Posts Tagged ‘Comedians’

Shake things up in 2018

January 1, 2018

Hi Dave – I’m one of those people who will always wonder, “What if?” I’ve fallen behind in my stage fright quotient and will definitely tackle those fears and hit the stage once I get a solid five minutes (of comedy material). I may sink, swim or neither, but it’s time to shake things up. I was just watching what I consider to be the underrated Stardust Memories with one of my favorite lines: “You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.” Much obliged – P.J.

Hey P.J. – I like your attitude. It’s a new year, which for many people can signal a new change or a new direction in life. Personally I don’t see why changes can’t be made anytime you feel you’re ready and it’s needed, but the New Year’s Countdown and ball dropping in New York’s Times Square can be like a starter’s pistol going off. For some, it’s time to start running in a new direction.

Three, two, one… Happy New Year!

Wait a minute… another year? “What if…?”

How often have you thought that? We’d all like to swim rather than sink, but to do neither sounds like a step backwards to me. So I’m going to kick-start 2018 with a bit of a challenge:

Let’s shake things up.

Since you’ve read this far AND if you’ve read any past FAQ’s And Answers I’m assuming you have a sense of humor AND a flair for creativity (and that’s a creative word: flair). You’re either a comedian or a humorous speaker – or both – or aspiring to be one or the other – or both.

Shake it up!

How do you stand out from everyone else? What separates you from the pack? Maybe it’s time to shake things up and take a risk.

Taking a risk can mean different things to different people. If you’ve never been on stage for whatever reason (stage fright quotient?) but it’s burning a BIG “What If?” in your brain – do it now. If you’re waiting until the ball drops next year, you risk losing this year. Go to an open-mic, take a class, form a writing group – whatever, there are tons of options. There are also plenty of good books on the market (and not just mine – search around) on how to write, perform and find work in this crazy biz.

Let’s shake things up.

If you’re already on stage doing comedy or speaking and your career is not where you think it should be – make a change. Take a risk. Try something different. It could be different topics, different energy, different venues or even a different location. You never know until you try.

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January 2018 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv

SOLD OUT!!

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

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

Spring 2018 Chicago workshop dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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One of my favorite stories in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works is from comedian Christopher Titus.

He described himself early in his career as being the “happy-go-lucky comic.” He was funny, but there was nothing that separated him from any other observational comic.

Then his manager challenged him to take a risk. He suggested he be real on stage.

Titus was one person (happy-go-lucky) on stage, but off stage he had a dark, edgy – risky – style of humor. Accepting the challenge, he wrote a bit about stabbing his boss with a letter opener. It worked BIG time. This change in his comedy voice separated him from the pack, made him an in-demand headliner and also star of his own television sitcom, Titus.

Now I’m not saying to write material about stabbing your boss with a letter opener. If you look back at the above paragraph, it’s been done. Copying someone else’s material is not going to get you anywhere in this creative business. In fact, it would be a step backwards. And it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go in a more edgy direction if that is NOT where your true humor is based. Some comics like more family-oriented material or working in the corporate (clean) market.

Go for it!

All I’m saying… suggesting… (motivating?)… is to make this YOUR year. Accept the challenge and shake things up.

If you’re waiting to start, take that important first step and get on stage. If you’re looking for help in preparing for that first step, are too nervous, or have a full-blown case of stage fright, take a workshop and let someone with experience help you ease your way into it. If you’re already performing, remember the famous line from Stardust Memories (a Woody Allen film if you need to know):

“You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.”

Have a productive, successful and laugh-filled 2018.

Your Pal – Dave

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing.

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Doing face time in comedy clubs for bookings

November 26, 2017

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

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

Check me out!

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

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

The goal is to score an audition.

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

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts January 13, 2018

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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

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

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

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

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

Hanging out for a late night set

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

But face time does count. For example…

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

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

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

Playing broom for club gigs

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

What would you ask a talent booker, agent or manager?

