Archive for the ‘Showcase’ Category

Bombing on stage

December 17, 2018

Hey Dave – I entered a local comedy contest tonight and did virtually the same set that I did during a showcase that went very well at The Improv. Tonight I think it kind’a bombed. I had it recorded and did not get the same good laughs. I remember you saying that audiences are different. But as good as The Improv felt, tonight felt pretty bad. I would love to get your feedback… Thanks – MB

Now THIS is bombing!

Hey MB – If a television network ever comes up with another reality series about being a comedian, you’re eligible to move into the house. Welcome to the real world of comedy. Don’t feel bad. Seriously – don’t. Not every single set or every club will be a great experience.

It’s a learning process.

I’m not sure where the contest was, but you mentioned your showcase at The Improv. That’s a real comedy club – as opposed to most local open-mic rooms. Newer comedians in my workshops experience this when they actually get to rehearse and perform on stage at The Improv. Again, this is a real comedy club. The comics are prepared and psyched to perform and already know the audience will be supportive.

And the reason it’s a supportive audience is because when you go to The Improv – or other real clubs like The Funny Bone, Gotham, Zanies, The Laugh Factory and others (I know I’m missing most of them, but you get the point) you’re in a real comedy club.

That’s why the audience is there – to see and laugh at comedians during a comedy show.

Learn what NOT to do!

It’s not like some open-mic rooms where a bartender shuts off the television and announces, “Now time for a little comedy” to a group of beered-up sports fans wondering what funny person is responsible for turning off the game.

When you’re just starting in comedy and going out to open-mics, you never know what you are going to encounter. Compared to doing a workshop or any type of training in a real comedy club, it’s going to seem strange and very different. The audiences – as they are in most live venues – are unpredictable. And the important thing to remember when you’re just getting started is that you’re still very new at doing comedy.

You deserve a lot credit just by going up on stage. It takes nerve and a lot of people can’t do it. They only think and dream about it, but never take that first step.

And BTW every single comedian I know has bombed BIG TIME – and usually at least a number of times – at some point in their career.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – January 12, 2019

Also meets Saturdays – January 19 and 26 (noon to 4 pm)

Performance at The Improv – Wednesday, January 30 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

For information about upcoming Chicago workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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That’s how the business works. It’s a learning process of many successes and failures in an effort to get it right – or as close to right as you can get as a creative artist. The “star” comedians I’ve talked with about this can look back and have tremendously funny stories about bombing. They will also tell you it’s how they learned to write, perform and make it in this crazy biz. So keep in mind that you’re not the only one to have gone through a bad set.

You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in very good company.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. There’s a great book I recommend for comedians called I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics. It’s by Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff, who are talented, experienced and funny comedians. It includes stories of bombing by Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, Chris Rock and dozens more. It’s very funny and very true. You’ll also have a good understanding of the learning process and realize what you went through – bombing at a local comedy contest – is nothing to lose sleep over. Some of the comedians in this book were so bad in the beginning they were lucky to get out of the clubs alive. But it didn’t stop them from pursuing their dreams.

You’re goal as a beginner is to keep getting on stage.

Don’t let this experience stop you. You need to feel comfortable in front of an audience and it takes time. I went through that process myself while putting together my corporate and college programs. I was trying to remember what to say and in a panic mode when the audience didn’t laugh or pay attention. There was a lot of sweat.

But you have to keep going on stage. Eventually – even slowly – you’ll start getting it together. You’ll feel more comfortable and that will improve your delivery, which will make your material work better.

Tape your shows and go over the audio and / or video.

It might be painful (I pretty much hated watching mine) but you have to do it. Look for something – anything – that worked (got laughs). That’s a keeper – even if it’s only one joke or bit. As the late Richard Jeni told me for my book, Comedy FAQs And Answers, any laugh you get is a brick to build on. Find out what made it work. Was it just funny? Did you deliver it in a way that made it funny? Was it the wording? Did you have a certain expression? Whatever it might be, build on that. Keep it in your set and come up with another laugh. That’s your second brick and how you build an act.

Write and rewrite. As a comedian, you’re an entertainer. How would you tell this to an audience in a way that would entertain them? This is how you develop your comedy voice.

