Archive for the ‘audience reaction’ Category

Musical misadventures in comedy

May 21, 2018

Hey Dave – You had a question a few weeks ago about adding music. I’m thinking about ending my comedy set by doing a rap song. Just the background music like karaoke would be on a CD and I’d do a funny rap over it. I’ve seen other comedians and even speakers do this and think it’s a great way to close with a big ending. Any thoughts? – MW

Rockin’ the rap

Hey MW – Yeah, I always have a few thoughts. The first leans toward the music side. I’m not a rapper; I’m a rocker. So if the rap wasn’t rocked out with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (think Run-D.M.C. and Walk This Way WAY back in 1986) I probably haven’t voluntarily listened to it.

Involuntarily… well, that’s another comedy bit. I’ve had two teenage sons living in my house and know what it’s like to have rap songs blasting louder than my Aerosmith rock anthems. So in other words, I know it’s popular enough to make me a dinosaur when it comes to musical tastes. But…

My second thought relies on the above descriptive term – popular. In showbiz terms that means it sells. It also means – and I’m working off a personal opinion here – that most anyone cool (dinosaur term) enough to go to a comedy club will be familiar with rap. This is opposed to say, a Gregorian Chant which is a musical term that makes even someone like me sound new school.

Okay, enough musical nonsense. My creative recess is over. Let’s get to the point.

Music can add energy and raise the showbiz factor in a performance. It’s like bringing the glitz of Las Vegas to your gig. And it also keeps to my theory (and I explain this to public speakers in my college course) that live shows today are competing against what has become common on television and in movies:

Keeping audiences with short attention spans interested in the program.

Short attention spans

There’s a reason why TV commercials have shrunk from one minute to about 15-20 seconds over the decades. Short attention spans. And to keep viewers from changing the channel, these commercials have to be entertaining or informative all the way through.

With that being said, it’s the same with live performances. You must entertain your audiences and hold their interest. And with modern audiences used to 20 second entertainment bursts on television, it’s like competing against a 20 second commercial.

The problem with a live performance is that the viewers can’t change the channel. That’s why comedians and speakers need to up their entertainment factor. In other words, a mediocre set isn’t going to result in too many return engagements.

Using today’s topic, music can be a great attention grabber.

In fact, it’s become the standard way in most comedy clubs to rev up audience excitement for the comedians. When I managed the NYC Improv back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the MC would be introduced and the show would start. The MC would then introduce each comedian. There was no musical fanfare – just words.

Now that’s all different. Now its SHOWBIZ!!!

Comics request certain songs to be played after they are introduced and are walking onto the stage. It raises the excitement and audience attention factor. Music will do that.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting Saturday June 2, 2018 is SOLD OUT!

Includes evening performance on Wednesday, June 20th

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 11 people

For information, reviews, photos and upcoming workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Now to your question about adding a rap song to your set…

Yeah – try it. Why not? It’s all about entertaining and if it’s funny and energetic, chances are it will be entertaining. BUT here are a few things to keep in mind.

Sometimes techno things (my term that includes playing background music while you sing or rap) don’t go as planned. Here are a few warnings…

  • Make sure you really practice the words you are rapping or singing over the music.

If you screw-up the lines, the background keeps going. You still have to make it work for the audience. Ad-lib or admit you messed up, but make it part of the performance. You don’t want to just die on stage or let the bit fizzle out. You’ll look like an amateur.

  • Make it easy on the tech / sound person at the venue.

Don’t hand him a CD with 20 tracks and ask him to play a particular one when you give the signal. Sure, most can do it – but remember they have other sound, lights or audience distractions going on in the club and they might cue up the wrong track. What are you going to do? Will it ruin the bit?

Here’s an example…

Rap Album of the Year?

A comic in one of my workshops decided to open with a rap song. Not to rap over it – but to do a funny dance as he walked on stage. Now, this is not an exaggeration. This really happened. The sound guy got the CD’s mixed up and played Over The Rainbow instead of the requested gangsta’ rap. He didn’t know it was a mistake, so it continued to play.

