Archive for the ‘Performing’ Category

Getting an MC gig at an “A-List” comedy club

December 11, 2017

Hey Dave – My goal for 2018 is to host a show at one of the top clubs (like The Improv). I have video that I can submit and if nothing else, it will be good to get some feedback and be told what I have to do to get work there. In saying that, do you know how to go about submitting videos to the clubs and what should accompany it, i.e. bio, pics, etc? If you know who the contacts for the club may be or how to find that info that would be great as well. Thanks for your continued support in the comedy scene and I hope you are well. Talk to you soon – CC

Checking the list

Hey CC – Thanks for the support and well wishes. In answer to both I can say I’m trying my best…

And another thanks for your question since it gives me a chance to combine two recent articles into a (hopefully) working answer. Make sense? Again, I’ll try my best…

Usually with the major clubs, the headliners and most features (middle acts) are booked through a corporate office. They have a talent coordinator who books all the clubs in their chain. Opening acts are mostly local or within driving distance and are booked by the club’s in house manager. The opening acts don’t get flown in or put up in five star hotels, if you know what I mean.

When you’re going for an opening (host / MC) spot at an “A-Room” (pick the top club in your area) it’s about the total package. Yeah, of course you have to be a good comic with experience. But you also have to show that in your submission to even be considered. These bookers are not going to hire someone who’s not ready to play their club. The audiences pay for and expect a professional comedy show. And even though the openers won’t have the television and/or film credits the headliners or some features have, audiences are also not paying big $$’s to watch an amateur night.

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January 2018 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv

SOLD OUT!!

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

Please use the contact form below to receive an email if space opens!

Spring 2018 Chicago workshop dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Know what I mean? You should have experience and a list of credits from playing smaller clubs first, before you approach the “big guys.”

I was on a panel at a comedy festival a few years ago with the manager of a major club and an owner of another. One of them – in a very polite way – talked about the smaller clubs being like the minor leagues. He was comparing it to baseball. Get your experience there first to prove you can do it before trying to move up to the major leagues.

Assuming you’ve done that – here’s a game plan for your question.

Last week I talked about doing “face time” (networking) in comedy clubs. Before that the topic was promotional material. Now it’s time to combine…

Make the call

I suggest calling the club and asking the proper way to submit a video for a showcase (audition). The people answering the phones will know – because this is a question they get all the time from comedians. Follow what they say.

Based on the two major clubs in my area, there can be two different scenarios. One is doing face time. For instance, one of the clubs has a bringer showcase once a month. Bringer meaning you have to bring x-amount of paying audiences members to get stage time. I won’t discuss the pros and cons of that now, cuz I’ve also done that in past FAQs And Answers. Let’s just agree it is what it is – and the only way you’ll be seen on stage at this particular club.

Play the game (pay the admission for your friends if you have to) and get on stage. At least you’ll be seen by someone connected with the club. Afterward do some face time and network with whomever is in charge of the show. Ask them what your next step is (you asked about getting feedback so this is your opportunity) or how to be considered as an opening act during one of their regular shows.

Who knows? They might offer you a gig based on your performance (best scenario), say you’re not ready (worst scenario), or ask you to send them a video for more review. That last one’s okay because you’re still in the game. It’s also what you’d have to do for the other club I’m thinking about anyway, so here’s how that’s gonna work…

Again, you might want to consider starting with some face time. Go to a show and keep an eye out for a manager. Another hint – from experience – do this on a “one-show night.” Fridays and Saturdays usually mean multiple shows in the major clubs and everything is more hectic. Go on a Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday and chances are better you’ll get a minute or two with the person in charge.

Then ask. What’s the best way to get a showcase or submit a video? And again from experience – because comics ask all the time – they’ll tell you. Follow what they say.

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If the club doesn’t offer a showcase night ask if they accept submissions via email and get the email address.

I also suggest you have a dedicated website for your comedy submissions. A certain comedy club I’ve worked for won’t even consider booking a comedian – including an opening act – without one. If you’re working off a Facebook page or other social media site, it doesn’t show them you are serious about your career if you haven’t taken that step as a professional. And if you’re not sure what to include on a website, just check out websites by “working” comedians or pick up a copy of my book How To Be A Working Comic.