It takes time.

And finally, if comedy were easy everyone would do it. Because it can be fun, exciting, and creative and – let’s face it – you’re in the spotlight. You’re the center of attention when you’re on stage. Some people crave attention. But for a real artist – a real comedian – it’s much more than that. It’s also a chance to express yourself and tell audiences about life, thoughts and opinions as you see it and experience it.

How cool is that?!

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I’m positive there were people in that audience wishing they had the nerve to get on stage and do what you were doing – even though you thought you were bombing.

Bombing on stage is a big part of the learning process. After figuring out what went right with your earlier set, figure out what went wrong with this one. Make changes and try to cut the chances of it happening again. It will (I promise you – ha!), but as you keep working at it the chances of bombing will go down. It takes 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 Clubs; private coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

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Start collecting your comedy credits

November 19, 2018

Hey Dave – I’m trying to put together a resume for my comedy stuff. I’ve only been doing comedy for a few months and just a lot of open mics. Should I bother with a resume at this point? – Bob

Hey Bob – In all reality, since you’ve been doing comedy for only a few months, it wouldn’t be a good idea to throw yourself into the competition as a “professional comedian looking for work.” So there really is no point in having a resume – yet.

Yeah, I know there are exceptions. For instance, you might have the “right contacts” after a couple months to score a gig hosting your frat brother’s bachelor party or have a friend of a friend ask you to do a few minutes at a local benefit show. But since you’re still in the very early stages of developing both your writing and performing style, you probably shouldn’t charge a fee for that. Be thankful for the on stage experience. If they want to be generous and throw you a few bucks, consider it a donation toward your career goal rather than a paycheck.

Don’t get me wrong because these gigs still count as valuable experience, which is what you need to get ahead in this business. But these very early performances don’t exactly grant you admission into the ranks of professional comedians.

Am I being a too blunt, cold-hearted or closed minded about this – classifying you as a “non-professional” without even seeing you perform?

Not really.

Don’t knock yet!

Every talent booker that wants to keep his job knows experience counts. You’ve only been in this for a few months. The comedians you see in the legit comedy clubs, on the college circuit, and doing corporate gigs have a LOT of experience and have paid a LOT of dues to get there. In fact, I doubt any of them would disagree when I say they’ve put in YEARS of work dealing with rejection, bad nights, bad breaks, hard knocks, hack jokes, idiot hecklers, and shows that make them feel (as George Wallace described in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers) like they want to drive off a bridge after the gig because they’ve bombed so bad.

But now that I’ve said all that and (hopefully not) deflated your ego or crushed your comedy dreams, there’s no reason why you can’t start building a resume NOW. In fact, I think it’s a pretty good idea.

You have to start somewhere when your goal is to score paid bookings. No booker is going to hire a comedian with no experience. As I also say in Comedy FAQs And Answers and have often repeated in these articles:

They may call it amateur night, but nobody’s looking to hire an amateur

Bookers know the deal about working your way up the comedy ladder. You have to start somewhere and it’s NEVER at the top, which would be headlining in a legitimate comedy club. Yeah, I’ve known a few “acts” (term used loosely in this case) that had rich, famous, or connected parents and thought they could buy their way into the exclusive professional comedians club.

In one case I saw firsthand, the act had daddy schmooze or practically buy the club to get his wanna’be famous son on stage. But it didn’t work. Junior may have had a joke writer, director and daddy’s agent, but he hadn’t paid his dues to become an experienced comic. He hadn’t developed his comedy voice – including timing, delivery and an ability to work with and off of an audience.

He was an actor acting like a comedian.

Once the novelty of booking an act with a famous parent wore off, there were more experienced comics that talent bookers knew were better at entertaining – and therefore, better in the long run for business.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

SOLD OUT!

Showcase at The Improv is Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

For information about upcoming workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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A club’s reputation depends on providing great shows. To stay in business it must be profitable (paying customers). Inexperience doesn’t sell unless it’s billed as “amateur night” or “open-mic night.” And even then many clubs can only make those nights work (profitable) by making them “bringer shows.”

