Will Lack of References Hurt?

Hi Dave – I just looked at the registration for an upcoming comedy festival. The form asks for any references. Does it hurt that I don’t have any? Can I put your name down to verify that I’ve at least completed a comedy workshop? Thanks for your thoughts. – L.P.

Hey L.P. – References can be another word for networking – which is a key buzz word in almost every industry today. If you know the right people who can give you a good referral, it’s almost like having a free pass to be “seen.” But if you haven’t yet built up a list of right people, don’t let it stop you. You still need to put yourself out there, (network) and make good contacts (references) along the way.

I subscribe to newsletters and check out blogs on a variety of topics. Some are about the entertainment industry and business in general. Others are about training or help in researching different projects like publishing or making presentations. My point is that I use this information to keep up with what’s happening with stuff I’m interested in and the world in general.

The one thing that’s hammered into my head every day is that a lot of people are looking for work. Not just comedians, but people looking for real jobs. And yes, being a working comedian or humorous speaker is a real job. But I’m talking about the real jobs (think 9-5) that real comedians try to avoid like hecklers and hack jokes.

Everybody’s filling out registrations (job applications) and one of the sections will always ask for references.

One of the newsletters I subscribe to covered this topic last week. The question was from someone looking for a real job (9-5), but the advice also makes sense for comedians (like you) that might be registering for comedy festivals or looking to contact talent bookers, (avoiding a real job).

So, I’ll pass it along here.

You never mentioned making-up references, so I’ll commend your honesty and assume it never crossed your mind. That’s good. If you start putting down references you don’t have, sooner or later it will come back to haunt you. The comedy biz is a smaller world than you might think and there’s a good chance of having a lesser degree of separation between you and Jimmy Fallon than the more famous Six Degrees of Separation between you and actor Kevin Bacon.

If you don’t know the game I’m referring to, Google it.

If you start dropping names in a small world, sooner or later that “name” is going to find out and deny any knowledge of your existence. You might also run into a booker who is good friends with the “name” and can back you into a tight corner.

Either way, your reputation will take a hit as word spreads through the (smaller than you might think) comedy world.

Also never claim experience you don’t have.

Your sister’s best friend might be a good friend with someone working at The Tonight Show who mentioned you once to Jimmy Fallon. Drop his name on your reference list and bookers will expect a set that Fallon would be proud to endorse. But if you’re barely out of the open-mic scene… Well, word will get out and when it comes to talent bookers with long memories, all you’ve achieved is locking in your career at the open-mic level until you get a real job of the 9-5 variety.

The best advice is “honesty is the best policy.”

There’s a reason why that’s a well-known old saying – because it’s true. If you’re new in the comedy business, a good talent booker will see that just by watching your set. Experience is obvious to anyone that has really been involved in this business for a good length of time. BUT there’s nothing to be ashamed of – everyone must start somewhere. If you have potential, a good talent booker will recognize that also. You may not be ready for prime time, but you could make a good impression and be remembered in the future.

Summer 2022 comedy workshop at The Cleveland Improv starts Saturday, June 25

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm

All workshop comedians perform during a 7:30 pm show at The Improv on Wednesday, July 13

Space is limited to no more than 10 people

For more details and to register visit Comedy Workshops

And as you grow as a comedian, that too will be evident and respected.

So, to repeat myself, if you don’t have references now, don’t let it stop you. Fill out the registration and put down whatever you have – even if it’s just open-mics, benefit shows or even a comedy workshop. The talent booker might recognize potential from your video (which all festivals and bookers will require if you’re not available for a live showcase) and give you a shot.

Believe it or not, a good talent booker enjoys discovering a “new face.”

If it doesn’t happen for you now, you might be remembered the next time you apply. If you show growth and experience in both writing and performing, that will help the recognition factor. And by that time, you might also have a few references from the right people, which can only be earned by putting yourself out there, doing great sets and networking.

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Parlay comedy experience to get noticed

Hi Dave – I’m in a big city, have gotten invites and done showcases (not at comedy clubs), have a professionally shot ten minute set, ordered business cards, and am set to headline a C-level club three hours from my city. My question is this, are there ways to parlay this experience into getting noticed by agents or bookers or NACA? If so how? I know networking is the best way and I’ve made some friends, but I’m horrendously shy when not on stage. Thank you so much – ER

Get it – use it!