November 13, 2017

Hola Dave – When meeting a booker, agent or manager for the first time are there any important questions a comedian should ask? If so, should the questions be different between the three? I ask cause I will be attending a comedy festival and it turns out it will be loaded with scouts. Thank you señior – A

What’s the question?

Hey A – That’s a really good question and I want to throw it back to our readers before tossing in my thoughts. If you have suggestions about questions, please use the contact links below or send a comment through this site and I’ll share them in a future newsletter. Thanks!

As I mentioned in a direct reply to A’s email, I’ve mostly been on the other side – as the booker or agent – which means I was the guy who had questions for the comedians (I’ve also worked with speakers, musicians and variety acts). If I couldn’t watch a live showcase in a club, I would review a video and then if still interested, check out the promo – performing credits, letters of recommendation, training, etc…

If the performer looked like a good match for particular bookings – for instance, college shows or corporate events – I’d call or email and schedule a time to talk.

This is pretty standard routine. When industry execs (agents, managers and bookers) are thinking about scheduling or representing a comedian for the first time they’ll want to find out who else the comic has worked for and in what types of venues and what position (opener, feature or headliner). If they’re located in the same city a live showcase can be arranged. But when you’re dealing with distance and regional bookings – for instance the agent is based in Chicago, the performer is in Atlanta and the gig is in Dallas – everyone has to rely on video.

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I also know bookers rely on personal recommendations from other comedians and industry people they’ve worked with and trust. I get calls and emails requesting info about comics I might know or have worked with – and do the same. In fact, I sent an email last week to a friend for any info about a comedian I don’t know, but had contacted me for work. So it does happen. It’s a wide-ranging network when you think about it.

But for you as a comic (or humorous speaker) a lot of your questions can be answered by also networking and researching. If you haven’t heard of the agent or booker, do a Google Search. They’re all on the internet with websites – if they’re legit. See what other comics they represent and what they’re doing (credits).

Meeting of the minds

Also network with other working comics and/or speakers. From my experiences, conversations about agents and bookers are pretty common. There are a lot of different opinions and experiences being shared – both good and bad. I always learned a lot about the biz and who’s doing what (good and bad) just by listening to the comics talking around the bar at The Improv.

If I were to suggest any questions, I would ask if there are any specific markets they specialize in. For instance, when I worked in NYC and LA most of the agents I came in contact with worked to get their clients on television and into the good clubs on the road. I know that sounds limited, but they were the two markets I was exposed to as a club booker in those cities.

BUT when I started working in the Midwest, I found agencies I had NEVER even heard of before that were HUGE in the college and corporate markets. I hadn’t encountered them before because my job had me totally focused on the NYC and LA comedy clubs and TV shows.

When I got involved as a college agent (NACA) I talked with the other agents and learned most really had no interest in the NYC and LA comedy scenes. Their bread and butter ($$’s) was booking shows for colleges throughout the country. It was a full time job and the specific market they chose to work in.

So if you wanted to be on television, you would need an agent that focused on that market. If you wanted to do colleges, you’d want a good college agent.

Make sense?

So if you have an opportunity to ask an agent, manager or talent booker any questions, I would suggest learning what markets they work in the most. The big ones can usually do it all. The smaller ones have to focus on where the $$’s are for them.

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Fall 2017 Chicago and Cleveland Comedy Workshops

SOLD OUT!!!

Winter 2018 dates TBA

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshops meet for 3 Saturday afternoons

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

For information, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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One bit of advice for a first getting to know you meeting is not to ask about percentages and other contractual details – unless they bring it up first. They will if they’re interested in working with you. Then you can accept, decline or negotiate. But that’s not something you’ll have to deal with at a meet and greet session.

Otherwise, I can’t think of anything specific. The usual deal with meeting these industry people is that they’ll be asking the questions. So just answer honestly and promote yourself without being too aggressive (a pain in the butt – know what I mean?).

However if there is an opportunity to really ask questions, base them on who you are and your career goals.