Wow, isn’t it amazing how I can go off on a tangent by just trying to answer a simple question? If you’ve stayed with me so far, let me get back on track…

YES…

If you want to become a professional working comic, now is a good time to start putting together your resume. And in case you’re not sure what goes into a comedy resume, it’s a list of your performing credits as a comedian.

In the beginning of your career it can include:

A list of your comedy performances and the venues.

If you haven’t played any true comedy clubs, list open-mics. Talent bookers from out of the area may not have heard of any of them, but that doesn’t matter. This list shows you have at least some stage experience.

When you’re starting out in the business you’re only looking for a showcase (audition) or a gig as an opening act in a comedy club. You don’t need to have headlined or even featured (middle act) at The Improv or other known clubs to be considered as an opening act. You need to be funny AND show the talent booker you have enough stage experience so you won’t suffer a meltdown when you walk on stage in front of a live audience. If you’re funny and show enough stage presence to pass the audition, but all you have are open-mic credits – then that’s what you’ll list on your resume as experience.

List them under the header Clubs or Open-mics.

If you have plenty of open-mics and have also done shows outside of these clubs – list them under separate headers. You can have one titled Benefit Shows or Special Events.

You can also add any comedy workshops or seminars you’ve attended. If it includes a comedy club performance, put that on your resume. But be honest! Add the disclaimer that it was a workshop or seminar performance. It still shows experience – and in this case, “guided” experience from a coach. That can be more influential to a talent booker than flying blind through a string of late night, unheard of open-mics.

You can list these under Workshops and/or Training.

Do you have special talents you use on stage? This could be anything that helps you get laughs from an audience including singing, doing accents, playing guitar, balancing stuff, juggling stuff, riding a unicycle, setting yourself on fire – whatever. If it’s in your act it’s a Special Talent or Special Skill and can be on your resume.

This will also give bookers a better idea of what you do on stage.

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Now here’s the deal. This is how you start and build a comedy resume. BUT you want to keep replacing lesser credits with “known” credits. For instance, it’s great to have Johnny’s Yuk-A-Torium and five or six other open-mics on your resume to show experience. But do your best to eventually replace them with credits from legitimate comedy clubs, (The Improv, Zanies, Funny Bone, etc.). But until you get on those stages, use whatever you have, open-mics, benefit shows, frat parties, to show you have experience and have not just been doing stand-up in your living room in front of a video camera.

And yeah – someone once sent me an audition tape for A&E’s An Evening At The Improv direct from his living room. Did he get the show? Nope. It was obvious to me he had no on stage experience.

Here’s a good rule to remember – don’t try to move up the ladder too fast.

You’ll need a lot more than a few months to become an experienced act and ready for the best stages. But you can start keeping track of your performing credits now and have a decent list when you’re ready to start showcasing. The experience you get while putting together a decent list of comedy clubs for your resume will eventually help you break out of open-mics and into the world of paying gigs.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Contacting talent bookers

November 6, 2018

Hi Dave – Do you have any tips for contacting club bookers? When I was leaving a recent showcase, the bar manager said they would like to have me back. He gave me his card as well as the card for the person who books the room. I emailed the talent booker and she hasn’t responded. Should I call her if I don’t hear from her or should I try emailing again? I don’t want to be annoying, but if performing there again is an opportunity I would really love to do it again. Thanks! – K.

Expecting your call

Hey K. – That’s great news because you have an “in” – the bar manager. As I’ve mentioned in quite a few past FAQ’s and Answers a personal recommendation from someone who either works with or works for a talent booker is like having a Golden Ticket.

It beats the heck out of cold calling or blind emails. Now you just need to make the Golden Ticket work for you.

The best scenario is for the bar manager to take you by the arm and march you into the talent booker’s office and give a personal introduction. This of course would be followed by, “Put her on the schedule – she’s funny!

But in this case you’re working with a (Golden) business card. It’s not a slam dunk, but you’re still in a better position than when you first walked in the club for your showcase.

You’ve already taken the first step by sending an email. But you haven’t heard back. So to make use of a sports reference in honor of… well, sports – this means one thing:

Let the game begin!

Talent bookers for busy clubs are busy people. Their first priority is to book the shows. For showcase clubs in NYC and LA this could mean anywhere from 10 to 15 performers per night. This is also true for club showcase nights in many other cities like Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, etc…

But since you’ve already done a showcase, we won’t go that route. Let’s talk about actually getting booked in a club for a paying gig. Now I have your attention – right?

Other than showcases with multiple comedians doing short sets, most clubs (especially outside of NYC and LA) use three acts:

  • Opener / MC
  • Feature / Middle Act
  • Headliner / Closer

Each week the booker schedules the three performance slots. That’s normally 52 weeks a year. They have regulars that can play the club a couple or few times a year, but they need to use a variety so audiences will return and not see the same comics over and over.

When you add it up – that’s 156 performance spots per year just for a 3-act club.

Can we do lunch?

The bookers not only have to deal with the talent needed for those spots, but in most cases with a headliner and in many cases with a feature, they’re also dealing with agents and managers. There are negotiations, contracts, travel arrangements, accommodations, publicity – and the always expected but unknown until it happens at the last minute emergencies. That could include any one of the performers cancelling for any number of reasons including a missed flight, illness, weather (the list could go on and on) and another comic needs to be scheduled immediately.

But that’s only part of it…

The booker is also fielding countless phone calls from comics wanting to return, newer comics wanting to play the club for the first time, and agents and managers who want to schedule their clients. On top of that there are TONS of emails, websites and promo videos to navigate through.

There could be much more than 156 performance spots bookers are dealing with. They could also be scheduling private parties, special events or other clubs. And if the booker is good at his / her job, they have to deal with it all.

I won’t even get into the job duties that might include attending meetings, “doing lunch”, or watching shows to see how the performers they’ve already booked are doing. My point is – from personal experience – there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that most performers don’t realize. Talent bookers can be very busy people.

But one thing that should be a positive for you as a newer comedian is that bookers are always looking for new talent. If not – they’re not very good at what they do. Your goal is to be one of their new talents.

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

SOLD OUT!

Showcase at The Improv is Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

For information about upcoming workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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The key – as you’ve already mentioned – is not to be annoying.

I remember talking with comedians who were so frustrated because a certain talent booker never got back with them that they decided to call every day. Their thought process was that the booker would eventually have to deal with them.

I’ve got news for you. Talent bookers don’t have to deal with them or anyone they don’t want to. Imagine someone calling you every day for a job. It’s called being annoying – a pain in the butt – and why so many bookers screen their calls or hire assistants as gatekeepers.

That method won’t work. That’s why you have to play the game. You need to stay in touch and let them know you exist, but you can’t be annoying.

There’s a game plan for that and I know it can work because it worked on me when I was booking comedians in Los Angeles (where I learned this “game”).

You’ve made the first phone call. I’m assuming you either reached the booker’s voice mail or assistant.

  • Always leave a message with your name and phone number.

That bit of advice has been – and still is – debated by comedians and speakers I’ve worked with. Some only want to talk with “a real live person” and won’t leave a message. But many others (like me) think that’s a wasted effort and phone call. The idea is to start building name recognition. You can’t do that by just hanging up.

  • Make it short and professional – get to the point:

Hi. This is (your name) and I showcased at (club name). The bar manager (name) gave me your card and suggested I contact you about a possible booking. I’m calling to find the best way to schedule an audition or send a link to my website video. You can reach me at (your phone number) and my website is (website). Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.

  • Then hang up.

Okay, put it into your own words. But that’s not a bad script. It succeeded in getting your name and contact info to the person you want to work for.

  • But don’t just wait. Take action – send a postcard.

Yeah, I know. Some performers think postcards are outdated. But are those performers working as much as they’d like to? If they are then maybe they have enough contacts with talent bookers already or have an agent or manager doing the dirty work. But I’ll tell’ya what. I’m not even booking clubs anymore and I still get postcards.

  • Postcards have your photo, name and contact info.

Send one after your first call and it can add to your name recognition. Put a personal note on the back – “I hope you received my call, etc…

Wait a couple weeks and call again. You aren’t being annoying – but you also are not disappearing. It continues to put your name in front of the talent booker.

  • Mix it up a little. Instead of following that call with another postcard, wait a week and send an email. Again – be short and to the point. Include a link to your website.

If you still don’t hear back wait a couple weeks and call again. Then repeat the process until you hear back or the talent booker answers the phone.  Either way they will have heard of you (name recognition). Then use your Golden Ticket – or plead your case – for an audition or booking.

  • If this is a local club, go to a show (or two, or three). Say hello to the bar manager again and ask if you can meet the talent booker. If there’s another opportunity to showcase – sign up and get on stage.

Of course there are no guarantees, but it’s a better game plan than being annoying or disappearing just because a busy person doesn’t return your first phone call or email.

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Give it a try. As mentioned, I’m sharing this method because it worked on me.

In fact, a few times I was almost embarrassed because the performers stayed in touch – without being annoying – and I started thinking that they were thinking I wasn’t doing my job very well. So when I realized after some well spread out phone messages, postcards and emails that they might be calling soon, I looked at their videos. When they called it was almost like an “Ah-ha!” moment for me.

YES!” I had watched their video!

Now, whether they got a paid booking, showcase or “no thanks” depended on their performance and experience. But at least they had built up name recognition and were given the opportunity – and that’s what this method is all about.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Promo video length for club, corporate and college gigs

October 8, 2018

Hey Dave – I’m real serious about doing stand-up comedy and I wanted some info on making my audition tape. How long should it be? Are bookers looking for something specific? If u can help me out please write back – B.T. / The Future of Comedy

Hey B.T. – The future of your comedy career relies a lot on your past. This means the work you’ve already done as a writer and performer, and then using a past (but recent) performance to make an attention-grabbing and (most of all) FUNNY audition tape. BUT we don’t want to live TOO much in the past, so let’s start talking about this in terms of online videos (and occasionally DVDs).

Goodbye gone!

I don’t know anyone that’s using “tape” anymore.

Okay, I know that’s just a technicality. But I want to make sure we’re all using same terms and are on the same page… uh, screen here in 2018.

When I talk about relying on the past, I’m talking about how long your video should be. That hasn’t changed since the word “tape” was common and should be three to seven minutes long. That gives talent bookers a decent sample of what you do on stage.

Most talent bookers are pretty busy. You wouldn’t believe how many videos they’re asked to view every day. Since there are only so many minutes in a day they can’t sit around and watch an hour, half hour or even twenty minutes of performance time from each comedian. That’s why many I’ve talked with only watch the beginning or hit the fast forward button and stop at random places.

When I booked the TV show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, I would watch anywhere from twenty to thirty videos at one sitting.

No lie.

Only 5 more minutes…

I couldn’t take (because of time – not interest) more than five minutes with each one. So the comedian had to come on strong from the beginning and prove he or she was already a working comic and ready for television. If it was obvious they weren’t, I’d stop the video and move on to the next one.

And here’s something else I’ve learned from many of these same contacts and personal experience: a good talent booker will usually know within thirty seconds into a comedian’s act if he wants to hire that comedian. Experience and talent will be obvious (or should be) right from the beginning of the set for anyone that has been in the talent booking business for a while. Performers might try to fake it, but experienced people in the biz can usually tell right away.

Now, if they watch three to seven minutes and are interested but not sold on hiring, they can contact the comedian and request more. That’s when you can send something longer (usually fifteen to twenty minutes).

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday, November 10th 

Perform at The Improv – Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm (skips Thanksgiving Weekend)

Space is limited

For details, reviews, videos, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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I once worked with a club booker that (seriously) said he wanted to see a full one-hour video before he would hire an act. I thought that was a bit extreme, but if that’s the way he does business, well… it’s his club and it’s his time. I never met another booker who had that much time to watch videos.

It also depends what market you want to get into.

I’m talking mainly about clubs and television with the above advice. If you want to work in the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker, your video will be much different. That should be a production – rather than just an example of your live performance.

Very entertaining!

This means corporate videos can be edited showing not only segments of your act, but also audience comments, your credits scrolling across the screen – or any other techniques that make the comedian or speaker look professional and in demand.

Again, short and dynamic is best. The corporate videos I’ve been sent or have edited for myself and other speakers are usually five to seven minutes in length.

