Business card – got one?

Hi Dave – I’ve decided to order business cards. I was wondering exactly what information to include. I was thinking phone number, email, and website. I was wondering if there was anything else or if there was a reason not to include my address. – K.S.

It’s called promotion!

Hey K.S. – Great decision. I’m always surprised at how many comedians or humorous speakers don’t have business cards. Maybe it seems like a relic from the past – like sending a videotape instead of a link to an online video – but it’s still an important promotional tool.

How is anyone going to know you’re out there and available for gigs if you don’t promote yourself? Unless you’re a known comedian, have a Comedy Central special or a big-time agent pushing for you, you need to be prepared to take care of business.

Of course, the FIRST business step is to be such a great comic or speaker that people will want to see you. That comes through writing, performing, rinse and repeat. But once you’re ready to move forward in your career, promotion becomes a big part of the business plan. You need to be prepared to take advantage of opportunities that could lead to showcases or even paying gigs. Promotion can help get your foot in the door. Talent, hard work and dedication is what gets you hired.

Like I said in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers:

They may call it amateur night, but nobody’s looking to hire an amateur.

Memorize that – because it’s true.

I’m not going to get into all the different methods and ways to promote yourself or even talk about showcases since that’s not what your question is about. Let’s talk business cards.

Good advice!

I write a lot about networking and being part of your area’s comedy scene. If you’re out there, you never know who you are going to meet that could actually help your career. But are you always prepared to take advantage of it?

When I was at The Improv, comedians would ask us about how to get an audition, or the best way to send in a promotional video. Then instead of leaving a business card, more than a few would say, “Let me give you my email address,” (or you can substitute “phone number” or “website” or “Facebook page”). They would expect one of the managers to write it down or would ask for a bar napkin or scrap of paper to scribble out the info.

Were they nuts or what?? There’s no way we’d take someone like that seriously. Sorry but in the back of my head I was thinking, “Amateur…”

Or worse yet, the comic would just give his name and say, “I’ll send you a link for my website” or “Keep me in mind when the club does a showcase.”

Sorry, but I suck at remembering names. In fact, right now I have this woman bugging me while I’m trying to write this. For cryin’ out loud… what’s her name? I should remember since I’m married to her…

Get the idea?

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When someone like a talent booker, event planner or club manager deals with a LOT of comedians or speakers, give them the BEST and EASIEST way to remember who you are and how to get in touch with you. Business cards are not a relic from the past or uncool to hand out. In fact, it’s an important part of doing business – if you’re serious about it.

Another example…

A young comedian dropped off a DVD for possible work at the club. Instead of an unreadable name and phone number scribbled in marker on the DVD, he had a professional looking business card in the plastic cover. That didn’t mean he would get hired or even score a showcase – talent and experience will determine that – but it certainly gave the image of being serious about his career.

Remember – nobody wants to hire an amateur.

So, to finally answer your question, a business card should include your name, what you do (comedian and/or speaker, etc…), the best way(s) to contact you, and where potential clients can see your video and promo material:

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Website
  • If you have a blog, newsletter or podcast that pertains to your career and is interesting, include the link

A smart idea is to design your business card to stand out from the competition.

A photo of yourself or a logo will work. But if you (or a friend) have experience doing this, the idea is to have a business card that’s SO unique and interesting and basically SO cool – the people you give it to will keep it, rather than eventually tossing it away or losing it in a drawer.

I know that’s tough to do – and I’m always trying to come up with new designs that fit my definition of SO cool. But it’s always a goal.

If nothing else, go on a website that offers inexpensive business cards (there are plenty, but for a suggestion try VistaPrint), design one or two with different looks and never leave home without at least a few. You can always change or update the cards later since they’ve become very inexpensive (and sometimes free).

If you’re serious about this business, you must take promoting and networking seriously. When you make a new contact or stumble into an opportunity, a business card makes it clear who you are and how they can get in touch with you. There’s nothing amateur about that.

Word of warning (based on your above question):

What do you do?

Never put your home address on your business card or any promotional material. You don’t know who will wind up with this stuff and the last thing you need is some wacko stalking you. And yes, I’ve known this to happen with both male and female performers (so don’t be a sexist and think you’re immune).

Amateurish or a relic of the past? Not when a business card can make it easy to find you and hire you. It’s called being a professional.

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Personality separates you from the competition

Hi Dave – I do a lot of presentations through my job. These are specific to the industry and I’d like to start speaking at related conferences. I’m not a stand-up comedian, but know the importance of humor in getting my message across to an audience. Many of my friends think I am funny in an I Love Lucy kind of way… Which I suppose comes naturally. However, I am not sure how to release that side of me when I am giving a humorous presentation. Thanks – DB

Are you getting my message?

Hey DB – When it comes to giving a presentation as a humorous speaker or doing a set as a comedian, you must connect with your audience. That’s the bottom line – period. If you don’t connect, they don’t listen.

What’s a great way to connect? By doing what comes naturally and showing off your personality. Let me explain…

Working comics know performing stand-up is more than telling jokes. Anyone can tell a joke, and some better than others. But to be a successful performer, you need to show who you are on stage.

Comics, agents, managers, and talent bookers call it your comedy voice. For our purposes, we’ll call it your personality as a speaker.

The classic joke-tellers like Rodney Dangerfield and Henny Youngman, (to mention only two) had GREAT personalities on stage. That’s what sold their material to an audience.

Are they listening?

They could do a series of basic (and clever) one-, two- or three-line jokes that fans couldn’t wait to re-tell the next day around the water cooler or in school. The fans’ renditions might get laughs from their coworkers and friends, but rarely ever the same as the originals.

As imitators, we couldn’t match their personalities.

That’s why Dangerfield and Youngman (and if you don’t know these guys, brush up on your comedy history) were paid big bucks to do their jokes on stage while the rest of us (the fans) got detentions for re-telling their jokes in school.