Stand out from the crowd

Some comics might tell you this is not necessary since all the booker is interested in is your video. But here’s another hint from experience. To stand out from the crowd (and they get a lot of videos) you should make the extra effort. It makes you look more professional and that’s how you want them to see you.

Again – none of these top clubs are interested in hiring an amateur.

If they tell you to submit a video via email, send a link to your website that includes your video. Yeah, you can probably just email a link to your video on YouTube – if that’s really how you want to play this opportunity. But again, it won’t look as professional.

And for some of you, don’t let the idea of having a website throw you off your game. They’re easy and inexpensive. Check out WordPress and some of the others available for this.

Talent bookers will understand (they should) that you’re not a headliner or feature act because you’re asking for an opportunity to be an opening act (MC). They shouldn’t expect all the “bells and whistles” of a big-time headliner website. But since these are “A-Clubs” we’re talking about, they will expect you to be further along in your career than doing open-mics and using a Facebook page as your business site.

If you don’t get a response from your submission, stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what. An email or postcard every couple weeks should work.

But again, networking REALLY helps. If you’re part of your area comedy scene you probably know some of the comics who open at these clubs. If you see them at the open-mics or some of the other clubs – and they like your sets (important to know first!) – ask if they can throw in a good word for you with the booker. As I’ve written in the past, a personal recommendation from someone who already works at the club can be your Golden Ticket. That can either get you a showcase or have your video watched a lot faster than anything I just mentioned above.

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 and (comedy soon!) The Omaha Funny Boneprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

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Doing face time in comedy clubs for bookings

November 26, 2017

Hey Dave – Isn’t “face-time” (not the kind associated with iPhones) one of the most important parts of getting work hosting in comedy clubs? What I mean is, doesn’t it make a big difference in someone’s chances of being MC for a weekend (or more) when they frequent the club, chat up the staff and tip well, and demonstrate a willingness to do grunt work? I think that is universal. Didn’t you have a story about the guy who showed up outside a club and swept the sidewalk every day until they hired him inside and he then moved up the ranks? – DM

Hey DM – This is not an easy question because there are a lot of buts, maybes and depends that will go into any answer – from anyone. I know from experience there are some comics and club owners who will agree with what I’m going to say, and others who will grab a broom and tell me to get out of the way.

Check me out!

But you know what? This is showbiz, which is an industry full of gimmicks. If you don’t believe me turn on the TV and the highest rated reality shows. You may not want to hang out in real life with bachelors, housewives and Kaitlin Jenner’s ex-family, but you have to admit they know how to bring attention to themselves.

So keeping that in mind, it’s not a bad idea to call attention to yourself by being seen around the clubs you want to play. To break into your local comedy scene you need to have the local talent bookers know who you are and that you’re a comic.

The goal is to score an audition.

I’ve never heard of the guy who swept the sidewalk outside a club everyday and was rewarded with a paid MC (hosting) gig.  It’s not a bad way to call attention to yourself, but if you really do end up with an audition it will only pay off if you have the talent and experience to back it up. Otherwise the only winner will be the club owner with a clean sidewalk.

My first thought is that the time could be better spent getting stage experience somewhere else.

Earn a reputation as a good comic and then do some networking. It’s a lot easier to score a showcase when you have a track record and recommendations from other comics and bookers who’ve seen you on stage. When you have that going for you, there’s no need to bring a broom to the club.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts January 13, 2018

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Showbiz has always been about being different and standing out from the crowd. If you have the experience and truly believe you’re ready to play the club and sweeping the sidewalk gets you noticed by the booker, who am I to put it down?

That’s why a lot of new comics are willing to hand out flyers for stage time or line up friends and family for bringer shows. Sometimes you have go the extra mile to get ahead in this crazy biz.

But your real question is about “face time.” That was always (and still is) a major networking opportunity and how a lot of newer comedians got on stage when I worked in New York City and Los Angeles. But I have to emphasize they were already experienced comics and not someone who only thought keeping the sidewalk clean would be their best career move.

When comics were experienced and funny enough to start performing at a club like The Improv they still had to pass the audition. Working the door, bartending, or even sweeping the sidewalk could open the door, but didn’t guarantee future paid gigs.

You had to prove – on stage – you could do it.

