Promotional videos need an audience

Dave – Does the promotional video have to be in front of a live audience? Most open-mics are restricted to 5 minutes and my bits are longer. Also, many open-mics are poor venues to make quality video. – ET

Hopefully more than this!

Hey ET – If you’re promoting for a live performance gig you need to show the talent booker what you can do in front of a live audience. Maybe if you’re sending in your “reel” for an acting gig – commercials, TV or film – I doubt it would matter. Then again, since we’re dealing with comedians and humorous speakers and not actors (well, not necessarily) the answers to your questions – in order – are:

  1. Yes
  2. Tough
  3. Figure out another option

Okay, I know the last two sound kind of harsh, but I’ll explain my reasoning in a moment. But for right now I’ll fall back on a standard reasoning that this is a business. Yes, it is a creative business that survives on talent and continues by discovering new talent that is different, innovative and sometimes not afraid to push down a few established barriers. But when it comes to the business of promoting, there are some established thoughts I don’t think are going to change anytime in the near future.

One is submitting a promo video filmed in front of a live audience.

When you want to be considered for a performance gig – you need to show the talent booker a performance in front of an audience. They want to see how you work on stage and an audience reaction before they’ll take a chance on you. There’s no other way outside of a live showcase to do that.


Comedy Workshop at The Omaha Funny Bone

Starts Saturday – April 21, 2018

Workshop also meets Sundays – April 22 & 29 from noon to 4 pm

Includes an evening performance at The Funny Bone on Monday, April 30

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Interested in the next workshop at The Cleveland Improv?

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Think of it like test-driving a new car. A buyer wants to know how it runs on the highway, rather than just taking the seller’s word on it. It’s the same thing with live performers. A good talent booker wants to know what he’s buying before putting the comic (or speaker, or musician…) on stage in front of a “live” audience. If the audience enjoys the show they might come back for another (clubs like returning customers), but if it’s a bomb they might just go to a movie or another club next time.

It’s pretty much impossible to get an accurate feel for a comedian or speaker without an audience. Yeah, I know the television show Last Comic Standing used to have comics perform in front of only three judges in the first round, but those three people were still an audience. I’m sure most comics know what I’m talking about from doing open-mics in front of only two or three people. They’ve learned that you still need to perform for them.

I remember getting videos for A&E’s An Evening at the Improv from aspiring comedians that were filmed in their living rooms, basements and bedrooms, and even outside. No audience – just them in front of a camera. Honestly, they were laughable because they came off as amateurs that really had no performing experience (an experienced comic would know better). And as I’ve been known to say…

They may call it amateur night, but no one wants to hire (pay for) an amateur.

So don’t even consider sending a promo video for a performance gig that was not filmed in front of an audience. The talent booker will be wondering why you couldn’t get on stage anywhere and had to do it this way.

Now as far as a time limit of say… five minutes. Again, it’s the business.


Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Starts Saturday – March 24, 2018

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Also meets Saturdays – April 7 & 14 (skips Easter Weekend)

Includes a performance at The Improv on Wednesday – April 18

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Talent bookers get a LOT of video submissions and simply don’t have the time to watch a string of comics doing… well, a LOT of time. Usually most of them know within the first 30 seconds if the comedian has the experience and material to maybe be hired. It’ll show right away. Most also know how to fast forward and stop at random places to see if the comic is getting laughs from an audience. I’ve sat and watched promo videos with more than a few very influential talent bookers in NYC and LA and have seen this happen. So whatever the length of the video, it should be your best and filmed in front of a live audience.

But saying five minutes is not enough time for your long bits could hurt you BIG TIME when you’re just starting out. An important part of the club business is keeping comics “within their time.”

Headliners – the acts audiences are paying to see – have the most flexibility when it comes to time. I’ve seen many do an hour or more if there’s only one show that night and the audience is really having fun. But the opener and feature need to “stick to their time” so the headliner doesn’t go on too late in the show or in front of a burned-out audience.

Sometimes an opener can be given 15 minutes. But other nights, especially when there are two or three shows and maybe a guest set thrown in, the manager might tell the opener to do 5 minutes or less.

Can you do that?

If they manager says, “Do five minutes” and you go over your time because your bits are too long, chances are you won’t work that club again. I also remember a former member of my workshop calling me to say he’d had his best set ever during a contest at The Improv but was disqualified. Why? Because comics were given five minutes – and he had done five minutes and TEN seconds.

