Posts Tagged ‘Comedians’

Publishing a book – NYC agent or do-it-yourself?

April 9, 2017

Hi Dave – Which way do you lean when it comes to publishing a book? Should I get a NYC agent to find a publisher, or self-publish? My blog is essentially a manuscript in progress, which has already been reviewed and rejected by several agents, (via agentquery.com). One actually snail-mailed me an upbeat, albeit, mixed personalized response saying it’s great material but not his style – yet worth publishing. As George Carlin once said: “A definite no yeah.” Thanks for your time! – C.B.

The process begins…

Hey C.B. – Where do I lean when it comes to publishing a book? If you had asked me that question when my first book came out (NYC publisher) you would’ve gotten an ear full of advice NOT to self-publish. But today I’m not leaning one way or the other. I’ve done both and that puts me right in the middle.

  • There are advantages and disadvantages, but there’s no reason why you can’t do both.

This is a topic that comes up lot with both speakers and comedians. These are creative people and one common talent needed to be successful in either or both careers is writing. And one thing I’ll say right now is that I’m sure a lot of us believe in the old saying:

  • Everyone feels they have at least one book in him / her.

It’s one thing to get it written and another getting it published and read (make money from it). The entire process is… well, a book in itself. So right now I’ll just direct my answer to your question:

A NYC agent or self-publish?

First of all let’s clarify. A NYC agent doesn’t guarantee anything. You could have a literary agent in Los Angeles, London, Tokyo or anywhere else. It really doesn’t matter because almost everything they do today is online – just like this newsletter. There are also book fairs that agents attend where scheduled personal schmoozing with publishers from around the world takes place so location is not important.

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And if anyone thinks I’m wrong about that, here’s something to ponder…

My literary agent is based in Atlanta and she scored two book deals for me with NYC publishers. Before that, I lived in Manhattan for 13 years and ran the most famous comedy club in the universe. I had contacts in television, films and nightclubs – but not publishing. As an unpublished wannabe author I would’ve never gotten past the gatekeepers (receptionists) in either publishing house.

But my agent, who is hundreds of miles away, put together the submissions; made the calls (schmoozed) to publishers she’s connected with in the biz (networking), and got the NYC deals.

But to start this process as a first-time author you need to have the product, which is a written book. If you already have a track record or reputation as a published writer or celebrity, an agent could work with you off an idea or outline.

I hope Kim likes this…

Put it this way. If Kim Kardashian picked up a phone and called her agent with a lame book idea, she’d have a publishing deal.

You or me?

We’d better be prepared to submit a completed manuscript if requested. After that, how successful a literary agent is does not matter where he or she is located or whether you truly deserve a book deal or not. It depends mostly on his or her contacts – the ability they have to get your creative work into the right hands.

It’s who they know.

In my view, having a literary agent score you a deal with a real publishing company is a lot more desirable than self-publishing. It’s not easy and some will say it’s pretty much impossible anymore for an unknown. But it can happen (I’m proof). And it’s great for the ego knowing real professionals running real publishing companies believe in your work enough to invest real time and money.

There is also still a stigma about self-publishing. Sorry if I bruised a few egos with that statement, but it’s true. Ask an author, “Who published your book?” They’ll sound a lot more confident and legit when they name a known publishing house rather than answering, “I did…

But now to deviate from the topic for the speakers and comedians these articles are written for…

Who cares about who your publisher is when having a book can increase your income?

To make a living from being a comedian or speaker you have to start thinking like comedians and speakers who know how to make money. They sell books, DVDs, CDs, T-shirts and anything else that’s not nailed down in their dressing room after their shows.

It’s called BOR (Back of the Room) sales and there’s a lot of money to be made from it. And for the self-publisher THAT’s how you make it really worthwhile.

Sign and return!

Having a real publisher release and distribute your book is prestigious and very cool. Plus they’ll pay you – up front. A good publisher will forward the author a $$ advance to finish the book. This comes out of future royalties, but it’s money in your pocket NOW.

Self-publishing will set you back $$’s to see your book in print. I’ve seen the costs actually go down the past few years and I’m a big fan of CreateSpace on Amazon.com. But you’ll still need to make an investment to have printed books available for BOR sales.

