Hiring a comedy writer

Hello Dave – Here’s a question: You advise us to get writing or keep writing. How do you feel about hiring a pro writer? And how would I go about it? Your pal – CA

There’s gotta be an easier way.

Hey CA – Hiring someone to write for you depends on your (comic or speaker or performer) career level. If you’re just starting out it doesn’t make any sense – to me anyway – to hire someone else to write your material. What’s the point? If you want to memorize another writer’s script and repeat it – become an actor. If you want to be a comedian or a speaker – then there has to be something YOU want to say.

It’s all about sharing YOUR humor, YOUR thoughts, YOUR ideas, YOUR observations, or anything else YOU want to tell an audience.

To me (again) it’s a creative art AND a talent. That should be the stimulus to get into this crazy biz. Otherwise get a head shot, memorize someone else’s lines and start auditioning for acting gigs.

Here’s a story…

Years ago I had a guy take my comedy workshop. The first day everyone takes a turn on stage to talk about ideas for writing a comedy set. When it was his turn, he did an “act.” Five minutes of prepared stand-up comedy. But it didn’t seem real to me. It was just telling jokes that really didn’t pertain to who he was or what could possibly be going on in his life that would even interest him.

Let me explain what I mean…

I love funny jokes and great joke tellers. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a few of the best. For instance, Rodney Dangerfield made regular guest appearances when I was at both the NYC and LA Improv comedy clubs. He would tell jokes (of course) but the jokes fit who he was:

  • No respect
  • Nervous
  • Underdog
  • … well, Rodney!

No respect!

My wife said she wanted to make love in the backseat of our car. She wanted me to drive. I get no respect.” – Rodney Dangerfield

Get it? I can think of dozens of great joke tellers I used to watch on TV when I was a kid. What made them great was that their jokes fit their personalities. Think Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Redd Foxx, Phyllis Diller and Jackie Mason if you need a history lesson.

Their jokes worked because the jokes fit the comedian’s on stage personality.

Okay – back to the guy in my workshop. He did his comedy act, but nothing fit who he was. It was just some guy telling jokes anyone else could tell. Plus I’d heard a few of them before, which is never good when you’re striving to stand out in a creative business.

When he finished I asked who had written his material. He swore he did. When I said some of it sounded familiar and quizzed him more about his writing techniques, he finally admitted he got the jokes from a writer he found online – and had paid $50 for them. I told him there were undoubtedly a number of other aspiring comics who had also paid for the same jokes.

He really wanted to be a comedian. The problem was that he really only wanted to be a famous comedian and was willing to pay for a shortcut.

That’s not how it works.

Since he had never actually done stand-up anywhere, he had no stage experience. He hadn’t even given himself the opportunity to find out who he was on stage.

Comics call that your comedy voice.

To find your voice it takes on stage experience – and lots of it. Since he hadn’t discovered his yet, how could he expect to find anyone who could write material specifically for him? That writer would have no idea except to peddle him jokes almost anyone else could do.

I told the guy in my workshop he had to start writing. That’s the first step and the key to becoming a comedian or speaker – or even a writer for someone else. There are plenty of styles such as joke telling or story telling, along with techniques, structures and different creative ways creative people write. He needed to find out what ways worked best for him and what subjects interested him enough to write about.

The next week he came in with the basis of an original comedy bit. I remember it was about playing in a pick-up baseball game when he was a little too old and a little too out of shape compared to guys on the other team. It was based on something that really happened to him and filled with his personal experiences, thoughts, opinions and descriptions of events.

Oh yeah – and it was funny. AND it was a story only HE could have written.

He realized he had wasted fifty bucks on words that didn’t mean anything to him. And he had replaced it with something he couldn’t wait to share with an audience.

So the point is – why would anyone want to get into a creative business without being creative?

** Important announcement: I’m not knocking actors (remember what I said above about memorizing someone else’s script). No way. That is also a very creative and demanding craft. I know because I’ve done it. I respect creativity in all forms and efforts. I’m just focusing today on the comedy and speaking biz.

What’s the set up?

That wasn’t as eloquently put as a Shakespearean monologue, but I hope you catch my drift.

And to complete this drift, it’s not a smart idea to hire someone to write for you until you both know who you are on stage. The creative artist doing the writing must know the person he/she is writing for.

What is your comedy voice?

When you get to be Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel – or anyone else that burns up material at a breakneck speed – then you can hire writers. Good writers already know who these personalities are and their style of humor. Good writers can write a Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel joke. But writing for someone just starting out… Well, they’re just writing words.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

When should you start promoting your career?

Hey Dave – Last week I was in a comedy festival. It was a 13 hour drive, but it was a good chance for networking. I was talking with another act who said she’s too impatient about getting her comedy career going. I said that my problem is that I’m too patient. After finishing second at another comedy club’s contest and being accepted at the festival, I should be contacting clubs and bookers all over the area instead of waiting until I actually win a contest. Do you agree? – J.G.

Can you hear me now?

Hey J.G. – First of all, if I drive 13 hours for anything, I’m going to make sure somebody knows about it. That’s not exactly a Sunday afternoon drive for me (which is why every seasoned road comic is calling me a wimp right now), so I’d like a little recognition for the achievement. If my kids happened to be in the backseat, I’d expect an award.

How different people react to my successful lengthy trip depends on how they view such an effort. If I told a student driver about my journey, he may look at me as The Man. If I walked into a truck stop and made my announcement, I’d probably get more laughs than doing a clean act at a biker bar open mic.