The comic was shocked but went with it and danced to Judy Garland instead of… well, probably Lil Wayne. It turned out to be funnier than the original concept. But the reason it worked – and he just didn’t stand there looking duh – was because he had been warned this could happen. I gave him the warning, which leads me to another story…

Sometimes at the NYC Improv (not always and especially not during weekend shows) we used to screw-up audio cues on purpose. It could be very funny (at least for us – the staff and other comedians) and would throw the unexpected at the comic on stage. It was always fun to see how they would react.

So keep that one in mind. It could happen – even sometimes on purpose!

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The lesson is to just have the ONE song you want to use be the ONLY song on the ONE CD you give to the sound person. That lessens the odds for a screw-up (or great joke at your expense) on their part.

  • And finally – sometimes the tech thing just doesn’t work.

The CD player might be broken or already set up for the headliner (if you’re not closing the show). If it’s still your big closer, be prepared to do it a cappella (just your soulful voice and no backing music). It doesn’t matter if the equipment is working or not – the show must go on.

So the bottom line is to give it a shot. It’s showbiz, so go for it. But be prepared for the best and the worst. When you start adding effects to your stage performance, you’re no longer the only one in control of your act.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

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Adding music increases the pizzazz factor

April 23, 2018

Hi Dave – I added a little music to my act one time and had some success. I was thinking about doing it again and wondered if that would be cool. I’d have music playing when I walked on stage, the first part of the set would be jokes and then I’d end by doing a rap song. I have a CD with instrumental music and thought someone doing the sound could turn it on for me and I’d “rap” over it. Just wanted to get your take on it. Thanks! – M.D.

Working the room!

Hey M.D. – I don’t think it’s a secret that most comedians (and this goes for many speakers also) understand they’re involved in showbiz. With all the techno-stuff and special effects we see on television, in movies and during live concerts, a lot of entertainment today is not only about substance (quality of the performance), but also the presentation (the pizzazz!).

It all depends on the circumstances and the performer, but from my experiences I believe audiences expect some type of pizzazz (okay – last time I’ll use that term in this article) when they pay money for a show. This means we’re talking about lights, explosions, sound effects during rock concerts – and even music during a comedy show.

I imagine that right now the die-hard, old-guard comedians I worked with in NYC years ago are thinking I’ve gone crazy. More than a few would have stood in the back of the room making fun of “variety” acts that used “gimmicks” – which at that time would have included juggling, riding a unicycle, singing or rapping over music karaoke-style.

But here’s a confession. I’m not crazy. It’s the evolution of the business. Let me explain…

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Spring 2018 – SOLD OUT!

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 11 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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When I managed the NYC Improv back in the late 1980′s, I don’t remember comedians coming on stage accompanied by loud music. The MC introduced the comic and then he walked on stage and did his act. It was simple and to the point.

Around the same time, I would go to Madison Square Garden and watch the NBA New York Knicks, (actually I was only there when the Cleveland Cavaliers were in town). I don’t remember a big musical number with smoke machines, gyrating cheerleaders and dancing seven foot centers during pre-game introductions. They announced the teams, the players high-fived each other – and then started the game.

AND to really get carried away with this, I remember going to rock concerts when I was a teenager. An on-stage local deejay would introduce the band, the act would walk out, plug in their guitars, take time to tune their guitars, shout hello a few times into the microphones, and then start their first song. There were no opening films, explosions, special lights or anything like that. It was simple and to the point.

Warming up the NBA

Fast forward to 2018. Can you imagine an NBA pre-game not resembling a rock / rap concert? It’s the same with former teen idols that are now seventy-something year old rock stars in concert. Before they even leave the hotel and take a limo to the venue there are films, music, lights and other showbiz energizers to get the crowd hyped up and into the show.

The same is now true for a lot (not all but a lot) of comedy shows and speaker presentations. For proof, go to any legit comedy club located between NYC and Hollywood. Even the opening acts are asked what song they want blasting when they walk on stage.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I watched a comedian – outside of one of my workshops – who didn’t use music to hype up the audience before grabbing the microphone and opening his show.

Wait… yes I do.

It was Dennis Miller and it has to be more than fifteen years ago. He was performing at a theater (following Rita Rudner) and was dressed as a janitor. The audience didn’t know it was Miller because he wore a hat and kept his head down as he was sweeping the stage at the end of intermission. His act started when he took off his hat and said hello – which was a pretty cool non-musical way to hype up an audience.

