Posts Tagged ‘Entertainment’

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.

Stick to your time on stage

August 1, 2017

Hey Dave – Without revealing my secret identity, I heard you talking not too long ago and know you were pretty upset with a comedian who went over his time and was on stage too long. It’s probably safe to say he overstayed his welcome. Care to elaborate? – G.

Hey G – What are you a secret agent with a secret identity listening to my not-so-private conversations? Oh well, I guess it could be worse. Instead of a sleazy private eye snooping on me, you could be a self-centered comedian (or speaker) who goes over his allotted time on stage.

Want to kill a potentially great relationship with a comedy club or make sure you’re never invited back for a return gig at a college or corporate event?

Go ahead – ignore it!

When you’re given the light (the signal) to end your set and leave the stage – ignore it. Go ahead and do another 5, 10, 15 minutes, half an hour… an hour… Everyone will surely love and worship your amazing and boundless talent that you’re compelled to share so unselfishly for however long your ego needs to be stroked on stage.

And in case you don’t recognize sarcasm in the written word, insert a capitalized “NOT!” after that last sentence. In a creative profession that thrives on having no rules (being original and unique is a big plus) going over your time on stage breaks a big business rule – and is a big minus.

As always there are exceptions that depend on your status within the industry and everyone starting out in the business needs to realize that. There are special events where more time on stage is a benefit. For instance, fundraising efforts that are planned in advance to set records for time on stage. I remember reading about a comedian who did forty hours of stand-up years ago and raised at TON of money for a hospital. That’s truly awesome, but not what we’re talking about today.

Another exception is having your own hit television show or enough name recognition to sell out theaters and arenas. That’s like being the favorite child or grandchild. You get special privileges.

When you’re a major star and selling out arenas, theaters or (sometimes) a club and charging big $$’s for tickets, fans expect a “concert” experience and more than just a half hour or hour show by the headliner. It’s like seeing Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, or U2 perform three hour concerts. Their fans are into it, paid money to see that particular artist, and these acts have the material to entertain for that length of time. But until you’re working within that stratosphere of popularity, stick to your time on stage.

Reasons why? As always, I’m glad you asked…

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Showcase performance on Wednesday, August 16th at 7:30 pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Fall 2017 Chicago and Cleveland workshop dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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It’s a business, which is a fact I emphasize in many of these FAQ’s and Answers. Some club owners are in the entertainment biz because they enjoy it and like to nurture and promote new talent. Others are only in it to make money. But the bottom line for both is if they don’t make money (and yes, this includes the nurturing types) they go out of business. When a club goes out of business, comedians have one less place to work.

Clubs earn money selling tickets, selling food and drinks, and keeping expenses (rent, utilities, inventory, payroll, etc…) under control. The comedian you reminded me of in this week’s question – and I won’t mention his name – actually told club management (me at that time!) after the show that he was doing the club a favor by going more than an HOUR over his scheduled time on stage. He pretty much wanted a “thank you” for giving the serving, kitchen and bar staff more time to sell food and drinks.

That consideration for the club deserves a bigger laugh than any he received on stage. After all, Dumb and Dumber was a popular movie and now in my opinion this comic is the live version. Good thinking! (Again – this is written sarcasm so please add a big “NOT!”).

You know why? Because the business doesn’t work that way…

Shows at this particular club (a world famous comedy club, I might add) are timed. Staff arrives at a certain time, the doors open at a certain time, the show starts at a certain time and the comedians – opening act, feature act and headlining act – are given set times. The headliners, of course, are the privileged members of the family, but most know how the business works.

It’s a profit deal!

As Steve Martin said in The Jerk:

I get it… It’s a profit deal!

The behind the scenes business – kitchen crew, servers, food-runners, bars, box office, security, management – revolve around the show schedule. For instance, the box office closes when the headliner goes on so customers won’t complain about getting ripped-off by buying a ticket after the show has started. So that profit opportunity is ended when the headliner walks on stage.

Are you following me so far? Good, because I’m not done yet…

A sad fact about the nightclub biz is that some people like to skip out on their checks. In other words, if they can sneak out without paying they’re getting a free night out. The truth in most cases is that the servers – the waiters and waitresses – are stuck with these checks and have to pay for these uncollected profits out of their own pockets. They foot the bill and end up paying for these jerks (and I’m not referring again to a Steve Martin movie) to have a fun night out.

Not fair – is it?

This is why comedy clubs have “check spots.” Experienced comedians know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s when the checks are put on the tables to be paid by the customers. The show doesn’t (or shouldn’t) end until all the checks are paid – by the customers. That makes it difficult for deadbeat customers to blend in and sneak out with customers who have already paid. It’s a sad truth about the nightclub business.

So based on the time allotted for the show, last call is given when there is still enough time during the headlining comedian’s set to give customers their checks and collect the money. No more drinks or food are served after last call because the checks are closed. When the show ends and the final comedian has walked off the stage, customers can head to the bar or another club if they want to continue drinking and eating.

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This means the final two profit opportunities for the club has ended – food and drinks.