I’m not kidding. Again – it’s the business.

So if most open-mics only give you five minutes and your bits are longer, then you need to find other clubs that will give you more stage time. You don’t want to break their rules if you want to be invited back.

And again, time limits are important to remember if you want to get hired in most clubs. If you can’t stick to five minutes and that’s what they’re looking for, then turn down the gig. It won’t work in your favor.

Not every open-mic is a poor venue to make a quality video (your comment above) and if these are the only places you’re performing, it’s probably time to expand your horizons if you want to start getting paid work. Actually some of the more popular open-mics I’ve seen in various cities would be cool settings for a promo video. They may not have “IMPROV” or another club logo on the back wall, but a stage, microphone and spotlight, and an attentive audience will usually do the trick.

This would be better!

The deal is that you want a real audience to make a decent promo video. A room full of open-mic comics who’ve probably heard your set a dozen times and are trying to figure out what they’re going to do on stage when you’re finished won’t be your best audience.

So this is where you figure out another option.

When you’re going to do a promotional video – promote the gig. Seriously. Invite friends, family, co-workers and anyone else you can get in the club. I’ve seen comics in NYC standing on the sidewalk handing out flyers not because it was a bringer show, but because they wanted an audience for their promo video.

Another option is to get a few other comics involved that also want new promo videos. Again, I learned this trick in NYC. Five or six comics would plan to do their videos on the same night and PACK the club with just about everyone they knew.

Once the scene was set – all they had to do was be funny (not an option – ha!) and film it.

At the end of the night they had new promo videos filmed in front of a “live” audience that (from what I remember) got them work from talent bookers. Then when they were booked in better clubs, they got better videos – and the cycle continues for anyone who wants to be a working comic.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!


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Opener vs. Feature vs. Headliner

Hey Dave – I was reading your newsletter today and I’m wondering… What’s the difference between a Headliner vs. a Feature Act? Thanks – DS

Who’s on stage?

Hey DS – Money. Next question?!

Okay… okay… sorry for trying to be funny. That’s actually a good question for comics starting out AND in certain areas of the comedy scene. And the above is only part of the answer. There’s more to it, so let me explain with a true confession.

When I worked in the comedy biz in NYC I didn’t know the difference either. In fact, there was never even a reason to bring up the term feature act. The comics worked their way through the open-mics and auditioned for the major clubs in the city. You can Google for a list – but off the top of my head from those days we’re talking about The Original Improv, Catch A Rising Star, The Comic Strip, Caroline’s, Dangerfields’, NY Comedy Club and Stand-Up NY.

I’m sorry if I forgot anyone…

Fab comedy fan outside The Original NYC Improv

I was manager of The Improv, which in NYC (like the others) was a showcase club. Yes, most of our audiences were made up of locals and tourists (like the others) but comics knew it was an important place to be seen. On any given night there could be agents, managers, producers and casting directors watching. We also scheduled showcases (auditions) for The Tonight Show, The Letterman Show, HBO, MTV – and plenty of others.

As I said – it was a good place to be seen on stage.

Non-industry nights were Fridays and Saturdays. This means the audiences (2 shows Friday and 3 on Saturday) were pretty much local comedy fans and tourists. Instead of going to a movie, they could see a live show. So the comics were booked in advance and mostly “A-Acts.” In other words, they were our headliners and the industry people already knew who they were. They had agents, television credits, etc…

Let’s put it this way. You, me and everyone on the planet earth knows who Jay Leno is. So there’s no reason for him to showcase for industry exes. Just call his agent if you have a project in mind.

Make sense? Okay…

Sunday through Thursday were showcase nights. There would be several A-Acts doing 20 minute sets to guarantee good shows. But this is also when industry exes and audiences would see the up-and-coming comics. They would be given anywhere from 5 to 10 minute sets and we could have as many as 10 to 15 comics go on stage in one night. Since we could stay open until 4 am the length of the show depended on how many people were still in the audience.

So what I’m trying to say is in NYC (at that time anyway) we didn’t deal with or use the term feature acts. They were either A-Acts or working their way toward becoming an A-Act.

The difference in terms happened when comics worked on the road – clubs outside of NYC. And since that wasn’t on my personal radar at the time, I never dealt with it.