Hey ER – I’m going to have to make an assumption here. It sounds to me like you might still be a bit new in the comedy business. I don’t mean that as a bad thing and please don’t think I’m about to write off your question due to lack of experience. That’s not what’s happening here. I’m just trying to figure out where this FAQ and Answer is going – based on what you’ve told me…

You’re in a big city and have done showcases and have a ten minute video, but not at comedy clubs. So I’ll have to guess we’re talking about performing experience at schools (high school talent shows or some college gigs) or if you’re out of that age group it’s probably through local events, private parties or business associations.

But you haven’t done any showcases at comedy clubs.

Especially in a big city, that’s where industry people – agents, bookers and talent managers – find most of the comics they work with. From my experiences in NYC and LA they would hang around on weeknights to watch the newer comedians. They didn’t have to do that on Fridays and Saturdays because those shows would feature more established comedians that already had agents, managers and full schedules.

Headliners fill seats!

In other words, there was no reason for them to hit a top club on Saturday night to see Dave Chappelle or Amy Schumer. Those A-list comedians already have representation to take care of their bookings. Agents and managers looking for new talent can take the weekend off and start back to work Monday night checking out local showcases.

If you’re already scheduled to headline a comedy club outside the city and have a professional promotional video, it’s a good idea to start showcasing at the better clubs to be seen. If you’re not in NYC or LA where they have showcase clubs (lots of acts doing short sets on the same night) then contact the better clubs in your area and ask about auditioning or submitting your video. But keep in mind you’ll still need to keep building other performance credits if you want most agents and bookers to take you seriously.

Even if the first contact you make is through your website with video link, the general opinion is that they’ll want to see you perform live before putting you up for any bookings. This is especially true in the competitive college market.

BUT if you have experience and a good video – BUT not personal contacts through showcasing opportunities, you can check out agency websites for submission policies. Most of them will spell out exactly what they need from comedians they might want to work with.

BUT again, a lot of it will be based on experience.

They’ll want to know what clubs you’ve played, corporate shows or benefits. And to repeat myself – this is especially true in the competitive college market.

For anyone not familiar with NACA, it stands for National Association for Campus Activities. There’s also another group called APCA or Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities. I talk about working with both in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works. You can also do a Google search for NACA and APCA to find out more about what they do.

To work in the college market the agents will want to know if you have an act that works for college audiences. Some will represent new talent based on videos and previous college performing credits, but keep in mind some will also charge you $$’s in advance for various “doing business costs”, such as submission fees to even be considered for a showcase at NACA and APCA conferences.

Again, this is all in my book, so let’s cut to the chase…

A lot of it is based on experience. Dave Chappelle and Amy Schumer can book as many college shows as they want because they’re known. For newer comedians it’s tough to book college shows without a college agent. AND it’s tough to get a good college agent without any college performing credits.

Talk about a Catch-22 – that’s a big one. There’s a way to do it – and again, I’ve talked about it in the book. But to get back to today’s specific question, it comes down to getting experience on stage and being seen by the right people.


Summer 2022 comedy workshop at The Cleveland Improv starts Saturday, June 25

Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm

All workshop comedians perform during a 7:30 pm show at The Improv on Wednesday, July 13

Space is limited to no more than 10 people

For more details and to register visit Comedy Workshops

The best thing to do is parlay your upcoming out of town gig at a smaller club (don’t ever call it a “C-club” in front of the owner or booker if you want to play there again) into more shows. Ask for a return engagement or the best way to send in your avails. Use marketing techniques (sorry, I don’t want to keep plugging my books, but that’s why I wrote them) to announce this new credit to other clubs and bookers.

Do your best to get over being horrendously shy in this business. You never want to come off as too pushy, but smart marketing and promotion will help these bookers find you. The good ones – the busy ones – are always looking to discover new talent. They can’t keep running the same acts through the same clubs over and over and over…

Also keep in mind there are good smaller agencies near just about every big city. They may not book the mega-rooms in NYC and LA that will get you seen for Comedy Central or late night television, but they can get you work. They might book a string of one-night gigs and will take a chance on comics based on a good video and some credits.