For instance, since I’ve worked with the comedian who supplied today’s question and realize “Hola” is not in my English Language word finder, he should be interested in knowing if they book any shows or work with other comedians, production companies, etc… in the Latino market. You know as well as I do how HUGE that is. If he was to go with an agent or manager, he MUST (and this is my professional opinion) go with someone who can break him into that specific market as well as English speaking gigs.

And now it’s time for one of my stories…

Al and Rocky… uh, Steven

One of my best pals in NYC studied acting at The University of Miami. One of his classmates (and one of his best friends) is an actor named Rocky Echevarria, who is Cuban and bilingual. Right after graduating Rocky had a decent career working in Spanish speaking television shows, but his agent knew he was talented enough to also work in the English speaking market and put his focus in that direction. He changed his name to Steven Bauer and scored the part of Manny in the classic film Scarface with Al Pacino and earned an Academy Award nomination.

I’m not saying he couldn’t have done it with a different agent. But if had gone with an agent that only focused on the Latino market and Spanish speaking roles, my best pal (the guy at the beginning of this long story) might have had a better chance of being cast as Manny than Rocky (Steven) did. You never know.

The point is if you have an opportunity to really talk and ask questions with industry execs, find out specifically what they can offer you at this stage in your career and in the future. It could be a good fit – or it may not. But you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Showcases can be a ticking time bomb

September 12, 2017

Hey Dave – You sent out an article last month about how important it is to stay within the amount of time you’ve been given to perform on stage. My question is why are showcases so short? In most cases I don’t think you have enough time to prove how good you really are. – S.K.

Hey S.K. – In case anyone missed it or wants a reminder of the article you’re talking about, it’s still posted below: Stick to your time on stage (August 1, 2017). And now that we’re all on the same page…

Showcasing!

To clarify for anyone just getting into the comedy or speaking biz, showcase is another word for audition. A successful showcase can lead to work (auditioning for talent bookers, event planners, etc.) or representation (auditioning for a talent agent or manager).

Why use the word showcase? I don’t know… maybe it sounds more professional or less stressful, but it means exactly the same as audition.

I’ve been involved in a lot of showcases for comedy clubs, television shows, corporate events and college gigs. And here’s a behind-the-scenes truth about this business. The industry people – talent bookers, agents and managers – looking to hire or represent performers want to make the most of their on the job time. In other words, they don’t want to spend every night of the week going to a club and only seeing one performer showcasing each night. It makes much more sense (time management) to see a number of performances during one show.

They also don’t want to sit through ten, twenty or thirty minute sets when it’s obvious within the first three minutes the showcasing performer is not what they are looking to hire.

This is why industry showcases include numerous performers doing short sets. For instance…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Begins Saturday, October 7, 2017

Includes performance at The Improv on Wednesday, October 25

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – limited to 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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When I was auditioning comedians for the television show A&E’s An Evening At The Improv, I would schedule showcases for Monday evenings at The Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. I’d block out about 35 minutes to see ten comics do three minutes each. The extra five minutes would be a buffer for MC introductions and time for the acts to get on and off the stage. If everyone kept to their time – and it was more than just expected they would – then Mission Showcase would be accomplished.

Within that short period of time ten comedians would have an opportunity to book a television show.

And it wasn’t just me in the audience on Monday nights watching the showcase. There were talent bookers for The Tonight Show, HBO, MTV and other shows and networks checking out the new comics. They knew this was happening on Monday evenings and everyone could all get a lot of work done in a little over half an hour.

But it was never a surprise when some of the comics complained that three minutes was not enough time to showcase their talent. But you know what?

They were wrong.

Enough already!!

Three minutes is PLENTY of time for an experienced talent booker to know whether or not they want to hire the showcasing performer. In my case, if you couldn’t prove you were ready to perform on A&E’s An Evening at the Improv within three minutes (to be honest it was more like within 30 seconds) then you weren’t right for that particular show.

This was also true for the other talent bookers watching these showcases.

If a comedian couldn’t demonstrate what he can do on stage within the first three minutes, there was NO WAY a talent booker will hire him to do those same three minutes on a television show. Even if the comic suddenly became hysterically funny at the end of this showcase – the first three minutes will have lost viewers channel surfing for better entertainment.

