Posts Tagged ‘comedy material’

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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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 25, 2017

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Meets 3 Saturdays from noon – 4 pm

Evening performance at The Improv – Wednesday, April 12

Chicago Spring 2017 Dates TBA – Stay Tuned!

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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.

Bomb Alert! Here’s an on stage survival guide

December 18, 2016

Hi Dave – What should you do if no one is laughing or if you realize that you are starting to bomb? – A.B.

Hey A.B. – Duck and cover. Okay, if that’s not the answer you’re looking for, here’s another one I’ve seen work…

But first a definition.

Charlie Chaplin

Taking cover

Some of our readers may not understand what you mean by bomb. That’s when you’re doing your best to entertain (comedians) or entertain AND inform (humorous speakers) and NOTHING is working. The audience is not laughing, you’re starting to panic, you begin to sweat, and you have this overwhelming feeling that everyone in the room HATES you.

That’s called Bombing 101. And if you ever get used to it you’re in the wrong business. I don’t know any comedian who hasn’t gone through the sensation. If they claim they haven’t, they’re playing a joke on you.

The dedicated comics never let bombing on stage stop them from performing again. But the smart ones use the experience to learn something. And what they usually learn is what NOT to do on stage again that caused them to bomb in the first place.

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At The Cleveland Improv starts Saturday, January 21st!

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Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, February 8th at 7:30 pm

Space is limited to 10 people – for details and to register visit…

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As an example:

In my book Comedy FAQs And Answers I talked with comedian George Wallace about this. He told me how he first started his career under the stage name The Reverend George Wallace and would use a phone book like a Bible. It worked in NYC, but when he played his first road gig in upstate New York, the audience hated his act. He was paid to do an hour – and he did an hour – but it was a mega-ton bombing experience. He told me that during the drive home he thought about driving his car off a bridge because he felt so bad.

But the learning experience was that he would NEVER allow himself to go through that again. It made him rethink and change everything about his act and his comedy voice (who he was on stage). The Reverend title was gone and so was the phone book. He decided that if he was having fun – a party – on stage, so would the audience. When the audience is having fun – when they’re in a party mood – you’re NOT bombing.

And if you’ve ever seen George Wallace perform you’ll know what I mean. He’s become immune to bombing.

So you want some advice? Okay…

Young Frankenstein

Talk WITH the audience!

If you feel like you’re starting to bomb, a technique or trick (for lack of a better term) I’ve seen some other big-name comics use to turn the situation around is to talk TO and WITH the audience. Seriously, I’ve seen it more times than I can remember. Forget your material for a moment – especially since they don’t appear to like it anyway – and bring the audience into the show.

Here’s an example…

When I was scheduling the comics for the Hollywood Improv, one of our most dependable (meaning funniest) acts was not only a great performer but also a GREAT writer. Comics in my workshops know who I’m going to talk about because I always name (drop?) names. But since I didn’t do an interview with him for one of my books and haven’t been in direct touch lately to politely ask if I could drop his name here, I’ll just keep his identity secret. But I’ll drop a hint that when another big-name star took over hosting a big-name late night television show, this comic was brought in as the Head Writer.

That’s how much respect this guy has in the comedy business!

His material is great and I’ve always enjoyed watching his sets because of that reason – great material. But I remember one evening at The Improv when the audience just wasn’t getting it. I have no idea why not, but it happens to all comics at some time or another.

Anyway, much to my astonishment and confusion, his material wasn’t working. But as I watched, he took the microphone out of the stand (which he rarely ever did), walked to the front of the stage and started talking TO and WITH the audience. He really looked at the individuals and REALLY had conversations.

He kept it simple, easy, and made it comfortable for everyone to be involved in what he was doing.

Where are you from?” and “What do you do for a living?” types of questions led into some very funny replies and ensuing conversations. And once the audience was with him, he stepped back, put the microphone back in the stand and started doing his material.

This time the audience LOVED him AND his material. They followed him, GOT the material, laughed at the material, and it was a great show. He walked off stage to big applause.

