Promotional video length for club, corporate and college gigs

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

Get your timing down!

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

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

Okay, I know that’s just a technicality. But I want to make sure we’re all using same terms and are on the same page… uh, screen here in 2023.

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

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

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

No lie.

Getting on the tube

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

And here’s something else I’ve learned from many of these same contacts and personal experience: a good talent booker will usually know within thirty seconds into a comedian’s act if he wants to hire that comedian.

Experience and talent will be obvious (or should be) right from the beginning of the set for anyone that has been in the talent booking business for a while. Performers might try to fake it, but experienced people in the biz can usually tell right away.

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

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

It also depends what market you want to get into.

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

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

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

The college market also plays out differently.

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

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

And finally, what’s very different than in the days of using video “tape” is the method of delivery. Everyone now can watch online videos. In 2023, everyone in the business has the technology to watch promotional video online. If not, then they’re in the wrong business.


We’re back!!

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Meets 3 Saturdays from noon to 4 pm

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

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

* Last bit of advice about this.

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

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

Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

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Shake things up in 2023

Hi Dave – I’m one of those people who will always wonder, “What if?” I’ve fallen behind in my stage fright quotient and will definitely tackle those fears and hit the stage once I get a solid five minutes (of comedy material). I may sink, swim or neither, but it’s time to shake things up. I was just watching what I consider to be the underrated Stardust Memories with one of my favorite lines: “You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.” Much obliged – P.J.

Hey P.J. – I like your attitude. It’s a new year, which for many people can signal a new change or a new direction in life. Personally I don’t see why changes can’t be made anytime you feel you’re ready and it’s needed, but the New Year’s Countdown and ball dropping in New York’s Times Square can be like a starter’s pistol going off. For some, it’s time to start running in a new direction.

Three, two, one… Happy New Year!

Wait a minute… another year? “What if…?”

How often have you thought that? We’d all like to swim rather than sink, but to do neither sounds like a step backwards to me. So I’m going to kick-start 2023 with a bit of a challenge:

Let’s shake things up.

Since you’ve read this far AND if you’ve read any past FAQ’s And Answers, I’m assuming you have a sense of humor AND a flair for creativity (and that’s a creative word: flair). You’re either a comedian or a humorous speaker – or both – or aspiring to be one or the other – or both.

  • How do you stand out from everyone else?
  • What separates you from the pack?
  • Maybe it’s time to shake things up and take a risk.

Taking a risk can mean different things to different people. If you’ve never been on stage for whatever reason (stage fright quotient?) but it’s burning a BIG “What If?” in your brain – do it now. If you’re waiting until the ball drops next year, you risk losing this year. Go to an open-mic, take a class, form a writing group – whatever, there are tons of options. There are also plenty of good books on the market (and not just mine – search around) on how to write, perform and find work in this crazy biz.

Let’s shake things up.


Winter 2023 Comedy Workshop at The Cleveland Improv

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Space limited to 10 people with advance registration required

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Coming February 2023 – Comedy Workshop at The Tampa Improv!!


If you’re already on stage doing comedy or speaking and your career is not where you think it should be – make a change. Take a risk. Try something different. It could be different topics, different energy, different venues, or even a different location.

You never know until you try.

One of my favorite stories in my book Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works is from comedian Christopher Titus. He described himself early in his career as being the “happy-go-lucky comic.” He was funny, but there was nothing that separated him from any other observational comic.

Then his manager challenged him to take a risk. He suggested he be real on stage.

Titus was one person (happy-go-lucky) on stage, but off stage he had a dark, edgy – risky – style of humor. Accepting the challenge, he wrote a bit about stabbing his boss with a letter opener. It worked BIG time. This change in his comedy voice separated him from the pack, made him an in-demand headliner and star of his own television sitcom, Titus.

Now, I’m not saying to write material about stabbing your boss with a letter opener.


How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy

Is now an online course at Udemy!

Here’s a LINK for more information AND free video samples.


