughing at your material, then a good alternative is to start talking with them.

All comedians start out in the “real” comedy club circuit as a MC, also known as the opening act. They may call themselves a headliner in their own self-booked show at a local venue, but no legit club will bring in an “unknown” as the headliner or feature (middle) act. Working comics pay their dues.

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The only comics I’ve ever known that will try to headline a show without valuable stage time experience are either kidding themselves into thinking they’re ready (and the legit clubs are wrong!) or are already stars. For example, I’ve seen (and in some cases, unfortunately worked with) a few television sitcom stars that wanted to entertain their loyal fans in comedy clubs. Overnight they’re going to become stand-up comedians, but really have no stage experience away from a television sound stage.

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Where’s the teleprompter?

At best they’re considered novelty acts and are coasting on their television (acting) fame. Clubs will book them because (remember, it’s a business) audiences will pay to see them once (a novelty). But if they’re not funny and can’t deliver the laughs (lack of performing experience), it’s a good bet the novelty will wear off and the next time they’re scheduled to headline ticket sales will go down.

So to get back to my original point, all good comedians start out as opening acts. It’s the next level up from open-mics and how they earn much needed experience in front of live audiences. It’s hands-on learning. And as MC’s, they gain experience reading the room and learn how to work the audience. It comes with the territory. As the first one on stage they have to set the tone for the show. Once you have that experience, whether a room is stiff or loose won’t matter.

You’ll know – through experience – how to adjust.

There are no magic formulas for doing this – any more than there are magic formulas to write comedy material. Using comedy legends for example, imagine putting Rodney Dangerfield and Richard Pryor in the same room and telling them “This is the formula you use to write a joke.”

That’s not how it works.

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But it’s difficult to ignore the old standard lines or questions performers have used for decades to get an audience involved in their act:

  • “Where’ya from?” And…
  • “What’da’ya do for a living?”

To be honest, if they didn’t work in getting an audience to interact with the performer, no one would use them. And I’ve seen both used quite often quite recently. But to make them work in your favor, you’d better be ready to think on your feet and be funny. The best way to do that is through:

  • On stage experience (hands-on learning) or…
  • Take an improvisation class or workshop – and then get on stage experience.

Every time you go on stage it should be a learning process. If the audience is not responding to your act, direct it more to them as individuals. Ask questions, talk with them, make conversation, interact and (importantly) be funny. If you can get their attention and make them laugh, chances are they loosen up and not be so “stiff.”

Here’s an example:

When I was working at the Hollywood Improv, one of the writers for a well-known late night television show was also one of our top comedians. He was – and still is – a great comedy writer. His material on stage never failed to get an audience laughing, until one night…

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The act’s not working!

He was on stage doing his act.  It was a weekend night with a room full of paying customers, so he was giving his best show and not trying out any new material. But things weren’t going as normal. The audience wasn’t laughing. I thought for sure he was in trouble because his material wasn’t working. I didn’t know if he had a backup plan because I had never seen him improvise off a crowd. Mainly because he never had to. His material was always killer.

Anyway, his proven jokes weren’t working that night. But he didn’t seem too worried about it. He took the microphone out of the stand (I had never seen him do that before!) and stopped doing his material. Instead he started talking with the audience and asking them the same two “old” questions listed above:

  • “Where’ya from?” And…
  • “What’da’ya do for a living?”

His responses were very funny and he connected with the audience. Before too long everyone was laughing. I watched as he continued the conversations, while putting the microphone back in the stand. Then he started – again – doing his material (his regular act).

The audience loved him. He was in total command and they laughed through the rest of his set.

After he was off stage, I told him that I had never seen him perform like that – working off an audience. He laughed and taught me the lesson I shared with you today. He told me it’s how every comedian starts out. He had MC’d at small clubs for years while learning to write great material. He had the experience setting the tone for the shows by reading the audience and knowing how to get them – and keep them – involved. When the material wasn’t working, he would work the crowd by engaging them in conversation.

So without a magic formula, how do you do that?

Experience.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Playing the talent booking game

January 19, 2015

Hey Dave – You’ve been writing about promoting. I’m on Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn. How do I get bookers to look at my video? I send emails but don’t hear back and don’t know if they’re watching. Thanks – D.M.

Hey D.M. – First of all, send in a joke for this newsletter. There are talent bookers on this list and they might check out the link I’ll include to your site. Stranger things have happened, so you never know…

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Who invented this silly game??!!

Okay, as you should realize by now, to get bookings you have to treat it like a business. BUT I’ve also learned from personal experience that it’s like a game – and you have to play it. If I had to describe the booking game, I’d call it a cross between Tag and Hide and go Seek.

Let me explain…

Sometimes you have to break down and make a phone call. Emails, snail mail and online networking are not the only resorts. Sometimes you need do it the old-fashion way by picking up the phone and start talking.