The college market also plays out differently. When you’re involved in NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) and APCA (Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities) the college booking organizations I talk about in the book Comedy FAQs And Answers, they only want three- minute videos as submissions for showcases. BUT the catch is if the college students on the Activities Board like that three minutes and want to see more, you should have at least two additional three minute segments with the online submission or DVD so they can continue to watch until they:

  • Give you a live showcase (explained in the book).
  • Keep you in mind as a maybe.
  • Move on to the next comedian.

And finally, what’s very different than in the days of using video “tape” is the method of delivery. Everyone now can watch online videos or will request DVDs.

In 2018, everyone in the business has the technology to watch promotional video online. If not, then they’re in the wrong business.

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YouTube is still the most popular, but I know there are also other sites that can allow bookers to watch your video immediately. The key is to have it available to them either embedded into your website or linked to YouTube.

Also the three minute – or shorter – video is becoming more popular for submissions outside the college market. You can go online to view examples, but quite a few comedians have short (two to three minute) segments of their sets embedded in in their websites. We know attention spans have grown shorter and this method allows talent bookers to get a quick “taste” of a performance with an immediate opportunity to watch more – another quick segment – if they want.

* Last bit of advice about this.

I recently talked to a club booker who said he expects comedians to have a website. It’s more professional. He won’t even go on Facebook or other social media sites to watch videos. If the comedian doesn’t have a website, then he feels that comedian is not professional enough to work in that club.

I’m just passing that thought along because I know you’re interested…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Adding music increases the pizzazz factor

April 23, 2018

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

Working the room!

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

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

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Spring 2018 – SOLD OUT!

Includes performance on Wednesday, May 23rd

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Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 11 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

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

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

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

Warming up the NBA

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

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

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

Wait… yes I do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Will lack of references hurt?

April 8, 2018

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

Here are my references!

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

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Begins Saturday – May 5, 2018

Includes performance on Wednesday, May 23rd

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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

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

So I’ll pass it along here.

Here’s everyone and more!

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

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

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

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

Also never claim experience you don’t have.

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

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

A REALLY old saying!

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

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

Parlay comedy experience into getting noticed

March 26, 2018

Hi Dave – I’m in a big city, have gotten invites and done showcases (not at comedy clubs), have a professionally shot ten minute set, ordered business cards, and am set to headline a C-level club three hours from my city. My question is this, are there ways to parlay this experience into getting noticed by agents or bookers or NACA? If so how? I know networking is the best way and I’ve made some friends, but I’m horrendously shy when not on stage. Thank you so much – ER

You can’t be shy!

Hey ER – I’m going to have to make an assumption here. It sounds to me like you might still be a bit new in the comedy business. I don’t mean that as a bad thing and please don’t think I’m about to write off your question due to lack of experience. That’s not what’s happening here. I’m just trying to figure out where this FAQ and Answer is going to be based on what you’ve told me…

You’re in a big city and have done showcases and have a ten minute video, but not at comedy clubs. So I’ll have to guess we’re talking about performing experience at schools (high school talent shows or some college gigs) or if you’re out of that age group it’s probably through local events, private parties or associations (Rotary Clubs, etc.…).

But you haven’t done any showcases at comedy clubs.

Especially in a big city, that’s where these guys – agents, bookers and talent managers – find most of the comics they work with. From my experiences in NYC and LA they would hang around on weeknights to watch the newer comedians. They didn’t have to do that on Fridays and Saturdays because those shows would feature more established comedians that already had agents, managers and full schedules.

In other words, there was no reason for them to hit a top LA club on Saturday night to see Dave Chappelle or Amy Schumer. Those guys already have representation to take care of their bookings. Agents and managers looking for new talent can take the weekend off and start back to work Monday night checking out local showcases.

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Comedy Workshop at The Omaha Funny Bone

Starts Saturday – April 21, 2018

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

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

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

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If you’re already scheduled to headline a comedy club outside the city and have a professional promotional video, it’s a good idea to start showcasing at the better clubs to be seen. If you’re not in NYC or LA where they have showcase clubs (lots of acts doing short sets on the same night) then contact the better clubs in your area and ask about auditioning or submitting your video. But keep in mind you’ll still need to keep building other performance credits if you want most agents and bookers to take you seriously.

Even if the first contact you make is through your website with video link, the general opinion is that they’ll want to see you perform live before putting you up for any bookings. This is especially true in the competitive college market.