If you look back at the above paragraph, it’s been done. Copying someone else’s material is not going to get you anywhere in this creative business. In fact, it would be a step backwards. And it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to go in a more edgy direction if that is NOT where your true humor is based. Some comics like more family-oriented material or working in the corporate (clean) market.

  • All I’m saying…
  • Suggesting…
  • Motivating…?
  • Is to make this YOUR year.

Accept the challenge and shake things up.

If you’re waiting to start, take that important first step and get on stage. If you’re looking for help in preparing for that first step, are too nervous, or have a full-blown case of stage fright, take a workshop and let someone with experience help you ease your way into it. If you’re already performing, remember the famous line from Stardust Memories (a Woody Allen film if you need to know):

“You wanna help mankind? Tell funnier jokes.”

Have a productive, successful and laugh-filled 2023.

Your Pal – Dave

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Going for the “perfect” performance

Dave – I’m working to get the whole stage fright thing out of my system. (My first time on stage) I was so nervous because I didn’t know the material that well. The problem my friends and I noticed is I am too much of a perfectionist. I understand things won’t be perfect but for some reason I feel the need to make it perfect. – T.D.

Hey T.D. – A lot of comedians and speakers are perfectionists. They struggle over finding the right word or phrases. For instance, in the comedy world, they always want to know what word is funnier than another.

Example: Cucumber or banana. This debate will go on forever…

That’s why they continue to write and test out material (words and phrases) during live performances. They record sets and listen to audience reaction. When an audience laughs – it works. If they don’t laugh – then the comic needs to edit or rewrite the material and repeat the process until it does work. If it still doesn’t get a laugh from the audience, then the comic needs to discard that bit and write something else.

Of course, there’s more to it than just that simple explanation.

Stage experience, your comedy voice, delivery, timing, and the make-up of the audience will also determine what works and what doesn’t during any performance. But even when everything is working in your favor, will it ever be perfect?

In a creative artist’s mind – probably not.

You might debate this, but I believe that creative artists always think they can do better. It’s a creative person’s curse. It’s also what drives them to constantly do better work. The goal is perfection, but it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack, (sorry, I had a drive that took me past miles of farmland this week and can’t shake it out of my mind). It’s a never-ending journey to a place impossible to reach.

Let’s put this into musical terms, as I tend to do when coaching comedians and speakers. And since I’m a “classic rocker,” stick with me while I use a classic example…

Sited as one of the greatest songs by The Beatles is A Day In The Life. It closed the legendary album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and is a true John Lennon & Paul McCartney composition. That duo is also sited as the top composers of their generation. So put it all together – and it’s the perfect song. Right? Well, it could have been better. Listen closely as the final chord fades out. Someone forgot to turn off the air conditioner in the recording studio and it’s heard in the background.

Perfect? Close, but not quite.

Comedians can walk off stage after an exceptional performance and say they “killed,” which is the comic’s term for having a great show. But I sincerely doubt many would say they could never do better. They could watch a video of their set and probably have no problem finding a gesture or a facial expression – or a line or phrase or whatever – that might have been done differently and gotten a better audience response.


Winter 2023 Online Comedy Workshops – 7 pm EST

Wednesdays – January 4, 11, 18 and 25

Mondays – January 16, 23, 30 (skip Feb 6) and February 13

Focus is on group comedy writing and comedy business.

Space limited to 8 people per group

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It’s the creative curse. There’s always room for improvement.

So, my point is not to worry about being perfect. Just do your best. Film and television actors – and musicians in a recording studio – get to do multiple takes and use editing to make the end result perfect. But just like with A Day In The Life, a creative artist will probably think they could have made it better.

In fact, the imperfect result could even be better than you’d planned. And in case you haven’t caught on, this is another excuse for me to share a great story…

In one of my comedy workshops at The Improv several years ago, an aspiring comic wanted to be “perfect” – his exact word. (And if T.S. is reading this – yeah, I’m talking about you!). He wrote and memorized his set word for word and went on stage during our Saturday afternoon workshop session prepared to deliver it that way. He was doing an okay job of it, but a few minutes into his set he forgot his material. He suddenly yelled, “Oh ****!” and THREW himself against the (fake) brick wall, fell over a stool and landed on the stage.