Hanging out for a late night set

Even after someone passed the audition, there was no guarantee they’d get regular performing spots. They were on the club roster, which meant they were welcome to come in and “hang out at the bar” as a comic. Now if they wanted to sweep the sidewalk instead of sitting around – yeah, they’ll be noticed over the others. But if they hadn’t passed their audition, then chances are they’d still be sweeping when the show is ending.

But face time does count. For example…

During a week night at The New York Improv we would schedule enough comedians to get us through until around midnight. If there was still an audience at that time (in NYC we could keep the shows going until 4 am as long as we had people in the showroom) then we would look around to see what comics were “hanging out.” They would make up the rest of the show until either the audience left or we hit last call.

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That was doing face time and we already knew they were comedians.

If they wanted to grab a broom and sweep up… well, thanks. But that alone would not have earned a performance slot. Were they on the roster? If not, was there another comic who was a regular performer at the club recommending they be given an audition? That’s the only way they were going to get on stage that night.

Playing broom for club gigs

Now I already know some comics and club owners will disagree and have examples to prove me wrong. I even have a story in one of my books from a favorite club owner who might trade performing spots for work around the club. So I’m not saying it won’t work, I’m just saying…

A great way to kill a show is by putting on someone – anyone – who doesn’t have experience and isn’t funny. That’s why there are open mics and why established comedy clubs have auditions and already know who the comics are. Gimmicks like sweeping the sidewalk might get an audition, but the time could be better spent getting known as a good comedian – even if you have to perform somewhere else to make it happen. If you come in ready to knock everyone out with your talent, then you can get quality face time with the other comics “hanging out” instead of doing grunt work.

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 and (comedy soon!) The Omaha Funny Boneprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – 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!

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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 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.

—————————————————————————-

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…

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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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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.

Stick to your time on stage

August 1, 2017

Hey Dave – Without revealing my secret identity, I heard you talking not too long ago and know you were pretty upset with a comedian who went over his time and was on stage too long. It’s probably safe to say he overstayed his welcome. Care to elaborate? – G.

Hey G – What are you a secret agent with a secret identity listening to my not-so-private conversations? Oh well, I guess it could be worse. Instead of a sleazy private eye snooping on me, you could be a self-centered comedian (or speaker) who goes over his allotted time on stage.

Want to kill a potentially great relationship with a comedy club or make sure you’re never invited back for a return gig at a college or corporate event?

Go ahead – ignore it!

When you’re given the light (the signal) to end your set and leave the stage – ignore it. Go ahead and do another 5, 10, 15 minutes, half an hour… an hour… Everyone will surely love and worship your amazing and boundless talent that you’re compelled to share so unselfishly for however long your ego needs to be stroked on stage.

And in case you don’t recognize sarcasm in the written word, insert a capitalized “NOT!” after that last sentence. In a creative profession that thrives on having no rules (being original and unique is a big plus) going over your time on stage breaks a big business rule – and is a big minus.

As always there are exceptions that depend on your status within the industry and everyone starting out in the business needs to realize that. There are special events where more time on stage is a benefit. For instance, fundraising efforts that are planned in advance to set records for time on stage. I remember reading about a comedian who did forty hours of stand-up years ago and raised at TON of money for a hospital. That’s truly awesome, but not what we’re talking about today.

Another exception is having your own hit television show or enough name recognition to sell out theaters and arenas. That’s like being the favorite child or grandchild. You get special privileges.

When you’re a major star and selling out arenas, theaters or (sometimes) a club and charging big $$’s for tickets, fans expect a “concert” experience and more than just a half hour or hour show by the headliner. It’s like seeing Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, or U2 perform three hour concerts. Their fans are into it, paid money to see that particular artist, and these acts have the material to entertain for that length of time. But until you’re working within that stratosphere of popularity, stick to your time on stage.

Reasons why? As always, I’m glad you asked…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Showcase performance on Wednesday, August 16th at 7:30 pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Fall 2017 Chicago and Cleveland workshop dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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It’s a business, which is a fact I emphasize in many of these FAQ’s and Answers. Some club owners are in the entertainment biz because they enjoy it and like to nurture and promote new talent. Others are only in it to make money. But the bottom line for both is if they don’t make money (and yes, this includes the nurturing types) they go out of business. When a club goes out of business, comedians have one less place to work.

