Posts Tagged ‘auditions’

How long should you do the same material?

September 9, 2019

Dave – How long can I keep doing my current material and how often do comics usually change their act? Since I plan on doing a lot of clubs locally, I wonder if people will be hearing the same act over and over. – M.

Oh, man… not again!

Hey M. – Your goal is to get your comedy set really, REALLY good. That means you should be working on improving your material – your act – whenever and wherever you can.

Usually, this means you would be working on the same bits over and over and over….  And I know that sounds boring, especially for creative artists like stand-up comedians. But the idea is to treat your act as a creative work, similar to writing a novel or painting a masterpiece. You always want to “tweak” it and make it better. Make improvements, change words, add, subtract, etc…

In other words, make it funnier.

BUT I also want to repeat myself (boring?) in saying comedians are creative artists. They are not (and should not be) robots programmed to say the exact same thing show after show after show… If that’s the goal, then become an actor and memorize a script.

That joke works!

Most comedians have topics or bits they use in their acts because the material is practiced, and audience tested. They know it “works” and can get a good response during a show they’re being paid to do.

And in case you missed an earlier FAQ And Answer, I’ll repeat a good business tip for you.

Talent bookers pay comics to perform sets that “work.”

A talent booker’s business depends on satisfied customers. For newer comedians trying to reach that career goal, becoming working comics, they perform for free at open-mics, lower paying gigs, and anywhere they can get time on stage. Once their material has been audience-tested and gets laughs, that’s what talent bookers will pay for.

For this reason, you shouldn’t try to do a completely new set every time you go on stage. Unless the performance is improvisational, no comic does unless they’re hosting a late night (or daytime) television talk show. But you need to remember television hosts have writing staffs, Teleprompters and cue cards.


October 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Saturdays – October 19, 26 and November 2 (noon to 4 pm)

Performance at The Improv – Thursday, November 7 at 7:30 pm

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Space limited to no more than 11 people

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The idea is to learn what material works based on audience reaction. Even if you’re only playing in front of a few people at an open-mic, find out what gets a laugh every time and keep it in your act.

As the late Richard Jeni said in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers, you build your act “brick by brick” (laugh by laugh / bit by bit). This is how most comedians create their act.

And most entertainers, not just comedians, have an “act.” If you don’t believe me, go see your favorite arena rock band do a couple shows and try to see what – if anything – is different between the two performances. I doubt there would be much, if anything.

When I was managing The Improv, we would have three comedians for each show. More often than not all three would do the same set every show. They were doing their “act,” which is what they were being paid to do. You have to remember the audience is different for each show, so it’s all new to them.

Management and staff might be the same, but that shouldn’t worry you because they’re not listening all the time. They might stop and watch a bit now and then, but don’t worry about them hearing your act over and over. If they’ve been working at the club long enough, they know it’s the nature of the business. And besides, they’re also professionals and are there to work and make money, and not to watch your set.


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Tweaking and perfecting your act will keep it interesting for you. Like a novelist and painter, you’re making changes – subtle or huge – toward your finished creation. The idea is to keep improving your act. As a creative artist I doubt you’ll ever consider it “finished,” but when your act is regularly earning laughs it might be time to start contacting talent bookers to get paid for what you’ve created.

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 How To Be A Working Corporate Comedian: A Step-By-Step Guide Into Launching & Building Your Career.

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

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing.


Contacting television talent bookers

June 4, 2019

Dave – I worked with a comedian last week who thinks I’m ready to do a set on one of the late night shows. I know there aren’t as many opportunities on talk shows as there used to be for comics, but Comedy Central does specials with upcoming comics and there are shows on netflix, etc. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because I was wondering if you could provide some insights as to how to go about contacting these talent bookers. The show I’d really like to be on would be Jimmy Kimmel Live. – MC

“Look! I’m on television!”

Hey MC – First of all, it’s good when someone else in this crazy business says you’re ready to move up in your career. Especially when they think you’re good enough for late night television. Otherwise, you’d have to look at the source of this praise – and moms and drinking buddies don’t count. When they’re peers and know the biz, you might want to start thinking about it.