Being accepted to perform at a respected comedy festival and finishing second in a club’s contest are worthy additions to the resume. Each step in your career is a great opportunity for promotion and it’s important to take advantage of it, which is an important subject we’re driving up to next.

Not quite ready

But before we head down that road, the question of patience should be answered by common sense. You have to be honest with yourself to know when you’re ready for the next level of your career and not push yourself too fast into a position where you don’t have the experience or material to back it up. In other words, if you’re relatively new to comedy and just breaking into the MC role, it’s wise not to promote yourself to the top clubs as a headliner until you’re ready.

What you don’t want to do is sit back and wait for any word-of-mouth to find its way to the bookers. James Bond has a reputation that precedes him, but when finding work in the entertainment business you need to promote yourself.

If you have the credits, chances are better the bookers will find out about it if YOU tell them.

You have to be honest with yourself as a comedian, (or humorous speaker).There are various steps to consider before you actively promote yourself for paying gigs…

Are you ready for paid gigs?

You absolutely must have experience and a comedy set or speaker program that has worked successfully during live performances. These can be open mics, benefit shows – whatever. Let’s put it this way. If someone is paying you to do 20 minutes – you’d better have a good 20 minutes or they’ll find someone else who does for the next booking.

Also understand where you fit into the business. 

Are you an opening act, feature or a headliner? New acts will always be considered openers until they prove themselves worthy of a better position in the show. Think about it. Even Jay Leno was an opener when he started out and worked his way up. He wasn’t given The Tonight Show after a few successful open mic performances.

But let’s say you know that already. You’ve worked hard at writing and performing and you honestly know you’re ready. That’s when it’s time to get the word out to talent bookers, event planners and anyone else who might hire you.

That’s when you need to start promoting – and it can be a full time job.

Whenever you have an achievement (accepted to a comedy festival, runner up in a contest, a paid booking in another venue, etc.) make sure the bookers for the clubs where you want to work or the event planners for associations you want to work for KNOW about it. Send them your news via an email, a postcard, add it to your website and resume, and post it on the social networks you use for business (not the ones you use for family photos, your cats or wild escapades).

You may not get hired right away, but it could add to your name recognition in the future.

Only took 7 calls!

That’s the idea behind promoting – networking and marketing.

Businesses use branding and logos to keep their products in front of potential buyers and entertainers do the same with successful performances, personal contacts, online postings, emails and postcards.

As good salesmen say, you need to run a product (you as a comedian or speaker) past a client (booker) on the average of SEVEN times before they buy. So when is a good time to start building credits and promoting your comedy career? If you truly believe you’re ready – I’d say right now.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

Getting laughs is an incentive for getting on stage

Hi Dave – I would love any input on public speaking. I am a very timid person and it shows in presentations I have had. Could you give me any advice? – J.P.

A bit shy?

Hey J.P. – When you say timid, I’ll go ahead and assume you’re talking about a lack of confidence on stage. You didn’t mention if it’s because of stage fright or just a case of being shy, but there are many ideas and techniques on how to overcome this and improve as a public speaker (or a comedian that might need a push to get onstage).

But right off the bat I’ll say one I’ve never subscribed to as a method to build confidence or overcome stage fright is picturing an audience in their underwear. I’m assuming once again, but when you’re on stage as a public speaker I would think you should be concentrating on what you’re saying – your message – and don’t need anything else to think about. Plus there are always going to be too many people in an audience that I wouldn’t want to see in their underwear.

Of course I’m sure a lot of speakers and comedians would have a different opinion if they were booking gigs every day for The Hawaiian Tropic Tanning Team. There are both girls AND guys teams – so pick whichever one works best for you.

So instead of suggesting the extra brain work that comes with underwear picturing, a great way to get over a lack of confidence is to do what the comics told me when I first got interested in this crazy business.

Use humor.

Addiction causing

You may be timid, shy or nervous when you first walk on stage. But as someone who has been around behind the scenes a LOT, I’ve seen a LOT of people in that tongue-tying, dry-mouthed, hand-shaking condition suddenly break out and come alive once they experience their first laugh from an audience. It’s a life-changing event, spiritual awakening, shot of adrenaline and the same feeling as love at first sight – all rolled up into one big sucker punch to the gut.

That’s why comedians and humorous speakers say getting laughs from an audience is addictive.

I’ve watched many people from my workshops make their stage debut in front of large audiences at The Improv comedy clubs. Some were full of confidence, some were faking confidence – and some were just flat out nervous and scared. Members of this last group would fit into the category of timid– and the main reason was because they lacked experience on stage. They had never done it before in front of an audience and didn’t know for sure what to expect.

They needed that sucker punch to find out for themselves.

Nothing can truly change a lack of confidence until you have the overcoming experience for yourself. In this case, the experience of making an audience laugh. It’s powerful enough to make your first time onstage fun, memorable and… well, addictive.

Getting laughs can usually lure a timid person to try it again… and again… and again…

During my workshops I watch our shows from the back of the room. I can see if someone is going up on stage with a fearful look in their eyes. But as soon as they get that first laugh, it’s like a veil being lifted from their face.

The difference is like night and day – from black and white to color.