Go ahead and look!

BUT if you have experience and a good video – BUT not personal contacts through showcasing opportunities, you can check out agency websites for submission policies. Most of them will spell out exactly what they need from comedians they might want to work with.

BUT again, a lot of it will be based on experience. They’ll want to know what clubs you’ve played, corporate shows or benefits. And to repeat myself – this is especially true in the competitive college market.

For anyone not familiar with NACA, it stands for National Association for Campus Activities. There’s also another group called APCA or Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. I talk about working with both in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works. You can also do a Google search for NACA and APCA to find out more about what they do.

To work in the college market the agents will want to know if you have an act that works for college audiences.  Some will represent new talent based on videos and previous college performing credits, but keep in mind some will also charge you $$’s in advance for various doing business costs, such as submission fees to even be considered for a showcase at NACA and APCA conferences. Again, this is all in my book, so let’s cut to the chase…

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A lot of it is based on experience. Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer can book as many college shows as they want because they’re known. For newer comedians it’s tough to book college shows without a college agent. AND it’s tough to get a good college agent without any college performing credits.

Talk about a Catch-22 – that’s a big one. There’s a way to do it – and again, I’ve talked about it in the book. But to get back to today’s specific question, it comes down to getting experience on stage and being seen by the right people.

The best thing to do is parlay your upcoming out of town gig at a smaller club (don’t ever call it a “C-club” in front of the owner or booker if you want to play there again) into more shows. Ask for a return engagement or the best way to send in your avails. Use marketing techniques (sorry, I don’t want to keep plugging my books, but that’s why I wrote them) to announce this new credit to other clubs and bookers.

Don’t be too pushy!

Do your best to get over being horrendously shy in this business. You never want to come off as too pushy, but smart marketing and promotion will help these bookers find you. The good ones – the busy ones – are always looking to discover new talent. They can’t keep running the same acts through the same clubs over and over and over…

Also keep in mind there are good smaller agencies near just about every big city. They may not book the mega-rooms in NYC and LA that will get you seen for Comedy Central or late night television, but they can get you work. They might book a string of one-night gigs and will take a chance on comics based on a good video and some credits.

Usually they’ll send a comic out as an opening act and get feedback from the club owners or managers. If the reviews are good, they’ll continue to book them. Your goal as a comic is to use this experience to get better and eventually work up to the feature and headliner spots.

You can do this at the same time with other booking agents and continue to build up performing credits. Again, I’ve been more specific about it in my books, but I at least hope this gives you a good start. Have a killer set at the C-club, network, promote and work to put you in a position to be seen.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

The silent treatment from talent bookers

March 11, 2018

Hi Dave – I’m a new comic – elderly- but enjoying it a lot. Last year I entered a competition and I got into the semi finals. It was quite exciting. This year they are having it again and I thought it would be fun to enter again to keep up the momentum and get back in shape. I have responded to the organizer over 3 times and did not get an answer. I now see they have posted the lineup and I am not to be found. I sent him another note and still no response. What do I do in a situation like this? Is it because he doesn’t like me or something? Or that I was too old? I think it’s terrible that I don’t get an answer. What would you do, or better yet, what should I do? Thanks for your help. – D.

Silent treatment

Hey D. – Okay, I’ll plan to hear from some of my talent booker friends (and maybe some non-friends) about this, but what the heck. I’ll go with my thoughts and let the chips fall where they may. And by the way, “chips” is a more polite word than I was tempted to use…

To simply state it, I think this person is unprofessional and rude.

When I hear about comedians and humorous speakers that have worked with an “organizer” in the past and are not receiving any kind of response at all is wrong. Of course this treatment will send all kinds of questions and doubts through a performer’s mind. In your case you reached the semi finals in one of his past contests, so he has to know who you are. But his silence is causing you to think he doesn’t like you or maybe you’re too old.

I’ve seen comics completely stress themselves out because they’ve worked hard at what they do and have followed submission policies, rules or whatever you want to call it from “organizers” to make contact. And for their efforts they receive nothing but silence in return.

