Will lack of references hurt?

Hi Dave – I just took a look at the registration for an upcoming comedy festival. The form asks for any references. Does it hurt that I don’t have any? Can I put your name down to verify that I’ve at least completed a comedy workshop? Thanks for your thoughts. – L.P.

Here are my references!

Hey L.P. – References can be another word for networking – which is a key buzz word in almost every industry today. If you know the right people who can give you a good referral, it’s almost like having a free pass to be “seen.” But if you haven’t yet built up a list of right people, don’t let it stop you. You still need to put yourself out there (network) and make good contacts (references) along the way.

I subscribe to a lot of email newsletters and check out blogs on a variety of topics. Some are about the entertainment industry and business in general. Others are about training or help in researching different projects like publishing or making presentations. Google Alerts are great for that and for (hint, hint) writing comedy material.

My point is that I use this information to keep up with what’s happening with stuff I’m interested in and the world in general. And the one thing that’s hammered into my head every day is that a lot of people are looking for work. Not just comedians, but people looking for real jobs. And yes, being a working comedian or humorous speaker is a real job. But I’m talking about the real jobs (think 9-5) that real comedians try to avoid like hecklers and hack jokes.


Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Begins Saturday – May 5, 2018

Includes performance on Wednesday, May 23rd

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…




Everybody’s filling out registrations (job applications) and one of the sections will always ask for references.

One of the newsletters I subscribe to covered this topic last week. The question was from someone looking for a real job (9-5), but the advice also makes sense for comedians like you that might be registering for comedy festivals or looking to contact talent bookers, (avoiding a real job).

So I’ll pass it along here.

Here’s everyone and more!

You never mentioned making-up references, so I’ll commend your honesty and assume it never crossed your mind. That’s good. If you start putting down references you don’t have, sooner or later it will come back to haunt you. The comedy biz is actually a smaller world than you might think and there’s a good chance of having a lesser degree of separation between you and Jimmy Fallon than the more famous Six Degrees of Separation between you and actor Kevin Bacon.

If you don’t know the game I’m referring to, Google it.

If you start dropping names in a small world, sooner or later that “name” is going to find out and deny any knowledge of your existence. You might also run into a booker who is good friends with the “name” and can back you into a tight corner.

Either way, your reputation will take a hit as word spreads through the (smaller than you might think) comedy world.

Also never claim experience you don’t have.


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Your sister’s best friend might be a good friend with someone working at The Tonight Show who mentioned you once to Jimmy Fallon. Drop his name on your reference list and bookers will expect a set that Fallon would be proud to endorse. But if you’re barely out of the open-mic scene… Well, word will get out and when it comes to talent bookers with long memories, all you’ve achieved is locking in your career at the open-mic level until you get a real job of the 9-5 variety.

The best advice is “honesty is the best policy.”

A REALLY old saying!

There’s a reason why that’s an old saying – because it’s true. If you’re new in the comedy business, a good talent booker will see that watching your set. Experience is obvious. BUT there’s nothing to be ashamed of – everyone has to start somewhere. If you have potential, a good talent booker will recognize that also. You may not be ready for prime time, but you could make a good impression and be remembered in the future.

And as you grow as a comedian, that too will be evident and respected.

So to repeat myself, if you don’t have references now, don’t let it stop you. Fill out the registration and put down whatever you have – even if it’s just open-mics, benefit shows or even a comedy workshop. The talent booker might recognize potential from your video (which all festivals and bookers will require if you’re not available for a live showcase) and give you a shot. Believe it or not, a good talent booker enjoys discovering a “new face.”

If it doesn’t happen for you now, you might be remembered the next time you apply. If you show growth and experience in both writing and performing, that will definitely help the recognition factor. And by that time you might also have a few references from the right people, which can only be earned by putting yourself out there, doing great sets and networking.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!


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

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubs, The Omaha Funny Bone; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

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