It’s like stocking a retail store. You buy the merchandise from a distributor and sell it.

And yeah, I’m quite aware of the low cost eBook market. All my books are also available in that format. But you can’t sell autographed eBooks in the BOR following speaking or comedy gigs. You can only hope your audience will still be excited enough about your book to go online later and buy it at a fraction of the price they would pay for a printed book.

If you’re already a working speaker or comedian, BOR products usually sell after a good performance. The audience either wants more information or a souvenir. A book about your topic – with your signature – gives them both.

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So here’s today’s answer:

Yes – of course you want someone else to publish your book and working with a NYC agent can help big-time. But that process can take years and no guarantee it’s going to happen. In fact, it relates well with another old showbiz saying – most aspiring authors are going to hear “no” more than “yes.”

Can your ego stand it?

Self-publishing is immediate. It’s possible to open a box of books in the morning, have an afternoon speaking or comedy gig in the evening – and spend your night counting $$’s from BOR sales. So even if you’re holding out for a real publishing deal, you should still explore self-publishing options.

But you have to consider the $$ investment to self-publish.

If you think you’ll shop around for a way too cheap it’s too good to be true printing company, remember one thing. You get what you pay for in the publishing biz. Show up with a cheap looking book and your loving audience (potential buyers) will smile, shake your hand, tell you how great you are – and move on to the next speaker or comedian to buy their souvenir.

Either way – published or self-published – if you have a book in you, you need to get it out. I’ll recommend going for a literary agent regardless of where they’re located to find a publisher who normally wouldn’t consider a book submission unless it came from an agent.

How do you do that?

The same way you find event planners and talent bookers. Go online and look around. Start by doing a Google search for Literary Agents – that will keep you busy for a while. Once you find them, research their guidelines for book submissions. The correct how-to info is always on the agency website.

But at the same time – and this is only if you’re already a working speaker or comedian – consider making an investment in printing costs and start making $$’s with BOR sales.

Key phrase from above statement: already a working speaker or comedian.

Author’s basement!

If you’re not getting out in front of an audience to promote your book, you’ll be competing with thousands of other unknown authors to get sales.

Yeah, I know there are success stories from authors only promoting online. But I also know horror stories of self-published authors with stacks of books sitting in their basements because no one ever knew about them and no book stores would order or sell them without a legit publisher and distributor.

Personal appearances can result in BOR sales.

That’s why every movie star on the planet hits the television talk show circuit when their new movie is coming out. It’s called promotions and marketing. If you put in the work to write a book and get published or self-published, you need to make potential customers know about it. And in the creative businesses of speaking and comedy, your best customers are your audiences after a great show.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Business card – got one?

March 12, 2017

Hi Dave – I’ve decided to order business cards. I was wondering exactly what information to include. I was thinking phone number, email, and website. I was wondering if there was anything else or if there was a reason not to include my address. – K.S.

Hey K.S. – Great decision. I’m always surprised at how many comedians or humorous speakers don’t have business cards. Maybe it seems like a relic from the past – like sending a videotape instead of a link to an online video – but it’s still an important promotional tool.

CoyoteHow is anyone going to know you’re out there and available for gigs if you don’t promote yourself? Unless you’re a known comedian, have a Comedy Central special or a big-time agent pushing for you, you need to be prepared to take care of business.

Of course the FIRST business step is to be such a great comic or speaker that people will want to see you. That comes through writing, performing, rinse and repeat. But once you’re ready to move forward in your career, promotion becomes a big part of the business plan. You need to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that could lead to showcases or even paying gigs. Promotion can help get your foot in the door. Talent, hard work and dedication is what gets you hired.

Like I said in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: They may call it amateur night, but nobody’s looking to hire an amateur.

Memorize that – because it’s true.

I’m not going to get into all the different methods and ways to promote yourself or even talk about showcases since that’s not what your question is about. Let’s talk business cards.

I write a lot about networking and being part of your area’s comedy scene. If you’re out there, you never know who you’re going to meet that could actually help your career. But are you always prepared to take advantage of it?

dave cardWhen I was at The Improv, comedians would talk with us about how to audition, or the best way to send in a promotional video. Then instead of leaving a business card, more than a few would say, “Let me give you my email address,” (or you can substitute “phone number” or “website” or “Facebook page“). They would expect one of the managers to write it down, or would ask for a bar napkin or scrap of paper to scribble out the info.

