Archive for the ‘opening act’ Category

Bomb Alert! Here’s an on stage survival guide

December 18, 2016

Hi Dave – What should you do if no one is laughing or if you realize that you are starting to bomb? – A.B.

Hey A.B. – Duck and cover. Okay, if that’s not the answer you’re looking for, here’s another one I’ve seen work…

But first a definition.

Charlie Chaplin

Taking cover

Some of our readers may not understand what you mean by bomb. That’s when you’re doing your best to entertain (comedians) or entertain AND inform (humorous speakers) and NOTHING is working. The audience is not laughing, you’re starting to panic, you begin to sweat, and you have this overwhelming feeling that everyone in the room HATES you.

That’s called Bombing 101. And if you ever get used to it you’re in the wrong business. I don’t know any comedian who hasn’t gone through the sensation. If they claim they haven’t, they’re playing a joke on you.

The dedicated comics never let bombing on stage stop them from performing again. But the smart ones use the experience to learn something. And what they usually learn is what NOT to do on stage again that caused them to bomb in the first place.

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As an example:

In my book Comedy FAQs And Answers I talked with comedian George Wallace about this. He told me how he first started his career under the stage name The Reverend George Wallace and would use a phone book like a Bible. It worked in NYC, but when he played his first road gig in upstate New York, the audience hated his act. He was paid to do an hour – and he did an hour – but it was a mega-ton bombing experience. He told me that during the drive home he thought about driving his car off a bridge because he felt so bad.

But the learning experience was that he would NEVER allow himself to go through that again. It made him rethink and change everything about his act and his comedy voice (who he was on stage). The Reverend title was gone and so was the phone book. He decided that if he was having fun – a party – on stage, so would the audience. When the audience is having fun – when they’re in a party mood – you’re NOT bombing.

And if you’ve ever seen George Wallace perform you’ll know what I mean. He’s become immune to bombing.

So you want some advice? Okay…

Young Frankenstein

Talk WITH the audience!

If you feel like you’re starting to bomb, a technique or trick (for lack of a better term) I’ve seen some other big-name comics use to turn the situation around is to talk TO and WITH the audience. Seriously, I’ve seen it more times than I can remember. Forget your material for a moment – especially since they don’t appear to like it anyway – and bring the audience into the show.

Here’s an example…

When I was scheduling the comics for the Hollywood Improv, one of our most dependable (meaning funniest) acts was not only a great performer but also a GREAT writer. Comics in my workshops know who I’m going to talk about because I always name (drop?) names. But since I didn’t do an interview with him for one of my books and haven’t been in direct touch lately to politely ask if I could drop his name here, I’ll just keep his identity secret. But I’ll drop a hint that when another big-name star took over hosting a big-name late night television show, this comic was brought in as the Head Writer.

That’s how much respect this guy has in the comedy business!

His material is great and I’ve always enjoyed watching his sets because of that reason – great material. But I remember one evening at The Improv when the audience just wasn’t getting it. I have no idea why not, but it happens to all comics at some time or another.

Anyway, much to my astonishment and confusion, his material wasn’t working. But as I watched, he took the microphone out of the stand (which he rarely ever did), walked to the front of the stage and started talking TO and WITH the audience. He really looked at the individuals and REALLY had conversations.

He kept it simple, easy, and made it comfortable for everyone to be involved in what he was doing.

Where are you from?” and “What do you do for a living?” types of questions led into some very funny replies and ensuing conversations. And once the audience was with him, he stepped back, put the microphone back in the stand and started doing his material.

This time the audience LOVED him AND his material. They followed him, GOT the material, laughed at the material, and it was a great show. He walked off stage to big applause.

So I had to ask him about it – right?

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He reminded me that all comedians start out as MC’s in clubs. That’s where you break in and get your earliest on stage experience. It’s how you develop your writing and performing skills in front of listeners who will respond – positively or negatively. And one of the most important jobs of being an MC is to warm up the audience (make them laugh) and get them involved in the show.

What’s the best way to do that? Talk TO and WITH them.

He had developed the skill, talent and experience for doing that – and could call on it whenever he needed to. Not only did I see (and talk with) comics using this technique in Los Angeles, but also when I worked at The Improv clubs in New York and Cleveland. It’s nothing this particular comic simply tried on a whim because others had already proven it can help defuse a bombing situation.

So in other words, I could also name (drop) other comics I’ve watched do this and also tell you they gave me the exact same explanation. When they were MC’s moving up in the biz, they learned how to talk TO and WITH an audience. It’s an important learned skill and a way to keep them involved, interested and (hopefully) laughing. And when that’s happening you’re not bombing.

So if it happens, start talking. Otherwise, just get used to the duck and cover method of surviving on stage.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Getting started as a comedy talent booker

July 11, 2016

Hi Dave! Great article about talent agents. I am moving in the next few months to pursue a career as a comedy booker. I am entry level right now with nothing but passion and probably an unhealthy dose of optimism. I can’t seem to find any information anywhere about where or how to start out…or even how much money bookers make. What is your advice? Thanks for your time – SR

Hey SR – Thanks for the compliment and great question. As I replied to you earlier, being a comedy talent booker can be very rewarding. But since it’s “showbiz,” there will always be a few surprises around every corner.

Show BizFirst of all, how much you can make scheduling performers (comedians, musicians, speakers, variety acts – basically “talent”) depends on the venue and budget. For this FAQ and Answer I’m going to talk in general terms for live comedy shows because there’s already a wide range within just that career focus. If we were to add booking comedians for television (think HBO or Comedy Central Specials)… well, those are full time jobs. From my experience I never knew anyone that booked high profile national TV gigs and comedy clubs at the same time.