It wasn’t until I got to Los Angeles and started working at The Improv that I learned about bookings in the other Improv comedy clubs. The venue on Melrose Avenue was a showcase club like NYC (and still a GREAT place to be seen), but the others Budd Friedman had across the country did shows with only three comedians.

Only THREE comics?

World View

Yeah – I was surprised too! My mindset was like the old New Yorker Magazine cover from 1976 – that was still a popular poster around Manhattan twenty years later (and probably still today). Basically, Manhattan residents could look west from 9th Avenue (BTW – The Improv was located just east of 9th Ave) and not really acknowledge anything until the Pacific Ocean.

Stuck up? Well, when everything you need is on one island it just becomes a way of life. But I regress…

Outside of NYC and LA, the clubs in other cities scheduled three comics – an opener (MC), feature (middle) and headliner (closer).

Every club I’ve ever managed or booked – including showcase clubs – has an MC. That’s the comic who opens the show and warms up the audience. They’re also the ones required to make the announcements. You know – tell the audience about drink specials, future shows, sponsors, etc…

The headliner closes the show. That’s the star act – the comic the club is advertising and the one most of the audience is paying to see.

The feature act? You can guess – right? That’s the comic in the middle – between the opener and headliner. They do more time on stage than the opener – and less than the headliner.

And that takes us back to my first answer – money. The feature act is paid more than the opener and less than the headliner. And there’s never a mix-up over that cuz it’s in the contracts, which is another matter I don’t remember dealing with in showcase clubs. In NYC you showed up, did your set, got cab fare and a sandwich – and thanked the club when you got a special on Comedy Central.

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Personal request from headliner to open shows

Hey Dave – After a recent showcase the headliner came up to me and asked if I’d be willing to open for him on his upcoming shows. What’s the best way to approach being a featured comic or host at this (major) club? I have the manager’s email and a video of the showcase set as a sample of what I can do. I also have a website with my headshot and resume and can burn the video on DVD and post on YouTube. Sincerely – L.S.

You’ve got this!

Hey L.S. – That’s great news! As I say in way too many articles, that’s your Golden Ticket. A personal recommendation from a headlining comic is ALWAYS better than trying to do it all on your own through blind mailings and emails, or hanging out at the club (topics we’ve talked about in past newsletters).

Of course I’d never discourage comics or humorous speakers from promoting themselves with good business methods (website, video, postcards, etc.). But when you have someone that actually works in the club as a headliner putting in the good word for you, it’s always easier to at least be seen (given a showcase).

And if you already have a track record – meaning decent performing credits – you might just end up with a paid booking. I’ve seen that happen a lot, meaning a good headliner will have his own opening and feature acts on the road with him. Clubs book the “package” – which makes the talent booker’s life a bit easier.

My advice is to stay in touch with the headliner about this. Ask him exactly what he has in mind. For instance, would it just be for his upcoming shows at this (major) club? Does he want you to go on the road and open for a string of clubs for x-number of weeks?

By the way, you should be able to find out what he has on the schedule by checking out his website. Most comics keep their online calendars updated not only for talent bookers, but also their fans. I always talk a lot about promoting and there are more than a few (smart!) comics who buy advertisements on Facebook and LinkedIn (there’s more about that technique in the updated version of How To Be A Working Comic) aimed at the cities / areas they’re playing a week or two in advance. Clubs love it when comics help to promote their own shows. And since (smart!) comics also attach their websites to these ads to help build audience interest through their videos and credits, you can check out their touring schedule.

I’ll make the call!

Preferably you’ll want the headliner to personally contact the club booker or manager requesting you open his shows. He can tell them to expect your call or email, or just call you back to say it’s a done deal and fill you in on the details. Either way, he has to be the one to do this.

The headliner (or his agent) needs to personally mention this to the club booker. That’s what will cut through all the red tape. All it takes is one phone call from the comedian or his agent.

That’s important because otherwise the booker might not believe you if you’re the only one calling to set this up. And I don’t mean to single out just YOU – it’s like that with all comics they don’t know. You’d be surprised how many comics “drop names” but don’t actually have that comic’s recommendation. I’ve had that happen to me in the past and it never works in the “name dropper’s” favor.

I’m sure there are more than a few club bookers who can relate to that last statement. And I’ve also read some recent online posts from a few comics who’ve tried it – and ended up regretting it.