But what about keeping expenses under control? When the staff has finished serving and collecting checks, they have to hang around and wait for the show to end and the customers to leave. They’ve also lost any opportunity to make additional tips because the checks are “closed” and they can’t start new ones for thirsty customers because no one knows for sure when the show will end.

In the case of the comedian referred to above, that meant the staff sat around for over an hour – on the clock and getting paid by the club owner – before they could prepare the room for the next show or  finish their shifts, shut down the club and leave.

Doesn’t make great business sense for a good business plan – does it?

I’m sure you can imagine the chaos this can cause for clubs that have two or three shows on a weekend night. If the first show runs even 10 or 15 minutes late because a comic goes over his time, the audiences coming in for the later shows don’t know this. They’re on time and lined-up to enter the showroom, while the earlier audience is still inside. When that audience is leaving the new audience is trying to get in and…

Well, I’ll refer to another Steve Martin quote that also works from the management point of view:

Comedy isn’t pretty.

Closed doors

I don’t need to tell you what the management and staff are saying behind the back of the comedian that went past his time and stayed on stage too long. I’ll just let you know it isn’t pretty.

The same holds true for corporate and college performers. These business people and students are usually on a schedule. It could be a training seminar, class, lunch, dinner, cocktail hour / social time – whatever. The contracts I’ve seen for these types of gigs are very strict in their performance times. Go short (leave the stage before completing the time you’re contracted for) and the clients won’t want to pay you. Go long and they won’t even think of booking you for a return engagement since you’ve disrupted the event schedule.

Of course there are other reasons why you must stick to your time on stage. The No. 1 reason for beginning comics and speakers is to prove to talent bookers and club management you understand how important this is and won’t cause a potential nightmare in the future. But in an effort not to take longer than expected when you started reading, I’ll stick to my time and sign off. I think you get the idea.

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.

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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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starting Saturday July 22, 2017 – SOLD OUT!

Workshop Marquee 150

Workshop performance at The Improv

Wednesday – August 16 at 7:30 pm

Fall 2017 Chicago and Cleveland dates TBA

For information, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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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.

Money – how much should you ask for?

July 4, 2017

Hi Dave – The talent booker for a comedy club sent me the following: “How long is your routine and how much would you want to come to (city) to do a show?” I do 45 minutes to an hour, but on the money question I have no idea how to answer them. Obviously, I’d want enough to cover airfare. Between you and me, I’d stay with my grandmother who lives near the city. Any ideas? Thanks! – B.K.

Hey B.K. – I know the club you’re referring to. They’ve been in business for a long time and have a good reputation. And since you didn’t mention this being an offer for a one-time gig – like a holiday party, private or corporate show – I’ll assume it’s for a weekend worth of shows at the club.

Let’s negotiate…

It’s really a tough call for me because I don’t know what the club manager / owner pays his acts. It’s not an “A” room like The Improv and too many others to mention (think of the top clubs in your area), so a good guess is his price will be lower than what comics are paid in those clubs. But honestly, I don’t know that for a fact.

The bottom line is the talent booker asked you a wide open question – putting you on the spot. Between us (and readers) the guy asking you is playing his strength off your weakness. He books a club that operates every single weekend – and has for years. He knows the going rate for openers, features and headliners.

He has to because he’s been paying them.

So for him to ask YOU this question means he’s hoping you’ll come in lower than someone else just because you want to “get in” with the club.

And the fact of the matter is he’s probably right. Comedians that have yet to really establish themselves will hesitate to quote a high price. They want to work at the club, but don’t want to ruin their chances by asking for too much. The thought is that later they can negotiate a higher price when they’re a proven audience attraction.

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – July 22, 2017

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes a performance at The Cleveland Improv

Wednesday – August 16 at 7:30 pm

Space limited to 10 people

For details, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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This is part of the continual game played between bookers and newer talent. Entertainers – in our case comedians and speakers – riding high on popularity with solid credits and drawing large audiences can pretty much name their price as long as the club can still make a profit.

For example, years ago when I was booking talent for The Great Lakes Comedy Festival I contacted talent reps for two HUGE television stars (think top-rated sitcoms) for two theater shows. Hey – sometimes it’s “think BIG or go home,” right? I’ve known both comedians personally, but when it comes to business you always deal with agents and managers.

The fee I was quoted for each was even HUGER than expected and completely out of the price range for a small, start-up comedy festival. And one of the requests included use of a private jet to fly in before the gig and leave immediately after. It was part of “the fee” and not negotiable.

When your career reaches the stratosphere – that’s how you can do business.

In the case of a newer comedian or speaker, you need to have the business sense (no fear!) to ask for more information. The first question:

“How many shows do you want me to do?”

If it’s a series of shows – for instance, five shows over a weekend – ask what they pay per show. Headliners at small local clubs (think Holiday Inn on a weekend) can get anywhere from $100 and up per show. Even the major clubs have different pay rates depending on the night. For instance, they might bring in a cost-cutting headliner for a Thursday night and pay HUGE bucks for the star headliner on Friday and Saturday. It depends on the club reputation and size of audiences.

The next question:

“What do you usually pay your first-time headliners or first-time features, (or openers if that’s what you’re going for)?”