Anyone with real experience in the industry knows it’s not easy to score one of these coveted late night performing spots that guarantees exposure to millions of comedy fans and talk-fest insomniacs. But what do you think?


Do you really feel you’re ready for television? Are you working on a regular basis at the best clubs? Are you getting great audience response and killing on stage? Is your material “right” for the shows you’re thinking about?

These are questions you need to ask yourself and seriously answer. It also helps when you have other people in the business saying you’re ready. That’s a positive and supportive step in the right direction.

My first thought is that you have to be seen. And it’s always best to be seen in person. I say this from experience and also by keeping in touch with friends in NYC and LA – so I believe it’s still true.

Looking for laughs!

The BEST way to get on television is to be SEEN in the clubs where the television talent bookers are hanging out.

For instance, all the high profile television networks that feature comedians are based in New York and Los Angeles. The talent bookers, producers, writers and other important “showbiz connections” from these shows go to the clubs in these cities. That’s a fact because I would see them all the time when I worked in NYC and LA. They would hang out and watch the comedians. They knew who had the material and experience because they’d see it first-hand. They could also request showcases so they could audition a number of comics on the same night in front of a live audience.

Even if they were interested in a comedian through a video submission, they would eventually want to see alive performance. It’s all part of the process because they need to be sure the comedian will be successful on the show, since that’s what talent bookers are hired to do –find good talent.

To backup that opinion, I’ll rely on the interviews with Drew Carey and Jeff Foxworthy in my book How To Be A Working Comic. I interviewed them separately, but their experiences were similar since that’s how this business (most often) works…


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Each told me he couldn’t even get the attention of anyone at The Tonight Show when they submitted videotapes (the old days) even though they had been headlining for years in the best clubs outside NYC and LA. And the reason why they weren’t working the NYC and LA clubs was because these are normally showcase clubs. You do them to be SEEN and not to make money. These guys had to make a living.

But each really felt he was ready for The Tonight Show. And each felt he only needed to be seen by the talent booker.

Eventually they both had to bite the economic bullet and move to Los Angeles. It was the only way they could be seen every night for The Tonight Show (in the days of Johnny Carson when it really was a star-making appearance). They took a big pay cut by not playing their regular clubs outside of NYC and LA, but it paid off for both in the end.

But if you can’t afford to do that, the next best thing is a great video.

You also need great references, experience and ways to market yourself without being a pain in the butt or getting lost in the pack. We’ve had a more than a few FAQs And Answers about marketing, but you can also check out the marketing and networking sections in How To Be A Working Comic.

How’s THAT for a blindsided sales pitch? LOL!! Now that I have that out of my system, here’s what else you should do…

Play detective.

Playing detective

When you’re in clubs and meet comedians that have done these shows, ask for advice. Ask what they did to be seen and how they were seen. If they appear to enjoy your performance (again – be honest with yourself) ask for the name(s) of people booking the comedians. If they don’t think you’re ready, they probably won’t tell you. You have to understand they have their own relationship with the talent booker and can’t make it seem they’re recommending every comic they come in contact with. It doesn’t help their reputation, so if they’re evasive drop the subject.

Don’t be a pain and don’t try to push yourself on someone who may not see you as “being ready.”

You should also watch these shows and take notes. What is the name of the production company? Who is the talent coordinator listed during the ending credits? They don’t run these credits every night because of time restraints, but you can usually catch them once or twice a week.

Again, play detective and research online the production companies and names for their contact info. Make a call. Don’t worry about having to sell yourself right away. These talent bookers are not easy to reach, so you’ll only get The Gatekeeper.

Then ask for “help.”

Gatekeepers are assistants hired to keep you away from the people you want to contact. Again, from experience and hearing this a lot from working comedians and speakers, Gatekeepers seem to respond to that term better than grilling them with questions. Ask for their “help” in learning what is the best way to be submitted for the program. It could go through a separate booking agency, or directly through the show’s producer, writing staff or others.


June 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv


Performance at The Improv – Wednesday, June 26 at 7:30 pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops are limited to 11 people age 18+

For details on upcoming Cleveland & Chicago workshops visit…



Then follow their “help” guidelines. Start the process of submitting your video and promo information – or work your way into the clubs where talent bookers hang out looking for new talent.