Usually they’ll send a comic out as an opening act and get feedback from the club owners or managers. If the reviews are good, they’ll continue to book them. Your goal as a comic is to use this experience to get better and eventually work up to the feature and headliner spots.

You can do this at the same time with other booking agents and continue to build up performing credits. Again, I’ve been more specific about it in my books, but I at least hope this gives you a good start. Have a killer set at the C-club, network, promote and work to put yourself in a position to be seen.

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Silent treatment from talent bookers

Hi Dave – I’m a new comic – elderly- but enjoying it a lot. Last year I entered a competition and I got into the semi finals. It was quite exciting. This year they are having it again and I thought it would be fun to enter again to keep up the momentum and get back in shape. I have responded to the organizer over 3 times and did not get an answer. I now see they have posted the lineup and I am not to be found. I sent him another note and still no response. What do I do in a situation like this? Is it because he doesn’t like me or something? Or that I was too old? I think it’s terrible that I don’t get an answer. What would you do, or better yet, what should I do? Thanks for your help. – D.

Make a decision!

Hey D. – Okay, I’ll plan to hear from some of my talent booker friends (and maybe some non-friends) about this, but what the heck. I’ll go with my thoughts and let the chips fall where they may. And by the way, “chips” is a more polite word than I was tempted to use…

To simply state it, I think this person is unprofessional and rude.

When I hear about comedians and humorous speakers that have worked with an “organizer” in the past and are not receiving any kind of response at all is wrong. Of course, this treatment will send all kinds of questions and doubts through a performer’s mind. In your case you reached the semi finals in one of his past contests, so chances are pretty good he knows who you are. But his silence is causing you to think he doesn’t like you or maybe you’re too old.

I’ve seen comics completely stress themselves out because they’ve worked hard at what they do and have followed submission policies, rules or whatever you want to call it from “organizers” to make contact. And for their efforts they receive nothing but silence in return.

You have to start somewhere!

Now, I’m assuming that when you use the term “organizer” you’re probably talking about a smaller local event or festival. Like newer comedians this person could be bound for bigger things, or this might be the height of his career booking talent. If he continues in this crazy biz, let’s hope he learns to be more “professional” in dealing with performers.

For instance…

It’s important you understand many of the BIG talent agencies and BIG club bookers are very busy. I know because I’ve done it. They can’t possibly answer or reply to every unsolicited phone call or email. There aren’t enough hours in the workday – seriously.

When I worked with A&E’s An Evening at the Improv we received a constant flow of comedian submissions. I watched them all – that was part of the job – but couldn’t possibly call everyone. But I kept notes while watching and could at least give a response to the comics when they contacted me. It may not have always been what they wanted to hear, but it wasn’t fair to just brush them off with a silent treatment.

And you know what? I still maintain that a lot of the bookers and agents I knew at that time in NYC and LA did the same. Even the ones that were HUGE had assistants that would deliver the good or bad news about bookings. In fact, I’m sure that’s how I learned the policy because I considered them to be professionals and that’s what they did.

If a performer has done the work, they deserve some type of response.

Next group starts Wednesday, May 25

Space limited – for details and registration visit OnlineWorkshops

*And let me say one important thing here. Almost all the business today is done online. A lot of bookers and agencies don’t even have phone numbers on their websites. It can all be done through email and links to websites and videos. Many of the larger agencies even have submission forms to fill out online – without revealing their email address. Yes, it can be very frustrating for comedians and speakers that want to make immediate contact, but these forms are also programmed to send an automated response that the agency has received your submission and will contact you if they’re interested.

At least it’s a response. In my book, that’s a lot better than silence.

I know an extremely busy and important talent booker in the Midwest who can’t possibly answer every call and email he gets from comics that want to work for him. He doesn’t have a submission form on a website, but there’s information on what he needs to consider a comic for possible bookings. After he receives the submission and if the comic is not ready to work in his clubs, they receive a pre-written (form letter) email giving them the bad news. Again – at least it’s a response.

