Getting a referral is good – being a “pain” is not

Hey Dave – I was in a comedy club competition, I made it to the semi finals. But I was just asking if you know anyone I could maybe open for and if you would put in a recommendation for me. I don’t want any money, and I’ll go anywhere! I’ll take any help I can get. Thanks – H.A.

First a note to everyone: This email is from a young (18 years old) new comedian who has contacted me a few times. I’ve written back that I appreciate his enthusiasm and the fact that he’s really out there getting experience. I’ve also sent him back a private answer to his question because I doubt he emailed me thinking it would end up as this week’s FAQ And Answer.

That said; here are some thoughts about asking for referrals…

Gene and not Johnny

I’ve written a lot about the importance of getting references for showcases and bookings. When you have a respected comedian telling a talent booker to hire you or to schedule a showcase, it’s like receiving the Golden Ticket in that Gene Wilder movie Johnny Depp remade about the candy maker.

I just can’t think of the title at the moment…

Oh yeah, Willy Wonka. I’m pretty sure I was already listening to albums by Richard Pryor – Wilder’s frequent on screen co-star – when that movie came out and it didn’t even register a blip on my entertainment radar. Trust me, I’m a loyal Gene Wilder fan, but didn’t get back into kid’s movies until I had kids.

Anyway, a good reference will usually result in being seen. It doesn’t guarantee a paid booking, but when it comes from a reliable and respected source you can pretty much bypass all the marketing advice I’ve shared in past articles when focusing on that particular talent booker. Phone calls, postcards, emails, websites, videos, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are not needed to make a first impression when you can walk into a club and showcase for the booker because another comedian he/she respects put in the good word for you.

Of course, those marketing tools will be needed to stay in touch afterwards. But that’s not what we’re talking about today.

Admit One

It sounds easy – yeah, I know. However, don’t be too anxious or overbearing to get that Golden Ticket referral. Otherwise you might wind up being a pain in the you-know-what and have your efforts working against you.

Of course, you want to have a good relationship with the referring comedian. You don’t have to be best friends, but at least know each other on a professional level (it’s a business, remember?). It’s pretty annoying when someone you hardly know comes up and asks for a referral:

Yeah, sure… what’s your name again?

It’s also a no-brainer the person you want the referral from has actually SEEN you perform AND actually likes it. In fact, you should really wait for them to tell you:

Hey, that was a great set. I really liked it.” (Or something close to that).

And be sure they really did and are not BS’ing you just to be polite. Sometimes it takes a mind reader to know, but do your best to make sure they’re sincere.

Now in a perfect world, the comedian could offer to put in a good word for you with a talent booker he (or she) works with. It’s not impossible; I’ve seen it happen. But if not and you truly think they are sincere about liking your act, then go ahead and ask. You have to be aggressive in this business.

The key is not to be so aggressive that you become a pain in the you-know-what.

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Here’s an example of how being a pain can come back and bite you in the you-know-what

When I was booking comics in New York and Los Angeles, I used referrals from comedians already working with us to help set up talent showcases. I still went through tons of promotional material and watched videos to find new comics, but if one of our regular comedians (already working for us) called or walked into my office and said we should see a comic he had just worked with, I’d add the referred comic to my showcase.

It would be a done deal and I’d thank the referring comedian for making my life easier.

But there were also times comedians would stop by and give me some inside scoop. In other words, they’d fill me in on someone who was being a pain. The scenario went something like this…

The already-working comic couldn’t even walk into the club without having the referral-hungry new comic asking him (bugging him, annoying him, etc…) for his help in getting a showcase. So, what would happen is that the working comic (the one being asked, bugged and annoyed) would make a point of telling me the new comic isn’t ready to play the club. BUT he was being such a pain in the you-know-what the comic could now say he had mentioned the new comic – and now he was off the hook.

Are you following me so far?

Yeah, I know it’s confusing. Basically, he could tell the new comic he dropped his name to the talent booker. This way (he hoped) the new comedian would stop bugging him. The ball was now in my court.

And do you want another behind the scenes insider insight? Okay, here’s the blunt honest truth…

Since the so-called referring comedian wasn’t really referring and was also telling me the newer comedian was a pain in the you-know-what, I had been forewarned. There would be no Golden Ticket showcase. No way. I didn’t want to be hassled either. So, my response would be to tell the newer comedian I couldn’t work off any recommendations (a big fat lie – sorry to admit). He would have to send in promo and video just like everyone else.

Sounds a bit cruel? Yeah, well showbiz ain’t easy. You need to know how to play the game…

So, the whole process could backfire against the newer comedian. He hadn’t earned the recommendation, so the word put in by the referring comedian was more negative than positive. And on top of that, the word would get around that he could be a pain because it was probably safe to assume he was asking for recommendations in this same way from other comics at other clubs.

Similar to many other businesses, news and reputations can travel fast in the comedy world.

The result was the newer comedian would find it more difficult to get an audition anywhere because he had earned a pain in the you-know-what reputation, rather than a good recommendation. He would’ve been better off putting that energy into working on material and getting on stage more.

Referrals can be the Golden Ticket.

But if you don’t have one, don’t try to force it. Work on getting so good on stage no one can ignore you and learn to professionally promote yourself. If and when a recommendation is made on your behalf, it’ll be like an extra coating of chocolate in that movie Gene Wilder made that I can never remember the name of…

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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