Otherwise, comedy clubs have turned into a mini NBA pre-game show.

So… should you use music / rap during your performance? If it fits your comedy voice (who you are on stage) then I don’t know why not. As I’ve just explained, it’s a great way to hype up an audience. And what I mean is that it can add energy and a real sense of fun into your performance.

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I remember a time when some of the musical comedians I worked with worried about being labeled “guitar acts.” The rumor was that they’d never get on The Tonight Show because producers only wanted “real stand-up comedians.” But I’ll tell’ya something – in the clubs, guitar acts (good ones with high energy) always had the crowds excited, involved in their shows and received the loudest ovations. They could always find work in clubs, corporate events, cruise ships and the college circuit.

Pizzazz sells (sorry I had to use the term again!)

Do I need to say more? Similar to creating and writing comedy material, you need to take your best ideas on stage. The audience will help you decide whether or not it works. You never know unless you try.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

How long do you go until you hit with a bit?

February 25, 2018

Hi Dave – At what point do you drop a bit? Is there a magic number or amount of time that you spend refining before you shelf a joke or bit? Thanks! W.K.

How many times for a joke to work?

Hey W.K. – I enjoy this type of question because it will always start a debate. In fact, it’s already started one – with myself. In other words, I have two answers…

The first falls back on my dedicated opinion that comedians and humorous speakers are creative artists. Writing and performing original material is an ongoing process. You create something and continue to develop it and make improvements.

Will it ever be perfect? Not really… at least for a creative artist.

Here’s what I mean. A lot of comics I’ve worked with have had killer sets. They come off stage knowing they’ve nailed it – the crowd laughed all the way through and both the performer and audience feel pretty good. But then the performer (artist) can usually find some fault. It could be delivering one line a different way or even using another facial expression that could’ve taken everything over the top.

Could it be called a perfect set? Maybe for the audience, but a creative artist will probably always feel there’s some room for improvement. It’s the curse of being creative.

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Comedy Workshop at The Omaha Funny Bone

Starts Saturday – April 21, 2018

Workshop also meets Sundays – April 22 & 29 from noon to 4 pm

Includes an evening performance at The Funny Bone on Monday, April 30

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Interested in the next workshop at The Cleveland Improv?

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Here’s another example…

I’ve heard too many interviews with recording artists who’ve had No. 1 songs, but can pick out moments (that listeners wouldn’t notice) where – if they could record the song again – they would do something different (in their mind, something better). The song may have hit No. 1, but they can see room for improvement.

Name that tune!

The artist doesn’t stop selling the music – because it’s still good. It’s just not perfect. They might continue to change and develop the songs in live performances, which is something that has driven fans of Bob Dylan crazy for decades. He never seems to play his songs the same as the recordings.

Okay – now back to your question about comedy bits.

Just because a bit doesn’t work, that’s no reason to think it will never work. If you think it has promise and you’re dedicated to working on it… well, there’s always the chance.

In that case you would keep working on a bit for as long as you believe it can be made funnier. It will never be perfect, because in the back of your creative mind you always think it can be better.

Okay – that was answer No. 1. Now I’ll share with you a different opinion that I’ve also heard from so many comedians that I can’t ignore it.

I also share this in my workshops as a method for putting together a comedy set that might someday get you hired. It doesn’t take away from your creativity, but it saves the audience – and also importantly the club booker – the agony of paying for performances where the comedian is continually working on improving the same not-yet-working bit.

By the way, that’s great for open-mics and what open-mics are for. But when customers are paying upwards of $20 for a ticket, a two-drink minimum and parking it makes good business sense to give them a show with proven material.

This different opinion also shares the name of another comedy writing theory:

The Rule of Three

The best known example of this in writing comedy concerns the actual structure of a joke or bit. For an explanation I saved you time and looked it up in Wikipedia. Here’s the scoop:

One of the best examples of the power of rule of three is in comedy, where it is also called a comic triple. Two is the smallest number of points needed to establish a pattern, and comedians exploit the way people’s minds perceive expected patterns to throw the audience off track (and make them laugh) with the third element. Example: “How do you get to my place? Go down to the corner, turn left, and get lost.”