Also, do you know anyone who has played this club? Are you on good enough terms that you can contact the comedian and ask what he or she was paid? If so – do it. Comedians don’t have a union, so at least in my opinion you need to find a way to work together. Otherwise the club bookers will always have the upper hand.

* But don’t “push” this last question. Many business people (and that’s what you are as a paid performer) are very private about their earnings. Basically, it’s nobody else’s business. So please note the stipulation above: “Are you on good enough terms?” If you are and it won’t damage a friendship, then ask.

Instead of throwing an open question at you – again, hoping you play low ball – the booker should make an offer. He should come right out and say, “This is what we pay our headliners and/or features and/or openers.” And then ask if you want to work the club. Of course that’s in a perfect world and we don’t happen to live in one…

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But as far as asking, “How much would you want?” That’s what they say in the corporate and college booking worlds. And when you’re working in those markets, you should already have a price. You throw that back at them and leave room to negotiate travel, accommodations, food, merchandise and other $$$ stuff.

There are also other factors, especially in doing club gigs.

Comedians, speakers and any type of performer will need to consider his/her own track record. For instance, if a comedian consistently gets $1,000 per weekend – that’s his price. Options are plus airfare, hotel and food. The comedian tries to get his price up – and bookers try to get it down. It depends on the performer’s current popularity. If you were on TV starring in a Comedy Central special last week, you can ask for more than if your face hasn’t been seen on TV in over a decade.

In the case of a newer comedian or humorous speaker there are different considerations. Would you want to do this club as a chance to visit your grandmother? Would this club be a great credit on your resume? Are you going to make new contacts that will lead to more work?

All things you need to think about.

Your best bet is to be up front about it. Send back a message asking what they are offering. Mention you’ll most likely be happy to work within their budget, but let the booker make an offer. Then you can negotiate if necessary.

Hitchin’ a ride

For instance, he might pay you more if you don’t use a hotel room that the club would normally provide. You can stay with grandma. You might also use grandma’s car, so there’s a few more bucks you’re saving the booker that (maybe) can be passed along to you.

You also mentioned airfare. A lot of clubs today are not paying airfare – and they used to. So yes, the bottom line is that you need to cover your expenses. When you’re working a club for the first time, come up with a total you need for expenses. Then see what they offer you and if your expenses are covered. The amount of profit on top of that… well, since you’re a first-timer and weren’t on Comedy Central last week, your negotiation power might be limited.

In the end – if the club booker makes an offer – the decision is all yours. Is it worth it? Only you know for sure.

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.

Only clean material? Know your audience

June 5, 2017

Hi Dave – I have one question. As a new comedian does my material have to be clean? – J.N.

Did you hear that?!

Hey J.N. – Your question will sound familiar to more than a few readers because it comes up quite often. But you know what? New comedians ask because it’s important. And there is no right or wrong answer.

Comedy is both a creative art and a business, but to be successful in this business as a creative artist there is one first goal:

Be funny.

How you get there is totally up to you. As one very famous comedian told me (and it’s in my book How To Be A Working Comic), “If you swear in real life, you’re going to swear on stage.” On the other hand, if these words aren’t already in your vocabulary, don’t add them simply because you think it’ll make you funny. That’s not who you really are and an audience will pick up on that.

There seems to be a market for everything, so whether to work clean or dirty is a personal decision. But since you brought up the question and I’ve never been known to give short answers, let’s look at your potential choice from another point of view. We’ll call it…

Your audience.

The deal is that everyone has to start at the beginning. Since you specifically said “new comedian,” that’s what we’ll focus on. Speakers already know they have to work clean. If they don’t, then they’re not speaking much – if at all.

Along with learning how to write and perform, you’ll also experience different audiences, different venues and different types of shows. For instance, many comedians love late night, beer-soaked crowds in loud comedy clubs. Others would rather perform for more sophisticated (and I’m using that term loosely) audiences at corporate events.

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Have you thought about that? I’m guessing it’s still too early in your career to even consider since your first step should be just getting experience on stage. But eventually it will become both a creative and business decision because different markets have different audiences and hire different types of entertainment.

What markets do you want to play?

Confusing?

These are questions every entertainer (not just comedians and humorous speakers) have to consider. As a creative artist with a unique way of expressing yourself, who is your audience? And as a business person (successful creative artist), how can you build an audience to support your creative endeavors?

When you’re just starting out it could be any demographic you can think of, from late night open-mics to charity fundraisers. And if you’re serious about this biz you need to understand the value of stage experience. You won’t become a working comic just sitting in your living room doing bits in front of your mirror or for the family dog. You must get in front of an audience and shape your material and delivery based on their response.

If they laugh it works. If they don’t, then you need to make some changes. An audience will tell you, which is why you want to get on stage as often as possible.

So… who is your audience?

Would they want clean or “adult” material? That will help determine what’s best for you.

I’ve worked with comedians who are Born Again Christians and I’ve worked with the most X-rated acts you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t bother me either way. I’m a coach and I’ll coach performers in whatever direction they want to go. And if you already know what direction that is, then find places to perform with audiences that will enjoy your material.

But regardless of what anyone else will tell you, there are also rules in the comedy biz. The rules are made by the people that hire comedians for specific audiences.

Should we allow that?!

For instance, you can’t perform X-rated material on network television shows such as The Tonight Show or Jimmy Kimmel Live. You can get away with a lot more than thirty years ago when Johnny Carson ruled late night, but these shows still have to deal with FCC (Federal Communications Commission) enforced  standards and censors.

On cable television and satellite radio, pretty much anything can be said. But it also depends on the show. I doubt The Howard Stern Show and The Disney Channel fight over guests from the same talent pool. But here are a few more questions to think about…

Would you rather appear on either The Howard Stern Show or The Disney Channel or someplace in-between? Who will appreciate (laugh at) your type of humor and material? What venues and markets do you eventually want to play?

It all comes down to knowing your audience.

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You can work X-rated if you want, but just be smart enough not to go on stage with your X-rated material if the audience is filled with grandparents taking their grand-kids out for a fun(ny) night of live entertainment. On the flip side, don’t expect to do your best Disney material in a late night dive bar in front of a beer fueled crowd upset that the bartender turned off the televised cage match wrestling extravaganza for your comedy show.

Get the picture?

A lot of experienced comedians can play to both audiences. Why? Because they have the experience AND material that can be customized (cleaned up or dirtied down) depending on the audience. In other words, their punch lines don’t get laughs simply because they contain the F-Bomb or other words that will get them banned by the FCC from network television. They can go either way because the material is just as funny with or without them.

A great example of this are comics that work on cruise ships.

These comics need two different sets; family and adult. The family sets are performed during the before and after dinner shows. These are two separate shows since passengers are assigned one of two dinner times. One group is entertained earlier in a large theater while the other group eats – and then they change places. As it says, these shows are for families. Later that night the same comics will do adult shows for (as it says) the adults in one of the lounges or bars.

Did you hear that?!

These comics go from G-rated to X-rated within a couple hours.

Keep in mind I’m not asking anyone to change who they are on stage if it goes against who they want to be on stage. Yes, this is a business, but it’s also a creative business and a way to express your creativity.

If your niche is X-rated, go for it. It’s the same with clean comedians. Just don’t go for it in front of the wrong audience. It’s really common sense when you think about it.

So to finally answer your question as a “new comedian,” I would suggest you work on writing funny material. And I’ll repeat: funny material. I’m talking about material that will stand up on it’s own and will be just as funny to an audience with or without a few gratuitous F-bombs and other choice words or expressions.

Practice and develop your talent as a writer. How would you deliver your set during an afternoon Rotary Club luncheon as opposed to at a late night dive bar? Better still – ask yourself which venue you prefer.

Wait a minute! I almost forgot to mention something…

Just to make your decision interesting, keep in mind the people that hire comics for corporate events, holiday parties, retirements, banquets, etc… are the ones who attend business or social organization meetings. They ALWAYS pay comics, humorous speakers and entertainers waaaaay more than any beer soaked guy in a dive bar. That’s why corporate events are much more desirable for many working comics than a weekend gig at Billy Joe’s Yucks at the corner of Dive and Bar.

Then again, an uncensored Comedy Central Special or a becoming a favorite guest on The Howard Stern Show can take almost any comic’s career to a new level. But to get there, the comics had to be funny. Working clean wasn’t a rule they needed to follow.

So…? Is it better to work clean or dirty as a new comedian? You need to make that decision – and one of the best ways to find an answer is to know your audience.

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 and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Being influenced vs. copying

May 22, 2017

Hey Dave – I’ve been working on material and continue to search for my comedy voice. Although I want to do some improvising, I want a good amount of material to work off of. Someone said I have a somewhat eccentric and iconoclastic persona and should take advantage of that. Therefore, I’ve thought about using Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright as influences and been writing material similar to theirs, especially since I like it. However, I’m afraid I’m not using them as an influence but just copying them. Is there a thin line between the 2 or just between fishing and standing there doing nothing? – JK

Hey JK – I was lucky to have worked with the late great Prof. Irwin Corey at the NYC Improv and interviewed Steven Wright for a magazine article. I consider both extremely smart and extremely funny. I also know that if I even tried to write like either one, I would be lost and confused. In fact, my brain hurts just thinking about it. But as usual I have a few thoughts about the topic, so instead of standing here doing nothing let’s go fishing for an answer…

“How did you say that?”

Yes – there is a line between being influenced and copying. Ideally it should be a wide one.

As Prof. Corey would have said, “Let me explain…

I often compare comedy to music. I’ve done this frequently in my workshops, books, and in more than a few previous FAQ articles. Basically, you can’t reinvent the wheel. And when it comes to music, someone somewhere had to hum the first tune. In comedy, someone somewhere made someone laugh for the first time. Musicians and comedians have been building on those firsts ever since.

One of my favorite all-time bands is The Rolling Stones. They’ve influenced countless bands for over fifty years and are considered by many to be the greatest rock’n roll band in the world. There are many bands that have copied their formula for success, but there is still only one Rolling Stones and their place in music history is written in… well, stone.

But who influenced them? Rock historians can trace the roots of their sound back to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and many others.

Did they copy? Yeah!

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They tried their best by performing a lot of cover songs when they first started out. But it’s not what made them superstars. Mick Jagger found his own voice as a singer and Keith Richards found his voice on the guitar. The duo ended up writing their own material and classic hits based on the type of music they liked and giving it their own spin based on their individual talent and personalities.

Like the Stones, comedians start by emulating what they like.

“How did you play that?”

Keith Richards is not going to play Bach or Beethoven because he likes Chuck Berry. Based on the way you described your humor in today’s email, I doubt you would consider bringing props on stage like Carrot Top or going redneck like Larry The Cable Guy. You like Prof. Irwin Corey and Steven Wright so yes, they are both are going to influence you as a comedian just like Chuck Berry influenced the Stones as musicians.

But the big difference between being a comedian and being a musician, The Rolling Stones can (and often do) play Chuck Berry songs during their concerts. But comedians can’t go on stage and say, “Here’s one from Steven Wright” and do a few of his best jokes.

That’s copying and comedians can’t do that – period. Its called stealing material. There are some that do – and most of us know who the big-name guilty parties are. There’s a total lack of respect for these thieves from other comics and industry people, and a lot of us wonder how they can sleep at night. Must be the drugs, but that’s another article…

Being influenced is not the same as stealing.

Creative artists, (comedians and musicians to only mention two) don’t reinvent the wheel. They can build on what’s already there. Just like in many original Rolling Stones songs you can hear a Chuck Berry riff or Bo Diddley beat in the background, comedians can’t help but be influenced by the type of humor they like.

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For example, Carrot Top didn’t invent prop comedy. As little kids many of us can remember holding up two paper plates on the sides of our heads and pretending to be Mickey Mouse. Carrot Top probably did that too, thought it was extremely funny – and built on it.

You as a writer and performer need to do the same, but with your own influences.

I think you understand your style of comedy. It’s similar to Prof. Irwin and Steven Wright, but when it comes to writing and performing it’s important for you to realize you are also very different. There’s no way you would have the exact same experiences or live in the exact same environment (city, neighborhood, families, education, jobs, etc.). You have a different life, different personality, different relationships and different conversations.

You also have your own personal thoughts about all of these experiences.

That’s what you need to put into your writing and performances – your spin. Don’t think about what Prof. Irwin Corey or Steven Wright would say. But respect that you admire what they do, are influenced to perform comedy in the same style, and then say it in your own words. Basically, they are intelligent writers and your writing should also have some intelligence to it.

I remember two comedians I worked with in LA. Sorry, I won’t name-drop this time, but one is now an international movie star and the other is an all-time favorite television character. They both admitted to being HUGE fans of Jerry Lewis. They loved every movie and consider him to be the HUGE influence that got them both into the comedy biz.

No caption needed

But never in a million years would you see either of them on stage yelling out Lewis’ famous line, “HEY LAAYYYDEEE!” That would be stealing. But I’ve seen both make wild faces and pretend to slip and fall during their stand-up comedy sets similar to what Lewis did in his classic films while talking about their own personal experiences and thoughts.

That’s being influenced. And to take it a step further, Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx were doing pratfalls long before Lewis.

The idea is to use your own mannerisms and personality to deliver your material to an audience. You are not going to hold two paper plates to your head and hope people laugh. You’ll want to dig deeper and put some thought into why something is funny from your personal point of view and then convey that to an audience.

Everyone is influenced by someone or something. It’s human nature. Again, none of us can invent the wheel because it’s been done – and car companies are still building on it. The same can be said about comedians when it comes to writing and performing comedy material.

But understand what makes you unique from everyone else (we all are) and explore topics that interest you based on your style of humor. Keep writing and performing. Eventually you’ll find your own comedy voice. Then in interviews you’ll be asked who influenced you – and you can tell them. I’ve interviewed comedians for my books, magazine articles and newspaper columns and believe me; every comedian has someone who inspired them. What made them successful was when they realized they couldn’t copy, but could use that influence to build on.

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 and Cleveland Improv Comedy Clubsprivate coaching by Skype or phone, and to receive our bi-weekly newsletter visit www.TheComedyBook.com

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

Personality separates you from the competition

February 18, 2017

Hi Dave – I do a lot of presentations through my job. These are specific to the industry and I’d like to start speaking at related conferences. I’m not a stand-up comedian, but know the importance of humor in getting my message across to an audience. Many of my friends think I am funny in an I Love Lucy kind of way… Which I suppose comes naturally. However, I am not sure how to release that side of me when I am giving a humorous presentation. Thanks – DB

bored-audience

Not connecting!

Hey DB – When it comes to giving a presentation as a humorous speaker or doing a set as a comedian, you must connect with your audience. That’s the bottom line – period. If you don’t connect, they don’t listen.

What’s a great way to connect? By doing what comes naturally and showing off your personality. Let me explain…

Working comics know performing stand-up is more than telling jokes. Anyone can tell a joke, and some better than others. But to be a successful performer, you need to show who you are on stage.

Comics, agents, managers and talent bookers call it your comedy voice. For our purposes, we’ll call it your personality as a speaker.

The classic joke-tellers like Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman (to mention only two) had GREAT personalities on stage. That’s what sold their material to an audience.

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They could do a series of basic (and clever) one, two or three line jokes that fans couldn’t wait to re-tell the next day around the water cooler or in school. The fans’ renditions might get laughs from their coworkers and friends, but rarely ever the same as the originals.

As imitators, we couldn’t match their personalities.

RodneyThat’s why Dangerfield and Youngman (and if you don’t know these guys, brush up on your comedy history) were paid big bucks to do their jokes on stage while the rest of us (the fans) got detentions for re-telling their jokes in school.

Dangerfield’s jokes worked because of his personality – who he was on stage (his comedy voice). He had a talent for putting himself down…

  • I get no respect.

HennyYoungman’s personality made him a natural at making wise-cracks (another talent most of us shared to earn school detentions)…

  • Take my wife… please!

Without showcasing their personalities, these legendary comics might never have stood out from the pack of other wise-cracking joke-tellers.

The same can be said of humorous speakers.

I always get a laugh at – as opposed to with – humorous speakers who call themselves humorous speakers just because they throw in a lame joke once in awhile during a presentation. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. For the opening of their presentation they’ll repeat a joke they found on the internet or even worse, take an old joke and re-work it to make it seem as if it were a true story that pertains to their topic.

This – they think – makes them a humorous speaker.

I’m almost gagging as I write this since it reminds me of how I’ve seen speakers do this WAY too often. For some reason they hide their unique and fun(ny) “real” personalities (we all have one, though some are more outgoing than others), because they assume it’s the only way an audience will take them seriously as trainers and educators.

That’s fine if you’re strictly a no-frills, non-humorous speaker, trainer or educator. But if you’re billed as a humorous speaker and want to stand out from the competition it’s important to use your natural talent.

Your personality.

So… your friends say you’re similar to the legendary Lucille Ball? Then there must be some truth in their opinions. I assume you’re not trying to imitate Lucy, but you just somehow remind people of her. It’s part of your personality.

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As a humorous speaker you want to find a way to bring your personality onto the speaker’s platform with you. It’s who you are and what makes you an individual and unique when compared to others who speak on the same topic. That’s what helps separate you from the competition – the other humorous speakers who want to be hired for the same gig.

You don’t have to imitate Lucy. In fact I recommend you DON’T imitate Lucy. Unless you’re hired to play her as a character it would take the believability away from your message. But if you have a talent for making funny statements or even physical humor – which is probably why your friends compare you to Lucy – then use your talent in your delivery.

lucille-ball-candy

We love Lucy!

But before you plan on filling your mouth with chocolate candy or presenting from a scaffold on the side of a building, (I Love Lucy fans know exactly what I’m talking about), keep in mind Lucy’s style of physical comedy doesn’t necessarily mean slapstick comedy. You don’t have to overdo it to stand-out.

Keep it simple. It could just be a look or way you naturally use your hands. If it’s part of your personality, what good does it do to hide it? If you’re in the humor game, it’s all about not being a stiff, boring speaker. Use your natural personality to connect with an audience.

Here’s the bottom line.

You don’t need to tell jokes to be an effective humorous speaker. If you have a signature story, examples or descriptions relating to your topic that an audience could find funny – make them funny. Don’t be afraid to use facial expressions, hand gestures or movement. Don’t get stuck standing in one place showing a power point or simply reciting solutions to problems – or telling old jokes.

Use your personality.

It’s a natural talent that you use everyday. Think of the last time you were together with a group of friends. Maybe you were sitting around someone’s kitchen table and you wanted to tell your family or friends about something that happened to you that day. It could be as simple as your drive to work, but something interesting (and hopefully) funny happened.

  • How would you tell it in a way that would get the reaction you wanted?
  • How could you tell it in a way that would make your family or friends laugh?

Here’s a good tip. Think of the audience as a room full of friends. How would you deliver your message (the topic of your presentation) to them in a way that not only informs, but also entertains them?

By using your personality.

They’ll remember you over a boring speaker – or one trying to entertain with an old joke you’ve probably heard before – with the same message. That’s how you stand out from the competition.

It worked for Rodney, Henny and Lucy – and more than a few humorous speakers and working comics. There’s no reason why it can’t work for you also.

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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.

How to get letters of recommendation

January 15, 2017

Hey Dave – You had an article a while back about using quotes from clients as promotion on websites. I’ve been doing sets for some local businesses and clubs and the people who hire me say they like what I do. Can I just take what they say and post it on my website or do I need it in writing? How do I get these quotes? I want to move into doing better paying corporate shows. Thanks – H.P.

Hey H.P. – You have a good memory. I ran an FAQ and Answer last June about using “Blurbs and Letters of Recommendation.” Since I only keep these ramblings posted for six months before hitting delete, it’s no longer online. BUT because I’m a good guy (play along if you don’t actually know me) I’ll paste it at the bottom of this one in case anyone wants to check it out.

So we’ll consider this week’s FAQ and Answer a two-parter. Two for the price of… well, nothing. Geez, maybe I should move into a better paying market.

duck-soup-1

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.”

As a brief synopsis, the earlier article talked about what you’d want a client to say about you and your performance in a good letter (or email) of recommendation. I pointed out that at best it would be an advertisement for what you contributed to the event – and an enticement for potential clients to hire you for future gigs. Then you would pull out a line or two (a “blurb“) to post on your website, similar to a short positive review you’d see on a book cover.

But I won’t repeat all that. The article is posted below so we’ll just continue from here…

As a lot of comedians and speakers know, a letter of recommendation is never a slam dunk. In other words a client may promise to send you one, but that doesn’t make it a guarantee. It doesn’t (always) mean they didn’t like you or your performance, it’s just sometimes they find work, life and other important stuff takes up their time.

They might just forget.

What I suspect is that writing a letter of recommendation – at least for some people – is like doing homework. They may look at writing as “work” or they really don’t know how to put their thoughts into words. They’re not writers like most comedians and speakers, and will put it off the extra work until… like… forever.

We’ll deal with those procrastinators in a moment. But first…

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To help jolt the memory of clients who might not realize the importance of a letter of recommendation to your career, here’s a tip I learned a long time ago from successful speakers and comedians.

And believe me – it works a LOT more than it doesn’t…

Always take a self-addressed, stamped envelope to all your gigs. When you’re talking with the client after your performance and they’re telling you how great you were, the audience loved it, yadda-yadda-yadda, come right out and ask for the letter. They’re already giving you a positive review, so just make it part of the conversation. And when they say yes – and they will if they’re heaping praise on you – hand them the envelope. Tell them you’re making it easy for them.

Sign here please!

Sign here please!

Seriously. I’m not joking.

Before I started doing this, it was always hit or miss on getting a letter. But once they have the SASE it apparently makes it easier for them to remember. I also suspect they would feel a bit guilty having that envelope and not following through on their promise. So for that reason alone, let’s call it the guilt factor.

It works more than it doesn’t.

It also helps if you send a thank you email, letter or postcard – depending on how you’ve been communicating with the client before the gig. It’s the follow-up that you should be doing anyway. If you haven’t received one by that time, use that opportunity to remind them about a letter of recommendation.

BTW – an email of recommendation is also acceptable. Just like using quotes and photos in a book, I feel it’s important to have something in writing from the person recommending you as proof of their permission. A verbal quote is fine, but they may forget, see their name on your website and… well, like any good business deal having something in writing is always best.

If you still don’t get the letter AND especially for those clients who really aren’t writers and plan to put this off forever, here’s another option. And again – I don’t make this stuff up. I was given this advice by a highly paid and constantly working humorous speaker at a meeting of The National Speakers Association (NSA). And the reason I’m telling you that is because I found making that reference worthy of being a “blurb” to back up this technique…

phone call

Make the call

If you haven’t received a letter a week after your performance, call the client. Since you’ve already worked for them, you should at least have a one phone call relationship where you can again thank them for the gig. You can also ask for any advice or feedback about your performance.

If they have good things to say – and they should if they said it after your performance – ask again about a letter. If the client apologizes and has excuses about being busy, etc… Offer to make their life easier. Ask if you can write the letter (or email) yourself and send it to them.

Again – I don’t make this stuff up. I’ve used this advice and it worked for me – and obviously for the guy that gave me the tip in the first place.

Remind the client it’s important for future bookings or that talent agents and event planners really need recommendations to work with you. Say you’ll write something simple, will send it, (email or with a SASE), and they can edit or change it any way they’d like. Your request is that they email it back with their “okay” (endorsement) or copy it onto a page with company letterhead, sign and return (using your generously supplied SASE). You can usually hear them breathe a sigh of relief on the phone. They just got someone else – you – to do their homework for them.

Okay, most working comics and speakers are probably thinking this is elementary stuff. They know about this. So my excuse is that these tips are for the newbies that don’t. I’ve mentioned this to beginning comics in my workshops and can see eyes light up. Yeah, these are good ideas and they work.

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One generous reader also sent me an email about the importance today of having video letters of recommendation. Again – great idea!

Always consider filming your performance (ask client’s permission first). It could be for promotional purposes or just a way to review your set. If the client or audience members are giving you high praise after your program, ask if they would say it into the camera.

Seriously – again – I’m not joking. Along with a lot of other comics and speakers, I’ve done this and it works. Add their video endorsements to your promo reel. As I said in the earlier article pasted below, it’s always better when someone else is telling the world how great you are – rather than you having to talk yourself up.

And speaking of the earlier article, you can scroll down past all my shameless promotion and comments request below and start reading.

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.

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Now as promised…

241

Blurbs and Letters of Recommendation

First published June 16, 2016

Hey Dave – I remember you had an article about what goes into a good recommendation letter. I have a few from doing corporate shows and fundraisers. Since you’ve also pointed out that promo is online I was wondering how to get these letters in front of talent bookers. It’s not like the old days when we could make paper copies to send in with a promo package. Thoughts? – J.W.

Hey J.W. – The article you’re talking about was on what would go into a good letter of recommendation. The idea is to share a client’s positive review about your performance and what you contributed to the event. The idea is to show potential clients, event planners and talent bookers you have a track record – experience – at helping to make other events successful. And as we know, they also want their events to be successful.

Here are a few examples of feedback that work in a good letter of recommendation:

  • Great performance
  • Lots of laughs
  • Engaged the audience
  • Easy to work with
  • Great audience feedback
  • Went out of your way to make the event a success.

All that type of good word is… well, good word for you.

You still want to collect letters – or emails – of recommendation. But yeah, the days of printing up paper copies are pretty much ancient history. That’s good for the trees – and also good for streamlining your promotional material. Not to mention saving postal costs from the days when we had to send everything via snail mail.

Today everything goes on your website. And like a modern 15- 20 second television commercial (in the “old days” they could last a minute or even 90 seconds) you need to promote yourself and your services with the best attention-grabbing statements.

What you are looking for is one great sentence or a few short ones together that you can pull out and use on the homepage of your website, LinkedIn, Facebook or other one-page promo.

Something like…

“J.W. was very funny and our audience loved him. We look forward to working with him again.” – name of client / company / event, etc…

The idea is to use this sentence as a blurb, which is a short and positive review similar to what you see on the back of book covers. Or now that so many books are eBooks, these blurbs – recommendations from reviewers – usually follow the book cover image. These are enticements, which is another word for advertisements that will keep potential buyers interested in buying the book.

I know I’m getting off track (my track record?) but for an example of how a good blurb should be written go online to the Amazon.com and look for Kindle books.

You don’t need a Kindle reader to do this. Find any book and click the Look Inside feature. The following will work with almost any eBook…

When you click Look Inside a separate window will open and you’ll get a free sample of the book to read. It’s just like the “old days” of going to your local bookstore where you could pull a book off the shelf, do a quick look and decide if you want to buy it or not.

Ebooks do this online for the same reason. You can read a sample before you buy.

Okay, like I said I’m going off track (you were warned) but follow me on this. It’ll make sense at the end…

Unlike physical books with real paper pages, eBooks only offer the beginning of each book you want to sample. It’s usually only the first 10 or 20 percent. To see the rest, you have to buy it.

So publishers and advertisers (enticers) need to grab a reader’s attention right from the first page and hold it for that first 10% or 20%. There should be no wasted space.

So instead of being similar to a paper book that starts out with title pages, copyright pages, dedication pages, thank you pages, blank pages and other traditional book beginnings, it’s important for eBooks to entice readers right from the very start into purchasing the book. There is also no back cover for an ebook to display descriptions (advertisements) about what’s inside.

So immediately after the cover image you’ll see a short overview (enticement) of the book and the best reviews (advertisements). Since the publishers want to display as many good reviews as possible to convince you to buy it and only have 10% to 20% of an ebook to do that, they’ll only use the best statement(s) from reviews that were probably longer.

These are blurbs.

Following the blurbs the same will jump right into a Table of Contents (more enticements) and the beginning of the book. This gives potential buyers an immediate feel for what they’re buying. The copyright pages and all the rest of the legal stuff and personal comments (“Thanks mom and dad for your support!”) will appear at the end of the eBook. The legal stuff is needed to keep the government and tax man off your back, while the personal stuff keeps family and friends happy. But none of it helps to make a sale.

Now, to get back on track. I detailed these standard publishing techniques because…

You need to start thinking the same way. You’re selling your service just like publishers sell their eBooks. These online books are great FREE examples of how advertising (blurbs of recommendation) should look and work for you. Take a look at the short and attention grabbing one or two sentence reviews at the beginning of an eBook and you’ll understand what you should be looking for in a letter of recommendation. You’ll know what to pull out and use on your website and in your promo material for a blurb.

Get great blurbs (advertising) and put them where potential clients (buyers) will be sure to see them – near the beginning of your promo. It will entice them to read more about you. And if they like what they read, they’ll continue to read. And once they know more about the positives you can bring to their show or event you’ll have a better chance of nailing the job.

You can also check out websites for other comedians and speakers. Any of them that have great letters of recommendation will have the best blurbs posted online for potential clients to read. It’s also common to have a “Reviews” page linked to the home page with a list of blurbs.

Websites for working comics and speakers are loaded with them.

The deal is that you can talk yourself up all you want and great salesmen are skilled at that. But nothing beats someone else talking you up. That’s what a great review – blurbs and letters of recommendation – will accomplish.

Copyright 2016 – North Shore Publishing.

Shake things up in 2017

January 4, 2017

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.

2017

Ready… set… go!

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 gonna kick-start 2017 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.

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.

oldball

Wait until next year?

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 and perform.

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.

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

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January 2017 Comedy Workshop

At The Cleveland Improv is SOLD OUT!

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Workshop showcase performance at The Improv

Wednesday, February 8th at 7:30 pm

For information and to register for future workshops visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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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.

ball-drop

Now’s the time!

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.

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 2017.

Your Pal – Dave

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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.