If for some reason the headliner doesn’t follow through on this or just suggests you make the contact, then go to Plan B. Send an email to the club booker that the headliner talked with you about being the opening act for his upcoming shows. Ask for the “correct way” for you to submit a video and promo. Hopefully the booker will request you send a link to your website and video.

If you don’t hear back from the club booker wait a couple weeks and send a reminder. The goal is to stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what. Know what I mean?

I’ve talked about how to promote and market your career via emails, postcards and phone calls in past FAQs And Answers so no need to repeat it all here. There are also marketing suggestions in How To Be A Working Comic. And yes – that was another blatant book plug. Did I mention I’m into marketing and promoting? Ha!

But again, if the headliner puts in a personal request for you to open his shows, chances are everything should work in your favor. This is your Golden Ticket – so use it.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!


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Shake things up in 2018

Hi Dave – I’m one of those people who will always wonder, “What if?” I’ve fallen behind in my stage fright quotient and will definitely tackle those fears and hit the stage once I get a solid five minutes (of comedy material). I may sink, swim or neither, but it’s time to shake things up. I was just watching what I consider to be the underrated Stardust Memories with one of my favorite lines: “You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.” Much obliged – P.J.

Hey P.J. – I like your attitude. It’s a new year, which for many people can signal a new change or a new direction in life. Personally I don’t see why changes can’t be made anytime you feel you’re ready and it’s needed, but the New Year’s Countdown and ball dropping in New York’s Times Square can be like a starter’s pistol going off. For some, it’s time to start running in a new direction.

Go for it!

Three, two, one… Happy New Year!

Wait a minute… another year? “What if…?”

How often have you thought that? We’d all like to swim rather than sink, but to do neither sounds like a step backwards to me. So I’m going to kick-start 2018 with a bit of a challenge:

Let’s shake things up.

Since you’ve read this far AND if you’ve read any past FAQ’s And Answers I’m assuming you have a sense of humor AND a flair for creativity (and that’s a creative word: flair). You’re either a comedian or a humorous speaker – or both – or aspiring to be one or the other – or both.

How do you stand out from everyone else? What separates you from the pack? Maybe it’s time to shake things up and take a risk.

Taking a risk can mean different things to different people. If you’ve never been on stage for whatever reason (stage fright quotient?) but it’s burning a BIG “What If?” in your brain – do it now. If you’re waiting until the ball drops next year, you risk losing this year. Go to an open-mic, take a class, form a writing group – whatever, there are tons of options. There are also plenty of good books on the market (and not just mine – search around) on how to write, perform and find work in this crazy biz.

Let’s shake things up.

Shake it up!

If you’re already on stage doing comedy or speaking and your career is not where you think it should be – make a change. Take a risk. Try something different. It could be different topics, different energy, different venues or even a different location. You never know until you try.

One of my favorite stories in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works is from comedian Christopher Titus.

He described himself early in his career as being the “happy-go-lucky comic.” He was funny, but there was nothing that separated him from any other observational comic.

Then his manager challenged him to take a risk. He suggested he be real on stage.

Titus was one person (happy-go-lucky) on stage, but off stage he had a dark, edgy – risky – style of humor. Accepting the challenge, he wrote a bit about stabbing his boss with a letter opener. It worked BIG time. This change in his comedy voice separated him from the pack, made him an in-demand headliner and also star of his own television sitcom, Titus.

Now I’m not saying to write material about stabbing your boss with a letter opener. If you look back at the above paragraph, it’s been done. Copying someone else’s material is not going to get you anywhere in this creative business. In fact, it would be a step backwards. And it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go in a more edgy direction if that is NOT where your true humor is based. Some comics like more family-oriented material or working in the corporate (clean) market.

All I’m saying… suggesting… (motivating?)… is to make this YOUR year. Accept the challenge and shake things up.

If you’re waiting to start, take that important first step and get on stage. If you’re looking for help in preparing for that first step, are too nervous, or have a full-blown case of stage fright, take a workshop and let someone with experience help you ease your way into it. If you’re already performing, remember the famous line from Stardust Memories (a Woody Allen film if you need to know):

“You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.”

Have a productive, successful and laugh-filled 2018.

