Dave – I worked with a comedian last week who thinks I’m ready to do a set on one of the late night shows. I know there aren’t as many opportunities on talk shows as there used to be for comics, but Comedy Central does specials with upcoming comics and there are shows on netflix, etc. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because I was wondering if you could provide some insights as to how to go about contacting these talent bookers. The show I’d really like to be on would be Jimmy Kimmel Live. – MC
Hey MC – First of all, it’s good when someone else in this crazy business says you’re ready to move up in your career. Especially when they think you’re good enough for late night television. Otherwise, you’d have to look at the source of this praise – and moms and drinking buddies don’t count. When they’re peers and know the biz, you might want to start thinking about it.
Anyone with real experience in the industry knows it’s not easy to score one of these coveted late night performing spots that guarantees exposure to millions of comedy fans and talk-fest insomniacs. But what do you think?
Do you really feel you’re ready for television? Are you working on a regular basis at the best clubs? Are you getting great audience response and killing on stage? Is your material right for the shows you’re thinking about?
These are questions you need to ask yourself and seriously answer. It also helps when you have other people in the business saying you’re ready. That’s a positive and supportive step in the right direction.
My first thought is that you have to be seen. And it’s always best to be seen in person. I say this from experience and also by keeping in touch with friends in NYC and LA – so I believe it’s still true.
The BEST way to get on television is to be SEEN in the clubs where the television talent bookers are hanging out.
For instance, all the high profile television networks that feature comedians are based in New York and Los Angeles. The talent bookers, producers, writers and other important “showbiz connections” from these shows go to the clubs in these cities. That’s a fact because I would see them all the time when I worked in NYC and LA. They would hang out and watch the comedians. They knew who had the material and experience because they’d see it first-hand. They could also request showcases so they could audition a number of comics on the same night in front of a live audience.
Even if they were interested in a comedian through a video submission, they would eventually want to see a live performance. It’s all part of the process because they need to be sure the comedian will be successful on the show, since that’s what talent bookers are hired to do – find good talent.
To backup that opinion, I’ll rely on the interviews with Drew Carey and Jeff Foxworthy in my book How To Be A Working Comic. I interviewed them separately, but their experiences were similar since that’s how this business (most often) works…
Each told me he couldn’t even get the attention of anyone at The Tonight Show when they submitted videotapes (the old days) even though they had been headlining for years in the best clubs outside NYC and LA. And the reason why they weren’t working the NYC and LA clubs was because these are normally showcase clubs. You do them to be SEEN and not to make money. These guys had to make a living.
But each really felt he was ready for The Tonight Show. And each felt he only needed to be seen by the talent booker.
Eventually they both had to bite the economic bullet and move to Los Angeles. It was the only way they could be seen every night for The Tonight Show (in the days of Johnny Carson when it really was a star-making appearance). They took a big pay cut by not playing their regular clubs outside of NYC and LA, but it paid off for both in the end.
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But if you can’t afford to do that, the next best thing is a great video.
You also need great references, experience and ways to market yourself without being a pain in the butt or getting lost in the pack. We’ve had a more than a few FAQs And Answers about marketing, but you can also check out the marketing and networking sections in How To Be A Working Comic.
How’s THAT for a blindsided sales pitch? LOL!! Now that I have that out of my system, here’s what else you should do…
When you’re in clubs and meet comedians that have done these shows, ask for advice. Ask what they did to be seen and how they were seen. If they appear to enjoy your performance (again – be honest with yourself) ask for the name(s) of people booking the comedians. If they don’t think you’re ready, they probably won’t tell you. You have to understand they have their own relationship with the talent booker and can’t make it seem they’re recommending every comic they come in contact with. It doesn’t help their reputation, so if they’re evasive drop the subject.
Don’t be a pain and don’t try to push yourself on someone who may not see you as “being ready.”
You should also watch these shows and take notes. What is the name of the production company? Who is the talent coordinator listed during the ending credits? They don’t run these credits every night because of time restraints, but you can usually catch them once or twice a week.
Again, play detective and do an online search for the production companies and names for their contact info. Make a call. Don’t worry about having to sell yourself right away. These talent bookers are not easy to reach, so you’ll only get The Gatekeeper.
Then ask for “help.”
Gatekeepers are assistants hired to keep you away from the people you want to contact. Again, from experience and hearing this a lot from working comedians and speakers, Gatekeepers seem to respond to that term better than grilling them with questions. Ask for their “help” in learning what is the best way to be submitted for the program. It could go through a separate booking agency, or directly through the show’s producer, writing staff or others.
Then follow their “help” guidelines. Start the process of submitting your video and promo information – or work your way into the clubs where talent bookers hang out looking for new talent. But in the meantime, continue getting experience and getting better. As I love to say whenever possible in these articles:
They may call it amateur night, but no one is looking to hire an amateur.
This is particularly true when it comes to television. And if you really feel you’re ready, don’t throw all your eggs into one basket (have I spent too much time outside of NYC and LA to have picked up that old saying?). Don’t just concentrate only on one show, (you mentioned Jimmy Kimmel Live).
Do the same with the other shows on different networks. Start getting your name out to the “right people” whether it’s through live performances at showcase clubs, recommendations, or online videos. Just be sure you’re ready, because no one with a viewing audience of millions of comedy fans or talk-fest insomniacs wants to hire an amateur.
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