The same is true with speakers. Humor engages an audience and keeps them interested in what you’re saying. Even if you’re giving a political speech, a technical training seminar, a sermon, or anything that’s not a stand-up comedy act, a good speaker will mix up his delivery a bit. It can be subtle or BIG. They’ll go from soft to loud, or from high energy to almost standing completely still to make a point. Everyone’s different. Watch a (good) speaker on television or during a lecture and you’ll know what I mean.

Boring!!

For a journey to the other side of this, think about the most boring teacher you’ve ever had. Would the class have been more interesting and would you have stayed awake longer if they had just added even a speck of entertainment value? I need a nap just remembering some of the boring monotone instructors we had to sit through in lecture hall… yawn…

Basically, it’s really tough to hold an audience’s attention by using only one emotion all the way through a presentation or performance. That is why even a lot of eulogies include funny memories about the deceased. Humor is one of the delivery techniques that engages the audience and can seriously offer an interesting change of pace – whether it’s during a boring lecture or sad eulogy.

The late (and great) George Carlin told me during an interview for my book Comedy FAQs And Answers that he used language (we were actually having a conversation about dirty words) to keep his audience’s attention. And when he had their attention it meant he was in control and could take them verbally anywhere he wanted. When Carlin performed, his audiences were practically sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what he would (dare) say next.

Humor does this.

Make someone laugh and they’ll want to see if you can do it again. And while they’re waiting, they’ll listen to what you have to say next.

That means you are in control.

And that makes it a confidence builder– get it?

A great way to get over a lack of confidence (being timid or nervous) on stage is to use humor. Comedians go for as many laughs as possible. But as a humorous speaker (public speaker) go for a laugh. When you have their attention, follow it up by delivering your message. The combination of addictive laughter and an audience interested in what you’re saying should be the needed confidence boost to inspire you to do it again… and again… and again…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

Comedy Stylings by The Rolling Stones

Dave – I am still trying to find my “style” or whatever it’s called. I have a lot of single thoughts, but I just never used them because I’ve always felt compelled to do longer bits on a specific topic instead of one thing after another on unrelated topics. I don’t have the transitional material thing down. I listen to some comics and they can go from short topic to topic without it. I just don’t feel comfortable in that manner yet. When I leave one topic for another, I want to be sure the audience is along for the ride with me. Any help is greatly appreciated. – S.E.

Takes stage time and experience!

Hey S.E. – I’m coming at this with some insider knowledge because I’ve seen you perform in my workshop. It’s obvious you already have a lot of comedy material and it’s a good mix between long and short bits. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, mixing things up might really be your “style.”

I’ve been fortunate to watch a lot of live comedy and many times I’ve compared a great comedy set to a rock concert. Like with any creative art, there are many styles. Some comics can blast an audience in the face for an hour or change tempos and take the audience on a bit of a roller coaster ride with some ups, downs, and unpredictable U-turns.

Getting their ya ya’s out!

The example I use often relates to a Rolling Stones concert (cuz I’m a Classic Rocker at heart). They’ve been “The greatest rock’n roll band in the world” since Mick Jagger himself announced it at the beginning of their classic live album, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out back in 1969. Their concerts have been selling out for over five decades because they are excellent performers AND because their song choices and playing order take audiences on a ride.

For instance, they may open with Start Me Up and Jumpin’ Jack Flash – then slow it down with Angie or Wild Horses. The songs are all still classic rock, but the slower ones give the audience a moment to catch their collective breath. Then they’ll kick it back up into high gear with Brown Sugar and Satisfaction.

The Rolling Stones take you on a musical ride with different tempos, rhythms and lyrics.

Does each song flow into the next one?

Sometimes and sometimes not. Songs can be short and sweet like the original recordings, while others stretch out so Keith Richards can have a drink and a smoke. I’ve also noticed they’ve been playing a few more slower songs lately since Mick ain’t twenty-five years old anymore.

Okay, let’s take this back into the comedy world.

A good comedy show can do the same with long bits, short bits or variety (think props, music – whatever!). Just substitute the word “material” for “songs.”

Mixed up?

Some comics are great storytellers. Others rely on the basic format of set-up, middle and punch line for jokes. Working comics have developed their styles through many years of experience and learning what works best for them. Does one or the other style ONLY work best for you? Since you have both long and short bits, I highly doubt it.

So there’s no reason why you can’t mix it up.

As a comedian, you’re the writer and performer. Like at a Stones concert, give your audience a Jumpin’ Jack Flash (short hard-hitting bit), and then throw in an Angie (longer storytelling) if you want to. No one says you can’t – and in the effort you’ll wind up finding your style.

As far as transitions – segues – some comedians need them and others don’t. It’s a personal choice and whatever makes you feel comfortable is what works for you. But either way, it’s how you deliver it (some prefer sell it) it to an audience. If they’re relating to you and laughing, then there’s a good chance they’ll go with you if you want to take them in a totally different direction.

In other words, short bits and long bits can co-exist together.

It all depends on your comedy voice – which is another term for style or who you are on stage. It may also include a transition or segue between every bit, some bits, or not at all. You’ll figure it out – your comedy voice – as you get more experience on stage.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

Writing an email (cover letter) that talent bookers will read

Dave – What’s up. I have a quick question. You’ve helped me in the past with the structure of my Bio and Resume by looking in your book, How To Be A Working Comic. My question now is, I’m trying to come up with a structured letter or email to send to bookers or comedy clubs to get booked. Something where I would also have a link to a page with me performing so they wouldn’t have to stop and pop in a DVD – unless they wanted one. Would your book have something like that or could you point me in the right direction? I would really appreciate it… man! – K.B. PS – We all love your emails and words of wisdom! So keep’em coming!