If he decides to work with a new comedian – and even for those that have worked for him in the past – he’ll ask them to stay in touch once a month by emailing their avails (the dates you’re available for bookings). Again, he can’t possibly send everyone an individual email because he works with too many comics. But he’s professional enough to have an auto response email sent to each comic he has worked with or might work with saying he’s received their avails and will contact them if anything is available.

And on top of all that he has set times each week when he’ll accept phone calls. It’s on the website. If you call during “off hours” and don’t get a response, well that’s your fault. Read the instructions and follow them.

Again, this is all better than silence.

I’ve talked with quite a few comedians that work for him and they’re very happy with this method. In fact, I’ll even say some are “relieved” they hear something. They like knowing their emails are not being sent out into some cyberspace black hole never to be seen or acknowledged by someone they hope to consider a future business partner.

Which brings us back to the “organizer” that has not answered (according to D’s message, which by the way I’m responding to – ha!) four emails… Well, I don’t consider that to be very professional on his part. Mainly because unlike the example I used above about agents and bookers receiving too many unsolicited submissions, this person has worked with D in the past.

As always, there could be other factors involved. As I’ve advised in these articles and the sections in my books about marketing, you never want to be a pain in the you-know-what. I’ll assume you’ve read those and know what I mean.

But even if the organizer (booker, agent, etc.) doesn’t like you or doesn’t want to work with you – and you’ve already had some type of working relationship in the past – you deserve an answer.

I also consider it to be the job requirement. Good will, reputation, contacts, and networking count for a lot in this biz. Someday when you become a headliner and the “organizer” wants to book you, you’ll remember the silent treatment. Your fee might be a little higher for this guy than someone else. And don’t laugh. I’ve seen it happen.

One last word.

To make it in this crazy business you must develop a thick skin. You’ll probably hear “no” a lot more than you’ll hear “yes” – especially when starting out. And there will be times you’ll just “hear the sounds of silence” (and I don’t mean by Simon and Garfunkle). Yes, I think in many cases it can be considered unprofessional and rude, but the bad news is that sometimes it’s just a part of the business.

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

How long should you go until you hit with a bit?

Hi Dave – At what point do you drop a bit? Is there a magic number or amount of time that you spend refining before you shelf a joke or bit? Thanks! W.K.

Who’s counting?

Hey W.K. – I enjoy this type of question because it will always start a debate. In fact, it’s already started one – with myself. In other words, I have two answers…

The first falls back on my dedicated opinion that comedians and humorous speakers are creative artists. Writing and performing original material is an ongoing process. You create something and continue to develop it and make improvements.

Will it ever be perfect? Not really… at least for a creative artist.

Here’s what I mean. A lot of comics I’ve worked with have had killer sets. They come off stage knowing they’ve nailed it – the crowd laughed all the way through and both the performer and audience feel pretty good. But then the performer (artist) can usually find some fault. It could be delivering one line a different way or even using another facial expression that could’ve taken everything over the top.

Could it be called a perfect set? Maybe for the audience, but a creative artist will probably always feel there’s some room for improvement. It’s the curse of being creative.

New groups start Monday, May 16 and Wednesday, May 25

Focus on writing, entertainment business and effective online shows

Space limited – 4 details, reviews and 2 register visit OnlineWorkshops

Here’s another example…

I’ve heard too many interviews with recording artists who’ve had No. 1 songs, but can pick out moments (that listeners wouldn’t notice) where – if they could record the song again – they would do something different (in their mind, something better). The song may have hit No. 1, but they can see room for improvement.

The artist doesn’t stop selling the music – because it’s still good. It’s just not perfect. They might continue to change and develop the songs in live performances, which is something that has driven fans of Bob Dylan crazy for decades. He never seems to play his songs the same as the recordings.

Okay – now back to your question about comedy bits.

Just because a bit doesn’t work, that’s no reason to think it will never work. If you think it has promise and you’re dedicated to working on it… well, there’s always the chance.

In that case you would keep working on a bit for as long as you believe it can be made funnier. It will never be perfect, because in the back of your creative mind you always think it can be better.