Dangerfield’s jokes worked because of his personality – who he was on stage (his comedy voice). He had a talent for putting himself down…

“I get no respect.”

Youngman’s personality made him a natural at making wise cracks (another talent most of us shared to earn school detentions) …

“Take my wife… please!”

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Without showcasing their personalities, these legendary comics might never have stood out from the pack of other wise-cracking joke-tellers.

The same can be said of humorous speakers.

I always get a laugh at – as opposed to with – humorous speakers who call themselves humorous speakers just because they throw in a lame joke once in awhile during a presentation. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. For the opening of their presentation, they’ll repeat a joke they found on the internet or even worse, take an old joke and re-work it to make it seem as if it were a true story that pertains to their topic.

This – they think – makes them a humorous speaker.

I’m almost gagging as I write this since it reminds me of how I’ve seen speakers do this WAY too often. For some reason they hide their unique and fun(ny) “real” personalities (we all have one, though some are more outgoing than others), because they assume it’s the only way an audience will take them seriously as trainers and educators.

That’s fine if you’re strictly a no-frills, non-humorous speaker, trainer, or educator. But if you’re billed as a humorous speaker and want to stand out from the competition it’s important to use your natural talent.

Your personality.

So… your friends say you’re like the legendary Lucille Ball? Then there must be some truth in their opinions. I assume you’re not trying to imitate Lucy, but you just somehow remind people of her. It’s part of your personality.

As a humorous speaker you want to find a way to bring your personality onto the speaker’s platform with you. It’s who you are and what makes you an individual and unique when compared to others who speak on the same topic. That’s what helps separate you from the competition – the other humorous speakers who want to be hired for the same gig.

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You don’t have to imitate Lucy. In fact, I recommend you DON’T imitate Lucy. Unless you’re hired to play her as a character it would take the believability away from your message. But if you have a talent for making funny statements or even physical humor – which is probably why your friends compare you to Lucy – then use your talent in your delivery.

But before you plan on filling your mouth with chocolate candy or presenting from a scaffold on the side of a building, (I Love Lucy fans know exactly what I’m talking about), keep in mind Lucy’s style of physical comedy doesn’t necessarily mean slapstick comedy. You don’t have to overdo it to stand-out.

Keep it simple. It could just be a look or way you naturally use your hands. If it’s part of your personality, what good does it do to hide it? If you’re in the humor game, it’s all about not being a stiff, boring speaker. Use your natural personality to connect with an audience.

Here’s the bottom line.

You don’t need to tell jokes to be an effective humorous speaker. If you have a signature story, examples or descriptions relating to your topic that an audience could find funny – make them funny. Don’t be afraid to use facial expressions, hand gestures or movement. Don’t get stuck standing in one place showing a power point or simply reciting solutions to problems – or telling old jokes.

Use your personality.

It’s a natural talent that you use everyday. Think of the last time you were together with a group of friends. Maybe you were sitting around someone’s kitchen table, and you wanted to tell your family or friends about something that happened to you that day. It could be as simple as your drive to work, but something interesting (and hopefully) funny happened.

How would you tell it in a way that would get the reaction you wanted? How could you tell it in a way that would make your family or friends laugh?

Here’s a good tip. Think of the audience as a room full of friends. How would you deliver your message (the topic of your presentation) to them in a way that not only informs, but also entertains them?

By using your personality.

They’ll remember you over a boring speaker – or one trying to entertain with an old joke you’ve probably heard before – with the same message. That’s how you stand out from the competition.

It worked for Rodney, Henny, and Lucy – and more than a few humorous speakers and working comics. There’s no reason why it can’t work for you also.

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The comedy police

Hey Dave – I was at an open-mic last week. A comic went on stage and “called out” another comic who had gone on before him for stealing jokes. He did this from the stage. But afterwards he couldn’t prove it and no one else could remember hearing the jokes anywhere else before. We think he was wrong and he handled it wrong. Any thoughts? – D

This is a stick-up!

Hey D – I always have thoughts. And when they’re thoughts about comics or speakers stealing material, they’re never good thoughts.

What a jerk.

Wait… let me rethink. We might have two jerks here. Allow me to think out loud – or at least in LOUD writing.

JERK #1:

This honor goes to the comic who “called out” the other one from the stage. First of all, as he admitted later, he had no proof for doing this. Maybe he thought it was funny to be on the edge – which can sometimes be very funny. But in the situation you described, it’s not funny when it’s at the expense of someone who is also using an open-mic to become a better comic (the purpose of doing these).

Of course this is assuming the first comic actually didn’t steal any material.

Taking out the trash!

The comic who accused the other should’ve talked with him off stage and not dissed him in front of an audience. A little courtesy is due, unless that comic is known for stealing material. In that case I’d say go ahead and trash him. I’m sure most comics will agree.

But without proof and only working off a hunch, the more professional way is to take that person aside and talk with him – privately – about it. This is a topic in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers with Bill Engvall answering the question.

Bill talked about the comedy police.

Basically, when you think a comic is stealing material, mention it to him/her – off stage. In other words, honest comics will police each other. They’ll warn each other if another comic is doing the same joke or bit. But if the warned comic continues with it – then there could be repercussions. I’ll give you an example of that in a moment, but in the meantime…

The comic may not even realize he/she is doing it and has actually written a joke too similar to a joke someone else is doing.

I’ve seen it happen…

Two comedians – one in NYC and the other in LA – wrote the same joke. They didn’t know each other and as far as I know from talking with both, had never even played the same clubs. But the one in LA was booked for an appearance on the television show A&E’s An Evening at the Improv and did the joke.

I know because I was talent coordinator for the show and was standing off camera at the time.