Hey K.B.

First of all I’ll start with the “last of all” in your message. Thanks. I just want to help you guys get on stage.

“Hello, it’s me?” No, I can do better…

What you’re talking about is a cover letter. It’s an introductionto you and a requestto check out your video and performance credits for work. Just about everyone uses email instead of mailing a “letter,” but we both know we’re talking about the same thing.

Writing the cover letter (like the bio) can be almostas creative as your comedy material. Not everyone will agree with me on that, but I used to get a lot of cover letters with promo packages when I was booking A&E’s An Evening At The Improvand believe me, with so much competition to be noticed, the creative ones would catch my attention.

If I had to read something, it might as well be informative AND fun.

You’re a comedian, so I would expect you to be a funny person. I would also expect to be entertained – at least a little bit. Just don’t make your cover letter an entire comedy monologue. The only exception would be if it is really, REALLY funny. Otherwise, save your best bits for your promo video and on stage showcase.

Does this ever end?

You don’t want to make your cover letter too long and wordy. You should be able to introduce yourself (that’s what it’s for) and say everything you want the reader to do (the purpose behind a cover letter) in just two or three short paragraphs.

If you have another comedian or booker as a reference, mention it somewhere toward the beginning. Then tell the booker you’ve heard nothing but GREAT things about his club and you would abandon your entire family and all worldly possessions to perform there.

Okay, maybe not in those desperate words – mainly because you don’t want to come off as too desperate.

But it never hurts to send out a bit of good will and a compliment or two (great crowds, best comics, beautiful club, professional staff – pick one). Use your common sense on how you might kiss-upto the boss without sounding like a kiss-up. The showbiz term for it is schmoozing.

Mention a couple of your most impressive credits. Did you win a contest? Have you played another major club? Headline a benefit show? Perform at colleges? Again, just a few – don’t go overboard.

If you don’t have a directreference or connection with the booker to use at the beginning, you might still have a good recommendation. Comedians and speakers that perform for local organizations, benefits and/or colleges – wherever (and yeah, sometimes for free) should always ask for a letter (email) of recommendation. If you don’t – you should.Then take a line or two from one or two of those and put it in the body of your letter:

“Jenny Comic was very funny and helped to make our fundraiser a success.”– (credit quote to person and organization).

Then come right out and ask the booker to watch your promo video. Say it – don’t hint at it. ”Attached is a link to my video – or included is a DVD… please watch it… I’m sure you’ll enjoy it… I want to play your club…”  (As always, use your own words).

If you’re doing this by email include a working link to your website that contains your video or a link for your video. If you’re sending a snail mail letter, highlight your website link in the body of your letter AND include a promo package with a DVD. As I’ve mentioned earlier and in past FAQs, just about everything today is done online and that’s the main reason How To Be A Working Comic was updated to include online promoting. But what is now found on websites is the same material outlined in earlier editions of the book and what you would find in an effective “hard-copy” promotional package.

Now back to the cover letter… uh, email…

I’ll give you a call

At the end of your message thank the booker for his or her time and (here’s the secret) instead of saying something along the lines of “I hope to hear from you soon,” TELL him or her you’ll contact them within a certain time frame. Usually two weeks is good.  This follow-up can be done by email, but I suggest a phone call. There’s always a chance they will call you, but I wouldn’t hold my breath unless you have a solid gold reference from a major comedian or have already worked for a big-time talent booker.

The idea is to keep the door open for you to contact the booker again. AND you’ve mentioned this in advance.

Now, this is where today’s article could turn into a book chapter about “playing the game” when contacting talent bookers and building professional relationships. I’ve talked about that in past newsletters and will probably repeat myself in future ones. The focus behind today’s FAQ And Answer is to map out your cover letter.

Remember, you work in the entertainment “business” and should treat it that way – as a “business.

Creativity can be a major plus in promotions, but you also need to be professional about it. Keep your email (cover letter) concise and to the point. Talent bookers receive a lot of submissions and don’t have time to read through pages and pages of sample comedy routines, “how you’re going to change the face of comedy,” or “how you’ve been funny since birth.”

Tell them what you’ve done, throw in a recommendation (if you have one or two) and that you would like to work for them. Then make it easy to find and watch your promo video. That sounds like a “working” cover letter to me.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

Is local television worth promoting?

Hi Dave – I recently passed the audition at a local comedy club. The booker said he probably wouldn’t have anything for me for the first year or two other than a last minute fall-out. I don’t mind because we all come in “at the very bottom of the list.” Then I got a letter from a local television station to help out on camera during an auction. They always ask if I’m doing any shows locally, so I’ve learned to contact another local club to see about getting an MC week or a one night feature spot. That way I get the word out on TV and everybody wins.

This time I emailed the new booker to see if he has anything available right after the TV appearance. I wondered later if something like this (local television) even matters to a booker, or if they may look at it and say, “That’s not really TV… why are you bothering me?” You’ve been on the other side of this equation – what do you think? – DG

Hey DG – First of all congrats on passing the audition. And second – another congrats on sending in longest question (so far) for FAQs And Answers. You warned me at the beginning of your email you’ll “try to be brief, but that’s never been my strong suit.” You were right… ha!!!