Clubs earn money selling tickets, selling food and drinks, and keeping expenses (rent, utilities, inventory, payroll, etc…) under control. The comedian you reminded me of in this week’s question – and I won’t mention his name – actually told club management (me at that time!) after the show that he was doing the club a favor by going more than an HOUR over his scheduled time on stage. He pretty much wanted a “thank you” for giving the serving, kitchen and bar staff more time to sell food and drinks.

That consideration for the club deserves a bigger laugh than any he received on stage. After all, Dumb and Dumber was a popular movie and now in my opinion this comic is the live version. Good thinking! (Again – this is written sarcasm so please add a big “NOT!”).

You know why? Because the business doesn’t work that way…

Shows at this particular club (a world famous comedy club, I might add) are timed. Staff arrives at a certain time, the doors open at a certain time, the show starts at a certain time and the comedians – opening act, feature act and headlining act – are given set times. The headliners, of course, are the privileged members of the family, but most know how the business works.

It’s a profit deal!

As Steve Martin said in The Jerk:

I get it… It’s a profit deal!

The behind the scenes business – kitchen crew, servers, food-runners, bars, box office, security, management – revolve around the show schedule. For instance, the box office closes when the headliner goes on so customers won’t complain about getting ripped-off by buying a ticket after the show has started. So that profit opportunity is ended when the headliner walks on stage.

Are you following me so far? Good, because I’m not done yet…

A sad fact about the nightclub biz is that some people like to skip out on their checks. In other words, if they can sneak out without paying they’re getting a free night out. The truth in most cases is that the servers – the waiters and waitresses – are stuck with these checks and have to pay for these uncollected profits out of their own pockets. They foot the bill and end up paying for these jerks (and I’m not referring again to a Steve Martin movie) to have a fun night out.

Not fair – is it?

This is why comedy clubs have “check spots.” Experienced comedians know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s when the checks are put on the tables to be paid by the customers. The show doesn’t (or shouldn’t) end until all the checks are paid – by the customers. That makes it difficult for deadbeat customers to blend in and sneak out with customers who have already paid. It’s a sad truth about the nightclub business.

So based on the time allotted for the show, last call is given when there is still enough time during the headlining comedian’s set to give customers their checks and collect the money. No more drinks or food are served after last call because the checks are closed. When the show ends and the final comedian has walked off the stage, customers can head to the bar or another club if they want to continue drinking and eating.

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This means the final two profit opportunities for the club has ended – food and drinks.

But what about keeping expenses under control? When the staff has finished serving and collecting checks, they have to hang around and wait for the show to end and the customers to leave. They’ve also lost any opportunity to make additional tips because the checks are “closed” and they can’t start new ones for thirsty customers because no one knows for sure when the show will end.

In the case of the comedian referred to above, that meant the staff sat around for over an hour – on the clock and getting paid by the club owner – before they could prepare the room for the next show or  finish their shifts, shut down the club and leave.

Doesn’t make great business sense for a good business plan – does it?

I’m sure you can imagine the chaos this can cause for clubs that have two or three shows on a weekend night. If the first show runs even 10 or 15 minutes late because a comic goes over his time, the audiences coming in for the later shows don’t know this. They’re on time and lined-up to enter the showroom, while the earlier audience is still inside. When that audience is leaving the new audience is trying to get in and…

Well, I’ll refer to another Steve Martin quote that also works from the management point of view:

Comedy isn’t pretty.

Closed doors

I don’t need to tell you what the management and staff are saying behind the back of the comedian that went past his time and stayed on stage too long. I’ll just let you know it isn’t pretty.

The same holds true for corporate and college performers. These business people and students are usually on a schedule. It could be a training seminar, class, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour / social time – whatever. The contracts I’ve seen for these types of gigs are very strict in their performance times. Go short (leave the stage before completing the time you’re contracted for) and the clients won’t want to pay you. Go long and they won’t even think of booking you for a return engagement since you’ve disrupted the event schedule.

Of course there are other reasons why you must stick to your time on stage. The No. 1 reason for beginning comics and speakers is to prove to talent bookers and club management you understand how important this is and won’t cause a potential nightmare in the future. But in an effort not to take longer than expected when you started reading, I’ll stick to my time and sign off. I think you get the idea.