It’s similar to auditioning for Last Comic Standing, America’s Got TalentAmerican Idol, The Voice or So You Think You Can Dance. Before anyone makes it to the televised episodes, thousands of hopefuls showcase in front of one, two or maybe three judges off-camera for (and trust me on this because I’ve been there) much less than three minutes. If performers can’t impress the judges within that time frame – they can forget about moving on in the competition.

Lesson?

If you think you have what it takes to get on any of those shows, don’t waste any time during your showcase. Bring your A Game and go for it asap.

It’s also important to realize this is your opportunity as a performer or humorous speaker (during speaking showcases) to make a good first impression with the industry people. It shows you’re professional by knowing the importance of sticking to a schedule – their schedule. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the August 1, 2017 article referred to above.

Another reason to stick to your showcasing time is consideration for your fellow comedians or speakers.

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It doesn’t matter if your showcase is done in front of a live audience, like we did at the Hollywood Improv, or just a few judges similar to first auditions for Last Comic Standing and American Idol. Anyone watching a lot of performers doing short performances will get burned-out faster than if they were watching one great performer during the same time frame.

For example, Jerry Seinfeld can do an hour set and leave the audience wanting more. He’s a seasoned professional entertainer. No one can argue that. But newcomers won’t have the experience or material to hold an audience that long. It takes time – stage time – and talent to reach that status. And if you are already there like Seinfeld – then you wouldn’t be showcasing anyway.

And no one can argue that either…

So one way to make these talent showcases fair (there’s a word you don’t often hear in showbiz) is to keep the talent bookers and audience from being burned-out for the later performers. It’s not fair to the performers at the end of the showcase.

Here’s another example…

During my comedy workshops ten aspiring comedians perform five minute sets during our evening graduation show. That’s 50 minutes – not including an MC warming up the crowd for ten minutes to kick things off and doing short introductions for each comic.

That brings our show to over an hour, which is getting into Seinfeld territory on stage.

The audience is fresh and excited in the beginning. And by keeping each comedian’s set short and funny, chances are the audience will not get burned-out by the end. There may be performers they don’t care as much for, but the next one will be on stage within a few minutes. The audience interest level can be held.

The goal for a good showcase is to leave the audience (or judges) wanting more.

At one workshop performance a few years ago, the FIRST comic in our show – for whatever reason – never took his eyes off the first few rows of tables. He kept his head down and never looked at the people seated in the back. He had been told to watch for my signal from the sound booth (back of the room) telling him his five minutes were almost up and to finish his performance.

Except he NEVER looked up. He kept his head down and didn’t stop talking.

He had a good five minutes – which is what he had created during our workshop. He had been prepared and did a good job. But when he finished his five minutes, he just kept rambling on. He didn’t stop talking.

Suddenly, it wasn’t funny.

Running on empty

In fact – it was the complete opposite. The audience lost interest. You could see them breaking up into small discussion groups at their tables, looking at the menus and trying to order drinks to ease their pain.

When he finally ran out of things to say, he left the stage. The audience had already checked out mentally and the comedian who was unfortunate enough to have the next spot had to work TWICE as hard to get the audience back (get them to pay attention). It was not an easy night for either comic, or even the next few that had to follow this showcase killing disaster.

The comic that went long found me at the back of the room. He had lost track of time and had no idea how many minutes he’d been on stage. So when he asked me how he did, I had to give him an honest answer:

You did ten freaking minutes!” I said.

Okay, I hope I didn’t sound as angry as that looks. But I was being honest. I took time to explain how what he had done affected the show. It really wasn’t fair to anyone that night – including him, especially since the first five minutes of his set was great. The additional time he did onstage (unprepared in advance) left an impression with the audience that he wasn’t very good after all.

To end this lesson on a positive note, he’s still doing comedy. And since talent bookers are hiring him, I know the lesson about sticking to his time on stage was learned.

So whether you’re showcasing or doing a paid gig, remember the importance of time. It’s a ticking time bomb – and we all know how comedians and speakers HATE to bomb!!