So after editing down your ten pages to the few paragraphs above (okay – I’ll stop with the jokes since it was only five pages) you’ve asked a very good question. You also have the correct game plan.

Make the most of every opportunity.

Is it you?

I think it’s a great you sent the new booker an email with the local TV info. It may work – you never know unless you try. But even if it doesn’t result in an immediate MC week or guest spot, it keeps your name in front of him for a good reason:

It shows you’re out there doing something.

Everybody should know marketing, networking and promoting are important if you want to work in this biz. You don’t want to be a pain in the you-know-whatby sending emails to a booker every day or constantly calling. But you also can’t afford to be invisible to the point that they don’t even know who you are. It’s best if you fall somewhere in the middle.

For instance, when you’re on the roster of performers it’s pretty common for the booker to ask you send in your avails at least once a month. Avails are the dates you’re available for work. This is how you stay in touch with someone you’re already working with – without being a pain or the risk of being forgotten (invisible).

If you’re not on the roster and want to be, an email every few weeks or once a month as a reminder to watch your promo video or schedule a live showcase is not too much or too little. And for anyone that thinks postcards are old school – I still get them from comics and speakers looking for gigs. Sometimes it’s good to mix it up a little during the staying in touch game.

Excuse for a postcard

A lot of these messages are just simply, “Hello, how are you? I’m just staying in touch. Keep me in mind for work, etc…

That’s fine – again, you don’t want to be invisible. BUT when you share news about something you’re doing career-wise, it carries a little more weight than just asking about a booker’s health.

If you pass the audition at a great comedy club you want other bookers to know you’re working. Same thing if you win a contest, schedule a big corporate or college show, perform at a benefit – or appear on local television. These are achievements and a good excuse to stay in touch.

You’re marketing, networking and promoting that you’re doing something besides sitting home sending emails and writing postcards.

And yes the business puts emphasis on TV because it’s exposure to a potential audience (paying customers). The bigger the show – the bigger the exposure. This is free advertising for wherever you’re playing next. If a comic does a great set on a nationally broadcast late night television show and the host announces where that comic is performing over the next week or two, it’s worth more than any amount of local newspaper ads the club might be paying for promotion.

Local television can’t be considered too trivial if it’s broadcast in the same market as the club. Whenever headliners appear at major clubs, part of their job is to promote their shows in that market. Usually it’s written in the contract.

Television builds an audience!

They’re up at 6 am and driven to most of the local morning drive-time radio shows. After that they’re driven to the television studios to appear on local morning and early afternoon talk shows. When they’re finished getting the word out to more potential audience members the comic can catch a nap, have something to eat – and then hit the stage. Hopefully with all the PR work they’ve sold some tickets while they were sleeping and eating.

If a comic that is MC’ing, featuring or doing a guest set has a chance to drum up some business by appearing on a local TV show, it’s another free advertising opportunity for the club. Whether they take advantage of this is totally up to the booker – and also if he truly feels you’re ready to play the club. Since you’ve already passed the audition and on the club comedian roster, he obviously feels you’re ready. A local TV spot with an opportunity to plug the show is as good an excuse as any to stay in touch. It’ll pull more weight than a simple, “Hello, how are you?” in an email or on a postcard.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

Musical misadventures in comedy

Hey Dave – You had a question a few weeks ago about adding music. I’m thinking about ending my comedy set by doing a rap song. Just the background music like karaoke would be on a CD and I’d do a funny rap over it. I’ve seen other comedians and even speakers do this and think it’s a great way to close with a big ending. Any thoughts? – MW

Rockin’ the rap

Hey MW – Yeah, I always have a few thoughts. The first leans toward the music side. I’m not a rapper; I’m a rocker. So if the rap wasn’t rocked out with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (think Run-D.M.C.and Walk This Way WAY back in 1986) I probably haven’t voluntarily listened to it.

Involuntarily… well, that’s another comedy bit. I’ve had two teenage sons living in my house and know what it’s like to have rap songs blasting louder than my Aerosmith rock anthems. So in other words, I know it’s popular enough to make me a dinosaur when it comes to musical tastes. But…

My second thought relies on the above descriptive term – popular. In showbiz terms that means it sells. It also means – and I’m working off a personal opinion here – that most anyone cool (dinosaur term) enough to go to a comedy club will be familiar with rap. This is opposed to say, a Gregorian Chant which is a musical term that makes even someone like me sound new school.

Okay, enough musical nonsense. My creative recess is over. Let’s get to the point.

Music can add energy and raise the showbiz factor in a performance. It’s like bringing the glitz of Las Vegas to your gig. And it also keeps to my theory (and I explain this to public speakers in my college course) that live shows today are competing against what has become common on television and in movies:

Keeping audiences with short attention spans interested in the program.

Short attention spans

There’s a reason why TV commercials have shrunk from one minute to about 15-20 seconds over the decades. Short attention spans. And to keep viewers from changing the channel, these commercials have to be entertaining or informative all the way through.

With that being said, it’s the same with live performances. You must entertain your audiences and hold their interest. And with modern audiences used to 20 second entertainment bursts on television, it’s like competing against a 20 second commercial.

The problem with a live performance is that the viewers can’t change the channel. That’s why comedians and speakers need to up their entertainment factor. In other words, a mediocre set isn’t going to result in too many return engagements.

Using today’s topic, music can be a great attention grabber.