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After the taping I called the other comic in NYC (both are still very good friends of mine) and he immediately told me he had to stop doing the joke. The comic who did it on television was now the owner because of the audience exposure. He never felt the other comic stole it from him because they weren’t in the same comedy circle. He felt bad because the joke was based on his appearance, but then again it worked that way for the other comic also.

The bottom line was that he understood how the business works. He could never do that joke again without a member of the comedy police calling him out on it.

So, it’s possible a comedian might be doing material too similar to someone else and not realize it. The best way to handle it is without grandstanding in front of an audience. Tell that comic after the show and give proof. If he continues – then everyone can trash him.

Just like the following…

JERK #2:

If a comic or speaker is stealing material and is caught, a wise move is for that comic or speaker to NOT do it again and to start writing. Otherwise they risk suffering the consequences.

Here’s what I mean…

Yeah – I wrote my own act!

There was an open-mic comic in NYC when I was starting out. He was a nice guy and it didn’t hurt his standing with us that he ran a popular open-mic where new comics could get stage time.

He wasn’t any better than the other comics just starting out. They were all working on creating material and trying to figure out how to deliver it on stage. Every once in awhile someone would come up with a good joke or bit – which would become a keeper in his or her set.

This guy was also developing his act, but every few weeks he’d travel to Florida where he told us he was a headliner. We knew his family lived there, but he always said he went for work and visiting his family just meant he had a place to stay for free.

But the headliner part of his story never seemed right.

If that was true, the Florida comedy scene must have been really hurting and a smart move would’ve been for all the other new comics to move there for headlining gigs. Of course, I’ve learned from first hand experience that’s not true (and yes, that was a positive shout-out to all the comics I’ve met through my Tampa workshops!).

Other possibilities were that he had friends booking clubs or was delusional. We just couldn’t figure out which.

Then a real headliner from NYC told us what was going on. He had just played a club in Florida and our “friend” was opening for him. He was doing the best bits he had stolen from the open-mic comics playing his open-mic club.

Say what?!

The reaction was worse than getting “called out” from on stage. Let’s just say no one would play his open-mic anymore (he lost the club) and no one that ran an open-mic would give him stage time. Word spread around the NYC comedy scene and eventually I’d heard he had moved back to Florida to pursue his floundering comedy career. Actually I heard he was parking cars, but I have no proof to call him out on that.

But I do have this proof…

A few years later I was the talent coordinator for A&E’s An Evening at the Improv in Los Angeles. He called my office – out of the blue – and tried to play the “old friend card” with me for an audition. To make a short story even shorter – he didn’t get the audition.

Chalk another one up for the comedy police.

So I guess to answer your question, yeah – I think it was wrong for the guy (jerk #1) to call the other comic out from on stage. If he really thought there was an issue of stealing, he should’ve have talked with him in private. The other comic may not even have realized it, but if there’s proof he should stop.

If he did steal, a warning from a member of the comedy police should convince him not to do it again.

If you’re already part of your area comedy scene you already know what a small world it really is. If it’s obvious this comic is stealing and continues to do so, the word will get out and it’s doubtful anyone would ever want to work with this jerk.

Odds are better he’ll be parking cars at a comedy club before he ever has a chance to “own” anyone else’s jokes on television.

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How to get blurbs and letters of recommendation

Hey Dave – You had an article a while back about using quotes from clients as promotion on websites. I’ve been doing sets for some local businesses and clubs and the people who hire me say they like what I do. Can I just take what they say and post it on my website, or do I need it in writing? How do I get these quotes? I want to move into doing better paying corporate shows. Thanks – H.P.

Hey H.P. – You have a good memory. I ran an FAQ and Answer last September about using blurbs and letters of recommendation. Since I only keep these ramblings posted for six months before hitting delete, it’s no longer online. BUT because I’m a good guy (play along if you don’t actually know me) I’ll give you a brief synopsis…

The earlier article talked about what you’d want a client to say about you and your performance in a good letter (or email) of recommendation. I pointed out that at best it would be an advertisement for what you contributed to the event – and an enticement for potential clients to hire you for future gigs. Then you would pull out a line or two (a “blurb”) to post on your website, like a short positive review you’d see on a book cover.

Something maybe... not like this!

And now that we’ve had a quick review, we’ll continue from here…

As a lot of comedian and speakers know, a letter of recommendation is never a slam dunk. In other words, a client may promise to send you one, but that doesn’t make it a guarantee. It doesn’t (always) mean they didn’t like you or your performance, it’s just sometimes they find work, life and other important stuff takes up their time.

They might just forget.

What I suspect is that writing a letter of recommendation – at least for some people – is like doing homework. They may look at writing as “work” or they really don’t know how to put their thoughts into words. They’re not writers like most comedians and speakers and will put it off the extra work until… like… forever.

We’ll deal with those procrastinators in a moment. But first…

A little too busy to write...

To help jolt the memory of clients who might not realize the importance of a letter of recommendation to your career, here’s a tip I learned a long time ago from successful speakers and comedians.

And believe me – it works a LOT more than it doesn’t…

Always take a self-addressed, stamped envelope to all your gigs. When you’re talking with the client after your performance and they’re telling you how great you were, the audience loved it, yadda-yadda-yadda, come right out and ask for the letter. They’re already giving you a positive review, so just make it part of the conversation. And when they say yes – and they will if they’re heaping praise on you – hand them the envelope. Tell them you’re making it easy for them.

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Seriously. I’m not joking.

Before I started doing this, it was always hit or miss on getting a letter or an email. But once they have the SASE it apparently makes it easier for them to remember. I also suspect they would feel a bit guilty having that envelope and not following through on their promise. So, for that reason alone, let’s call it the guilt factor.

It works more than it doesn’t. And the best part is that there are two options for this. The client can actually send a printed letter on company (or school) letterhead that you can scan and post on your website. But even if that turns into too much “work,” it will probably encourage them to send an email of praise.

Either way – it works in your favor.

It also helps if you send a thank you email, letter or postcard – depending on how you’ve been communicating with the client before the gig. It’s the follow-up that you should be doing anyway. If you haven’t received one by that time, use that opportunity to remind them about a letter of recommendation.

BTW – an email of recommendation is also acceptable. Just like using quotes and photos in a book, I feel it’s important to have something in writing from the person recommending you as proof of their permission. A verbal quote is fine, but they may forget, see their name on your website and… well, like any good business deal having something in writing is always best.

If you still don’t get the letter AND especially for those clients who really aren’t writers and plan to put this off forever, here’s another option. And again – I don’t make this stuff up. I was given this advice by a highly paid and constantly working humorous speaker at a meeting of The National Speakers Association (NSA). And the reason I’m telling you that is because I found this reference worthy of being a “blurb” to back up this technique…

If you haven’t received a letter a week after your performance, call the client. Since you’ve already worked for them, you should at least have a one phone call relationship where you can again thank them for the gig. You can also ask for any advice or feedback about your performance.

If they have good things to say – and they should if they said it after your performance – ask again about a letter or email. If the client apologizes and has excuses about being busy, offer to make their life easier. Ask if you can write the letter (or email) yourself and send it to them.

Again – I don’t make this stuff up.

I’ve used this advice and it worked for me – and obviously for the guy that gave me the tip in the first place.

Remind the client it’s important for future bookings or that talent agents and event planners really need recommendations to work with you. Say you’ll write something simple, will send it, (email or with a SASE), and they can edit or change it any way they’d like. Your request is that they email it back with their “okay” (endorsement) or copy it onto a page with company letterhead, sign, and return (using your generously supplied SASE). You can usually hear them breathe a sigh of relief on the phone.

They just got someone else – you – to do their homework for them.

Okay, most working comics and speakers are probably thinking this is elementary stuff. They know about this. So, my excuse is that these tips are for the newbies that don’t. I’ve mention this to beginning comics in my workshops and can see eyes light up. Yeah, these are good ideas – and they work.

One generous reader also sent me an email about the importance today of having video letters of recommendation. Again – great idea!

Always consider filming your performance (ask client’s permission first). It could be for promotional purposes or just a way to review your set. If the client or audience members are giving you high praise after your program, ask if they would say it into the camera.

Seriously – again – I’m not joking.

Along with a lot of other comics and speakers, I’ve done this, and it works. Add their video endorsements to your promo reel. As I said in the earlier article, it’s always better when someone else is telling the world how great you are – rather than you having to talk yourself up.

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Bomb alert! Here’s an onstage survival guide

Hi Dave – What should you do if no one is laughing or if you realize that you are starting to bomb? – A.B.

Duck and cover!

Hey A.B. – Duck and cover. Okay, if that’s not the answer you’re looking for, here’s another one I’ve seen work…

But first a definition.

Some of our readers may not understand what you mean by bomb. That’s when you’re doing your best to entertain (comedians) or entertain AND inform (humorous speakers) and NOTHING is working. The audience is not laughing, you’re starting to panic, you begin to sweat, and you have this overwhelming feeling that everyone in the room HATES you.

That’s called Bombing 101. And if you ever get used to it, you’re in the wrong business. I don’t know any comedian who hasn’t gone through the sensation. If they claim they haven’t, they’re playing a joke on you.

The dedicated comics never let bombing on stage stop them from performing again. But the smart ones use the experience to learn something. And what they usually learn is what NOT to do on stage again that caused them to bomb in the first place.

As an example:

Bomb alert!

In my book Comedy FAQs And Answers, I talked with comedian George Wallace about this. He told me how he first started his career under the stage name The Reverend George Wallace and would use a phone book like a Bible. It worked in NYC, but when he played his first road gig in upstate New York, the audience hated his act. He was paid to do an hour – and he did an hour – but it was a mega-ton bombing experience. He told me that during the drive home he thought about driving his car off a bridge because he felt so bad.

But the learning experience was that he would NEVER allow himself to go through that again. It made him rethink and change everything about his act and his comedy voice (who he was on stage). The Reverend title was gone and so was the phone book. He decided that if he was having fun – a party – on stage, so would the audience. When the audience is having fun – when they’re in a party mood – you’re NOT bombing.

And if you’ve ever seen George Wallace perform, you’ll know what I mean. He’s become immune to bombing.

So, you want some advice? Okay…

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If you feel like you’re starting to bomb, a technique or trick (for lack of a better term) I’ve seen big-name comics use to turn the situation around is to talk TO and WITH the audience. Seriously, I’ve seen it more times than I can remember. Forget your material for a moment – especially since they don’t appear to like it anyway – and bring the audience into the show.

Here’s an example…

When I was scheduling comics for the Hollywood Improv, one of our most dependable (meaning funniest) acts was not only a great performer but also a GREAT writer. Comics in my workshops know who I’m going to talk about because I always name (drop?) names. But since I didn’t do an interview with him for one of my books and haven’t been in direct touch lately to politely ask if I could drop his name here, I’ll just keep his identity secret. But I’ll drop a hint that when another big-name star took over hosting a big-name late night television show, this comic was brought in as the Head Writer.

That’s how much respect this guy has in the comedy business.

His material is great, and I’ve always enjoyed watching his sets because of that reason – great material. But I remember one evening at The Improv when the audience just wasn’t getting it. I have no idea why not, but it happens to all comics at some time or another.

Anyway, much to my astonishment and confusion, his material wasn’t working. But as I watched, he took the microphone out of the stand (which he rarely ever did), walked to the front of the stage and started talking TO and WITH the audience. He really looked at the individuals and REALLY had conversations.

He kept it simple, easy, and made it comfortable for everyone to be involved in what he was doing.

Where are you from?” and “What do you do for a living?” types of questions led into some very funny replies and ensuing conversations. And once the audience was with him, he stepped back, put the microphone back in the stand and started doing his material.

This time the audience LOVED him AND his material. They followed him, GOT the jokes, laughed at the material, and it was a great show. He walked off stage to big applause.

So, I had to ask him about it – right?

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He reminded me that all comedians start out as MC’s in clubs. That’s where you break in and get your earliest on stage experience. It’s how you develop your writing and performing skills in front of listeners who will respond – positively or negatively. And one of the most important jobs of being an MC is to warm up the audience (make them laugh) and get them involved in the show.

What’s the best way to do that? Talk TO and WITH them.

He had developed the skill, talent and experience for doing that – and could call on it whenever he needed to. Not only did I see (and talk with) comics using this technique in Los Angeles, but also when I worked at The Improv clubs in New York and Cleveland. It’s nothing this particular comic simply tried on a whim because others had already proven it can help defuse a bombing situation.

So, in other words, I could also name (drop) other comics I’ve watched do this and also tell you they gave me the exact same explanation. When they were MC’s moving up in the biz, they learned how to talk TO and WITH an audience. It’s an important learned skill and a way to keep them involved, interested and (hopefully) laughing. And when that’s happening, you’re not bombing.

So, if it happens, start talking. Otherwise, just get used to the duck and cover method of surviving on stage.

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Corporate comedy open mic circuit

Hey Dave – A couple weeks ago you talked about “what is corporate comedy material.” I would also like to learn about getting into doing comedy and humorous keynotes at corporate events. – E.M.

They always feed you!

Hey E.M. – Okay, let’s pick up where we left off. I talked about the type of material comedians need to develop to get hired as entertainers at corporate events. But how and where do you develop an act for this market? Using material rated G and PG (max!) and jokes relating to the business world don’t always go over with the usual crowd at late night, beer-soaked open mics.

But that doesn’t matter because they’re not your audience anyway.

The business owners and event planners that would hire you to speak at a corporate function or conference are the networkers you’ll find at morning, afternoon and evening business or association meetings. Instead of late night bars, put your efforts into finding stage time at morning Rotary breakfasts, Knights of Columbus luncheons, and College Club dinners (to mention just three of many possibilities). Almost every city and town have business and social organizations and need speakers or entertainers.

The usual length of your program would be anywhere from five to twenty minutes between the entrée and desert.

The idea is to grab these opportunities and use them like open-mics. And like open-mics, don’t expect any pay. The key word to obtaining these spots is FREE. Offer to do a FREE five minutes of CLEAN comedy before the meeting’s featured speaker and it’s very unlikely you’ll hear the other key word that is so frequent in the comedy biz:

“NO.”

In my personal experiences using this method in putting together a corporate program, my FREE offer was only turned down once. And it happened with a Rotary guy in the Midwest who was about 90 years old and didn’t think his membership would want to hear from anyone unless they were selling insurance, fertilizer or both. When I explained my talk was about humor and creativity, he sounded like he wanted to have me arrested for being anti-American. I simply thanked him for his time, called a different Rotary Club, mentioned FREE and was invited to speak at their next meeting.

As you continue to write and test – successfully – corporate material, move into doing longer sets at these types of meetings. As mentioned above, featured programs usually last about 20 minutes. And again, from experience, I’ve found the people who volunteer and are involved in planning can be open to offering a variety of programs. After all, you can’t have insurance, fertilizer or a combo of both every week.

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After doing this a number of times and eating a number of FREE breakfasts, lunches and dinners (they always feed you) I had put together a corporate program. The next step was to network and do some promoting – and then I started getting paid bookings.

There’s no way this would’ve happened if I had tried to develop the material doing late night open-mic bars.

So, if you’re interested in the corporate market, I just gave you a great way to get the ball rolling. And it was FREE advice. When you can make an audience laugh and keep them interested during an early morning breakfast meeting, you’ve got a good chance to break into the corporate market.

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Finding stage time

Hey Dave – I have performed terribly at three open-mics in Kentucky. Could you point me in the direction of a “lower-end” establishment in Ohio? I’m looking for a place that does not require you to bring five friends. I don’t know five people. Thanks – J.

Lower end mic?

Hey J. – Thanks for thinking of me when it comes to “lower end” establishments. Maybe I should start calling this the Blue Collar Column – NOT! But instead of worrying about how to get a “higher end” reputation, I’ll share some thoughts about how to get stage time at open-mics whether you’re in Kentucky, Ohio, or wherever.

But before we get into that, let’s talk about having to bring friends if you want to perform…

Usually if an open-mic (or showcase) night is not offered by a legit comedy club, they tend to be here one minute and gone the next. And to make a general statement, open-mics are usually in bars or nightclubs. Yeah, I know there are open-mics in churches and other places, but I’m talking in broad and wide and general terms right now.

If a “lower end” establishment runs a profitable comedy open-mic (attracts paying customers) chances are it’ll keep going. If not, then the owner needs to find something else that will bring in money, like investing in a giant screen TV for football season.

That’s why there are so many pay-to-play or bringer clubs where you have to bring x-amount of paying customers if you want to get on stage. This is a business deal. Comics get valuable stage experience to work on improving their performances and material so they can eventually move on to paying gigs in “higher end” comedy clubs.

From management’s point of view, that’s what they’re “giving” you.

Stage time

The trade-off is that the performing comics need to bring in paying customers. Making money is what keeps these clubs in business. From management’s point of view that’s what comics are “giving” them.

By the way, this is proof I didn’t sleep through all my college Economics classes.

I can go into some of my stories about open-mics in NYC that always had an audience and comics simply signed up and performed. For the most part, it’s not like that anymore. Now you need x-amount of friends who are willing to drop a few bucks for a cover charge and a couple drinks to help further your career.

There’s some good advice on how to beat the bringer system in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers from my good pal and NYC comedy coach, Chris Murphy. I’d share it with you now, but my NYC publisher wouldn’t be too happy. You can check it out for free at your local library, or drop a few bucks on Amazon.com (it’s in paperback, Kindle, Nook and iBook).

And now that Introduction to Economics 101 is over, let’s get back to your original question – finding open-mics. After all, that’s the direction you want to be pointed in…

As mentioned, open-mics come and go. I used to hand out a long list in my comedy workshops to help everyone find stage time. And since I’ve done these in different states, it was quite a long list. I’d call the major comedy clubs to see what they had going, but for the local open-mic scene I’d rely on info from the current workshop members and add that to the list. But by the time I started the next workshop, that list was already outdated. The open-mics that were hot only a few weeks earlier had stopped and the comics had found new places to perform.

So instead of handing out a road map that sometimes led nowhere (a club that ditched comedy for a big screen TV) there’s a better way. It’s called research and networking.

If you have an eye on a certain area, in your case Ohio, do a Google search for comedy clubs. It’s easy – I do it all the time to see what’s going on and who’s appearing in other cities. If they have an open-mic it’ll be listed on their website. Remember, they’re in business and it’s always good business sense to promote whatever they have going on.

Also, there’s always a phone number. Again, it’s good business sense.

From my experience, rarely will the club owner or manager answer the phone. That’s why they have people working in the box office, telemarketers and other staff. I only mention this because a lot of comics worry about making a lasting bad first impression on the person who ultimately controls who performs and who is banished to comedy hell for bothering them with annoying phone calls. I’ve also learned a lot of people who answer phones in comedy clubs are also aspiring comics.

Hey – if you want to be a plumber, you work with plumbers. If you wanna be a doctor, you intern with doctors. If you wanna be a comedian…

Make sense? And there’s no way you can argue with me about that. Too many of the former door-guys I worked with at the NYC Improv have gone onto successful comedy careers. They got firsthand experience on how this business works by being involved in the comedy scene.

Hint: Read that last sentence again. It’s a road map to where we’re going with this…

Even if you’re not ready to perform at a legit comedy club’s open-mic (trust me, you’ll need a lot more than three times on stage to even think about it) ask the person who answers the phone if they know of any open-mics in the area. Even if they say no, it won’t make a lasting bad first impression on anyone who can give you stage time. It’ll just make you do another Google search and find another club to call.

When you find even ONE “lower end” establishment, call and ask if they’re doing open-mics.

Word of warning: I remember two comedians from my workshop that followed through on the fist step, but skipped the second. They didn’t find out the open-mic was history and now a sports bar until after a four hour one-way drive. Even worse, the two comics I’m talking about didn’t like either of the teams on the big screen TV.

If the open-mic is in business – go there.

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ONLINE COMEDY WORKSHOPS

New groups start March 29, 2021

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Four Weeks / Four 90 Minute Sessions

Followed by a LIVE online showcase in front of a LIVE audience!

Space is limited to no more than 8 people per group

For details and to advance register visit…

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The deal is, once you find one open-mic you’ll meet other comedians and can start learning about the area comedy scene. It’s called networking. Be supportive and watch the other comics. Do your time on stage and get to know these people. After all, you share the same interest – comedy.

Don’t be a user and don’t be annoying. Both are good ways to keep the number of friends on your list under five. Ask if they know of any other open-mics and make a point to be there. If you know of open-mics in your area, share the info.

It’s all about becoming a part of that particular comedy scene.

I know it sounds simple. But you know what? It usually is if you’re serious about doing this. I’ve been waaay involved in the comedy scenes in four major cities and I’ve seen how this works. I don’t just make this stuff up during television commercial breaks.

Comics can be very supportive of each other and it’s a tough business to go at it alone. It can be good to walk into a new club and see a few familiar faces. Ride share with other comics or start a writing group. There are all kinds of ways to get involved and that’s what you need to do.

And yeah, to off-set any emails I might receive about that positive outlook, you’ll also run into others who are complete jerks. But you know what? You’ll find that in any business. Just deal with their negativity the best you can and focus on where you want to go as a comic and how to get there.

Okay, that might have been long-winded, but here’s the business deal.

Once you get involved in a local comedy scene you’ll get to know the other comics. You’ll learn about other open-mics and that’s how you’ll know where to go for stage time. But remember to be supportive. If you can help someone get on stage, there’s a better chance they’ll help you. Simple? From what I’ve seen, it usually is.

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What is corporate comedy material?

Hi Dave – You’ve talked about working in the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker. What is considered corporate comedy material and what is not? – B.E.

“Maybe they’ll like this one…”

Hey B.E. – You know what? I’ve never been asked that question in such a general way. Usually it’s more specific, such as a comedian or speaker asking if a certain joke or material they’re planning to perform is appropriate for a corporate show.But for right now – as a general answer to your general question – my experiences as both a booking agent and corporate speaker is to work clean.

I’ve said that many times before, but I wouldn’t continue to say it if it wasn’t true.

Recently I’ve been following a debate on one of the popular social networks over whether or not the F-Bomb will soon be acceptable at corporate functions. If you ask me, the people spreading that opinion are a little more than F-Bombed themselves.

It’s not happening now and it won’t anytime soon.

Oh yeah, as always in showbiz there might be an isolated instance here or there for an edgy company (think MTV or Comedy Central) but if you want to work regularly in the corporate market, then you work clean. That means no F-Bombs or any bits where F-Bomb is the focused activity. Got that?

Okay, so now that we know you must work clean in the corporate market lets get back to the real topic of your question. What type of material are they looking for? A lot depends on the corporate function.

It’s all about the theme…

What’s the theme?

I’ve found through experience that stand-up comedians get booked more often for holiday parties and special events, like a retirement banquet or an awards ceremony. And yes, there are exceptions. But when I get calls from businesses looking for comedians those are the most often mentioned.

If you’re a comedian, it’s important to know the theme of the event.

I’ve scheduled comedians to perform at corporate Christmas parties where the client wanted at least some mention of the holiday season. The comic can talk about his marriage, kids, sports, news events – whatever – for a lot of his act, then throw in some holiday jokes and the client is ecstatic. Other times the client might complain that he specifically wanted holiday jokes and doesn’t give an F-Bomb about the other material.

I’ve also booked comedians for retirement banquets. The comics don’t even know the person the company is feeding and retiring, but they know the audience wants laughs. The comics for this type of event are usually good at roasting and ad-libbing. But as usual, most companies will demand a clean show and not want anyone to leave embarrassed or with hurt feelings.

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ONLINE COMEDY WORKSHOPS

February 2021 – SOLD OUT!

New groups start in March 2021

Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays – 7 pm EST

4 Weeks / 90 Minute Sessions

Followed by a LIVE online showcase in front of a LIVE audience!

Space is limited to no more than 8 people per group

For details and to advance register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

————————————————————————-

So, it’s always good to know the theme and work it into the act. One way to do that is to talk with the client before the engagement to see what type of material they’re looking for. Again, for comedians it can be most anything because they’re considered entertainment. No business lessons, training or life message is required. The job is to make the corporate audience laugh in a way that doesn’t embarrass the CEO or other head honchos (that means clean comedy).

Humorous speakers are different.

Hired speakers already have a topic that fits into the corporate market. For instance, they may talk about stress relief, communications, networking, tech training, or even proper office attire. Believe me, there are a lot of different topics that can work within the themes of a lot of different corporate events. Humorous speakers with a message can be hired to deliver keynotes, do breakout sessions, and half-day (or full-day) training seminars. With a humorous delivery they’re entertaining and delivering information (infotainment) at the same time.

The material – the speaker’s topic – will be based on their expertise.

For instance, if you’re an expert in communications – that’s what your material will consist of. If you’re an expert in technology, finance, marketing, selling – whatever – that’s what you will talk about.

That should help you determine what is corporate material for a comedian and/or a humorous speaker. As I mentioned earlier that was a pretty general question – but I hope my general answer helped. Now it’s up to you.

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Booking conference gigs – think big and start small

Hi Dave – I just joined your email list. I do humor and did my first two stand-up open mics… rough crowd. Someone threw a cup of ice at one of the other comedians. My goal: to get some gigs entertaining at travel conferences. I have a bunch of funny travel stories. Any idea who I approach? A booking agent? I’m new to this, so any thoughts are appreciated. – R.R.

Brick by brick

Hey R.R. – Only one cup of ice and you call it a rough crowd? Welcome to the world of open mics. No wonder you want to perform at conference / corporate gigs. They’re usually better behaved and the most they’d throw at you are icy stares if you’re not funny…

What you really need to concentrate on is getting more experience performing in front of an audience. Two stand-up open mics are a great start, but you need a LOT more. It’s key for working not only on your material, but also timing and delivery – and avoiding icy stares.

That can only be learned through on stage experience.

So, in addition to getting more performing experience, my suggestion for you right now would be to focus on writing. Specifically – since you mentioned it – writing funny travel stories. It’s a topic that interests you and what you want to share with an audience.

I mean, after all, you mentioned it…

“Now, that’s interesting!”

This is true for anyone who writes, whether it’s comedy material, a speaker’s presentation, short stories, epic novels… and the list goes on and on. If you don’t find it interesting, chances are your audience won’t either.

There are many different writing techniques to help you get started, or if you’ve already started, how to organize your efforts into a working comedy set or presentation. I’ve shared more than a few in past FAQs And Answers and what I call “the best comedy writing advice ever” from a legendary (I kid you not) comedian in my book How To Be A Working Corporate Comedian.

I mean, after all, that’s what you’re referring to…

In the meantime, pick topics that you really want to talk about. In your case, travel stories.

Start small.

What I mean by that is to work on coming up with a short five minute set or presentation. It’s like writing a book. You may have an outline for an entire novel, but you still have to write it one chapter at a time. To use an old saying to back me up:

“Don’t bite off more than you chew.”

Put together what you feel is a great five minute presentation. Fill it out. Use colors (my favorite term for great descriptions). If it’s about travel – take your audience on the journey with you through colors and experiences. And since we’re also talking about humor, be creative and funny with your writing.

————————————————————————-

ONLINE COMEDY WORKSHOPS

February 2021 – SOLD OUT!

New groups start in April 2021

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4 Weeks / 90 Minute Sessions

Followed by a LIVE online showcase in front of a LIVE audience!

Space is limited to no more than 8 people per group

For details and to advance register visit…

TheComedyBook.com

————————————————————————-

The next step is to try it out in front of an audience. If you’re a stand up comedian, hit all the open mic clubs in your area as many times as they’ll let you on stage. But since you’re looking to break into the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker, volunteer to do your short presentation at local business organizations and special interest group during their breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings.

For free.

Why free? Because it’s a practice session for you. Like open mics for comedians, these organizations are doing YOU the favor – not the other way around.

I’ve written a lot about this concept in past FAQs And Answers. It’s the open mic circuit for corporate entertainers and the best way to put together a presentation. But remember, keep it squeaky clean and G-rated (another concept I’ve shared a lot about in past articles).

That’s the ONLY way to work in this market. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.

Once your five minutes works on an audience (gets laughs), start writing another five minutes and trying it out in front of live audiences. Repeat the process. When that works, guess what?

You’ll have TEN minutes of working material.

For talent agents booking corporate shows and event planners, the term conference means more than just a simple breakfast, lunch, or dinner meeting. It basically describes more of an event that can be spread out over time – for instance, a few days or an entire weekend – and can include keynotes, training seminars, break-out sessions, field trips, banquets, entertainment, awards ceremonies, and other programs that make up the entire conference.

And to have a successful conference, businesses, organizations and meeting planners want successful presentations from proven presenters. Make sense? It needs to if you want to work in the conference market.

When it comes to entertainment (comedians and humorous speakers), conferences usually schedule 45 minutes to an hour of performance time. Keynote speakers, break-out sessions and training seminars are different types of programs than what your question pertains to, so I’ll save writing that epic article for another time.

Event planners will call agents, watch videos and ask other event planners or clients for recommendations. They want a comedian or humorous speaker who has proven he/she can provide the entertainment or entertaining message they need for this particular conference.

Why?

Because they paid good money and want their money’s worth and…

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If this conference gets good word-of-mouth, everyone and more will want to attend the next one. That reeks of success in the business world!

The best way to break in is to think big and start small.

Focus on your material and get stage experience. Build your presentation or comedy set “chapter by chapter.” On stage experience will help develop your delivery style and timing while also helping you get rid of material that doesn’t work and concentrate on creating new material that does.

The only way to do this is through continued writing and performing. And the only way to know for sure if it works or not is from audience reaction. An audience will always tell you. It’s a process and hopefully this advice will take some time off the learning curve.

Finally, I wouldn’t think about contacting a booking agent or event planner until you’re truly confident you can deliver the goods. That means proven (audience tested) material from an experienced comedian or humorous speaker.

You’ll have a good idea you’re ready when your free gigs start leading to paying gigs. Someone in the audience might hand you a business card after a performance and ask if you’re available for their next meeting or conference. I’ve seen it happen – a lot. And when it does, just be prepared to ask…

“Where, when and how much are you gonna pay me?”

When it happens on a consistent basis, booking agents will be looking to work with you. Why? Because YOUR proven experience will help them attract paying clients. I’ve seen it happen – a lot.

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Going solo or as part of a comedy team

Hey Dave – Is it easier to be a single comic or have a partner go on stage with you? – B.H.

Laurel & Hardy

Hey B.H. – Neither is easy. As the old saying goes, if it was easy everyone would do it. And as long as I’m throwing out sayings, here’s another one from my first book – which makes it an older saying than any used in my second book:

Comedy is a serious business – with a lot of laughs.

For our purposes today, the key to that saying is the word business. When you have an on stage partner not only are you co-writing and co-performing, you’re also business partners. This means also sharing the off-stage business duties such as publicity, booking gigs, scheduling auditions and showcases, arranging travel, and (in many cases) sharing rooms and all expenses while on the road.

But probably the one detail that stops most potential comedy team members dead in their tracks is this one important detail:

Comedy teams have to split the profits while single comics keep it all.

Stiller & Meara

That may not seem like a big deal if your super stardom brings in the big bucks. I know there are improvisational and sketch groups performing in theaters and at private / corporate shows that provide a good income for all (or most of?) the troupe members. There are also legendary comedy duos such as Cheech & Chong, Martin & Lewis, Stiller & Meara and The Smothers Brothers that could afford their individual lifestyles after dividing the profits. But all (or most) comedians really don’t make much money when they’re starting out, which is a big consideration when you’re thinking about taking on a business partner.

I tell aspiring comics in my workshops that in the beginning it’s going to cost THEM money to do this. They’ll be paying for their own transportation, meals and even accommodations (or sleeping in their car) until they can move up into at least the MC / opening act position in the better (meaning paying) comedy clubs. But it’s tough to even imagine having a savings account or a down payment on a house until you start booking feature and headlining slots at the best comedy clubs or working in the corporate or college markets.

When you’re starting out in the comedy business it’s a lot like being an apprentice or going to college. There’s a lot of dues-paying and learning the ropes through experience before even thinking about a profit.

Martin & Lewis

This makes it tough for just one comic to survive. A comedy team would not only split the costs BUT would also have to split the profits. And don’t think just because there are two of you performing as a team that a comedy club owner is going to pay you twice what he pays a solo act.

Excuse me while I try to stop laughing at that thought…

Okay, I’ve caught my breath. Let’s continue…

Comedy is a business (there’s that word again!) and club owners will only pay x-amount of $$’s for a show that will make their audiences laugh. What that “x-amount factor” is depends on the performer’s market value.

For example, Dave Chappelle can sell out arenas. For our purpose, let’s put him in a 500-seat comedy club with a top dollar ticket price of… oh, let’s say $100 a ticket.

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Online Comedy Workshops via Zoom

New groups starting week of February 15, 2020 – SOLD OUT!

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Space is limited to no more than 8 people per group

For details and to register visit…

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————————————————————–

That’s a high price tag for a comedy club, but because his star-power sells every ticket, the club owner will pay him more than another headliner who can’t sell-out the club. If Dave brings a partner to perform with him – they can’t sell any more tickets because there are still only 500 seats. And because the ticket price for a non-fundraising club show is pretty much maxed out at $100, it’s highly doubtful the average comedy fan will pay more than that for a show.

The Smothers Brothers

The profit for the club owner is the same regardless.

Whether it takes one comic or ten to do the job doesn’t matter because the pay for the entertainment – whether a negotiated price or a percentage based on the number of tickets sold – will also stay the same. So, the smart move for Dave Chappelle is to forget about bringing in a partner and do the show solo. That way he keeps the full payment.

As far as I’m concerned – this is why you don’t see many comedy teams anymore. No one can afford it.

But if you want to make a go of it with a partner, look over the list I gave above. You need to write, perform, travel and live well together – and also share business duties and expenses. And when a booker finally hands you a paycheck, you also have to be ready to share it with your partner.

If you can do all that, it’s easy. Well, okay – it’s not all that easy. If it was, then everyone would be doing it.

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