Of course I’m sure there are exceptions depending on where you’re located. I know there are very good comedy bookers in smaller markets booking their club comedians on local shows. But what I’m talking about was the case when I worked in NYC and LA. The television comedy bookers would call the comedy club bookers to set up showcases to audition comedians. Both were full time jobs.

Okay, let’s get back to starting out…

If you were booking shows at a small club (think bar or local social club) I wouldn’t plan on quitting your day job just yet. To make it a career, you should think about putting together a network of clubs running shows on different nights to earn a regular income for yourself and the performers. I know large talent agencies (bookers) that started this way. The different networks would be separate “tours” and each club would be charged a fee that would cover pay for the comedians and the talent booker.

How much? Again, it would depend on the market and size of the club.

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For a VERY small example that goes back MANY years ago, I had four bars in four different towns within a couple hours driving distance from each other that did comedy shows on “off nights.” This meant they didn’t want to compete with established clubs that were doing shows Thursdays through Saturdays, but also wanted experienced comedians (not open-mics). I’d put together a “tour” of Sundays through Wednesdays at these clubs and book two comics – an opener and headliner. Each club paid $300 per show plus accommodations and a meal for both comics. Again, this was a long time ago and dollar figures have changed, but that was an acceptable asking price given to me by friends working at more “established” Midwestern booking agencies.

For each show the headliner was paid $200 for a 45-60 minute spot and the opener $50 for 10-15 minutes. I kept $50 per show for booking the comics and taking care of the arrangements (contracts, making sure they knew how to get there, where they were staying, etc…). So for four shows a week, the headliner made $800 and the opening act $200. It doesn’t sound like much, but remember these were not established big-name clubs. They were places to “start.”

The headliners were normally “feature” or “middle” acts at the major comedy clubs on weekends and openers were just moving from the open-mic scene and into doing paid gigs. All were glad to have the work and would contact me on a regular basis saying they were available to do the clubs again (and again, and again…).

$200 bill

As the talent booker I earned $200 per week. Not enough to be considered a full-time job, but if I had continued and eventually ran five of these tours every week, that would’ve been $1,000. Quite a few talent booking agencies started this way.

Again, that is just a very small example of how you might want to start.

Depending on your experience and networking skills – which are majorly important in this biz – you could look into booking comedians for the college or corporate markets. I consider these more lucrative than the clubs and have experience doing both. But to keep this from continuing for pages and pages, I covered these topics in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers. Here’s the link on Amazon.com.

How you would go about getting into these markets depends on your experience and connections (also very majorly important in this biz). You could jump right in – or look for a job or internship with an established college agency or event planner to learn the ropes. Eventually you might find you have a great job with them or could branch out on your own.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this can be a very rewarding and fun career. But just like any other business there are surprises around every corner. Some of these you’ll inevitably have to deal with if you do this long enough include last minute cancellations (by both club owners and talent) and comics that don’t think they’re paid enough and club owners who think they’re paying too much. These are only a few examples that every talent booker has dealt with at one time or another. I don’t want to be a downer, but keep your people skills sharpened and ready to use at any time.

But the one thing I want to say is that a lot of success in this crazy business depends on your reputation.

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I’ve known talent bookers in the past that thought they were meant for the stratosphere of “big business,” only to be out of the business completely because they were rip-off artists and taking advantage of the comedians. What goes around usually comes around.

In other words – keep things honest.

One way to ruin a career as a talent booker is to be caught “double-dipping.” I had no idea what this meant until a good comedian friend I was also managing told me I was doing it!

While booking the club tour mentioned above, I scheduled one of my comedian clients. My contract with him as manager paid me 10% of his income for all bookings. But each of these clubs was also paying me $50 per show. That meant I was taking an extra $20 from the total show cost that should have been paid to the comedian I was managing. In other words, he would’ve only made $180 per show.

I wasn’t doing that with the other comedians.

I was being paid by two different sources for the same job, but only when the comedian I managed was playing the club. That’s called double-dipping. When he pointed it out I felt… well, “duh.” It was a good business lesson and why I’m pointing it out to you. It’s better to learn from someone else’s mistakes before you make them on your own.

I kept my pay from the club and made sure the comic was paid his full $200 per show.  After all, since I was his manager, it was important both his career and income continued to grow.

Some talent bookers still try this and need to be called out for taking advantage of newer talent hungry for any paying gigs they can get. But when it “comes around” and the comics are in demand for attracting bigger audiences and making more money for club owners, the “double-dipper” is the last talent booker they would ever work for again.

So my final bit of humble advice (is there such a thing from me?) is to start small – if you’re planning to book comedy talent on your own. Just like the comedians do with open-mics, check out the local scene and get some experience. Get to know the comedians and what they do (example: are they family friendly or x-rated). Schedule a fundraiser or benefit show. Network with club owners to see if they would be interested in a comedy show with you as the talent booker. There might also be local business parties or special events that would like entertainment. You’ll have to network to find out.

shut-up-and-take-my-money-300x225And don’t be afraid to ask to be paid. Freebees are good to get your name out and make contacts, but you’ll never quit your day job doing that. When my first business partner (hey buddy if you’re reading this!) approached our local bar and proposed a weekend comedy show, our idea was just to get stage time for ourselves and our comedian friends. We were shocked when the owner offered to pay us $150 per show. Yeah, we took it – and it became a launching pad for much bigger things.

If you’re lacking in experience, connections or anything else that might hold you back, search out talent agencies and event planners and see if there are any jobs or internships available. It would be starting at the bottom – just like going at it on your own – but the learning process could be the launching pad you’re looking for.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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Sign up now through this LINK for Dave’s free newsletter

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