In fact, it’s become the standard way in most comedy clubs to rev up audience excitement for the comedians. When I managed the NYC Improv back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the MC would be introduced and the show would start. The MC would then introduce each comedian. There was no musical fanfare – just words.

Now that’s all different. Now its SHOWBIZ!!!

Comics request certain songs to be played after they are introduced and are walking onto the stage. It raises the excitement and audience attention factor. Music will do that.

Now to your question about adding a rap song to your set…

Yeah – try it. Why not? It’s all about entertaining and if it’s funny and energetic, chances are it will be entertaining. BUT here are a few things to keep in mind.

Sometimes techno things (my term that includes playing background music while you sing or rap) don’t go as planned. Here are a few warnings…

  • Make sure you really practice the words you are rapping or singing over the music.

If you screw-up the lines, the background keeps going. You still have to make it work for the audience. Ad-lib or admit you messed up, but make it part of the performance. You don’t want to just die on stage or let the bit fizzle out. You’ll look like an amateur.

  • Make it easy on the tech / sound person at the venue.

Don’t hand him a CD with 20 tracks and ask him to play a particular one when you give the signal. Sure, most can do it – but remember they have other sound, lights or audience distractions going on in the club and they might cue up the wrong track. What are you going to do? Will it ruin the bit?

Here’s an example…

Rap Album Of The Year?

A comic in one of my workshops decided to open with a rap song. Not to rap over it – but to do a funny dance as he walked on stage. Now, this is not an exaggeration. This really happened.The sound guy got the CD’s mixed up and played Over The Rainbow instead of the requested gangsta’ rap. He didn’t know it was a mistake, so it continued to play.

The comic was shocked but went with it and danced to Judy Garland instead of… well, probably Lil Wayne. It turned out to be funnier than the original concept. But the reason it worked – and he just didn’t stand there looking duh– was because he had been warned this could happen. I gave him the warning, which leads me to another story…

Sometimes at the NYC Improv (not always and especially not during weekend shows) we used to screw-up audio cues on purpose. It could be very funny (at least for us – the staff and other comedians) and would throw the unexpected at the comic on stage. It was always fun to see how they would react.

So keep that one in mind. It could happen – even sometimes on purpose!

The lesson is to just have the ONE song you want to use be the ONLY song on the ONE CD you give to the sound person. That lessens the odds for a screw-up (or great joke at your expense) on their part.

  • And finally – sometimes the tech thing just doesn’t work.

The CD player might be broken or already set up for the headliner (if you’re not closing the show). If it’s still your big closer, be prepared to do it a cappella (just your soulful voice and no backing music). It doesn’t matter if the equipment is working or not – the show must go on.

So the bottom line is to give it a shot. It’s showbiz, so go for it. But be prepared for the best and the worst. When you start adding effects to your stage performance, you’re no longer the only one in control of your act.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

You’ll never work in this town again

Hi Dave – I’m fairly new to this newsletter, so I don’t know if you’ve addressed this topic but I think it could be a good one. How to prepare yourself in the event of a car breakdown and what to do when it does. I was driving to a gig last night and it happened… with not a town in sight. I drove the car onto an exit, ended up following the ramp around and saw a gas station in the distance. It just so happened that a couple cops pulled in after me and I told them what was going on. One of them worked on cars and luckily he fixed it up. I have no idea what I would have done otherwise! – J.N.

Hey J.N. – Nope, we haven’t talked about this topic, so thanks for asking. I don’t have any solutions about what to do in your particular automotive case, so I’m glad to hear you have a police officer for a fairy godfather. As long as you made it TO the gig, what happened during your efforts in getting there could be potential comedy material.

Get there on time!

But since you brought it up, let’s talk about the importance of getting TO gigs…

Unless you’re near death, someone near and dear to you is near death, or you have this important stipulation – “Due to an act of God” – written into your contract (and you should) you never miss a paid performance. What the heck – I’ll say it – you also don’t want to miss an un-paid performance if you’ve promised a booker, club owner or event organizer you’ll be there. Either way the talent booker is planning on having you perform and if you’re a no-show, it could be a definite bridge-burner when it comes to future gigs through that booker (and other talent bookers that hear about your unreliable reputation).

It’s your career and it’s a job.

So before you leave, make sure your car has gas and is tuned-up, your flight’s not over-booked (and if so, arrive early so you’re not the passenger getting bumped), or have an updated public transportation schedule. Unless you can show a photo of you in a hospital or standing next to your totaled doublewide house trailer after a tornado, you’d better show up and be ready to perform. If not, don’t expect a second chance re-booking from the same person.

Case in point…

When I was the talent coordinator at The Los Angeles Improv, one of my favorite NYC comedians was flying out for a television audition. She’ll remain nameless because she’s quite famous and I consider her to be a friend in this business and would never write anything to make you think less of her. She called and I told her to come to the club and do a set. Then I mentioned this the person in charge of the showroom (also nameless because I like to hang onto my friends) and he said no way. He liked her, but she had stood him up a few years earlier by canceling an important benefit performance at the last minute.

And without a near death photo or evidence of a destroyed doublewide, she had committed the worse sin in the business. So instead of watching my friend on stage at The Improv, we met for lunch at a deli near The Laugh Factory.

Being a no-show is worse than ignoring the light while on stage and going over your performance time.

Remember that.