Okay, okay… That sounds too much like textbook theory, which is something creative artists don’t worry about (at least too much). It also doesn’t pertain to your question, but it leads me to a different Rule of Three…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 24, 2018

Workshop Marquee 150

Also meets Saturdays – April 7 & 14 (skips Easter Weekend)

Includes a performance at The Improv on Wednesday – April 18

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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I remember conversations about this at the NYC Improv. As I like to say, I don’t make this stuff up and this idea seemed to be a general opinion with a lot of the comics hanging around the bar waiting to go on stage.

The idea is to try a bit or a joke three times in front of three different audiences.

Three things can happen:

  1. The audience will laugh
  2. Some of the audience will laugh, but not all
  3. The audience won’t laugh

After doing this three times, you add up the score:

  1. If they laugh all three times, you keep the bit or joke in the act
  2. If you get some laughs, but not a lot – rework it and repeat the process
  3. If they don’t laugh, cut the bit from you act

Of course the first result is the goal, while the last one is pretty much a death sentence for the material.

The second should spark the creative mind to continue improving the bit or joke. But eventually you’ll need to make a decision. If it’s only going to be a mediocre piece of material no matter how many changes you make, file it for later or dump it for something new and funnier.

Who’s out?

If you want to work in this business, you need material that works in front of an audience.

The creative artist will always continue to develop new material. The working comic or humorous speaker will have material that has already been proven to work in front of an audience – and that’s what they will be paid to deliver. So if the bit or the joke is not working, then follow a similar Rule of Three from the game of baseball theory:

Three strikes and you’re out.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Promotional videos need an audience

February 12, 2018

Dave – Does the promotional video have to be in front of a live audience? Most open-mics are restricted to 5 minutes and my bits are longer. Also, many open-mics are poor venues to make quality video. – ET

Hopefully more than this!

Hey ET – If you’re promoting for a live performance gig you need to show the talent booker what you can do in front of a live audience. Maybe if you’re sending in your “reel” for an acting gig – commercials, TV or film – I doubt it would matter. Then again, since we’re dealing with comedians and humorous speakers and not actors (well, not necessarily) the answers to your questions – in order – are:

  1. Yes
  2. Tough
  3. Figure out another option

Okay, I know the last two sound kind of harsh, but I’ll explain my reasoning in a moment. But for right now I’ll fall back on a standard reasoning that this is a business. Yes, it is a creative business that survives on talent and continues by discovering new talent that is different, innovative and sometimes not afraid to push down a few established barriers. But when it comes to the business of promoting, there are some established thoughts I don’t think are going to change anytime in the near future.

One is submitting a promo video filmed in front of a live audience.

When you want to be considered for a performance gig – you need to show the talent booker a performance in front of an audience. They want to see how you work on stage and an audience reaction before they’ll take a chance on you. There’s no other way outside of a live showcase to do that.

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Comedy Workshop at The Omaha Funny Bone

Starts Saturday – April 21, 2018

Workshop also meets Sundays – April 22 & 29 from noon to 4 pm

Includes an evening performance at The Funny Bone on Monday, April 30

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Interested in the next workshop at The Cleveland Improv?

Keep reading…

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Think of it like test-driving a new car. A buyer wants to know how it runs on the highway, rather than just taking the seller’s word on it. It’s the same thing with live performers. A good talent booker wants to know what he’s buying before putting the comic (or speaker, or musician…) on stage in front of a “live” audience. If the audience enjoys the show they might come back for another (clubs like returning customers), but if it’s a bomb they might just go to a movie or another club next time.

It’s pretty much impossible to get an accurate feel for a comedian or speaker without an audience. Yeah, I know the television show Last Comic Standing used to have comics perform in front of only three judges in the first round, but those three people were still an audience. I’m sure most comics know what I’m talking about from doing open-mics in front of only two or three people. They’ve learned that you still need to perform for them.