It was pure frustration and the funniest thing we had seen in that workshop. Everyone, including the workshop comedians and myself, cracked up in laughter. It was a GREAT comedy performance!

We all tried to convince him that he had found his performing style. It was honest and real. It was comedy and funny. But he didn’t believe us. It was not his idea of the perfect set, and he would never allow himself to do that in front of an audience – even though it happened during each of our following workshop sessions.

The night of our show at The Improv, I reassured each workshop member they would have a fun set. They had worked hard and were prepared. No worries. But when I got to T.S. – I told him that I hoped he would screw up and forget his material. He looked at me like I was nuts – “Are you serious?” He said there was no way. He had been practicing for days and would do the perfect set.

Do I need to continue with this? Okay…

He went on stage – got a few minutes into his set and WHAM!!!! He forgot what he was going to say next. He threw himself against the wall, fell over the stool that was on stage and hit the floor in frustration. The best part was that it wasn’t an act. It was real. It was the highlight of our show, and he earned the biggest laughs of the night.

I thought it was perfect.


How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy

Is now an online course at Udemy!

Here’s a LINK for more information AND free video samples.


Afterward he admitted he’d had a great time and according to audience response, his set worked. But he also thought he could do better next time…

The bottom line is to be creative and have fun. Every opportunity you have on stage or on the speaker’s platform is an opportunity to grow as an artist. You want to experiment and take chances. Creative people need change, which is why comedians write new jokes and speakers spin off their messages into different programs for different audiences.

You can try to be perfect on stage, but don’t sweat it when you’re not – because nobody is. The idea is to just be better next time.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Booking Holiday Parties – Part 2

Hey Dave – Last time you wrote about booking gigs for holiday parties. Good tips, like planning your promo, networking, and working clean. But you left us hanging about the money and how comics can charge more for holiday gigs. So, what’s the pay-off, you handsome devil? – Dave

Hey Handsome Devil Wannabe…

Okay, I’ll stop the BS. If you haven’t figured it out, I wrote the above question. I could’ve just continued from where we left off last week by announcing Part 2 in bold, italicized CAPS, but what good is it to call these articles FAQs and Answers if there’s no Q kicking it off?

Guess I’m a stickler for sticking with the format. So, with that said…

Most experienced comedians will raise their corporate performing fees for holiday parties. Notice I said experienced. Rookie, open-mic comics (though I love you guys!) should not get into the private party (holiday gigs) market until you have an act that is audience-proven and worth the money businesses will pay for entertainment.

In other words – like a good business – you want satisfied customers. Word gets out that you were an asset (business term) to the party, it could lead to more work. If you do a crash and burn, “take the money and run” (hack comic term) performance, that word could also get out – and your next holiday gig might be working for the caterer.

Know what I mean?

Yes, there are (as always) exceptions. For example, your aunt’s boyfriend offers you twenty bucks to say something funny at his retirement roast. If you don’t live up to the (headline) billing your loving aunt was probably using to influence this decision, you might just get a few dirty looks from the boyfriend and the other witnesses. Do the same (bomb) at a big-money corporate holiday event and you might have a hard time getting paid.

As a talent booker I’ve felt the wrath of clients who thought a comic was so bad that they refused to pay – or have demanded a refund. Do you think I’d work with that comic again? No way. I’ve also known a few contacts in the business world that have actually picked up the phone and called me, other booking agents, businesses, etc… and warned us not to use a certain comic for ANYTHING.

Believe me, bad reviews seem to travel a lot faster in his biz than good reviews.

So, let’s put it this way. If you’re just starting out as a comic and working your way through the open-mic circuit, chances are you’re not going to be headlining The Improv next weekend for big bucks. Use this same business sense when it comes to booking holiday parties. This is also true for humorous speakers still doing free gigs (your open-mic circuit) to put your presentation together.

Yeah, there are very small parties with very small budgets that experienced comedians wouldn’t even consider doing. Let’s say in the $200 or less range. If you’ve had success doing twenty CLEAN (G-rated) minutes and can throw in a few holiday references, then partner with another comic who can do the same. Offer the potential client a forty-minute two-comic holiday comedy show and split the money with your new partner.

Seriously. It will give you experience, corporate credits for your resume – and gas money.

You want to break into the market? Be smart about it. Don’t go in thinking you can stretch out your current fifteen minutes of material by working the crowd for forty minutes and get away with it. That’s why experienced headliners and strong features can clean up doing holiday parties. They already have the material and the stage experience.

Which brings us back to the beginning. You remember, right after that handsome devil reference…

Most experienced comedians will raise their performing fees for corporate holiday parties.

The holiday season is a short time of year to make a lot of money. Think about it. You may have to start promoting months in advance, but the season only lasts a few weeks in December. Parties can (and do) happen every night of the week, probably starting close to December 1st and going until Christmas Eve, but you must realize there are only a few Friday and Saturday nights in those weeks when most of the parties take place.

The boss (the client who will hire you) will be spending big bucks on the party room (restaurant, hotel, conference center – wherever) and on the food and booze. If he’s got half a heart and seasonal cheer, he might also be springing for bonus checks and even possibly gifts for all his employees.

So, relying on what we know about today’s economy and that odds aren’t good Bill Gates is funding this holiday bash, a good guess is if the boss is hiring a comedian – chances are he won’t also be hiring a band, deejay, hypnotist, balloon artist, or Carrot Top.

For a lot of companies, it’s not in the annual holiday party budget anymore.

So, if the boss goes with hiring a comedian instead of another option – that comedian is the main entertainment attraction for the annual holiday party. This is the party everyone in the company will be talking about until next year’s annual holiday party.

If the comedian is a bust, the party would be a major bust, and the boss would have to live with that reputation for an entire year. No one will remember what finger sandwiches were served. But if they had to sit in a room and listen to a comic “not” make them laugh for almost an hour… well, that’s memorable.

Therefore, the boss needs to hire a good, experienced comic. And if the comedian has the experience to make the party a huge success, then he deserves to be paid well for the effort (and should know it).


 

How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy

Is now an online course at Udemy!

Here’s a LINK for more information AND free video samples.


Here’s another way to look at this. A hypothetical conversation from the comedian’s point of view:

“My fee for your secretary’s retirement banquet is $500. I’m really not busy that evening anyway and it beats sitting home waiting for the phone to ring. BUT if you want me to perform at your Christmas party, it’ll cost you $750. Why? (As the client is coughing and choking). Because four other businesses I’ve contacted are also having their parties that same night and I’m going with the best offer.”

With a good business plan, luck, ability to schmooze, and geographically desirable locations, two or three (or more) of those holiday business parties can be booked for the same night at staggered times. That’s $750 (or whatever fee you charge) times three or four…  equals… well, the total is staggering compared to what you might earn for one show that same night in a comedy club – which is why comedians love holiday parties.

But once again, a major word of warning:

This may all sound like easy money and temp you to jump into the holiday party pool headfirst (with no sunblock – a reference to last week’s Part 1 if you’ve paid attention). But keep in mind what I said earlier. The entertainment (comedian or humorous speaker) can make the party a success or a bust. You need experience and a proven act – and some holiday references and jokes wouldn’t hurt. And the material must be CLEAN. No X-rated or R-rated stuff for all the reasons mentioned in Part 1 of this article. The only exception would be if this was a request from the client and worked out in advance with his or her approval.

Also never forget – experience counts. Just like there are no short cuts from playing an open-mic one weekend to headlining at The Improv the next. It doesn’t happen unless your aunt’s boyfriend runs the club and is secure in his job.

If a client is willing to pay big bucks, you must be willing to put in the work first. If you have the stage experience and proven material, then go for it. If not, start writing now and getting on stage as often as possible with an eye on the future. As mentioned last week in Part 1, the promotion process for performers started months ago. You know, while we’re still thinking more about sunblock than Santa Claus.

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Booking Holiday Parties

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

Time to get festive!

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

Why?

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

I didn’t see any comedians.