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Submission tips for comedy festivals

August 28, 2017

Hey Dave – Your newsletters always advertise the next big comedy festival and website information. I have submitted to a few each year over the past few years. It can get pretty costly, so I limit myself to only three or four a year. Other than the general submission of filling out the forms and sending in a link to a video, are there some tips to getting noticed and accepted into these festivals? Thanks and I always look forward to receiving your weekly letters. – RT

Hey RT – Here’s one thing I love about the comedy industry in general:

The unknown.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows!

As always, more than a few people reading this will have opinions and advice concerning your question and I’ll share mine in a moment. But concerning your question about comedy festivals, what makes this biz so lovable – and sometimes maddening – is how diverse and contradictory much of the opinions and advice might be. I’ve spent too many late nights in comedy clubs (and NYC diners) talking with and listening to comics and industry people discussing trends, formulas, theories, what works, what doesn’t work, how to get work and where the industry is headed.

Then WHAM!!! A comic will come out of (seemingly) nowhere doing something completely different and opinions change.

To give this historic reference, go back to the generation that first watched George Carlin do his Hippie-Dippy Weatherman routine on national television. Then a few years later he released Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television. I can only imagine a lot of comics from his generation immediately scrubbed the grease out of their hair, grew beards, ditched suits for faded jeans and stopped worrying about censorship.

It was the WHAM!! of the unknown – the unpredictable. That’s what makes comedy exciting and funny. But then again, maybe that’s just my opinion…

—————————————————————————-

Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Begins Saturday, October 7, 2017

Includes performance at The Improv on Wednesday, October 25

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – limited to 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

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So what does this have to do with RT’s question? There’s no general (safe, trendy, formulaic or whatever-you-want-to-call-it) answer. When submitting or auditioning for anything in the entertainment industry, there’s always the unknown factor.

Comedy festivals are like a comedy club audience. Each one has its own personality. Some are huge and slick entertainment extravaganzas and showcases for experienced and already popular performers, along with those they consider worthy of the title “up-and-coming.” Others are smaller events spotlighting local talent, local venues or even the hosting city in general.

There can also be a festival theme. For instance, with “Women In Comedy”… Well, guys need not apply. And if you want to be part of the “Clean Comedy Challenge,” don’t send a submission video loaded with F-bombs and tales about your sex life.

All these (and much more) are factors organizers consider when selecting comedians for festivals.

I specifically mentioned the unknown because unless you are the person or part of a group reviewing submissions, it’s impossible to predict what they might be looking for at that specific moment. You may send in a video you think is appropriate for all audiences, while another comic goes in a different direction aiming to offend everyone within earshot and gets the final festival slot in a late-night “anything goes” show. And of course the opposite could also happen. You never know.

It’s called the unknown factor.

There have been FAQ And Answer articles in the past about networking, “who you know” and basically, building connections in this business. In the chapter from my book How To Be A Working Comic about agents, it’s very clear the good ones know who the good comedians are in various cities. They score insider info through the comics they represent, by following what comics are getting bookings in good clubs, and talking with the talent bookers the agents work with. It’s the same with many festival organizers. They might give special attention or consideration based on great recommendations from other comedians and industry insiders when reviewing submissions. You never know.

It’s called the unknown factor.

But for my advice (you’ve been waiting patiently – correct?) a good way to put the odds in your favor is by treating this business as a professional. This is a major element of success. Your goal is to be funny, original, dedicated, experienced and reliable. These are the key factors for anyone that wants to be taken seriously in this business.

Without those… Well, pretenders need not apply.

Good talent bookers – and festival organizers – are very aware of this. Their jobs and/or festivals may feature amateurs, but to be successful they don’t run them as amateur events. If audiences leave disappointed chances are good they won’t return.

So how can you improve your chances of being selected?

Understanding there is an unknown factor you can’t control (organizers’ taste in comedy, themes, location – whatever), it’s important to show you can be a factor in making the event a success. And the best way to do that is show them you’re serious about the funny business.