Your Pal – Dave

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Getting an MC gig at an “A-List” comedy club

Hey Dave – My goal for 2018 is to host a show at one of the top clubs (like The Improv). I have video that I can submit and if nothing else, it will be good to get some feedback and be told what I have to do to get work there. In saying that, do you know how to go about submitting videos to the clubs and what should accompany it, i.e. bio, pics, etc? If you know who the contacts for the club may be or how to find that info that would be great as well. Thanks for your continued support in the comedy scene and I hope you are well. Talk to you soon – CC

Checking the list

Hey CC – Thanks for the support and well wishes. In answer to both I can say I’m trying my best…

And another thanks for your question since it gives me a chance to combine two recent articles into a (hopefully) working answer. Make sense? Again, I’ll try my best…

Usually with the major clubs, the headliners and most features (middle acts) are booked through a corporate office. They have a talent coordinator who books all the clubs in their chain. Opening acts are mostly local or within driving distance and are booked by the club’s in house manager. The opening acts don’t get flown in or put up in five star hotels, if you know what I mean.

When you’re going for an opening (host / MC) spot at an “A-Room” (pick the top club in your area) it’s about the total package. Yeah, of course you have to be a good comic with experience. But you also have to show that in your submission to even be considered. These bookers are not going to hire someone who’s not ready to play their club. The audiences pay for and expect a professional comedy show. And even though the openers won’t have the television and/or film credits the headliners or some features have, audiences are also not paying big $$’s to watch an amateur night.

Know what I mean? You should have experience and a list of credits from playing smaller clubs first, before you approach the “big guys.”

I was on a panel at a comedy festival a few years ago with the manager of a major club and an owner of another. One of them – in a very polite way – talked about the smaller clubs being like the minor leagues. He was comparing it to baseball. Get your experience there first to prove you can do it before trying to move up to the major leagues.

Assuming you’ve done that – here’s a game plan for your question.

Last week I talked about doing “face time” (networking) in comedy clubs. Before that the topic was promotional material. Now it’s time to combine…

Make the call

I suggest calling the club and asking the proper way to submit a video for a showcase (audition). The people answering the phones will know – because this is a question they get all the time from comedians. Follow what they say.

Based on the two major clubs in my area, there can be two different scenarios. One is doing face time. For instance, one of the clubs has a bringer showcase once a month. Bringer meaning you have to bring x-amount of paying audiences members to get stage time. I won’t discuss the pros and cons of that now, cuz I’ve also done that in past FAQs And Answers. Let’s just agree it is what it is – and the only way you’ll be seen on stage at this particular club.

Play the game (pay the admission for your friends if you have to) and get on stage. At least you’ll be seen by someone connected with the club. Afterward do some face time and network with whomever is in charge of the show. Ask them what your next step is (you asked about getting feedback so this is your opportunity) or how to be considered as an opening act during one of their regular shows.

Who knows? They might offer you a gig based on your performance (best scenario), say you’re not ready (worst scenario), or ask you to send them a video for more review. That last one’s okay because you’re still in the game. It’s also what you’d have to do for the other club I’m thinking about anyway, so here’s how that’s gonna work…

Again, you might want to consider starting with some face time. Go to a show and keep an eye out for a manager. Another hint – from experience – do this on a “one-show night.” Fridays and Saturdays usually mean multiple shows in the major clubs and everything is more hectic. Go on a Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday and chances are better you’ll get a minute or two with the person in charge.

Then ask. What’s the best way to get a showcase or submit a video? And again from experience – because comics ask all the time – they’ll tell you. Follow what they say.

If the club doesn’t offer a showcase night ask if they accept submissions via email and get the email address.

I also suggest you have a dedicated website for your comedy submissions. A certain comedy club I’ve worked for won’t even consider booking a comedian – including an opening act – without one. If you’re working off a Facebook page or other social media site, it doesn’t show them you are serious about your career if you haven’t taken that step as a professional. And if you’re not sure what to include on a website, just check out websites by “working” comedians or pick up a copy of my book How To Be A Working Comic.

Stand out from the crowd!

Some comics might tell you this is not necessary since all the booker is interested in is your video. But here’s another hint from experience. To stand out from the crowd (and they get a lot of videos) you should make the extra effort. It makes you look more professional and that’s how you want them to see you.

Again – none of these top clubs are interested in hiring an amateur.