—————————————————————————-

Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – June 2, 2018

Includes evening performance on Wednesday, June 20th

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

———————————————————

From the business side of the comedy biz, you don’t miss gigs for any reasons less than the ones mentioned above. It’s a business for both you and the club (or event) and you need to treat it that way. And in case you haven’t figured this out, all talent bookers want to work with professionals. If you don’t handle your career like a professional– then don’t bother contacting professional talent bookers.

Another case in point. In fact, here are a couple…

A number of years ago I was booking a club about an hour outside Cleveland. There was an aspiring comic that came through my comedy workshop who really had promise – decent material and good stage presence. She really just needed stage time to get better. I had given her a few MC gigs, she did well – and since this club was only running a two person show, it was a good chance for her to do a longer set.

So even though she didn’t have a lot of experience, I told the owner she would be great and we booked her for the paying gig. It wasn’t so great when the club owner called me about 15 minutes after the show was supposed to start and asked when she would arrive. I called the phone number I had for her – and never heard back. I worried that she was stuck on the highway, got lost or suffered a near death (or worse) experience.

The show went on with only one comedian, but I lost a chunk of my booking fee since half the talent never got there.

The next day she called and said she had gotten my message. She couldn’t call back because she had taken a waitress job and was working the night of the show. She had given us no warning and no previous calls asking, “Can you find someone else?” She just never showed up for the gig. BUT (if you can believe this) she then asked if I could re-schedule her for the same club when she had a day off.

That was the last time we spoke.

Another example? Okay…

Where’s my GPS?

I was representing a comedian in the college market. He had successfully showcased through NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) and as a result I had scheduled him for a number of good paying gigs within driving distance of his home in Ohio. One was a Friday night at a campus in Pennsylvania. Not long before the show was scheduled to start, he called to say he was hopelessly lost.

I would think – and maybe this is just me (I say sarcastically), but if I was supposed to drive to a good paying gig, an updated phone, GPS, or even a road map would be a good business items to invest in. He told me he THOUGHT he knew ABOUT where the college was – so just headed in that direction hoping to see signs to help him find it.

He missed the show and again, I missed a booking fee. I also lost a hard earned business relationship with that college. Do you think I ever booked him again? Yeah, I’m laughing (sarcastically) that you would even consider that option…

So this week’s message is simple. Don’t miss a gig if you plan to work for that talent booker again in the future. And if you do, just hope he sees you on the television news explaining how the tornado interrupted your rendezvous with the aliens who’ve been visiting the trailer park – and were supposed to give you a lift to your comedy gig. If you’re lucky, he might buy that excuse – or find it entertaining enough to give you a rare second chance.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

Adding music increases the pizzazz factor

Hi Dave – I added a little music to my act one time and had some success. I was thinking about doing it again and wondered if that would be cool. I’d have music playing when I walked on stage, the first part of the set would be jokes and then I’d end by doing a rap song. I have a CD with instrumental music and thought someone doing the sound could turn it on for me and I’d “rap” over it. Just wanted to get your take on it. Thanks! – M.D.

Adding pizzazz!

Hey M.D. – I don’t think it’s a secret that most comedians (and this goes for many speakers also) understand they’re involved in showbiz. With all the techno-stuff and special effects we see on television, in movies and during live concerts, a lot of entertainment today is not only about substance (quality of the performance), but also the presentation (the pizzazz!).

It all depends on the circumstances and the performer, but from my experiences I believe audiences expect some type of pizzazz (okay – last time I’ll use that term in this article) when they pay money for a show. This means we’re talking about lights, explosions, sound effects during rock concerts – and even music during a comedy show.

I imagine that right now the die-hard, old-guard comedians I worked with in NYC years ago are thinking I’ve gone crazy. More than a few would have stood in the back of the room making fun of “variety” acts that used “gimmicks” – which at that time would have included juggling, riding a unicycle, singing or rapping over music karaoke-style.

But here’s a confession. I’m not crazy. It’s the evolution of the business. Let me explain…

—————————————————————————-

Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Begins Saturday – May 5, 2018

Includes performance on Wednesday, May 23rd

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

———————————————————

When I managed the NYC Improv back in the late 1980′s, I don’t remember comedians coming on stage accompanied by loud music. The MC introduced the comic and then he walked on stage and did his act. It was simple and to the point.

Around the same time, I would go to Madison Square Garden and watch the NBA New York Knicks, (actually I was only there when the Cleveland Cavaliers were in town). I don’t remember a big musical number with smoke machines, gyrating cheerleaders and dancing seven foot centers during pre-game introductions. They announced the teams, the players high-fived each other – and then started the game.

AND to really get carried away with this, I remember going to rock concerts when I was a teenager. An on-stage local deejay would introduce the band, the act would walk out, plug in their guitars, take time to tune their guitars, shout helloa few times into the microphones, and then start their first song. There were no opening films, explosions, special lights or anything like that. It was simple and to the point.

Warming up the NBA!

Fast forward to 2018. Can you imagine an NBA pre-game not resembling a rock / rap concert? It’s the same with former teen idols that are now seventy-something year old rock stars in concert. Before they even leave the hotel and take a limo to the venue there are films, music, lights and other showbiz energizers to get the crowd hyped up and into the show.

The same is now true for a lot (not all but a lot) of comedy shows and speaker presentations. For proof, go to any legit comedy club located between NYC and Hollywood. Even the opening acts are asked what song they want blasting when they walk on stage.

In fact, I can’t remember the last time I watched a comedian – outside of one of my workshops – who didn’t use music to hype up the audience before grabbing the microphone and opening his show.