When it comes to showing someone what you do without a live audition, your video submission is KEY. Yes, organizers want to know how much experience you have (resume / credits), but there are plenty of comics with plenty of experience who are still not funny. Video actually shows if that experience has paid off and if you really are funny.

Never submit an amateur-looking or sounding video. NEVER!

It’s not a big production effort or big money cost anymore to get a good quality video. Do some research to find out how much a local videographer charges to get a film of your set with good quality picture AND audio. Even a decent camera set up on a tripod in the back of club can also work. But NEVER submit a low-quality, hard to listen to video. You know the type I mean – filmed through a friend’s cell phone from a table with glasses clinking, people talking and the guy filming trying to steady a shaking hand.

Bookers want to see and hear you AND hear laughter from the audience. Having a good quality video shows you treat this business as a professional.

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Also don’t waste any of the valuable time organizers will spend watching your video.

During a recent coaching session I was working with a very funny young comedian. He also had the same dilemma – not being chosen for a comedy festival. We watched his three-minute video submission and the FIRST thirty seconds included the MC walking on stage and introducing the comic. Then the young comedian came out and went through the old comedian tricks of shouting:

  • Hello (mention the city)!
  • Keep it going for your host and MC – isn’t he great?!” (Who cares? They want to see YOU).
  • Give yourselves a round of applause for coming out and supporting live comedy!” (The most overused stock line of all time).

How much time?

That was the beginning of his video submission. Not funny or original. I can’t imagine that would make a great first impression on an experience talent booker looking for experienced talent. It was basically a waste of valuable submission time.

So what’s my point?

The best advice I can give is to treat your career as a business. Especially if you are planning to someday be a professional comedian. Show this in your festival submissions by sending in a good quality video. You NEVER want to look like an amateur – even if you are.

And BTW, there’s nothing wrong with being an amateur since everyone has to start out somewhere. But when you feel it’s time to go for that next career step, don’t give anyone an opportunity to reject you because a low quality video submission makes it appear you’re not ready for that opportunity.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Experienced advice on getting hired as a comedy writer

August 14, 2017

Some time ago I ran an article about getting hired as a comedy writer. I asked if anyone had experienced advice to share with us and my not so subtle request reached one of my favorite writers in the comedy biz.

I’m happy to pass along his words of experienced wisdom.

Marc Jaffe is a stand-up comedian with numerous TV appearances, author (Sleeping With Your Gynecologist), playwright (Side Effects May Include…) and with his wife Karen founded Shaking With Laughter, an organization that helps support the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research. In Fall 2017 Marc and Karen’s efforts will surpass the $1 million mark for funds raised.

Marc is also known to many of us as a writer for the legendary television sitcom Seinfeld.

So for some very worthwhile – and again, experienced – advice on writing for other comedians, here’s Marc…

Re: How to write for others.

Good advice given. For what it’s worth here are a few things I would add.

Tremendously important to have the voice of the person you are writing for as you said, but I would point out that often you’ll have a better chance of getting the comedian’s voice if you like their act, so go after people who make you laugh, not just any hot comedian.

The best time to get an opening if you haven’t been a hangout pal is when the comedian you want to write for is busy or in transition and are taking the next step. I approached Paul Reiser just as he was getting hot and was doing Tonight Shows and Letterman regularly. He wasn’t doing sets on those shows, he was already a name movie star, but he was a regular guest and didn’t have enough material to “waste” on panel on those shows. So he was happy to have someone work on new things for TV that wouldn’t eat up his club act.

Seinfeld needed someone because he got a TV show and I think he felt this was something new for him and he needed to find someone other than a friend to help him.

So, much like comedy, timing is everything. Timing and being funny and prolific. If you do stand-up, you know the percentage of stuff you write that actually works and stays in your act is minor – 10% would be great. You have to churn out a lot of stuff because that percentage will probably hold when you write for others.