Were they nuts or what?? There’s no way we’d take someone like that seriously. Sorry but in the back of my head I was thinking, “Amateur…

Or worse yet, the comic would just give his name and say, “I’ll send you a link for my website” or “Keep me in mind when the club does a showcase.”

Sorry, but I suck at remembering names. In fact, right now I have this woman bugging me while I’m trying to write this. Oh man… what’s her name? I should remember since I’m married to her…

Get the idea?

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When someone like a talent booker, event planner or club manager deals with a LOT of comedians or speakers, give them the BEST and EASIEST way to remember who you are and how to get in touch with you. Business cards are not a relic from the past or uncool to hand out. In fact, it’s an important part of doing business – if you’re serious about it.

Another example…

A young comedian dropped off a DVD for possible work at the club. Instead of an unreadable name and phone number scribbled in marker on the DVD, he had a professional looking business card in the plastic cover. That didn’t mean he would get hired or even score a showcase – talent and experience will determine that – but it certainly gave the image of being serious about his career.

Remember – nobody wants to hire an amateur.

So to finally answer your question, a business card should include your name, what you do (comedian and/or speaker, etc…), the best way(s) to contact you, and where potential clients can see your video and promo material:

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Website
  • If you have a blog, newsletter or podcast that pertains to your career and is interesting, include the link

A smart idea is to design your business card to stand out from the competition.

template cardA photo of yourself or a logo will work. But if you (or a friend) have experience doing this, the idea is to have a business card that’s SO unique and interesting and basically SO cool – the people you give it to will actually keep it, rather than eventually tossing it away or losing it in a drawer.

I know that’s tough to do – and I’m always trying to come up with new designs that fit my definition of SO cool. But it’s always a goal.

If nothing else, go on a website that offers inexpensive business cards (there are plenty, but for a suggestion try VistaPrint), design one or two with different looks and never leave home without at least a few. You can always change or update the cards later since they’ve become very inexpensive (and sometimes free).

If you’re serious about this business you have to take promoting and networking seriously.

When you make a new contact or stumble into an opportunity, a business card makes it clear who you are and how they can get in touch with you. There’s nothing amateur about that.

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Word of warning (based on your above question):

Never put your home address on your business card or any promotional material. You don’t know who will wind up with this stuff and the last thing you need is some wacko stalking you. And yes, I’ve known this to happen with both male and female performers (so don’t be a sexist and think you’re immune).

Amateurish or a relic of the past?

Not when a business card can make it easy to find you and hire you. It’s called being a professional.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

The comedy police

February 27, 2017

Hey Dave – I was at an open-mic last week. A comic went on stage and “called out” another comic who had gone on before him for stealing jokes. He did this from the stage. But afterwards he couldn’t prove it and no one else could remember hearing the jokes anywhere else before. We think he was wrong and he handled it wrong. Any thoughts? – D

Hey D – I always have thoughts. And when they’re thoughts about comics or speakers stealing material, they’re never good thoughts.

Keystone Cops

There oughta be a law!

What a jerk.

Wait… let me rethink. We might have two jerks here. Allow me to think out loud – or at least in LOUD writing.

JERK #1:

This honor goes to the comic who “called out” the other one from the stage. First of all, as he admitted later, he had no proof for doing this. Maybe he thought it was funny to be on the edge – which can sometimes be very funny. But in the situation you described, it’s not funny when it’s at the expense of someone who is also using an open-mic to become a better comic (the purpose of doing these).

Of course this is assuming the first comic actually didn’t steal any material.

The comic who accused the other should’ve talked with him off stage and not dissed him in front of an audience. A little courtesy is due, unless that comic is known for stealing material. In that case I’d say go ahead and trash him. I’m sure most comics will agree.

But without proof and only working off a hunch, the more professional way is to take that person aside and talk with him – privately – about it. This is a topic in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers with Bill Engvall answering the question.

Bill talked about the comedy police.