So I had to ask him about it – right?

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He reminded me that all comedians start out as MC’s in clubs. That’s where you break in and get your earliest on stage experience. It’s how you develop your writing and performing skills in front of listeners who will respond – positively or negatively. And one of the most important jobs of being an MC is to warm up the audience (make them laugh) and get them involved in the show.

What’s the best way to do that? Talk TO and WITH them.

He had developed the skill, talent and experience for doing that – and could call on it whenever he needed to. Not only did I see (and talk with) comics using this technique in Los Angeles, but also when I worked at The Improv clubs in New York and Cleveland. It’s nothing this particular comic simply tried on a whim because others had already proven it can help defuse a bombing situation.

So in other words, I could also name (drop) other comics I’ve watched do this and also tell you they gave me the exact same explanation. When they were MC’s moving up in the biz, they learned how to talk TO and WITH an audience. It’s an important learned skill and a way to keep them involved, interested and (hopefully) laughing. And when that’s happening you’re not bombing.

So if it happens, start talking. Otherwise, just get used to the duck and cover method of surviving on stage.

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 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Corporate comedy open mics

December 4, 2016

Hey Dave – Last week you talked about ‘what is corporate comedy material.’ I would also like to learn about getting into doing comedy and humorous keynotes at corporate events. – E.M.

Hey E.M. – Okay, let’s pick up where we left off. I talked about the type of material comedians need to develop to get hired as entertainers at corporate events. But how and where do you develop an act for this market? Using material rated G and PG (max!) and jokes relating to the business world don’t always go over with the usual crowd at late night, beer-soaked open mics.

Not your audience

But that doesn’t matter because they’re not your audience anyway.

The business owners and event planners that would hire you to speak at a corporate function or conference are the networkers you’ll find at morning, afternoon and evening business or association meetings. Instead of late night bars, put your efforts into finding stage time at morning Rotary breakfasts, Knights of Columbus luncheons, and College Club dinners (to mention just three of many possibilities). Almost every city and town has business and social organizations and need speakers or entertainers.

The usual length of your program would be anywhere from five to twenty minutes between the entrée and desert.

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Winter 2017 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv starts Saturday, January 21st!

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, February 8th at 7:30 pm

Space is limited to 10 people – for details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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The idea is to grab these opportunities and use them like open-mics. And like open-mics, don’t expect any pay. The key word to obtaining these spots is “FREE.” Offer to do a FREE five minutes of CLEAN comedy before the meeting’s featured speaker and it’s very unlikely you’ll hear the other key word that is so frequent in the comedy biz: “NO.”

In my personal experiences using this method in putting together a corporate program, my FREE offer was only turned down once. And it happened with a Rotary guy in the Midwest who was about 90 years old and didn’t think his membership would want to hear from anyone unless they were selling insurance, fertilizer or both. When I explained my talk was about humor and creativity, he sounded like he wanted to have me arrested for being anti-American. I simply thanked him for his time, called a different Rotary Club, mentioned FREE and was invited to speak at their next meeting.

As you continue to write and test – successfully – corporate material, move into doing longer sets at these types of meetings. As mentioned above, featured programs usually last about 20 minutes. And again from experience, I’ve found the people who volunteer and are involved in planning can be open to offering a variety of programs.

boring

Can’t have the same program every week!

After all, you can’t have insurance, fertilizer or a combo of both every week.

After doing this a number of times and eating a number of FREE breakfasts, lunches and dinners (they always feed you) I had put together a corporate program. The next step was to network and do some promoting – and then I started getting paid bookings. There’s no way this would’ve happened if I had tried to develop the material doing late night open-mic bars.

So if you’re interested in the corporate market, I just gave you a great way to get the ball rolling. And it was FREE advice. When you can make an audience laugh and keep them interested during an early morning breakfast meeting, you’ve got a good chance to break into the corporate market.

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 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

What is corporate material?

November 20, 2016

Hi Dave – You’ve talked about working in the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker. What is considered corporate material and what is not? – B.E.

Hey B.E. – You know what? I’ve never been asked that question in such a general way. Usually it’s more specific, such as a comedian or speaker asking if a certain joke or material they’re planning to perform is appropriate for a corporate show.

Work Clean

Work Clean

But for right now – as a general answer to your general question – my experiences as both a booking agent and corporate speaker is to work clean. I’ve said that many times before, but I wouldn’t continue to say it if it wasn’t true.

Recently I’ve been following a debate on one of the popular social networks over whether or not the F-Bomb will soon be acceptable at corporate functions. If you ask me, the people spreading that opinion are a little more than F-Bombed themselves.

It’s not happening now and it won’t anytime soon.

Oh yeah, as always in showbiz there might be an isolated instance here or there for an edgy company (think MTV or Comedy Central) but if you want to work regularly in the corporate market, then you work clean.

That means no F-Bombs or any bits where F-Bomb is the focused activity. Got that?

Okay, so now that we know you must work clean in the corporate market let’s get back to the real topic of your question. What type of material are they looking for?

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A lot depends on the corporate function. It’s all about the theme

I’ve found through experience that stand-up comedians get booked more often for holiday parties and special events, like a retirement banquet or an awards ceremony. And yes, there are exceptions. But when I get calls from businesses looking for comedians those are the most often mentioned.

If you’re a comedian, it’s important to know the theme of the event.

Christmas Party

Guess the theme and win!

I’ve scheduled comedians to perform at corporate Christmas parties where the client wanted at least some mention of the holiday season. The comic can talk about his marriage, kids, sports, news events – whatever – for a lot of his act, then throw in some holiday jokes and the client is ecstatic. Other times the client might complain that he specifically wanted holiday jokes and doesn’t give an F-Bomb about the other material.

I’ve also booked comedians for retirement banquets. The comics don’t even know the person the company is retiring and feeding, but they know the audience wants laughs. The comics for this type of event are usually good at roasting and ad-libbing. But as usual, most companies will demand a clean show.

So it’s always good to know the theme and work that into the act. One way to do that is to talk with the client before the engagement to see what type of material they’re looking for. Again, for comedians it can be most anything because they’re considered entertainment. No business lessons, training or message is required. The job is to make the corporate audience laugh in a way that doesn’t embarrass the CEO or other head honchos (that means clean comedy).

Humorous speakers are different.

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They already have a topic that fits into the corporate market. For instance, they may talk about stress relief, communications, networking, tech training, or even proper office attire. Believe me, there are a lot of different topics that can work within the themes of a lot of different corporate events. Humorous speakers with a message can be hired to deliver keynotes, do breakout sessions, and half-day (or full-day) training seminars. With a humorous delivery they’re entertaining and delivering information (infotainment) at the same time.

The material – the speaker’s topic – will be based on their expertise.

For instance, if you’re an expert in communications – that’s what your material will consist of. If you’re an expert in technology, finance, marketing, selling – whatever – that’s what you will talk about.

That should help you determine what is corporate material for a comedian and/or a humorous speaker. As I mentioned earlier that was a pretty general question – but I hope my general answer helped. Now it’s up to you.

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 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Always ask before you audition

September 19, 2016

Hey Dave – I have a big audition coming up. I’m not going to have any profanity in my (comedy) set, but I’m thinking of having a cleaner version and another one that is a bit edgier. I’m thinking of asking the panel of judges what type of set they want before I perform. Do you think this is a good idea? Thanks – DS

eintsteinquestioneverythingHey DS – Yeah, I always think it’s a great idea to ask the judges at a contest – or talent booker for a club or any other venue where you’re showcasing – about any restrictions they might have on material and language. In fact I emphasize this point in my workshops for a couple reasons:

  1. It shows experience. You can adjust your material depending on the audience – and talent bookers like that. (It’s a business – remember?)
  2. It can give you an edge over the competition. I know I talk a lot about how supportive the comedy industry is (nothing has changed my mind about that), but the bottom line is that they can’t hire everyone so you need to stand-out at showcases. Again – think business.

For an example, there may only be five performance spots available for a television show. But you know as well as I do that a LOT more than five comics will be auditioning. Of course being funny is the No. 1 factor – and face it, sometimes it’s who you know (am I right Hollywood comics?!).

So let’s assume everyone at the showcase is funny and knows the same people, so those requirements are met. The tie-breaker would be knowing who the audience will be and adjusting your material and performance for that audience.

You’re not going to perform the same set on The Disney Channel that you’d do on a Comedy Central Roast. Get it?

Here’s another example…

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Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Starts Saturday – October 8, 2016

Space limited to 10 people – see link below to register!

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Wednesday – October 26 at 8 pm

For details, reviews and to reserve your spot visit…

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If you’re auditioning for work on a cruise ship and walk on stage dropping “F-Bombs” and complaining in detail about your sex life, you might as well pack your bags and consider a career on dry land. Half of the on board comedy shows are early evening family events with blue-haired ladies and their preteen grandchildren in the front rows. Later after the kids are asleep the parents will go out for the adult humor comedy shows by the same comics in one of the ship’s late night lounges. But if you can’t show at an audition that you can play to both crowds, you won’t get hired.

cruiseHow would you know this if you’ve never been on a cruise or had a chance to pick the brain of someone who works cruise ships? The only way I know would be to ask the person auditioning you for the gig BEFORE you audition.

Of course this advice means nothing if you’re already settled into who you are on stage (your comedy voice) and it doesn’t work in certain venues. Trust me, I’m not trying to push everyone in the same direction or preach work clean at all costs. That would only create comedy clones and make the industry pretty boring.

Comedy is a creative art and a form of free speech. If you want to be an x-rated comic, go for it. Just don’t go to showcases where you already know your style will not be acceptable for work – like a kid’s show or family cruise. You’re not only wasting your time, but also taking opportunities away from other comics who would want to audition for the gig.

Here’s another example of knowing beforehand what you CAN talk about vs. what you can NOT talk about depending on the audience…

When I booked A&E’s An Evening at the Improv we had certain “rules” for the performances. During a noon meeting with the comics who were taping the show that night we’d go over the rules…

  1. Don’t make fun of God or religion. Our highest ratings were in The Bible Belt and we didn’t want to lose viewers. Higher ratings attract sponsors (again – think business).
  2. Don’t knock specific products because we didn’t want to be sued. You can’t say a specific car is dangerous or a specific fast food restaurant will give you food poisoning. (Do I need to say it again – business?).
  3. Don’t sing a song parody for longer than (I think it was) 18 seconds. Producers were not going to pay song royalties for television broadcast, which is what would happen if any song was played for longer than (I think it was) 18 seconds. At that time it seemed a lot of comics were singing funny words to The Brady Bunch Theme Song. They could still do the bit, but it would be cut out of the show if it went over the time limit of being “free.” (This time – music business rules).

What about comics that didn’t follow the rules? If you watch reruns of A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, keep in mind the comedians were each given 7 minute sets. But some are on screen for less time – like only 4 or 5 minutes. What’s up with that?

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They didn’t follow the rules.

In the business it’s easy to correct these mistakes in an editing room – or in the case of live performances, auditioning the acts first and not hiring the ones that can’t follow the guidelines.

In fact, when it comes to working clubs I can’t even think of a situation where you wouldn’t have an opportunity before showcasing to ask the talent booker if there’s anything you shouldn’t say or talk about. Even if it’s only in an email or phone call prior to going to the audition. They should be straight with you, since they know their audience and what they’re looking for better than anyone else.

The goal for talent bookers is to find comics that can appeal to the venue’s audience. This includes comedy contests since the business goal is to always turn first-time audience members into repeat customers. As a performer, you need to find that out. And unless your talent is mind reading, the best way I know to do that is to ask.

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 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.