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Comedy Workshop at The Omaha Funny Bone

Starts Saturday – April 21, 2018

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

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

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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Now, I’m assuming that when you use the term “organizer” you’re probably talking about a smaller local event or festival. Like newer comedians this person could be bound for bigger things, or this might be the height of his career booking talent. If he continues in this crazy biz, let’s hope he learns to be more “professional” in dealing with performers.

For instance…

Busy Treatment

It’s important you understand many of the BIG talent agencies and BIG club bookers are very busy. I know because I’ve done it. They can’t possibly answer or reply to every unsolicited phone call or email. There aren’t enough hours in the workday – seriously.

When I worked with A&E’s An Evening At The Improv we received a constant flow of comedian submissions. I watched them all – that was part of the job – but couldn’t possibly call everyone. But I kept notes while watching and could at least give a response to the comics when they contacted me. It may not have always been what they wanted to hear, but it wasn’t fair to just brush them off with a silent treatment.

And you know what? I still maintain that a lot of the bookers and agents I knew at that time in NYC and LA did the same. Even the ones that were HUGE had assistants that would deliver the good or bad news about bookings. In fact, I’m sure that’s how I learned the policy because I considered them to be professionals and that’s what they did.

If a performer has done the work, they deserve some kind of response.

—————————————————————————-

Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 24, 2018

Workshop Marquee 150

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

Includes a performance at The Improv on Wednesday – April 18

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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*And let me say one important thing here. Almost all the business today is done online. A lot of bookers and agencies don’t even have phone numbers on their websites. It can all be done through email and links to websites and videos. Many of the larger agencies even have submission forms to fill out online – without revealing their email address. Yes, it can be very frustrating for comedians and speakers that want to make immediate contact, but these forms are also programmed to send an automated response that the agency has received your submission and will contact you if they’re interested.

At least it’s a response. In my book, that’s a lot better than silence.

I know an extremely busy and important talent booker in the Midwest who can’t possibly answer every call and email he gets from comics that want to work for him. He doesn’t have a submission form on a website, but there’s information on what he needs to consider a comic for possible bookings. After he receives the submission and if the comic is not ready to work in his clubs, they receive a pre-written (form letter) email giving them the bad news. Again – at least it’s a response.

If he decides to work with a new comedian – and even for those that have worked for him in the past – he’ll ask them to stay in touch once a month by emailing their avails (the dates you’re available for bookings). Again, he can’t possibly send everyone an individual email because he works with too many comics. But he’s professional enough to have an auto response email sent to each comic he has worked with or might work with saying he’s received their avails and will contact them if anything is available.

And on top of all that he has set times each week when he’ll accept phone calls. It’s on the website. If you call during “off hours” and don’t get a response, well that’s your fault. Read the instructions and follow them.

Again this is all better than silence. I’ve talked with quite a few comedians that work for him and they’re very happy with this method. In fact, I’ll even say some are “relieved” they hear something. They like knowing their emails are not being sent out into some cyberspace black hole never to be seen or acknowledged by someone they hope to consider a future business partner.

Silent Treatment Duo!

Which brings us back to the “organizer” that has not answered (according to D’s message, which by the way I’m responding to – ha!) four emails… Well, I don’t consider that to be very professional on his part. Mainly because unlike the example I used above about agents and bookers receiving too many unsolicited submissions, this person has worked with D in the past.

As always, there could be other factors involved. As I’ve advised in these articles and the sections in my books about marketing, you never want to be a pain in the you-know-what. I’ll assume you’ve read those and know what I mean.

But even if the organizer (booker, agent, etc.) doesn’t like you or doesn’t want to work with you – and you’ve already had some type of working relationship in the past – you deserve an answer.

I also consider it to be the job requirement. Good will, reputation, contacts and networking count for a lot in this biz. Someday when you become a headliner and the “organizer” wants to book you, you’ll remember the silent treatment. Your fee might be a little higher for this guy than someone else. And don’t laugh. I’ve seen it happen.

One last word.

To make it in this crazy business you have to develop a thick skin. You’ll probably hear “no” a lot more than you’ll hear “yes” – especially when starting out. And there will be times you’ll just hear the sounds of silence (and I don’t mean by Simon and Garfunkle). Yes, I think in many cases it can be considered unprofessional and rude, but the bad news is that sometimes it’s just a part of the business.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.