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 Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Breaking down gatekeeper blockades

June 16, 2017

Hi Dave – No, I’m not a comic. However, I’m a WGA screenwriter with a total focus on comedy screenplays. Can you tell me how to contact comedians’ agents without running into blockades? I mean the blockades typically set up by the gatekeepers of those agents. Best – HK

“Someone will get back with you. Yeah… right…”

Hey HK – The bigger the comedian (think celebrity) the bigger the agency blockade will be. When you make a call without prior personal contact or a great reference, plan some extra time for holding, transfers and a final request to leave a voice message and “Someone will get back with you.”

Does anyone really know who that “someone” is? I doubt it because they rarely call back without the prior contact or reference. And unless you left a voice message with a great pitch (offer) that includes the opportunity for a lot of potential $$$’s (yeah, I’m jaded) you’ll spend a long time sitting by the phone waiting for that return call.

HK and I traded a couple emails and I remembered a past FAQ And Answer article about dealing with gatekeepers (the person who answers phone calls and forms a human blockade to keep you from speaking directly to an agent or celebrity). Except the suggestions in that article are different from the answers you’re looking for since it concerned comedians getting past gatekeepers to book paying gigs.

This week’s question is about contacting comedians and agents that would be interested in a screenplay.

But the theory is the same. You have to be SEEN and involved in the SCENE.

I know through experience from working at the LA and NYC Improv clubs (talent coordinator) that a lot of valuable entertainment industry contacts are made by networking. It’s being part of the scene. Not only did I get to work with many great comedians, but I also met a lot of agents, managers, producers and writers just by being in the clubs during shows. They’d come in to watch the comics, and then socialize (network) in the restaurant or bar areas after the show. Sometimes they were there because the comedians they already represent were performing, or they were looking for new talent.

On the lookout

And believe me a good agent or manager is always on the lookout for new talent. Some of them may claim to have a full roster and not accepting new clients, but if a performer simply blows them away and the agent or manager sees a good career opportunity for both of them, it’s their job to pursue it. That’s good business sense.

Now, to get back to today’s specific question…

I’ve also seen this with producers and writers looking to interest comedians and agents in a particular project. For instance, when I worked in LA I remember getting a LOT of calls from television and film people looking for comics that fit a specific “type.” The casting call could be for male or female, tall or small, fat or thin, black or white – or for whatever the TV or film part called for. They wanted to know if any comedians fitting the desired “type” would be on the show that night or if we could put together a live showcase (audition) during a future show.

That’s why you can sometimes go to a comedy club in LA or NYC and see a number of comedians in a row who are similar in type and only do a few minutes (3-5 minutes is norm) of material. They’re showcasing (auditioning) for someone in the audience.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – July 22, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm

Includes a performance at The Cleveland Improv

Wednesday – August 16 at 7:30 pm

Space limited to 10 people

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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After the showcase you can usually find everyone – comics and business execs – networking in club’s restaurant or bar. Business cards are exchanged and meetings are scheduled for agents and comedians who are right for the project.

The ones selected for these meetings and potential projects should have no problem getting past any gatekeepers. They’ve made a personal contact.

My point is that the comedians were SEEN because they’ve worked hard at becoming part of the SCENE. They were known by the club bookers as someone who fits what the writer, producer or casting person is looking for. That’s why the comics were called in for the showcase. It’s rare (in fact I’ve never seen it happen) that a booker will call in a comedian he’s never seen perform and knows nothing about for an important industry showcase.

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It’s the same when you’re looking to hire talent or get them interested in a project such as a screenplay. Quit a few newcomers (amateurs) with stars in their eyes will jump at a chance to “be in a movie!” But the comedians who’ve been around for a while will not be so naïve. They understand it’s a business (at least they should). They might listen to a pitch if it’s from a reliable or known source (friends in the biz are always throwing ideas at each other) but if they’re really interested and have decent credits, they’ll probably have an agent you’ll end up pitching to before any deals are made.

Hang up and make the scene!

So basically in your case, I’d forget about battling the gatekeepers by cold calling and scope out the comedians in person who you think would right for your screenplay. Become a part of the SCENE by going to the clubs and checking out their live performances. You might even discover a comic you’ve never heard of and further discover he’d be perfect for your film. Don’t be too aggressive (as a talent booker, that’s what turned me off the most). But take an opportunity to network after the show. Be professional and don’t come off like a stalker (you know what I mean) when you tell the comic about your project.

If the comedian is interested he can get you past any agency gatekeeper with one phone call requesting his agent talk with you. If you meet the agent and he thinks the project is right for his comedian client, he’ll have his gatekeeper set up a meeting.

Sound too simple? It’s really not and I shouldn’t make it sound that way because there are a LOT of people in the entertainment industry who practice the art of schmoozing. I assume that’s where the phrase, “Let’s do lunch,” was developed. But remember one thing:

No one would be doing it if it didn’t work.

If you’re already a known name with a big number ($$$’s) gatekeepers are no problem – you’ll get through. For everyone else (assuming talent and experience are already a “given”) it’s all about networking and contacts. Be part of the SCENE and there’s always a chance you’ll not only be SEEN but also HEARD.

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 and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Only clean material? Know your audience

June 5, 2017

Hi Dave – I have one question. As a new comedian does my material have to be clean? – J.N.

Did you hear that?!

Hey J.N. – Your question will sound familiar to more than a few readers because it comes up quite often. But you know what? New comedians ask because it’s important. And there is no right or wrong answer.

Comedy is both a creative art and a business, but to be successful in this business as a creative artist there is one first goal:

Be funny.

How you get there is totally up to you. As one very famous comedian told me (and it’s in my book How To Be A Working Comic), “If you swear in real life, you’re going to swear on stage.” On the other hand, if these words aren’t already in your vocabulary, don’t add them simply because you think it’ll make you funny. That’s not who you really are and an audience will pick up on that.

There seems to be a market for everything, so whether to work clean or dirty is a personal decision. But since you brought up the question and I’ve never been known to give short answers, let’s look at your potential choice from another point of view. We’ll call it…

Your audience.

The deal is that everyone has to start at the beginning. Since you specifically said “new comedian,” that’s what we’ll focus on. Speakers already know they have to work clean. If they don’t, then they’re not speaking much – if at all.

Along with learning how to write and perform, you’ll also experience different audiences, different venues and different types of shows. For instance, many comedians love late night, beer-soaked crowds in loud comedy clubs. Others would rather perform for more sophisticated (and I’m using that term loosely) audiences at corporate events.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Summer 2017 Dates TBA

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Cleveland Improv

For details, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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Have you thought about that? I’m guessing it’s still too early in your career to even consider since your first step should be just getting experience on stage. But eventually it will become both a creative and business decision because different markets have different audiences and hire different types of entertainment.

What markets do you want to play?

Confusing?

These are questions every entertainer (not just comedians and humorous speakers) have to consider. As a creative artist with a unique way of expressing yourself, who is your audience? And as a business person (successful creative artist), how can you build an audience to support your creative endeavors?

When you’re just starting out it could be any demographic you can think of, from late night open-mics to charity fundraisers. And if you’re serious about this biz you need to understand the value of stage experience. You won’t become a working comic just sitting in your living room doing bits in front of your mirror or for the family dog. You must get in front of an audience and shape your material and delivery based on their response.

If they laugh it works. If they don’t, then you need to make some changes. An audience will tell you, which is why you want to get on stage as often as possible.

So… who is your audience?

Would they want clean or “adult” material? That will help determine what’s best for you.

I’ve worked with comedians who are Born Again Christians and I’ve worked with the most X-rated acts you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t bother me either way. I’m a coach and I’ll coach performers in whatever direction they want to go. And if you already know what direction that is, then find places to perform with audiences that will enjoy your material.

But regardless of what anyone else will tell you, there are also rules in the comedy biz. The rules are made by the people that hire comedians for specific audiences.

Should we allow that?!

For instance, you can’t perform X-rated material on network television shows such as The Tonight Show or Jimmy Kimmel Live. You can get away with a lot more than thirty years ago when Johnny Carson ruled late night, but these shows still have to deal with FCC (Federal Communications Commission) enforced  standards and censors.

On cable television and satellite radio, pretty much anything can be said. But it also depends on the show. I doubt The Howard Stern Show and The Disney Channel fight over guests from the same talent pool. But here are a few more questions to think about…

Would you rather appear on either The Howard Stern Show or The Disney Channel or someplace in-between? Who will appreciate (laugh at) your type of humor and material? What venues and markets do you eventually want to play?

