Booking Christmas and Holiday Parties

Hey Dave – What’s the deal with doing Christmas parties? I know some comics who booked a few last year and made good money. – T.R.

Let’s party!

Hey T.R. – Christmas / holiday parties are big business in the comedy biz. Corporate and humorous speakers (sometimes one in the same) can also score big during the festive season, but I don’t consider their bookings as seasonal as comedians in this market.

Why?

Because comedians are considered entertainment and holiday parties usually want entertainment. Speakers with a message – whether informative, entertaining or both – can often find gigs at meetings and conferences year-round. For instance, not too long ago I did a training seminar at a conference. With keynotes and seminars being delivered during breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings, and various workshops running concurrently over two days at this huge resort, there had to be at least 50 speakers involved.

I didn’t see any comedians.

So with that personal observation in mind, we’ll focus this FAQ and Answer on comedians and entertainers looking to book holiday parties. But I’m also pretty sure humorous speakers will be interested in some of this stuff.

The time to get in on this action is now.

We’re hitting the end of summer and a lot of these holiday bashes are already in the planning stages. In fact, I’ve already gotten my first call for this holiday season, so the clock is ticking.

Party time!

Most of these holiday parties are planned way in advance because the bosses (employers) have to rent party rooms or restaurants in advance for this once a year company-paid blow-out. They also know somewhere in the back of their minds the approximate date when they have to cough up holiday bonus checks for their employees, so that also goes into factoring when these parties will occur.

Once the party date has been confirmed, it’s circled on every employee’s calendar and they’re expecting the boss to show them a good time. Of course the smart employees won’t have too much of a good time, but for those who cut loose a little too much…

As the great Phyllis Diller once said:

I hate Christmas parties. You always have to wake up the next day and start looking for a new job.”

Too much party!

Booking holiday parties is similar to working in the corporate market. You may imagine employees overindulging in the eggnog and walking around wearing Santa hats with mistletoe pinned to the white fluffy ball at the top. But the boss is still in charge of the toy factory. With lawsuits about sexual harassment, discrimination, mental anguish, and whatever other reasons and insults that could cause the company to continue paying a future former employee for not working there anymore (and the lawyer fees) the boss is not going take any chances.

What I’m trying to say is that except for rare exceptions, company holiday parties have turned into family style events.

There may or may not be kids involved, but there’s usually an office prude or uptight spouse keeping an eye on everything. And the best way to avoid hassles is to stay politically correct. If you want to be offended by a comedian, go to a comedy club that bills the show, “For mature audiences only.”

If you want holiday laughs where no one has to wake up the next day and look for another job, hire a comedian that works clean.

Speaking of clean, a lot of the comedians who are cleaning-up dollar-wise with holiday parties start their booking efforts in late summer and early fall. Seriously. I can go into my files as a booking agent and see contract signing dates in August and September for Christmas parties. The performances were signed, sealed and deposits were paid while I was still trying to get my kids to put on sun block before they’d go outside.

The process of promoting yourself for these shows is the same as I’ve written about for the corporate market. Only now you want to aim it for the Christmas / Holiday season. Put it right on your emails and postcards, and mention it if you’re calling businesses:

You are available for office holiday parties – and work clean.

Your promotions can start now. Do a mailing to your regular contact list (you should have one if you’ve been reading these articles) and follow up with phone calls. If you don’t have the proper contact person, ask who is in charge of the company party. That person is probably looking just as hard for entertainment as you are for gigs.

With the right promotion and networking skills (again – business techniques you should already have if you’re been reading these articles) you can make their life easier by hiring you as the entertainment. This will give them more time to choose the table ornaments and who should not be seated next to each other to avoid company infighting.

It’s all about finding leads, networking and promoting.

I know comedians and speakers who have promo photos taken wearing Santa suits or with other holiday themes. Their websites and online networking are advertising their skills at entertaining for holiday parties.

In the entertainment biz, the holiday season has already started.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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