Posts Tagged ‘auditions’

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.

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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!

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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 2019 – North Shore Publishing.

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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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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!

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

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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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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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.

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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!

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.