If you get a booker or agent on the line – that’s great! Use some of the concepts I’ve shared earlier about using a conversational hook (short – just as an icebreaker!) and being professional AND personable. Remember, you’re making a business call, but at the same time you’re in the entertainment biz and not an insurance agent or tax collector.

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Then ask if they’ve received your email or promo package and if they’ve watched your video.

If not, and this is the secret cheat (if you want to compare it to playing video games) ask, “When is the best time for me to call you back?” Many bookers, agents, college student programmers – whatever – have certain hours during certain days when they accept phone calls. Ask them when these hours are (by actually asking: “When is the best time for me to call you back?”). There’s no reason why they shouldn’t tell you. For instance: “Tuesdays between 2 and 4 pm” or give you a general idea: “Give me a couple weeks.”

Male hand marking on calendar the date of March 8

Executing the game plan

Mark that date or “a couple weeks later” on your calendar.

If they give you a specific time of day, mark that down also. They might just come right out and tell you if mornings or afternoons are best. THEN – and this is the second secret cheat – after you hang up, send the talent booker a postcard. I’m not talking about a vacation postcard with a pretty landscape. I’m talking about the type of business postcards that I’ve described in my book How To Be A Working Comic and in past FAQs And Answers.

Use the type of postcard that promotes you as an entertainer.

** “Wait a minute! Postcards are so old school. Everything today is online and by email. I don’t even know where to find a post office!” (Note: I’m imagining this response from everyone reading this online).

Yes, that’s pretty much correct. Especially for working comics that already have relationships with talent bookers. They send in avails via email every few weeks and can get work. BUT I’ll go back to today’s question:

How do you contact them just to look at your video (the first time) and how do you know if they’ve watched it (or even received it)?

road_block

Use an alternative route

The problems – mainly for performers “unknown” to the bookers – are spam filters. This happens with some of the clubs, but is especially true if you’re trying to break into the college and corporate markets. Many unsolicited emails with links (to videos or websites) won’t get past the school or business in-house email systems. This eliminates all the unwanted non-school related or non-business related ads and other “spam” that would fill up their inboxes. You – as an “unknown email sender”- have a good chance of falling into that category. A good email program will let you know what addresses you are sending to are either blocked or rejected as undeliverable, but otherwise you have no idea.

You could be waiting for a response that may never come because your important email was weeded out by a spam filter. You have yet to be added to booker’s accepted contacts list.

* Also from experience, many comedians and speakers still rely on postcards to stay in touch. I don’t consider myself to be a talent booker anymore (very rare when I do), but still receive postcards from performers looking for work. It’s a way to stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what.

So I’ll repeat because it’s very important. Send a follow-up postcard with a brief note saying it was good talking with them and the date you will be calling again.

In reality, you probably won’t get the booker on the phone. In that case, always leave a short message that you were following up on your promotional material. If you’re making the effort to dial and pay your phone bill, you might as well get something out of the call, even if it’s just for the booker to hear your name. In your voice message say you’ll call again in about two weeks, then hang up and send a postcard.

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Repeat the process until you get an answer.

This might take some time (remember you’re playing The Talent Booking Game) but it will keep your name and face (postcard headshot/photo) passing in front of the booker on a regular basis without being an annoying pain in the butt. That’s the most important part of this game plan. You don’t want to be in their face every day (annoying!). You just want to drop a reminder on a regular basis.

You want personal experience to back this up? Okay…

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Only 29 more to go…

When I was talent coordinator for A&E’s An Evening At The Improv I’d receive literally hundreds of promo packages with videos (this was before online promo really took off – suddenly I’m feeling old…). These packages would pile up on my desk and I’d plan out “sittings” where I’d watch about 30 at a time. No lie.

The comedians who played the above game were not a pain in the butt. They also were not forgotten or lost in the pile of videos. I would get these regular reminders and eventually dig through the pile to find their PR material. I was tired of being embarrassed when they’d call a couple of weeks later and I still hadn’t seen their video. It made me feel like I wasn’t doing my job, even though it seemed I never stopped watching videos. I just hadn’t seen theirs.

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Now, this by no means guaranteed them a showcase or a spot on the television show. Sometimes it worked out in their favor, but sometimes they just weren’t ready yet. But at least they had put in the work and had been seen.

I also remember talking about this years ago at a comedy festival with a manager friend out of Los Angeles who has successfully taken his company into the big time by producing television shows and movies. How did he discover new talent? His advice was to be a player. If you weren’t seen in person on a comedy club stage where he scouted talent on a regular basis, you played the game without being annoying.

So as I like to say, this is nothing I’ve made up. I’ve learned this from personal experience and talking with people that are successful in this crazy business. Play it correctly and eventually you should get at least some type of response. Of course that response could be good, bad or indifferent depending on where you are as a comedian or humorous speaker, but that’s a different game we’ll play some other time.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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Creating a one person show

January 12, 2015

Hey Dave – I’ve had some crazy experiences in my life that resonate in my memory and in my opinion are very comical. But also these were very serious moments. It’s hard to bring these stories out on the stand-up stage because they take a lot to build to a punchline. I am still very new to the stand-up world, let alone theater acting. I’ve taken a few classes, but don’t have a solid background yet. I’ve written about these crazy moments in a journal form, but am unsure of how I build a show off them because I am no play write. I guess my overall question is if you have a little experience, how can you start to build up to putting together a great One Man Show? Thanks! J.W.

