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.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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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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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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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.

Thanks!

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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