It all comes down to knowing your audience.

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You can work X-rated if you want, but just be smart enough not to go on stage with your X-rated material if the audience is filled with grandparents taking their grand-kids out for a fun(ny) night of live entertainment. On the flip side, don’t expect to do your best Disney material in a late night dive bar in front of a beer fueled crowd upset that the bartender turned off the televised cage match wrestling extravaganza for your comedy show.

Get the picture?

A lot of experienced comedians can play to both audiences. Why? Because they have the experience AND material that can be customized (cleaned up or dirtied down) depending on the audience. In other words, their punch lines don’t get laughs simply because they contain the F-Bomb or other words that will get them banned by the FCC from network television. They can go either way because the material is just as funny with or without them.

A great example of this are comics that work on cruise ships.

These comics need two different sets; family and adult. The family sets are performed during the before and after dinner shows. These are two separate shows since passengers are assigned one of two dinner times. One group is entertained earlier in a large theater while the other group eats – and then they change places. As it says, these shows are for families. Later that night the same comics will do adult shows for (as it says) the adults in one of the lounges or bars.

Did you hear that?!

These comics go from G-rated to X-rated within a couple hours.

Keep in mind I’m not asking anyone to change who they are on stage if it goes against who they want to be on stage. Yes, this is a business, but it’s also a creative business and a way to express your creativity.

If your niche is X-rated, go for it. It’s the same with clean comedians. Just don’t go for it in front of the wrong audience. It’s really common sense when you think about it.

So to finally answer your question as a “new comedian,” I would suggest you work on writing funny material. And I’ll repeat: funny material. I’m talking about material that will stand up on it’s own and will be just as funny to an audience with or without a few gratuitous F-bombs and other choice words or expressions.

Practice and develop your talent as a writer. How would you deliver your set during an afternoon Rotary Club luncheon as opposed to at a late night dive bar? Better still – ask yourself which venue you prefer.

Wait a minute! I almost forgot to mention something…

Just to make your decision interesting, keep in mind the people that hire comics for corporate events, holiday parties, retirements, banquets, etc… are the ones who attend business or social organization meetings. They ALWAYS pay comics, humorous speakers and entertainers waaaaay more than any beer soaked guy in a dive bar. That’s why corporate events are much more desirable for many working comics than a weekend gig at Billy Joe’s Yucks at the corner of Dive and Bar.

Then again, an uncensored Comedy Central Special or a becoming a favorite guest on The Howard Stern Show can take almost any comic’s career to a new level. But to get there, the comics had to be funny. Working clean wasn’t a rule they needed to follow.

So…? Is it better to work clean or dirty as a new comedian? You need to make that decision – and one of the best ways to find an answer is to know your audience.

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 and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Being influenced vs. copying

May 22, 2017

Hey Dave – I’ve been working on material and continue to search for my comedy voice. Although I want to do some improvising, I want a good amount of material to work off of. Someone said I have a somewhat eccentric and iconoclastic persona and should take advantage of that. Therefore, I’ve thought about using Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright as influences and been writing material similar to theirs, especially since I like it. However, I’m afraid I’m not using them as an influence but just copying them. Is there a thin line between the 2 or just between fishing and standing there doing nothing? – JK

Hey JK – I was lucky to have worked with the late great Prof. Irwin Corey at the NYC Improv and interviewed Steven Wright for a magazine article. I consider both extremely smart and extremely funny. I also know that if I even tried to write like either one, I would be lost and confused. In fact, my brain hurts just thinking about it. But as usual I have a few thoughts about the topic, so instead of standing here doing nothing let’s go fishing for an answer…

“How did you say that?”

Yes – there is a line between being influenced and copying. Ideally it should be a wide one.

As Prof. Corey would have said, “Let me explain…

I often compare comedy to music. I’ve done this frequently in my workshops, books, and in more than a few previous FAQ articles. Basically, you can’t reinvent the wheel. And when it comes to music, someone somewhere had to hum the first tune. In comedy, someone somewhere made someone laugh for the first time. Musicians and comedians have been building on those firsts ever since.