I remember getting videos for A&E’s An Evening at the Improv from aspiring comedians that were filmed in their living rooms, basements and bedrooms, and even outside. No audience – just them in front of a camera. Honestly, they were laughable because they came off as amateurs that really had no performing experience (an experienced comic would know better). And as I’ve been known to say…

They may call it amateur night, but no one wants to hire (pay for) an amateur.

So don’t even consider sending a promo video for a performance gig that was not filmed in front of an audience. The talent booker will be wondering why you couldn’t get on stage anywhere and had to do it this way.

Now as far as a time limit of say… five minutes. Again, it’s the business.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 24, 2018

Workshop Marquee 150

Also meets Saturdays – April 7 & 14 (skips Easter Weekend)

Includes a performance at The Improv on Wednesday – April 18

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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Talent bookers get a LOT of video submissions and simply don’t have the time to watch a string of comics doing… well, a LOT of time. Usually most of them know within the first 30 seconds if the comedian has the experience and material to maybe be hired. It’ll show right away. Most also know how to fast forward and stop at random places to see if the comic is getting laughs from an audience. I’ve sat and watched promo videos with more than a few very influential talent bookers in NYC and LA and have seen this happen. So whatever the length of the video, it should be your best and filmed in front of a live audience.

But saying five minutes is not enough time for your long bits could hurt you BIG TIME when you’re just starting out. An important part of the club business is keeping comics “within their time.”

Headliners – the acts audiences are paying to see – have the most flexibility when it comes to time. I’ve seen many do an hour or more if there’s only one show that night and the audience is really having fun. But the opener and feature need to “stick to their time” so the headliner doesn’t go on too late in the show or in front of a burned-out audience.

Sometimes an opener can be given 15 minutes. But other nights, especially when there are two or three shows and maybe a guest set thrown in, the manager might tell the opener to do 5 minutes or less.

Can you do that?

If they manager says, “Do five minutes” and you go over your time because your bits are too long, chances are you won’t work that club again. I also remember a former member of my workshop calling me to say he’d had his best set ever during a contest at The Improv but was disqualified. Why? Because comics were given five minutes – and he had done five minutes and TEN seconds.

I’m not kidding. Again – it’s the business.

So if most open-mics only give you five minutes and your bits are longer, then you need to find other clubs that will give you more stage time. You don’t want to break their rules if you want to be invited back.

And again, time limits are important to remember if you want to get hired in most clubs. If you can’t stick to five minutes and that’s what they’re looking for, then turn down the gig. It won’t work in your favor.

Not every open-mic is a poor venue to make a quality video (your comment above) and if these are the only places you’re performing, it’s probably time to expand your horizons if you want to start getting paid work. Actually some of the more popular open-mics I’ve seen in various cities would be cool settings for a promo video. They may not have “IMPROV” or another club logo on the back wall, but a stage, microphone and spotlight, and an attentive audience will usually do the trick.

This would be better!

The deal is that you want a real audience to make a decent promo video. A room full of open-mic comics who’ve probably heard your set a dozen times and are trying to figure out what they’re going to do on stage when you’re finished won’t be your best audience.

So this is where you figure out another option.

When you’re going to do a promotional video – promote the gig. Seriously. Invite friends, family, co-workers and anyone else you can get in the club. I’ve seen comics in NYC standing on the sidewalk handing out flyers not because it was a bringer show, but because they wanted an audience for their promo video.

Another option is to get a few other comics involved that also want new promo videos. Again, I learned this trick in NYC. Five or six comics would plan to do their videos on the same night and PACK the club with just about everyone they knew.

Once the scene was set – all they had to do was be funny (not an option – ha!) and film it.

At the end of the night they had new promo videos filmed in front of a “live” audience that (from what I remember) got them work from talent bookers. Then when they were booked in better clubs, they got better videos – and the cycle continues for anyone who wants to be a working comic.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

October 15, 2017

Hey Dave – I need some advice, but think I already know the answer. I had a booker ask me if I can do an hour clean for corporate and 90 minutes for cruises. I have about 40 clean. I already screwed myself recently when someone asked if I can do an hour headlining and I said I was more comfortable featuring. I want to tell this person yes, but don’t want to disappoint and don’t want to hurt my standing with them. But I’m afraid if I say no, they won’t look at me again. What do you think? – D.

“I know! I know!”