But in the meantime, continue getting experience and getting better. As I love to say whenever possible in these articles:

They may call it amateur night, but no one is looking to hire an amateur.

This is particularly true when it comes to television. And if you really feel you’re ready, don’t throw all your eggs into one basket (have I spent too much time outside of NYC and LA to have picked up that old saying?). Don’t just concentrate only on one show, (you mentioned Jimmy Kimmel Live).

Do the same with the other shows on different networks. Start getting your name out to the “right people” whether it’s through live performances at showcase clubs, recommendations, or online videos. Just be sure you’re ready, because no one with a viewing audience of millions of comedy fans or talk-fest insomniacs wants to hire an amateur.

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 How To Be A Working Corporate Comedian: A Step-By-Step Guide Into Launching & Building Your Career.

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

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing.

What should you wear on stage?

January 14, 2019

Hi Dave – I was wondering what to wear / how to dress on stage. I notice there are not very many women in comedy. The ones that are maybe my favorites – Wanda Sykes, Paula Poundstone, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres, etc… I can’t help but notice, they dress like a man. Did you ever notice that?

So should I wear a tie? Of course I’m not going to wear a tie. I’m also too old to look hot in a tight pair of jeans. I have tight jeans, (lately all my clothes are a bit tight), but I don’t want to gross anyone out. I’m not fishing for compliments. I just wonder if I should dress up, dress down, look masculine, feminine, should I wear black, should I wear some color…? What I’m not going to be like is Phyllis Diller and dress crazy. Thanks – J.

The always fashionable Phyllis Diller!

Hey J. – I realize I’m talking with a woman of comedy and it’s not (the late and great) Phyllis Diller. And to make another point, I’ve never been known for my fashion sense. Keep in mind your question was not sent to Calvin Klein, which is the only name I know from the fashion design world. And that’s only because he designed my underwear – which is probably getting a little too personal for this FAQ and Answer session.

I also know there will be comedians and humorous speakers reading this who will think it’s not an important question. They’re wrong because it is. In fact I can’t remember doing a comedy workshop where this question wasn’t asked. It’s also been asked by working comedians I’ve booked for various gigs.

“What should I wear on stage?”

The answer depends on who you are on stage and where you are performing. You have to consider both to find the correct answer.

When I started out on the club scene in New York City, I don’t remember stage wear being an important issue. For everyone starting out, writing and stage experience were the biggest concerns (and still should be for any comedian). We didn’t hang around the NYC Improv wondering what the comedians should wear on stage. It looked to me like whatever you put on that day before walking outside was what you wore on stage that night.

But I also learned a lesson about what to wear on stage from another comedian I worked with at the NYC Improv. The look is best called successful and the advice came from one of the funniest comedians I know, Rondell Sheridan. In fact it was such good advice, he shared it in my book How To Be A Working Comic

“I think I only did stand-up three times before I passed the audition at The Improv,” he said. “I always had a good gift for ad-libbing, and a couple of things happened in the audience during my audition. Plus, I dressed up. None of the other comics dressed up for the audition. I sort of looked like I’d been doing this for a long time.”

This is a lesson in showbiz.

Murray Langston The Unknown Comic

Of course the number one factor is to be funny on stage. But your image can also influence an audience and talent bookers. If your material and who you are on stage – your comedy voice– says you’re successful, then what you wear should help convey that image. If you’re street – then dress street and not in a 3-piece suit (you punk!).

Whether you believe it or not, what you wear on stage also puts you into a category. In showbiz, they call it typecasting. I was surprised to go from a comedy scene in NYC where t-shirts, sports coats, jeans and sneakers were referred to as the comedy uniform, to Hollywood where there were actual lists in talent booking offices categorizing (typecasting) comedians because of what they wore on stage. The ones I remember distinctly were:

  • T-shirt comics
  • Sweater comics
  • Sport coat comics and…
  • Suit comics

I’m being serious about this. It’s the truth – and anyone who has ever been behind the closed doors of the booking industry knows it. In fact, you can check it out yourself by going online and watching reruns of the classic stand-up comedy shows that influenced many of today’s comedians like A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, Caroline’s Comedy Hour, Comedy On The Road and others.

