Posts Tagged ‘television’

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

November 13, 2017

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

What’s the question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting of the minds

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

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

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

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

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

Make sense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Al and Rocky… uh, Steven

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.

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Showcase Motivation

October 1, 2017

Dave – You’ve talked about showcasing in the last few newsletters. What’s the motivation for a talent booker to organize these showcases? What is the benefit to the booker and the club? – MB

Hey MB – Since your email came in not long after the last FAQ And Answer was posted, I know you’re referring to my mention of comedy club showcases in Los Angeles (and NYC). Instead of repeating myself, if anyone missed it you can just scroll down to the next article to read.

The motivation to organize a showcase is to find (scout) talent. Talent bookers, casting directors, producers, event planners and anyone else looking to hire comedians or speakers can organize or attend live performances to see for themselves before hiring someone. They also watch videos, but when you’re in one of the big media markets – like LA or NYC – there are more (in my opinion) opportunities to see the performers in person.

And you know live is always better – right? If you don’t believe me, watch your favorite band on YouTube and then check them out in concert. There’s a big difference.

When I worked for The Improv in LA and NYC, I would get calls from casting directors looking for certain types. This could be for a movie, television show, documentary – or even a one-shot appearance on a late-night talk show.

For instance, when The Tonight Show set up a showcase, they were looking for comics who were (of course) funny and had the needed experience to do a high-profile (pressure is on!) show – which meant there was less of a chance they would freeze up or bomb when they hit the stage in front of the cameras. In other words, if you were relatively new to the biz and hoping to hit the lottery with the only five minutes of material you had, there was no need to apply.

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By scheduling a showcase in the club, the talent bookers could watch a number of pre-selected comedians perform in front of a live audience and decide which ones were “ready” for the show. When I was there the comics were usually given about three minutes to prove their stuff.

I also did this with A&E’s An Evening At The Improv. I would watch tons of videos sent in advance, pick ten comics who “might” be ready to do the show, and schedule them for a Monday night showcase. Each would do three minutes on stage, which meant the showcase would be over in half an hour. There was never a set number of how many would be booked that night to do the television show because it was an almost weekly process. You might find four or five in one night – and none the next.

But the bottom line is that it was an efficient (for bookers) and fair (for comedians) way to audition performers.

This is also how it was done for sitcoms, movies and other casting projects. Once when I was at the New York Improv I got a call from The Today Show.

It was an election year and they wanted a comic that did political material. I already knew ten from our roster that would be great for the gig, so I called them and scheduled a showcase where they all came in on the same night and did three minutes of political stuff. The producers from The Today Show came to the club, watched the showcase and picked one. It made their job a lot easier than sending out a casting call and sitting through hundreds of videos and then scheduling auditions in their office.

So that would be the motivation for the talent booker.

For an agent or manager, they want their clients seen by the people who can give them work. They would schedule a showcase time, usually thirty minutes to an hour, with the club (in my case The Improv) and fill the spots from their roster of comedians. Then they would invite casting people, talent bookers, etc. to watch the showcase. If it were a manager promoting the showcase, they would also invite agents they wanted to represent their clients.

It was a lot of work to make these showcases successful, but again it beat the heck out of sending press packages and making phone calls to set individual appointments. Everyone would be in the same place at the same time for a big schmooze-fest. In other words a good showcase is a prime networking and “doing business” opportunity.

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So what’s the benefit for the booker? Again – it was an efficient way to find talent.

What’s the benefit for the club? There was the prestige that comes from working with the top shows and more business.

Think about it. If you owned a comedy club and had big-time producers and casting agents from every major network, film studio and agency hanging around scouting talent, every comic will want to perform there. And when you have the best comics on your stage, you get the most business because that’s what audiences want to see – good (funny) comedians. That’s why it’s just as competitive between the clubs to host industry showcases as it is for the comedians who want to be on them.

Showcasing is also beneficial for (humorous) speakers.

When I was an agent in NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) showcasing was the best way to score bookings. I won’t get into all the details on how this works – it’s in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers if you’re interested.

But in a nutshell, colleges and universities would send a delegation of Student Activities members to an NACA Conference in their regional area. They would go to various showcases over a few days and watch speakers and comedians (and all kinds of other performers) perform twenty-minute sets. This is how they would choose which ones they would book for the upcoming school year.

If you wanted to be booked – you pretty much had to be seen.

That’s the purpose behind showcases. It’s an efficient and proven way to find talent and show your talent.

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.

The comedy police

February 27, 2017

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

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

Keystone Cops

There oughta be a law!

What a jerk.

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

JERK #1:

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

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

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

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

Bill talked about the comedy police.

"Hey, I've heard that joke!"

“Hey, I’ve heard that joke!”

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

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

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

I’ve seen it happen…

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

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

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

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

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

Just like the following…

JERK #2:

Navin R. Johnson

“The Jerk” not “a jerk.”

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

Here’s what I mean…

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

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

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

But the headliner part of his story never seemed right.

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

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

Say what?!

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

But I do have this proof…

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

Stooges Police

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

Chalk another one up for the comedy police.

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

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

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

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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

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

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing.