Contacting talent bookers

Hi Dave – Do you have any tips for contacting club bookers? When I was leaving a recent showcase, the bar manager said they would like to have me back. He gave me his card as well as the card for the person who books the room. I emailed the talent booker and she hasn’t responded. Should I call her if I don’t hear from her or should I try emailing again? I don’t want to be annoying, but if performing there again is an opportunity I would really love to do it again. Thanks! K.

Expecting your call

Hey K. – That’s great news because you have an “in” – the bar manager. As I’ve mentioned in quite a few past FAQ’s and Answersa personal recommendation from someone who either works with or works for a talent booker is like having a Golden Ticket.

It beats the heck out of cold calling or blind emails. Now you just need to make the Golden Ticket work for you.

The best scenario is for the bar manager to take you by the arm and march you into the talent booker’s office and give a personal introduction. This of course would be followed by, “Put her on the schedule – she’s funny!

But in this case you’re working with a (Golden) business card. It’s not a slam dunk, but you’re still in a better position than when you first walked in the club for your showcase.

You’ve already taken the first step by sending an email. But you haven’t heard back. So to make use of a sports reference in honor of… well, sports – this means one thing:

Let the game begin!

Talent bookers for busy clubs are busy people. Their first priority is to book the shows. For showcase clubs in NYC and LA this could mean anywhere from 10 to 15 performers per night. This is also true for club showcase nights in many other cities like Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, etc…

But since you’ve already done a showcase, we won’t go that route. Let’s talk about actually getting booked in a club for a paying gig. Now I have your attention – right?

Other than showcases with multiple comedians doing short sets, most clubs (especially outside of NYC and LA) use three acts:

  • Opener / MC
  • Feature / Middle Act
  • Headliner / Closer

Each week the booker schedules the three performance slots. That’s normally 52 weeks a year. They have regulars that can play the club a couple or few times a year, but they need to use a variety so audiences will return and not see the same comics over and over.

Can we do lunch?

When you add it up – that’s 156 performance spots per year just for a 3-act club.

The bookers not only have to deal with the talent needed for those spots, but in most cases with a headliner and in many cases with a feature, they’re also dealing with agents and managers. There are negotiations, contracts, travel arrangements, accommodations, publicity – and the always expected but unknown until it happens at the last minute emergencies. That could include any one of the performers cancelling for any number of reasons including a missed flight, illness, weather (the list could go on and on) and another comic needs to be scheduled immediately.

But that’s only part of it…

The booker is also fielding countless phone calls from comics wanting to return, newer comics wanting to play the club for the first time, and agents and managers who want to schedule their clients. On top of that there are TONS of emails, websites and promo videos to navigate through.

There could be much more than 156 performance spots bookers are dealing with. They could also be scheduling private parties, special events or other clubs. And if the booker is good at his / her job, they have to deal with it all.

I won’t even get into the job duties that might include attending meetings, “doing lunch”, or watching shows to see how the performers they’ve already booked are doing. My point is – from personal experience – there’s a lot going on behind the scenes that most performers don’t realize. Talent bookers can be very busy people.

But one thing that should be a positive for you as a newer comedian is that bookers are always looking for new talent. If not – they’re not very good at what they do. Your goal is to be one of their new talents.

The key – as you’ve already mentioned – is not to be annoying.

I remember talking with comedians who were so frustrated because a certain talent booker never got back with them that they decided to call every day. Their thought process was that the booker would eventually have to deal with them.

I’ve got news for you. Talent bookers don’t have to deal with them or anyone they don’t want to. Imagine someone calling you every day for a job. It’s called being annoying – a pain in the butt – and why so many bookers screen their calls or hire assistants as gatekeepers.

That method won’t work. That’s why you have to play the game. You need to stay in touch and let them know you exist, but you can’t be annoying.

There’s a game plan for that and I know it can work because it worked on me when I was booking comedians in Los Angeles (where I learned this “game”).

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

SOLD OUT!

Showcase Wednesday, December 5 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Chicago and Cleveland 2019 Workshop Dates TBA

For details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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You’ve made the first phone call. I’m assuming you either reached the booker’s voice mail or assistant.

  • Always leave a message with your name and phone number.

That bit of advice has been – and still is – debated by comedians and speakers I’ve worked with. Some only want to talk with “a real live person” and won’t leave a message. But many others (like me) think that’s a wasted effort and phone call. The idea is to start building name recognition.You can’t do that by just hanging up.

  • Make it short and professional – get to the point:

“Hi. This is (your name) and I showcased at (club name). The bar manager (name) gave me your card and suggested I contact you about a possible booking. I’m calling to find the best way to schedule an audition or send a link to my website video. You can reach me at (your phone number) and my website is (website). Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing from you.”

  • Then hang up.

Okay, put it into your own words. But that’s not a bad script. It succeeded in getting your name and contact info to the person you want to work for.

  • But don’t just wait. Take action – send a postcard.

Yeah, I know. Some performers think postcards are outdated. But are those performers working as much as they’d like to? If they are then maybe they have enough contacts with talent bookers already or have an agent or manager doing the dirty work. But I’ll tell’ya what. I’m not even booking clubs anymore and I still get postcards.

  • Postcards have your photo, name and contact info.

Send one after your first call and it can add to your name recognition. Put a personal note on the back – “I hope you received my call, etc…

Wait a couple weeks and call again. You aren’t being annoying – but you also are not disappearing. It continues to put your name in front of the talent booker.

  • Mix it up a little. Instead of following that call with another postcard, wait a week and send an email. Again – be short and to the point. Include a link to your website.

Say hello!

If you still don’t hear back wait a couple weeks and call again. Then repeat the process until you hear back or the talent booker answers the phone.  Either way they will have heard of you (name recognition). Then use your Golden Ticket – or plead your case – for an audition or booking.

  • If this is a local club, go to a show (or two, or three). Say hello to the bar manager again and ask if you can meet the talent booker. If there’s another opportunity to showcase – sign up and get on stage.

Of course there are no guarantees, but it’s a better game plan than being annoying or disappearing just because a busy person doesn’t return your first phone call or email.

Give it a try. As mentioned, I’m sharing this method because it worked on me.

In fact, a few times I was almost embarrassed because the performers stayed in touch – without being annoying – and I started thinking that they were thinkingI wasn’t doing my job very well. So when I realized after some well spread out phone messages, postcards and emails that they might be calling soon, I looked at their videos. When they called it was almost like an “Ah-ha!” moment for me.

YES!” I had watched their video!

Now, whether they got a paid booking, showcase or “no thanks” depended on their performance and experience. But at least they had built up name recognition and were given the opportunity – and that’s what this method is all about.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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Editing your promotional video

Hi Dave – You talked last time about the length of promo videos, but what is considered acceptable when editing? I filmed a set last week that’s pretty good, but there are a couple spots where I didn’t get the audience reaction I had hoped for. I also messed up a joke and really don’t want it on the video. Is honesty the best policy and should I send the whole set unedited? Thanks – D.

You’re gonna look great!

Hey D. – Honesty is always the best policy, but sometimes being too honest is too much. If you normally have great sets, then you honestly want that represented on your video. But if great sets are few and far between, then sending out an edited video making you look like the next coming of Dave Chappelle is not going to help you in the long run.

In fact, if a talent booker hires you or gives you a showcase off a great video and it’s obvious during your performance you can’t back it up, chances are you’re not going to get a second chance.

Ideally, you want to present an unedited video.

That’s seamless gold– but sometimes seemingly impossible. There’s always going to be something going on in a club that you can’t control like people arriving late, talking in the back, ordering drinks, spilling drinks – whatever. There might also be tech problems with the club’s sound system – or even a joke that always kills, but for some reason doesn’t work the night you’re filming.

It happens.

It happens

So when it happens – something in your set that’s not truly representative of what you do on stage – then yeah, edit it out. It’s not uncommon. And even though talent bookers might spot the edit the best videos don’t make it so obvious.

Good edits make it look seamless. (Sorry, I feel your pain and will stop with the seamless wordplay).

I also feel if you want to be paid like a profession you have to represent yourself as a professional. What I mean by this is it’s easy today to film sets using high-tech phones and tablets, but you must also be aware of the “room sound” that will invariably happen if your best friend is filming you while sitting at a table in a club surrounded by noisemakers. You know what I mean – people at tables next to him laughing (or talking) too loudly, knocking over drink glasses or ordering food. Those sounds will also be heard on your video.

And it doesn’t sound too professional. So make an effort to have both a good visual and audio recording of your set, even if it means hiring someone with a tripod (to steady the picture) and a microphone that picks up what you are saying over the room’s ambiance.

Since I have a kid that can film, edit and post a music video online in less time than it takes me to write these ramblings, I know what the term old school means. I’ve also worked with aspiring comedians on this side of the age scale who claim emailing is about as high tech as they get.

But when it comes to putting together promotional material (primarily your video) that will get you work…

Smile for the camera

There are video editing apps and programs for computers and tablets, and most of them are not even that expensive. In the long run, it would be worth the learning time and investment to do your own editing because your video should always be current and representative of your act or presentation. It doesn’t do you any good sending out a year(s)-old video you’ve paid a professional editor big bucks to fix if you’re not even doing that material any more.

You should also be a better comic or speaker than you were a year ago and need to show that.

I won’t get into specifics on editing, though I am pretty good at it (if I do say so myself). But here’s a good rule to follow:

Don’t make a LOT of edits and don’t make your video look like it has a LOT of edits.

Make sense? It’s okay to cut out a few flaws here and there, but if it’s a jumpy looking set because one moment you’re standing on one side of the stage and the next you’re on the other side – or if you’re wearing different clothes for each joke (a telltale sign it wasn’t all taped at the same show) then no booker will take you seriously. Instead of thinking you’re a great comic or speaker, they’ll be wondering what you’re trying to hide with so many edits. They might also think you did a half hour set just to get five minutes of presentable material and would not be willing to hire (pay for) the remaining twenty five minutes that they’ll assume didn’t work.

So it’s okay to make edits – we all do – when truly necessary. In other words, when the parts cut out are honestly not representative of your typical performance. But too many obvious edits will look too suspicious to bookers. The key to remember is when someone is hiring you to perform, they want to know what they’re paying for. Your goal as a comedian or humorous speaker is to show them. Honestly.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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Promo video length for club, corporate & college gigs

Hey Dave – I’m real serious about doing stand-up comedy and I wanted some info on making my audition tape. How long should it be? Are bookers looking for something specific? If u can help me out please write back – B.T. / The Future of Comedy

Hey B.T. – The future of your comedy career relies a lot on your past. This means the work you’ve already done as a writer and performer, and then using a past (but recent) performance to make an attention-grabbing and (most of all) FUNNY audition tape. BUT we don’t want to live TOO much in the past, so let’s start talking about this in terms of online videos (and occasionally DVDs).

Goodbye gone!

I don’t know anyone that’s using “tape” anymore.

Okay, I know that’s just a technicality. But I want to make sure we’re all using same terms and are on the same page… uh, screen here in 2018.

When I talk about relying on the past, I’m talking about how long your video should be. That hasn’t changed since the word “tape” was common and should be three to seven minutes long. That gives talent bookers a decent sample of what you do on stage.

Most talent bookers are pretty busy. You wouldn’t believe how many videos they’re asked to view every day. Since there are only so many minutes in a day they can’t sit around and watch an hour, half hour or even twenty minutes of performance time from each comedian. That’s why many I’ve talked with only watch the beginning or hit the fast forward button and stop at random places.

When I booked the TV show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, I would watch anywhere from twenty to thirty videos at one sitting.

No lie.

Only 5 more minutes…

I couldn’t take (because of time – not interest) more than five minutes with each one. So the comedian had to come on strong from the beginning and prove he or she was already a working comic and ready for television. If it was obvious they weren’t, I’d stop the video and move on to the next one.

And here’s something else I’ve learned from many of these same contacts and personal experience: a good talent booker will usually know within thirty seconds into a comedian’s act if he wants to hire that comedian. Experience and talent will be obvious (or should be) right from the beginning of the set for anyone that has been in the talent booking business for a while. Performers might try to fake it, but experienced people in the biz can usually tell right away.

Now, if they watch three to seven minutes and are interested but not sold on hiring, they can contact the comedian and request more. That’s when you can send something longer (usually fifteen to twenty minutes).

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Fall 2018 Comedy Workshop at The Chicago Improv

SOLD OUT!

Showcase Wednesday, October 25 at 7:30pm

Workshop Marquee 150

Cleveland Fall 2018 Workshop Dates TBA

For details and to register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

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I once worked with a club booker that (seriously) said he wanted to see a full one-hour video before he would hire an act. I thought that was a bit extreme, but if that’s the way he does business, well… it’s his club and it’s his time. I never met another booker who had that much time to watch videos.

It also depends what market you want to get into.

Very entertaining!

I’m talking mainly about clubs and television with the above advice. If you want to work in the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker, your video will be much different. That should be a production – rather than just an example of your live performance.

This means corporate videos can be edited showing not only segments of your act, but also audience comments, your credits scrolling across the screen – or any other techniques that make the comedian or speaker look professional and in demand.

Again, short and dynamic is best. The corporate videos I’ve been sent or have edited for myself and other speakers are usually five to seven minutes in length.

The college market also plays out differently. When you’re involved in NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) and APCA (Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities) the college booking organizations I talk about in the book Comedy FAQs And Answers, they only want three minute videos as submissions for showcases. BUT the catch is if the college students on the Activities Board like that three minutes and want to see more, you should have at least two additional three minute segments with the online submission or DVD so they can continue to watch until they:

  • Give you a live showcase (explained in the book).
  • Keep you in mind as a maybe.
  • Move on to the next comedian.

And finally, what’s very different than in the days of using video “tape” is the method of delivery. Everyone now can watch online videos or will request DVDs.

In 2018, everyone in the business has the technology to watch promotional video online. If not, then they’re in the wrong business.

YouTube is still the most popular, but I know there are also other sites that can allow bookers to watch your video immediately. The key is to have it available to them either embedded into your website or linked to YouTube.

Also the three minute – or shorter – video is becoming more popular for submissions outside the college market. You can go online to view examples, but quite a few comedians have short (two to three minute) segments of their sets embedded in in their websites. We know attention spans have grown shorter and this method allows talent bookers to get a quick “taste” of a performance with an immediate opportunity to watch more – another quick segment – if they want.

* Last bit of advice about this.

I recently talked to a club booker who said he expects comedians to have a website. It’s more professional. He won’t even go on Facebook or other social media sites to watch videos. If the comedian doesn’t have a website, then he feels that comedian is not professional enough to work in that club.

I’m just passing that thought along because I know you’re interested…

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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