If they tell you to submit a video via email, send a link to your website that includes your video. Yeah, you can probably just email a link to your video on YouTube – if that’s really how you want to play this opportunity. But again, it won’t look as professional.

And for some of you, don’t let the idea of having a website throw you off your game. They’re easy and inexpensive. Check out WordPress and some of the others available for this.

Talent bookers will understand (they should) that you’re not a headliner or feature act because you’re asking for an opportunity to be an opening act (MC). They shouldn’t expect all the “bells and whistles” of a big-time headliner website. But since these are “A-Clubs” we’re talking about, they will expect you to be further along in your career than doing open-mics and using a Facebook page as your business site.

If you don’t get a response from your submission, stay in touch without being a pain in the you-know-what. An email or postcard every couple weeks should work.

But again, networking REALLY helps. If you’re part of your area comedy scene you probably know some of the comics who open at these clubs. If you see them at the open-mics or some of the other clubs – and they like your sets (important to know first!) – ask if they can throw in a good word for you with the booker. As I’ve written in the past, a personal recommendation from someone who already works at the club can be your Golden Ticket. That can either get you a showcase or have your video watched a lot faster than anything I just mentioned above.

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Doing face time in comedy clubs for bookings

Hey Dave – Isn’t “face-time” (not the kind associated with iPhones) one of the most important parts of getting work hosting in comedy clubs? What I mean is, doesn’t it make a big difference in someone’s chances of being MC for a weekend (or more) when they frequent the club, chat up the staff and tip well, and demonstrate a willingness to do grunt work? I think that is universal. Didn’t you have a story about the guy who showed up outside a club and swept the sidewalk every day until they hired him inside and he then moved up the ranks? – DM

Hey DM – This is not an easy question because there are a lot of buts, maybes and depends that will go into any answer – from anyone. I know from experience there are some comics and club owners who will agree with what I’m going to say, and others who will grab a broom and tell me to get out of the way.

Check me out!

But you know what? This is showbiz, which is an industry full of gimmicks. If you don’t believe me turn on the TV and the highest rated reality shows. You may not want to hang out in real life with bachelors, housewives and Kaitlin Jenner’s ex-family, but you have to admit they know how to bring attention to themselves.

So keeping that in mind, it’s not a bad idea to call attention to yourself by being seen around the clubs you want to play. To break into your local comedy scene you need to have the local talent bookers know who you are and that you’re a comic.

The goal is to score an audition.

I’ve never heard of the guy who swept the sidewalk outside a club everyday and was rewarded with a paid MC (hosting) gig.  It’s not a bad way to call attention to yourself, but if you really do end up with an audition it will only pay off if you have the talent and experience to back it up. Otherwise the only winner will be the club owner with a clean sidewalk.

My first thought is that the time could be better spent getting stage experience somewhere else.

Earn a reputation as a good comic and then do some networking. It’s a lot easier to score a showcase when you have a track record and recommendations from other comics and bookers who’ve seen you on stage. When you have that going for you, there’s no need to bring a broom to the club.

Showbiz has always been about being different and standing out from the crowd. If you have the experience and truly believe you’re ready to play the club and sweeping the sidewalk gets you noticed by the booker, who am I to put it down?

That’s why a lot of new comics are willing to hand out flyers for stage time or line up friends and family for bringer shows. Sometimes you have go the extra mile to get ahead in this crazy biz.

But your real question is about “face time.” That was always (and still is) a major networking opportunity and how a lot of newer comedians got on stage when I worked in New York City and Los Angeles. But I have to emphasize they were already experienced comics and not someone who only thought keeping the sidewalk clean would be their best career move.

When comics were experienced and funny enough to start performing at a club like The Improv they still had to pass the audition. Working the door, bartending, or even sweeping the sidewalk could open the door, but didn’t guarantee future paid gigs.

You had to prove – on stage – you could do it.

Even after someone passed the audition, there was no guarantee they’d get regular performing spots. They were on the club roster, which meant they were welcome to come in and “hang out at the bar” as a comic. Now if they wanted to sweep the sidewalk instead of sitting around – yeah, they’ll be noticed over the others. But if they hadn’t passed their audition, then chances are they’d still be sweeping when the show is ending.

But face time does count. For example…

Hanging out for a late night set

During a week night at The New York Improv we would schedule enough comedians to get us through until around midnight. If there was still an audience at that time (in NYC we could keep the shows going until 4 am as long as we had people in the showroom) then we would look around to see what comics were “hanging out.” They would make up the rest of the show until either the audience left or we hit last call.