"Hey, I've heard that joke!"

“Hey, I’ve heard that joke!”

Basically, when you think a comic is stealing material, mention it to him/her – off stage. In other words, honest comics will police each other. They’ll warn each other if another comic is doing the same joke or bit. But if the warned comic continues with it – then there could be repercussions.

I’ll give you an example of that in a moment, but in the meantime…

The comic may not even realize he/she is doing it and has actually written a joke too similar to a joke someone else is doing.

I’ve seen it happen…

Two comedians – one in NYC and the other in LA – wrote the same joke. They didn’t know each other and as far as I know from talking with both, had never even played the same clubs. But the one in LA was booked for an appearance on the television show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv and did the joke.

I know because I was standing off camera at the time.

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After the taping I mentioned it to the other comic in NYC and he immediately told me he had to stop doing the joke. The comic who did it on television was now the owner because of the audience exposure. He never felt the other comic stole it from him because they weren’t in the same comedy circle. He felt bad because the joke was based on his appearance, but then again it worked that way for the other comic also.

The bottom line was that he understood how the business works. He could never do that joke again without a member of the comedy police calling him out on it.

So it’s possible a comedian might be doing material too similar to someone else and not realizes it. The best way to handle it is without grandstanding in front of an audience. Tell that comic after the show and give proof. If he continues – then everyone can trash him.

Just like the following…

JERK #2:

Navin R. Johnson

“The Jerk” not “a jerk.”

If a comic or speaker is stealing material and is caught, a wise move is for that comic or speaker to NOT do it again and to start writing. Otherwise they risk suffering the consequences.

Here’s what I mean…

There was an open-mic comic in NYC when I was starting out. He was a nice guy and it didn’t hurt his standing with us that he ran a popular open-mic where new comics could get stage time.

He wasn’t any better than any of the other comics just starting out. They were all working on creating material and trying to figure out how to deliver it on stage. Every once in awhile someone would come up with a good joke or bit – which would become a keeper in his or her set.

This guy was also developing his act, but every few weeks he’d travel to Florida where he told us he was a headliner. We knew his family lived there, but he always said he went for work and visiting his family just meant he had a place to stay for free.

But the headliner part of his story never seemed right.

If that was true, the Florida comedy scene must have been really hurting and a smart move would’ve been for all the other new comics to move there for headlining gigs. Of course I’ve learned from first hand experience that’s not true (and yes, that was a positive shout-out to all the comics I met at my Tampa workshops last year!). Other possibilities were that he had friends booking clubs or was delusional. We just couldn’t figure out which.

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Then a real headliner from NYC told us what was going on. He had just played a club in Florida and our “friend” was opening for him. He was doing the best bits he had stolen from the open-mic comics playing his open-mic club.

Say what?!

The reaction was worse than getting “called out” from on stage. Let’s just say no one would play his open-mic anymore (he lost it) and no one that ran an open-mic would give him stage time. Word spread around the NYC comedy scene and eventually I’d heard he had moved back to Florida to pursue his floundering comedy career. Actually I heard he was parking cars, but I have no proof to call him out on that.

But I do have this proof…

A few years later I was the talent coordinator for the TV show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv in LA. He called – out of the blue – and tried to play the friend card with me for an audition. To make a short story even shorter – he didn’t get the audition.

Stooges Police

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

Chalk another one up for the comedy police.

So I guess to answer your question, yeah – I think it was wrong for the guy (jerk #1) to call the other comic out from on stage. If he really thought there was an issue of stealing, he should’ve have talked with him in private. The other comic may not even have realized it, but if there’s proof he should stop.

If he did steal, a warning from a member of the comedy police should convince him not to do it again.

If you’re already part of your area comedy scene you already know what a small world it really is. If it’s obvious this comic is stealing and continues to do so, the word will get out and it’s doubtful anyone would ever want to work with this jerk. Odds are better he’ll be parking cars somewhere before he ever has a chance to “own” anyone else’s jokes on television.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Getting started as a comedy talent booker

July 11, 2016

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

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

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

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

Okay, let’s get back to starting out…

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

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

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

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

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

$200 bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words – keep things honest.

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

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

I wasn’t doing that with the other comedians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

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