Hey D. – I think it’s true you already know the answer because you’re a working comic. And I don’t need to overthink to know talent bookers, comedians and speakers working regularly in the entertainment biz also know the answer. But for those who are not at that point yet in their careers, this type of offer can cause them to question their own better judgment.

I’ve never met a performer that wanted to screw up a chance to get work through a legit talent booker. It’s how they both earn a living. One way to do it is to overestimate – or deliberately lie – about what they can offer the client (the buyer – like an event planner for a corporate show). If the booker says he has a comic that can do an hour of clean material, that’s exactly what the event planner assumes he’s paying for. If the comic claims that’s what he brings to the deal, it had better be true.

If that’s not what’s delivered, then everyone is screwed.

Okay, I understand some performers are great at crowd work. They may not have an actual hour’s worth of material, but they’re talented and experienced in talking with the audience and making it part of the act.  If that’s what you’re capable of doing for an hour and have proven it in the past, then yeah – do the gig.

If not, don’t overestimate and claim you can if you’ve never done it. A good paying or important (proving yourself to a legit booker) gig is not the time to try something new.

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Begins Saturday – November 4, 2017

Includes performance on Thursday, November 30th!!

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – skips Thanksgiving Weekend

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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But for experienced working comics, I’m just preaching to the choir.

It’s true you don’t want to ruin a chance to work with a talent booker by turning down jobs. But then again, you don’t want to ruin chances for future work if you don’t deliver what you’ve promised. The best way to deal with both of these dilemmas is to tell them the truth.

A legit talent booker should respect your honesty.

Thanks!

If he’s contacted you about work – that means he or she is interested in working with you. This shouldn’t be a “slam the door in your face” moment because you can’t deliver – right now – what’s being asked of you. Use this as an opportunity to stay in contact and hopefully work together in the future. I’ve booked dozens of corporate shows and they’re not always for an hour performance. In fact that’s almost too long for an event that might include cocktail hour, dinner and dancing after the show. Most of the corporate bookings I’ve gotten for comedians are between thirty and forty five minutes.

So always ask the best way for you to stay in touch with this booker in case he needs someone for a show of that length. And when you’re finally ready – experienced – to do an hour or ninety minutes, you can let them know that too.

I know this will sound cliché, but keep in mind you’re building a career. It takes time and it’s not a race. Putting together a solid (funny) act (clean) for corporate gigs and dinner shows on cruise ships (different than the late night adult shows performed by the same comics) is not an overnight process. The best comedians (and speakers) – in other words, working regularly – understand the hard work, dedication and on stage experience that’s necessary to find success in this competitive business.

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There are no shortcuts.

As a talent booker I know from past experience that a miserable experience is scheduling a comic for a show who doesn’t deliver what’s been promised. The client is unhappy and will call someone else in the future when looking for entertainment. And from the talent booker point of view? Well, let’s just say that comic won’t be on speed dial for gigs anytime soon.

And yeah – that’s how I earned that experience.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Showcase Motivation

October 1, 2017

Dave – You’ve talked about showcasing in the last few newsletters. What’s the motivation for a talent booker to organize these showcases? What is the benefit to the booker and the club? – MB

Hey MB – Since your email came in not long after the last FAQ And Answer was posted, I know you’re referring to my mention of comedy club showcases in Los Angeles (and NYC). Instead of repeating myself, if anyone missed it you can just scroll down to the next article to read.

The motivation to organize a showcase is to find (scout) talent. Talent bookers, casting directors, producers, event planners and anyone else looking to hire comedians or speakers can organize or attend live performances to see for themselves before hiring someone. They also watch videos, but when you’re in one of the big media markets – like LA or NYC – there are more (in my opinion) opportunities to see the performers in person.

And you know live is always better – right? If you don’t believe me, watch your favorite band on YouTube and then check them out in concert. There’s a big difference.

When I worked for The Improv in LA and NYC, I would get calls from casting directors looking for certain types. This could be for a movie, television show, documentary – or even a one-shot appearance on a late-night talk show.