One of my favorite all-time bands is The Rolling Stones. They’ve influenced countless bands for over fifty years and are considered by many to be the greatest rock’n roll band in the world. There are many bands that have copied their formula for success, but there is still only one Rolling Stones and their place in music history is written in… well, stone.

But who influenced them? Rock historians can trace the roots of their sound back to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many others.

Did they copy? Yeah!

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They tried their best by performing a lot of cover songs when they first started out. But it’s not what made them superstars. Mick Jagger found his own voice as a singer and Keith Richards found his voice on the guitar. The duo ended up writing their own material and classic hits based on the type of music they liked and giving it their own spin based on their individual talent and personalities.

Like the Stones, comedians start by emulating what they like.

“How did you play that?”

Keith Richards is not going to play Bach or Beethoven because he likes Chuck Berry. Based on the way you described your humor in today’s email, I doubt you would consider bringing props on stage like Carrot Top or going redneck like Larry The Cable Guy. You like Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright so yes, they are both are going to influence you as a comedian just like Chuck Berry influenced the Stones as musicians.

But the big difference between being a comedian and being a musician, The Rolling Stones can (and often do) play Chuck Berry songs during their concerts. But comedians can’t go on stage and say, “Here’s one from Steven Wright” and do a few of his best jokes.

That’s copying and comedians can’t do that – period. Its called stealing material. There are some that do – and most of us know who the big-name guilty parties are. There’s a total lack of respect for these thieves from other comics and industry people, and a lot of us wonder how they can sleep at night. Must be the drugs, but that’s another article…

Being influenced is not the same as stealing.

Creative artists, (comedians and musicians to only mention two) don’t reinvent the wheel. They can build on what’s already there. Just like in many original Rolling Stones songs you can hear a Chuck Berry riff or Bo Diddley beat in the background, comedians can’t help but be influenced by the type of humor they like.

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For example, Carrot Top didn’t invent prop comedy. As little kids many of us can remember holding up two paper plates on the sides of our heads and pretending to be Mickey Mouse. Carrot Top probably did that too, thought it was extremely funny – and built on it.

You as a writer and performer need to do the same, but with your own influences.

I think you understand your style of comedy. It’s similar to Prof. Irwin and Steven Wright, but when it comes to writing and performing it’s important for you to realize you are also very different. There’s no way you would have the exact same experiences or live in the exact same environment (city, neighborhood, families, education, jobs, etc.). You have a different life, different personality, different relationships and different conversations.

You also have your own personal thoughts about all of these experiences.

That’s what you need to put into your writing and performances – your spin. Don’t think about what Prof. Irwin Corey or Steven Wright would say. But respect that you admire what they do, are influenced to perform comedy in the same style, and then say it in your own words. Basically, they are intelligent writers and your writing should also have some intelligence to it.

I remember two comedians I worked with in LA. Sorry, I won’t name-drop this time, but one is now an international movie star and the other is an all-time favorite television character. They both admitted to being HUGE fans of Jerry Lewis. They loved every movie and consider him to be the HUGE influence that got them both into the comedy biz.

No caption needed

But never in a million years would you see either of them on stage yelling out Lewis’ famous line, “HEY LAAYYYDEEE!” That would be stealing. But I’ve seen both make wild faces and pretend to slip and fall during their stand-up comedy sets similar to what Lewis did in his classic films while talking about their own personal experiences and thoughts.

That’s being influenced. And to take it a step further, Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx were doing pratfalls long before Lewis.

The idea is to use your own mannerisms and personality to deliver your material to an audience. You are not going to hold two paper plates to your head and hope people laugh. You’ll want to dig deeper and put some thought into why something is funny from your personal point of view and then convey that to an audience.

Everyone is influenced by someone or something. It’s human nature. Again, none of us can invent the wheel because it’s been done – and car companies are still building on it. The same can be said about comedians when it comes to writing and performing comedy material.

But understand what makes you unique from everyone else (we all are) and explore topics that interest you based on your style of humor. Keep writing and performing. Eventually you’ll find your own comedy voice. Then in interviews you’ll be asked who influenced you – and you can tell them. I’ve interviewed comedians for my books, magazine articles and newspaper columns and believe me; every comedian has someone who inspired them. What made them successful was when they realized they couldn’t copy, but could use that influence to build on.

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 and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.