Okay – that was answer No. 1. Now I’ll share with you a different opinion that I’ve also heard from so many comedians that I can’t ignore it.

I also share this in my workshops as a method for putting together a comedy set that might someday get you hired. It doesn’t take away from your creativity, but it saves the audience – and also importantly the club booker – the agony of paying for performances where the comedian is continually working on improving the same not-yet-working bit.

By the way, that’s great for open-mics and what open-mics are for. But when customers are paying upwards of $20 for a ticket, a two-drink minimum and parking it makes good business sense to give them a show with proven material.

This different opinion also shares the name of another comedy writing theory:

We’re counting!

The Rule of Three

The best-known example of this in writing comedy concerns the actual structure of a joke or bit. For an explanation I saved you time and looked it up in Wikipedia. Here’s the scoop:

One of the best examples of the power of rule of three is in comedy, where it is also called a comic triple. Two is the smallest number of points needed to establish a pattern, and comedians exploit the way people’s minds perceive expected patterns to throw the audience off track (and make them laugh) with the third element. Example: “How do you get to my place? Go down to the corner, turn left, and get lost.”

Okay, okay… That sounds too much like textbook theory, which is something creative artists don’t worry about (at least too much). It also doesn’t pertain to your question, but it leads me to a different Rule of Three…

I remember conversations about this at the NYC Improv. As I like to say, I don’t make this stuff up and this idea seemed to be a general opinion with a lot of the comics hanging around the bar waiting to go on stage.

The idea is to try a bit or a joke three times in front of three different audiences.

Three things can happen:

  1. The audience will laugh
  2. Some of the audience will laugh, but not all
  3. The audience won’t laugh

After doing this three times, you add up the score:

  • If they laugh all three times, you keep the bit or joke in the act
  • If you get some laughs, but not a lot – rework it and repeat the process
  • If they don’t laugh, cut the bit from you act

Of course the first result is the goal, while the last one is pretty much a death sentence for the material.

The second should spark the creative mind to continue improving the bit or joke. But eventually you’ll need to make a decision. If it’s only going to be a mediocre piece of material no matter how many changes you make, file it for later or dump it for something new and funnier.

If you want to work in this business, you need material that works in front of an audience.

Yer outta here!

The creative artist will always continue to develop new material. The working comic or humorous speaker will have material that has already been proven to work in front of an audience – and that’s what they will be paid to deliver. So if the bit or the joke is not working, then follow a similar Rule of Three from the game of baseball theory:

Three strikes and you’re out.

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Promotional videos need an audience

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

Something like this

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

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

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

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

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

This will not work

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

It’s pretty much impossible to get an accurate feel for a comedian or speaker without an audience. I’m sure most comics know what I’m talking about from doing open-mics in front of only two or three people. They’ve learned that you still need to perform for them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you do that?

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

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

New groups start Monday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Three 2-hour sessions followed by Zoom showcase performance

Space limited – for details visit OnlineWorkshops

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

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

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

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

So this is where you figure out another option.

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

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

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

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

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Headliner vs. Feature vs. Opener

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

Hey DS – Money. Next question?!

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

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

I’m sorry if I forgot anyone…

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

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

Online comedy workshops – new groups starting Spring 2022

For details, reviews, photos and registration visit OnlineWorkshops.

Non-industry nights were Fridays and Saturdays. This means the audiences (two shows Friday and three on Saturday) were pretty much local comedy fans and tourists (we’ll call them out of town guests from now on). Instead of going to a movie, they could see a live show – without paying high prices for Broadway show tickets. So, the comics were booked in advance and mostly “A-Acts.” In other words, they were our headliners, some already famous from television and movies, and the industry people already knew who they were. These comedians already had agents, television credits and were not “new faces” waiting to be discovered.

Let’s put it this way. You, me, and everyone on the planet knew who George Carlin was, so there was no reason for him to showcase for industry people. If you wanted to hire him, all you needed to do was call his agent and pitch the project you had in mind.

Make sense? Okay…

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

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

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

It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles and started working for Budd Friedman that I learned about bookings in the other Improv comedy clubs. The venue on Melrose Avenue was a showcase club like New York, but the other Improv clubs across the country did shows with only three comedians.