Be honest with yourself as a comedian too. I always knew I was a much better writer than performer. If your act is working because you are a great performer who can get away with mediocre writing, don’t try to write for others. When I got the opportunity to write for top name guys, it was phenomenal because suddenly 20% of the stuff I was writing worked. That was because the people I was writing for could always make what I wrote better. They also had a higher standard than I had so that even though 20% worked, it was back down to 10% that made it, because it had to be killer.

Be ready before you seek out an opportunity. If you are good for that first guy, they will recommend you. Reiser recommended me to Seinfeld and then I got other jobs because Jerry’s management was happy with my work for Jerry and they had a roster of other great comedians that needed help at various times.

Also, one of the great things about being a writer is that you can just call yourself a writer. Go to the clubs and give comics a line or two after their show. If they like them, tell them you are a writer, and you’d be happy to submit some stuff to them if they need material.

You never know who has something going on and is in need of some quality help. Reiser did a guest set at a club I was at in Pittsburgh and I asked him afterwards if he needed any help on anything and he had a Letterman coming up that he was too busy to work on. I got the Seinfeld gig because I went up to Jerry after a show and asked if I could submit some stuff right at the time he was looking for someone on staff for his just picked up sitcom.

I gave him some great pages and he loved them. And got a good word from Reiser, but if I hadn’t approached Jerry, I would have never gotten the job.

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Thanks Marc. This is not only great advice, but also experienced advice. I’m sure everyone appreciates you sharing this. Now go get a real job… HA!! Okay, okay… I know… that just proves I won’t be writing comedy material for anyone in the near future.

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Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Don’t reveal too much in your promo material

July 17, 2017

Hey Dave – I took your workshop about a year ago. When you did the session about business you talked about not putting your home address on your promotional material. Another comic told me I should put my address on my website, promo material and DVD’s if I’m serious about doing this. He said to give bookers every way possible to find me to hire me. What do you think?- E.H.

Hey E.H. – I think you need to hang out with different comics. Of course it’s good business sense to give talent bookers the best and easiest ways to contact you, but let’s not get too personal. When you’re promoting your business – which is you when you’re a comedian or humorous speaker – you have to network and let buyers (in our case meaning the people hiring you) know how to find you.

Never know who’s paying attention…

But it’s also important to realize it’s pretty much impossible to pick and choose who will end up viewing your promo material.

Everything you post online or even post through the Postal Service (sometimes I embarrass myself with this word play) is fair game for just about anyone to see. So not only will talent bookers have a way to find you – so will everyone else.

As usual, I have a story about this. And I’ll share it with you – in a moment…

First of all, business methods have changed a LOT over the past few years for both comedians and humorous speakers. It wasn’t that long ago during my comedy workshops that I’d bring in a stack of promotional packages developed by big-name public relations firms for big-name comedians such as Ray Romano, George Carlin, Ellen DeGeneres, Dave Chappelle and others. These were great examples of how professional promotional packages should look, but you really don’t see these much anymore because just about everything today is done online.

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In the “old days” these were hard copies (paper and photos) displayed in designer folders or even plain two-pocket versions (like you “old timers” probably used in school) that agents, managers and talent bookers could actually hold in their hands or spread out on their desks to read. Just the memory of sorting through stacks of folders and photos is making me feel ancient…

BUT now with this information online, I haven’t received a hard copy promo package in… well, since everyone realized it was cheaper, faster and easier to have all this information on a website or attached to an email. It’s all online, easy to view, and the modern way of doing business.

BUT just like in the old days, you never know who will find this information. If you include a home address or home phone number, any wacko can find you. That’s why I suggest never sharing too much personal information on your promotional material.

Don’t worry, I’m getting to the story…

Posting a letter

BUT first, think about this. The only time someone in this business really needs your address is when they’re sending you a contract or payment. Yes, the more convenient way is to also do this online – but many of us are still working with event planners and talent bookers who keep the Postal Service in business with snail mail. If they want to know where you’re located to see if a specific booking is do-able for both of you – give them the nearest city. Could be New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc… That’s all they need to know. When they’re sending contracts or a check, then give them an address.