For instance, when The Tonight Show set up a showcase, they were looking for comics who were (of course) funny and had the needed experience to do a high-profile (pressure is on!) show – which meant there was less of a chance they would freeze up or bomb when they hit the stage in front of the cameras. In other words, if you were relatively new to the biz and hoping to hit the lottery with the only five minutes of material you had, there was no need to apply.

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Begins Saturday – November 4, 2017

Includes performance on Thursday, November 30th!!

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – skips Thanksgiving Weekend

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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By scheduling a showcase in the club, the talent bookers could watch a number of pre-selected comedians perform in front of a live audience and decide which ones were “ready” for the show. When I was there the comics were usually given about three minutes to prove their stuff.

I also did this with A&E’s An Evening At The Improv. I would watch tons of videos sent in advance, pick ten comics who “might” be ready to do the show, and schedule them for a Monday night showcase. Each would do three minutes on stage, which meant the showcase would be over in half an hour. There was never a set number of how many would be booked that night to do the television show because it was an almost weekly process. You might find four or five in one night – and none the next.

But the bottom line is that it was an efficient (for bookers) and fair (for comedians) way to audition performers.

This is also how it was done for sitcoms, movies and other casting projects. Once when I was at the New York Improv I got a call from The Today Show.

It was an election year and they wanted a comic that did political material. I already knew ten from our roster that would be great for the gig, so I called them and scheduled a showcase where they all came in on the same night and did three minutes of political stuff. The producers from The Today Show came to the club, watched the showcase and picked one. It made their job a lot easier than sending out a casting call and sitting through hundreds of videos and then scheduling auditions in their office.

So that would be the motivation for the talent booker.

For an agent or manager, they want their clients seen by the people who can give them work. They would schedule a showcase time, usually thirty minutes to an hour, with the club (in my case The Improv) and fill the spots from their roster of comedians. Then they would invite casting people, talent bookers, etc. to watch the showcase. If it were a manager promoting the showcase, they would also invite agents they wanted to represent their clients.

It was a lot of work to make these showcases successful, but again it beat the heck out of sending press packages and making phone calls to set individual appointments. Everyone would be in the same place at the same time for a big schmooze-fest. In other words a good showcase is a prime networking and “doing business” opportunity.

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So what’s the benefit for the booker? Again – it was an efficient way to find talent.

What’s the benefit for the club? There was the prestige that comes from working with the top shows and more business.

Think about it. If you owned a comedy club and had big-time producers and casting agents from every major network, film studio and agency hanging around scouting talent, every comic will want to perform there. And when you have the best comics on your stage, you get the most business because that’s what audiences want to see – good (funny) comedians. That’s why it’s just as competitive between the clubs to host industry showcases as it is for the comedians who want to be on them.

Showcasing is also beneficial for (humorous) speakers.

When I was an agent in NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) showcasing was the best way to score bookings. I won’t get into all the details on how this works – it’s in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers if you’re interested.

But in a nutshell, colleges and universities would send a delegation of Student Activities members to an NACA Conference in their regional area. They would go to various showcases over a few days and watch speakers and comedians (and all kinds of other performers) perform twenty-minute sets. This is how they would choose which ones they would book for the upcoming school year.

If you wanted to be booked – you pretty much had to be seen.

That’s the purpose behind showcases. It’s an efficient and proven way to find talent and show your talent.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Showcases can be a ticking time bomb

September 12, 2017

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

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

Showcasing!

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

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

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

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Begins Saturday, October 7, 2017

Includes performance at The Improv on Wednesday, October 25

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – limited to 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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

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

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

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

They were wrong.

Enough already!!

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

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

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

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

Lesson?

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

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

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

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

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

And no one can argue that either…

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

Here’s another example…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, it wasn’t funny.

Running on empty

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

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

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

You did ten freaking minutes!” I said.

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Submission tips for comedy festivals

August 28, 2017

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

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

The unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

—————————————————————————-

Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Begins Saturday, October 7, 2017

Includes performance at The Improv on Wednesday, October 25

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – limited to 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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

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

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

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

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

It’s called the unknown factor.

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

It’s called the unknown factor.

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

Without those… Well, pretenders need not apply.

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

So how can you improve your chances of being selected?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much time?

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

So what’s my point?

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

For details about upcoming comedy workshops at the Cleveland and Chicago Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.