Hey J.W. – The best advice I’ve ever heard from any working comic or writer is to just keep writing. You’re already doing that by keeping a journal and creating stand-up sets. The idea is not to get too far ahead of yourself. A one man show is a big project – so you’ll want to create a few shorter ones (like laugh out loud five minute comedy sets) first.

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Computer genius

You say you’re not a playwright, but that doesn’t always mean having to sit down at a computer keyboard and “write” a show. As I say in my workshops, some people can do that – most can’t.

Most stand-ups and speakers have to talk it out. And by this I mean in front of an audience. It makes the material and delivery real. I think this way of working will suit you best. You don’t need to be a playwright to talk and convey your message in front of an audience.

Talk your stories into an audio recorder. Then transcribe – write them out. Edit, make changes, add your humor and tweak the material. Then do it again and write some more. Take it on stage and try it out in front of an audience. Are they interested? Are they laughing? If yes, then it’s working. If not, then you go back to work. Write some more and continue to repeat the process until you get the audience reaction you want.

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Keep in mind this is not easy. Working writers, speakers and comedians dedicate themselves to these careers. Emotions range from failure to success and every hard knock in between. But if you’re serious, have a thick skin and really want it – then you’ll continue.

Okay, so let’s say you have very funny stand-up sets and get great audience reaction (laughs). Now you also want to add “serious stuffso the result is more of a one man show (theatrical) rather than a Comedy Central stand-up special.

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The serious “stuff”

Create an outline for a planned show. What is it you want to say? Who is your audience? But don’t knock yourself out trying to make it perfect – like a finished and polished script for a successful Broadway show. Everything always changes when you start to do it live in front of an audience. That’s why Broadway shows go on the road for previews in various cities around the country (like stand-up comics at open-mics), followed by multiple re-writes, re-casting and more previews. These changes are based on audience response. If audiences don’t like the second act or a certain character, the playwrights and producers fix it before bringing it to Broadway for the definitive make-it or break-it reviews.

Shows, comedy sets, motivational speeches, books, plays, movies – whatever – go through many drafts before they are considered finished.

That’s important to remember so you’re not discouraged after each preview. My first book was re-written a number of times before I had a literary agent accept it. She made me rewrite it a few times before  submitting it to publishers. Then after a publisher bought it, an editor had me rewrite a few more times before they printed and got it into stores. It was at least a dozen re-writes total.

You will experience the same thing. But as I said earlier, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. You’re still in the first draft stage of creating your show.

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Concentrate on what you’re doing now, which is getting stage experience in stand-up, improvisation and acting. Keep creating short (3 to 5 minute) comedy sets and trying them out in front of audiences at open-mics and in clubs. The comedians I’ve worked with find their comedy voice first. After that they write for that comedy voice.

Okay – got that? Now, if you want to continue into one man (or one woman) show-land, let’s visit television sitcom-land for a quick example…

The-Drew-Carey-Show-the-drew-carey-show-6795589-1300-1591One of my favorite sitcoms was The Drew Carey Show. The pilot for that show was written around Drew’s stand-up act. In fact, when you watch the first episode you can actually see him doing bits that he did countless times in comedy clubs. The storyline for the episode was written around his comedy voice and what he was already doing on stage.

It was the same with Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement and many others that starred stand-up comedians.

Take one of your stories and see if you can make into a five minute stand-up comedy bit – as a storyteller. But keep your personality (comedy voice) and don’t try to be an actor. Right now it’s you talking about you. Later as it develops, you might want to try acting out some of the other characters involved.

The best advice I can give is to realize a one person show is also a theatrical production.

Creating and starring in a one person show was a very popular career goal in the comedy biz during the 1990′s and many comedians failed because they didn’t realize that. It’s more than just doing your stand-up act on a stage with a couch and a table. It needs to be more of a night at the theater, rather than a set at a comedy club.

51AYBNEP17LThe best example of a comedian-writer-actor developing his own successful one man show is Inside The Male Intellect: An Oxymoron by Robert Dubac. I’ve seen it many times – from it’s earliest first draft performed at The Santa Monica Improv to a sold-out Palace Theater in Cleveland – and highly recommend it whenever I can. If you’re not familiar with the show, you can purchase the DVD for under $5 on Amazon.com. Here’s the LINK.

It takes work to write and create anything. But hopefully it’s work you enjoy. Just keep writing and trying out your material on stage. With talent, creativity, experience and luck you might wind up with something great. You never know unless you try.

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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up ComedyComedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.

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

Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing

 

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