When it came time to book these television shows, the producers knew it was always good to present a variety of comedians. This would attract a wider range of viewers. For instance, unless it was a theme for a particular episode, not everyone would be interested in watching a line-up of only prop comics or of only political comics.


Winter 2019 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv


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

Workshop Marquee 150

For information about upcoming Chicago & Cleveland workshops visit…



The great thing about these shows was if viewers didn’t like one particular style of comedy, chances were they’d continue to watch because they might like the next one. It’s often the same when booking live shows. The headliners don’t want the comics before them doing the same act.

What you wear on stage should help define your comedy voice.

And to base this off what was just explained, not all television viewers will be interested in what successful comics wearing 3-piece suits have to say. Others would have no interest in a show featuring only comics in ripped jeans and t-shirts. Just like with music, comedy fans have different tastes. So to cast these shows, it made the job of deciding who would be scheduled on what episode a lot easier for talent bookers by referring to the lists.

This way audiences would see a variety of comics during each episode.

This is also true for auditions set up through comedy clubs. For example, when I was working at the Hollywood Improv I remember getting calls from casting directors for movies, sitcoms and talk/news programs like The Today Show looking for specific types. If they wanted to audition young guys in their 20’s for a role, we had a list of comics that fit that type. If they wanted to see political comics, we had a list for that also. We didn’t have to waste a lot of time going through our complete roster of comics.

We already had it narrowed down.

But getting back to today’s original question, here are some quick thoughts…

Dress for who you are on stage. If you’re upscale, dress the part. If you’re on the streets – look it. Don’t dress like a bank president if your material is about being broke. And if you’re not crazy, don’t dress like (the late and great) Phyllis Diller.

You need to give this some thought and make a personal decision about your image and how you want an audience to see and remember you. One of the greatest examples of stage clothes influencing an audience and actually enhancing the comedian’s material was when Steve Martin wore his white suit.

A Wild and Crazy Guy!

If you’re too young to remember, look him up on YouTube – or check out the cover of his book, Born Standing Up (which I highly recommend reading). He’s wearing a white suit… looks expensive… looks classy… BUT he’s wearing bunny ears or has a fake arrow sticking through his head. Then he’s acting like a “wild and crazy guy” and the perception works because audiences believe he is crazy because he’s so dressed up, but obviously not normal.

Many comedians and speakers fashioned a look their audiences would remember. Rodney Dangerfield – uncomfortable in a jacket, white shirt and skinny red tie. Drew Carey – white shirt, skinny tie and glasses. Kat Williams – pimp (I’ll say no more). Early Robin Williams – suspenders. Early Margaret Cho – Valley Girl. Later Margaret Cho – hip, rebellious. Dave Chappelle – street. Larry The Cable Guy – redneck. Pee Wee Herman…

Well, you should have a mental image by now for all these performers and others. What they wore on stage helped create that image. Again, the number one factor is that they are all funny. The look enhanced their comedy material and their comedy voice.


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Another consideration is where you are performing.

I’ll make this fast: If you’re doing a black tie event or a corporate gig, don’t show up in ripped jeans and a t-shirt. If you’re performing at a NASCAR rally – call Larry and ask to borrow one of his Cable Guy shirts.

Just like your comedy material and promotional material, it’s a good idea to put some thought into what you wear on stage. Remember, it’s show-BUSINESS. And in the business world, packaging (a recognizable image) promotes sales (getting paid bookings).

And finally, to address one of your other questions, I never really thought about the female comedians you named all dressing like men. As I mentioned, I’m no Calvin Klein and my fashion sense is pretty limited. If it fits the comedian’s image, then it’s fine with me.

But I’d also like to point out Amy Schumer, Rita Rudner, Loni Love, Sarah Silverman and… well, I could also make a long list of women that don’t dress like men. Does it make a difference from an audience point of view? Not that I’ve noticed. If the clothes fit the material and the performer – who they are on stage and where they are performing – it works.

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

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing.