Posts Tagged ‘speakers’

Showcases can be a ticking time bomb

September 12, 2017

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

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

Showcasing!

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

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

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

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

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Begins Saturday, October 7, 2017

Includes performance at The Improv on Wednesday, October 25

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons – limited to 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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

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

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

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

They were wrong.

Enough already!!

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

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

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

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

Lesson?

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

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

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

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

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

And no one can argue that either…

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

Here’s another example…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, it wasn’t funny.

Running on empty

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

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

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

You did ten freaking minutes!” I said.

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

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

April 9, 2017

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

The process begins…

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

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

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

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

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

A NYC agent or self-publish?

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

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Comedy Workshop at The Improv

Chicago & Cleveland Dates TBA

Workshop Marquee 150

Includes an evening performance at The Improv

For details, reviews, photos and advance registration visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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

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

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

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

I hope Kim likes this…

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

You or me?

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

It’s who they know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign and return!

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

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

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

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

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

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So here’s today’s answer:

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

Can your ego stand it?

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

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

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

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

How do you do that?

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

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

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

Author’s basement!

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

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

Personal appearances can result in BOR sales.

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.