Only THREE comics?

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

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

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

Every club I’ve ever managed or booked – including showcase clubs – had an MC (Master of Ceremonies is the proper showbiz term). That’s the comic who opens the show and warms up the audience. They’re also the ones required to make the announcements. You know – tell the audience about drink specials, future shows, and other “from the stage” advertisements.

Don’t forget – the “proper” term for showbiz is show BUSINESS.

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

So, who would be considered a feature act? You can guess – right? That’s the comic in the middle – between the opener and headliner. They do more time on stage than the opener – and less than the headliner.

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

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!


Personal request from headliner to open shows

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

The Golden Ticket!

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

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

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

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

Office reading.

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

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

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

Spring 2022

Saturdays – March 26, April 2 and 9 from noon to 4 pm

Performance at The Cleveland Improv – Wednesday, April 13 at 7:30 pm

For details, reviews, photos, video and registration please visit TheComedyBook.com


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

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

If for some reason the headliner doesn’t follow through on this or just suggests you make the contact, then go to Plan B.

Send an email to the club booker that the headliner talked with you about being the opening act for his upcoming shows. Ask for the “correct way” for you to submit a video and promo. Hopefully the booker will request you send a link to your website and video.

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

New groups begin week of March 28, 2022

Groups limited to 8 people – three 2-hour sessions followed by Zoom showcase

Mondays at 7 pm EST: March 28, April 4 and 11 – showcase April 18

Wednesdays at 7 pm EST: March 30, April 6 (skip April 13) and 20 – showcase April 27

For details, reviews, photos and register visit OnlineWorkshops

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

Did I mention I’m into marketing and promoting? Ha!

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

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!


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

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

Now hiring!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanging out

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

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

Based on the two major clubs in my area, there can be two different scenarios. One is doing face time. For instance, one of the clubs has a bringer showcase once a month. Bringer, meaning you must bring x-amount of paying audiences members to get stage time. I won’t discuss the pros and cons of that now, because I’ve also done that in past FAQs And Answers and on my YouTube Channel (How To Be A Working Comic #25).

Let’s just agree it is what it is – and the only way you’ll be seen on stage at this particular club.

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

March / April 2022 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

Saturdays – March 26, April 2 and 9 from noon to 4 pm

Performance at The Improv – Wednesday, April 13 at 7:30 pm

Space Limited

For details and to register visit ComedyWorkshops

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

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

Then ask:

What’s the best way to get a showcase or submit a video?

Again, from experience – because comics ask all the time – they’ll tell you. Follow what they say. If the club doesn’t offer a showcase night ask if they accept submissions via email and get the email address.

I also suggest you have a dedicated website for your comedy submissions.

Click HERE to visit and subscribe to How To Be A Working Comic YouTube Channel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!


Doing Face Time In Comedy Clubs For Bookings

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

Face Time!

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

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

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

The goal is to score an audition.

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

Sweeping Experience

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

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

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

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

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

New groups starting Monday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Three 2-hour sessions followed by Zoom Showcase

Space in each group limited to 8 people

For more information and to register ($75) visit OnlineWorkshops

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

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

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

But face time does count. For example…

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

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

Click HERE to visit and subscribe to How To Be A Working Comic YouTube Channel

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

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

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

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!


What would you ask a talent booker?

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

Hey A – That’s a really good question and as I mentioned in a direct reply to A’s email, I’ve mostly been on the other side – as the booker or agent. That 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 still 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 about my workshops. So it does happen.

It’s a wide-ranging network when you think about it.

New groups starting week of February 21, 2022

Three 2-hour sessions followed by Zoom Showcase

Space in each group limited to 8 people

For more information and to register ($75) visit OnlineWorkshops

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).

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) were 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 the television market. If you wanted to do colleges, you’d want a good college agent.

Make sense?

If you have an opportunity to ask an agent, manager or talent booker any questions, I 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 – you 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…

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 he 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.

Click on the banner below to sign up for Dave’s free newsletter.

For comments, or questions about workshops and coaching please email – Dave@TheComedyBook.com

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!