That was doing face time and we already knew they were comedians.

If they wanted to grab a broom and sweep up… well, thanks. But that alone would not have earned a performance slot. Were they on the roster? If not, was there another comic who was a regular performer at the club recommending they be given an audition? That’s the only way they were going to get on stage that night.

Playing broom for club gigs

Now I already know some comics and club owners will disagree and have examples to prove me wrong. I even have a story in one of my books from a favorite club owner who might trade performing spots for work around the club. So I’m not saying it won’t work, I’m just saying…

A great way to kill a show is by putting on someone – anyone – who doesn’t have experience and isn’t funny. That’s why there are open mics and why established comedy clubs have auditions and already know who the comics are. Gimmicks like sweeping the sidewalk might get an audition, but the time could be better spent getting known as a good comedian – even if you have to perform somewhere else to make it happen. If you come in ready to knock everyone out with your talent, then you can get quality face time with the other comics “hanging out” instead of doing grunt work.

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

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.

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.

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.

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Promoting your videos to talent bookers

Hey Dave – How can I promote my videos to talent bookers? What about on YouTube? – BT

Marketing Technique

Hey BT – I’m not revealing any kind of marketing breakthrough by saying almost everything today is done online. There are still a few agents and bookers that request hard copies of promotional packages, but in my opinion it just means they’re really out of touch with what’s going on. If they can’t get online and learn how to work with streaming video and website links, what kind of gigs are they getting for their clients?

I’m guessing Amish barn-raisers.

What used to be included in a hard-copy promotional package is what still needs to be included when you promote yourself online. If you want to know what’s required, pick up a copy of my book How To Be A Working Comic. All the marketing tools that were once in hard copy promo packs are now posted online. And a dedicated website is considered more professional and even required by some bookers I’ve worked with if you even want to be considered for work. And it’s not all that expensive if you look into some of the options like a website on WordPress or Wix.

But don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a big time website dedicated strictly to your comedy or speaking career. Facebook will still work with smaller bookers and LinkedIn is also a good network / marketing tool. But definitely go for a website when the money starts pouring in from smaller gigs.

Here’s some insider advice:

Great promotional material might get you noticed, but talent and experience are what gets you hired. Basically it’s still all about writing and performing. That part of the job never ends. But when you’re ready to take the next step in your career, you’ve got to let people know – and that’s when professional looking promotional material and marketing techniques come into play.

Notice one of the words used above – professional. Here’s one of the most important lines from my book Comedy FAQs And Answers:

“They may call it amateur night – but no one is looking to hire an amateur.”

Yeah… I’ll watch your video.

Sharing your videos with friends is easy on YouTube. Millions of people do it every day. Just send them a message saying watch my video and include a link. But when it comes to promoting videos on YouTube to get professional bookings, you need to realize that video and your website have become important marketing tools.

Go back the word I used earlier – professional. Now memorize it.

Once you have a professional looking video and a professional looking website, then you can start contacting bookers to look at it. This is done through networking (meaning you know someone that can recommend you or put you in contact with the booker), researching, (going to the booker’s or club’s website and finding the required way to submit promotional material or request a showcase), and/or (and I hate this one, even though I’m good at it) cold calling. With the cold call you basically want to get the correct information on the correct way to contact a booker and then follow it.

Now this is not going sound too friendly or supportive, but I have to say it…

To the writer of this question – and don’t get angry because no one else reading this knows who you are – I’ve watched the YouTube link you sent. Here’s some really good advice. Do NOT promote it to comedy bookers. It comes off as being very amateur and could damage your chances of being seen later when you’ve actually gained enough on stage credits and experience to be taken seriously by bookers.

No booker has time, desire, energy or interest in watching really bad amateur videos. Take my advice on this one. Plus it could come back to haunt you.

I remember a very influential comedy booker when I ran the NYC Improv. I saw a comedian who was GREAT and went to this booker with a GREAT recommendation to hire the act. I was SHOCKED to be told this booker had seen the SAME comedian FIVE years earlier when he was just starting his career. Based on that early impression, the booker said the comic was terrible and he had no interest in hiring or even showcasing him again.

Here’s my advice.