Wait… yes I do.

It was Dennis Millerand it has to be more than fifteen years ago. He was performing at a theater (following Rita Rudner) and was dressed as a janitor. The audience didn’t know it was Miller because he wore a hat and kept his head down as he was sweeping the stage at the end of intermission. His act started when he took off his hat and said hello– which was a pretty cool non-musical way to hype up an audience.

Otherwise, comedy clubs have turned into a mini NBA pre-game show.

So… should you use music / rap during your performance? If it fits your comedy voice (who you are on stage) then I don’t know why not. As I’ve just explained, it’s a great way to hype upan audience. And what I mean is that it can add energyand a real sense of funinto your performance.

I remember a time when some of the musical comedians I worked with worried about being labeled “guitar acts.” The rumor was that they’d never get on The Tonight Showbecause producers only wanted “real stand-up comedians.” But I’ll tell’ya something – in the clubs, guitar acts (good ones with high energy) always had the crowds excited, involved in their shows and received the loudest ovations. They could always find work in clubs, corporate events, cruise ships and the college circuit.

Pizzazz sells (sorry I had to use the term again!)

Do I need to say more? Similar to creating and writing comedy material, you need to take your best ideas on stage. The audience will help you decide whether or not it works. You never know unless you try.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.

Will lack of references hurt?

Hi Dave – I just took a look at the registration for an upcoming comedy festival. The form asks for any references. Does it hurt that I don’t have any? Can I put your name down to verify that I’ve at least completed a comedy workshop? Thanks for your thoughts. – L.P.

Here are my references!

Hey L.P. – References can be another word for networking – which is a key buzz word in almost every industry today. If you know the right people who can give you a good referral, it’s almost like having a free pass to be “seen.” But if you haven’t yet built up a list of right people, don’t let it stop you. You still need to put yourself out there, (network), and make good contacts, (references), along the way.

I subscribe to a lot of email newsletters and check out blogs on a variety of topics. Some are about the entertainment industry and business in general. Others are about training or help in researching different projects like publishing or making presentations. Google Alerts are great for that and for (hint, hint) writing comedy material.

My point is that I use this information to keep up with what’s happening with stuff I’m interested in and the world in general. And the one thing that’s hammered into my head every day is that a lot of people are looking for work. Not just comedians, but people looking for real jobs. And yes, being a working comedian or humorous speaker is a real job. But I’m talking about the real jobs (think 9-5) that real comedians try to avoid like hecklers and hack jokes.

—————————————————————————-

Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

Begins Saturday – May 5, 2018

Includes performance on Wednesday, May 23rd

Workshop Marquee 150

Meets for 3 Saturday afternoons from noon to 4 pm

Space limited to no more than 10 people

For information, reviews, photos and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

*

———————————————————

Everybody’s filling out registrations (job applications) and one of the sections will always ask for references.

One of the newsletters I subscribe to covered this topic last week. The question was from someone looking for a real job (9-5), but the advice also makes sense for comedians like you that might be registering for comedy festivals or looking to contact talent bookers, (avoiding a real job).

So I’ll pass it along here.

Here’s everyone and more!

You never mentioned making-up references, so I’ll commend your honesty and assume it never crossed your mind. That’s good. If you start putting down references you don’t have, sooner or later it will come back to haunt you. The comedy biz is actually a smaller world than you might think and there’s a good chance of having a lesser degree of separation between you and Jimmy Fallon than the more famous Six Degrees of Separation between you and actor Kevin Bacon.

If you don’t know the game I’m referring to, Google it.

If you start dropping names in a small world, sooner or later that “name” is going to find out and deny any knowledge of your existence. You might also run into a booker who is good friends with the “name” and can back you into a tight corner.

Either way, your reputation will take a hit as word spreads through the (smaller than you might think) comedy world.

Also never claim experience you don’t have.

Your sister’s best friend might be a good friend with someone working at The Tonight Show who mentioned you once to Jimmy Fallon. Drop his name on your reference list and bookers will expect a set that Fallon would be proud to endorse. But if you’re barely out of the open-mic scene… Well, word will get out and when it comes to talent bookers with long memories, all you’ve achieved is locking in your career at the open-mic level until you get a real job of the 9-5 variety.

The best advice is “honesty is the best policy.”

A REALLY old saying!

There’s a reason why that’s an old saying – because it’s true. If you’re new in the comedy business, a good talent booker will see that watching your set. Experience is obvious. BUT there’s nothing to be ashamed of – everyone has to start somewhere. If you have potential, a good talent booker will recognize that also. You may not be ready for prime time, but you could make a good impression and be remembered in the future.

And as you grow as a comedian, that too will be evident and respected.

So to repeat myself, if you don’t have references now, don’t let it stop you. Fill out the registration and put down whatever you have – even if it’s just open-mics, benefit shows or even a comedy workshop. The talent booker might recognize potential from your video (which all festivals and bookers will require if you’re not available for a live showcase) and give you a shot. Believe it or not, a good talent booker enjoys discovering a “new face.”

If it doesn’t happen for you now, you might be remembered the next time you apply. If you show growth and experience in both writing and performing, that will definitely help the recognition factor. And by that time you might also have a few references from the right people, which can only be earned by putting yourself out there, doing great sets and networking.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

*

Newsletter Banner copy
Click banner to sign-up and get 20% off How To Be A Working Comic at Amazon.com.