BUT since you’re a business (correct?) I suggest having a business address. And if you need to, think about this. If you work with an agent, they have your contracts and payments sent to their business and not their home address. You need to think the same way. And unless you have a separate business office, use a Post Office Box instead of your home address.

I know with cell phones it’s always convenient to give out that number for important contacts and potential bookings. That’s why answering services for performers are going out of business because no one is far from their phone anymore. But think twice before you share that number online. Unless its a phone dedicated strictly for business, anyone can find your personal number online and make a call. And I’m not just talking about past annoying ex-friends, employers or relationships, but also the wacko looking online for someone to talk to – and annoy.

Besides, it’s much easier for someone to contact you (for bookings and not always annoyances) by clicking an email link through your website. Websites and other online marketing tools should all include your email. And since it’s easy to have separate business and personal email addresses, keep your business and personal emails separate.

For instance, mine is dave@thecomedybook.com. I can tell you that because it’s for business. You don’t really think my family uses that address to contact me – do you? They have my personal email address – and you don’t.

And now to wrap this all up, here’s the story I promised. It will give you a good reason why this all makes good business sense. And as some comedians and humorous speakers like to say, this is a true story…

I received a call from the owner of a well known comedy club who suggested I look at a young, up-and-coming female comedian who needed a manager. I met with her, watched her set at the club that night and knew she was really talented and had potential to make it big.

In the years since, that prediction came true. You would know her as a national headliner and from television and movies if I mentioned her name. But even if she said it was okay, I wouldn’t. She went through enough grief from being too personal on her promo material during the early stages of her career and I don’t want to focus attention on her again in that light.

As I said, you never know what wackos are reading…

Anyway, she wanted to make sure every booker in North America could easily find her, so her home address and home (pre-cell) phone number were plastered all over her (hard copy) promotional material. It worked and she was booked for a week at a great comedy club only a few hours drive from where she lived. It was a big career break and she was psyched. But she was about to learn how much she really didn’t know about this crazy business.

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Oh, and I need to mention one other thing. She is very attractive and her promotional pictures (head shots) proved that. The club had her photo on display with the headliner’s outside the club – and you don’t usually see that happen for an opening act.

When she finished her week’s booking on Sunday night, the club owner took her into the office and paid her. Then he threw her promo material in the garbage can. When she asked why he said it had nothing to do with her performances. She was funny and he planned to bring her back. But he also knew it’s important for performers to keep their promo updated and next time she was booked she should send him a new resume, bio and head shot. Most bookers did this because they just didn’t have the file, desk or floor space to keep everything they received.

A few days later the comedian received a call from another “booker” who said he had her promo material. You know where I’m going with this… right?

Turns out it wasn’t really a booker, but a wacko comedian who had been hanging around the club. He had seen her photo on display and then in the garbage – with her home phone and address on it – and taken it. After a few more calls it started to get weird and then scary when he became a full-blown stalker.

Hello it’s me!

Our female comedian was learning a tough lesson the hard way and not only had to destroy all her promotional material (back in the days when copying head shots was expensive), but had to order everything printed again with a separate business phone and email as the only contact information.

Today it would mean changing the contact info on all your websites and online marketing which doesn’t always work the way you think it will. Web pages seem to have an everlasting life. I can Google and find pages about myself and my business that were posted years ago and extremely outdated. In fact I just did and found a newspaper review I wrote about a Paul McCartney concert back in 2003. I don’t even remember writing it – and it was like reading for the first time. Since I don’t write for that newspaper anymore, the contact email no longer works. But if they’d had used my home address with the article…

Now back to the story, because we’re not done yet…

The worst part was that she actually had to move. Imagine how you’d feel when someone wacko and scary can honestly say, “I know where you live.” If it’s not said on a Hollywood movie set, it’s no way to live every single day. She found a new apartment and had some BIG guys not only help her move, but also make sure a certain wacko wasn’t hanging around when they did it.

The lesson is an old one. You have a business, so treat it that way. Keep your personal life and contact information out of it. You never know who’s going to find it.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.