Promotional Technique

Don’t worry about promoting yourself for work until you’re truly ready to be a hired. Seriously. Be honest with yourself. If you’re doing open-mics or smaller shows and honestly feel you’re just as good or better than others getting paid gigs (listen to your audio recordings – they won’t lie), then make the leap. If not, don’t rush it. The best comics and people hiring comics all know it takes time, dedication and experience. There are no short cuts.

Then promote your career as if you deserve to be called a working comic. This includes a headshot, resume with a decent amount of on stage credits, a short bio so they know something about you, and reliable contact email and phone number. You can have all that stuff on a website and in any design or format you want – as long as it’s easy for bookers to review.

BUT the most important part of a promotional package – online or hard copy – is your video. Don’t put out something that makes you look like an amateur just to have a video to submit. Think of the first impression you’re making on a booker and that he/she might remember it. For a long time.

They may call it amateur night – but no one is looking to hire an amateur.

Professional. Memorize the word and use it when promoting yourself as a working comic.

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Don’t promise what you can’t deliver

Hey Dave – I need some advice, but think I already know the answer. I had a booker ask me if I can do an hour clean for corporate and 90 minutes for cruises. I have about 40 clean. I already screwed myself recently when someone asked if I can do an hour headlining and I said I was more comfortable featuring. I want to tell this person yes, but don’t want to disappoint and don’t want to hurt my standing with them. But I’m afraid if I say no, they won’t look at me again. What do you think? – D.

“Pick me! Pick me!”

Hey D. – I think it’s true you already know the answer because you’re a working comic. And I don’t need to overthink to know talent bookers, comedians and speakers working regularly in the entertainment biz also know the answer. But for those who are not at that point yet in their careers, this type of offer can cause them to question their own better judgment.

I’ve never met a performer that wanted to screw up a chance to get work through a legit talent booker. It’s how they both earn a living. One way to do it is to overestimate – or deliberately lie – about what they can offer the client (the buyer – like an event planner for a corporate show). If the booker says he has a comic that can do an hour of clean material, that’s exactly what the event planner assumes he’s paying for. If the comic claims that’s what he brings to the deal, it had better be true.

If that’s not what’s delivered, then everyone is screwed.

Okay, I understand some performers are great at crowd work. They may not have an actual hour’s worth of material, but they’re talented and experienced in talking with the audience and making it part of the act.  If that’s what you’re capable of doing for an hour and have proven it in the past, then yeah – do the gig.

If not, don’t overestimate and claim you can if you’ve never done it. A good paying or important (proving yourself to a legit booker) gig is not the time to try something new.

But for experienced working comics, I’m just preaching to the choir.

It’s true you don’t want to ruin a chance to work with a talent booker by turning down jobs. But then again, you don’t want to ruin chances for future work if you don’t deliver what you’ve promised. The best way to deal with both of these dilemmas is to tell them the truth.

A legit talent booker should respect your honesty.


If he’s contacted you about work – that means he or she is interested in working with you. This shouldn’t be a “slam the door in your face” moment because you can’t deliver – right now – what’s being asked of you. Use this as an opportunity to stay in contact and hopefully work together in the future. I’ve booked dozens of corporate shows and they’re not always for an hour performance. In fact that’s almost too long for an event that might include cocktail hour, dinner and dancing after the show. Most of the corporate bookings I’ve gotten for comedians are between thirty and forty five minutes.

So always ask the best way for you to stay in touch with this booker in case he needs someone for a show of that length. And when you’re finally ready – experienced – to do an hour or ninety minutes, you can let them know that too.

I know this will sound cliché, but keep in mind you’re building a career. It takes time and it’s not a race. Putting together a solid (funny) act (clean) for corporate gigs and dinner shows on cruise ships (different than the late night adult shows performed by the same comics) is not an overnight process. The best comedians (and speakers) – in other words, working regularly – understand the hard work, dedication and on stage experience that’s necessary to find success in this competitive business.

There are no shortcuts.

As a talent booker I know from past experience that a miserable experience is scheduling a comic for a show who doesn’t deliver what’s been promised. The client is unhappy and will call someone else in the future when looking for entertainment. And from the talent booker point of view? Well, let’s just say that comic won’t be on speed dial for gigs anytime soon.

And yeah – that’s how I earned that experience.

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Showcase Motivation

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.

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.

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.

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