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

Time to job hunt!

The time to get in on this action is…. Uh, was… a few months ago.

When we hit the end of summer and a lot of these holiday bashes are already in the planning stages. In fact, I’ve seen postings on social media from comedians before anyone even thought about taking their snow boots out of the closet promoting their shows for this holiday season, so the clock is ticking.

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

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

As the great Phyllis Diller once said:

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

Booking holiday parties is similar to working in the corporate market. You may imagine employees overindulging in the eggnog and walking around wearing Santa hats with mistletoe pinned to the white fluffy ball at the top. But the boss is still in charge of the toy factory.

With lawsuits about sexual harassment, discrimination, mental anguish, and whatever other reasons and insults that could cause the company to continue paying a future former employee for not working there anymore (and the lawyer fees) the boss is not going take any chances.

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

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

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

For more details and to register visit – Udemy / How To Be A Working Comic


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Hiring A Comedy Writer

Hello Dave – Here’s a question: You advise us to get writing or keep writing. How do you feel about hiring a pro writer? And how would I go about it? Your pal – CA

What’s a good punchline for that?

Hey CA – Hiring someone to write for you depends on your (comic or speaker or performer) career level. If you’re just starting out it doesn’t make any sense – to me anyway – to hire someone else to write your material. What’s the point? If you want to memorize another writer’s script and repeat it – become an actor.  If you want to be a comedian or a speaker – then there has to be something YOU want to say.

It’s all about sharing YOUR humor, YOUR thoughts, YOUR ideas, YOUR observations, or anything else YOU want to tell an audience.

To me (again) writing and performing comedy is a creative art AND a talent. That should be the stimulus to get into this crazy biz. Otherwise get a head shot, memorize someone else’s lines and start auditioning for acting gigs.

Here’s a story…

Years ago I had a guy take my comedy workshop.  The first day everyone takes a turn on stage to talk about ideas for writing a comedy set. When it was his turn, he did an “act.” Five minutes of prepared stand-up comedy. But it didn’t seem real to me. It was just telling jokes that really didn’t pertain to who he was or what could possibly be going on in his life that would even interest him.

Let me explain what I mean…

I love funny jokes and great joke tellers. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a few of the best. For instance, Rodney Dangerfield made regular guest appearances when I was at both the NYC and LA Improv comedy clubs. He would tell jokes (of course) but the jokes fit who he was:

  • No respect
  • Nervous
  • Underdog
  • … well, Rodney!

“My wife said she wanted to make love in the backseat of our car. She wanted me to drive. I get no respect.” – Rodney

Get it? I can think of dozens of great joke tellers I used to watch on TV when I was a kid. What made them great was that their jokes fit their personalities. Think Jack Benny, Redd Foxx, Phyllis Diller and Jackie Mason if you need a history lesson.

Their jokes worked because the jokes fit the comedian’s on stage personality.

Okay – back to the guy in my workshop. He did his comedy act, but nothing fit who he was. It was just some guy telling jokes anyone else could tell. Plus I’d heard a few of them before, which is never good when you’re striving to stand out in a creative business.

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When he finished I asked who had written his material. He swore he did. When I said some of it sounded familiar and quizzed him more about his writing techniques, he finally admitted he got the jokes from a writer he found online – and had paid $50 for them. I told him there were undoubtedly a number of other aspiring comics who had also paid for the same jokes.

He really wanted to be a comedian. The problem was that he really only wanted to be a famous comedian and was willing to pay for a shortcut.

That’s not how it works.

Since he had never actually done stand-up anywhere, he had no stage experience. He hadn’t even given himself the opportunity to find out who he was on stage.

Comics call that your comedy voice.

To find your voice it takes on stage experience – and lots of it. Since he hadn’t discovered his yet, how could he expect to find anyone who could write material specifically for him? That writer would have no idea except to peddle him jokes almost anyone else could do.

I told the guy in my workshop he had to start writing. That’s the first step and the key to becoming a comedian or speaker – or even a writer for someone else.  There are plenty of styles such as joke telling or story telling, along with techniques, structures and different creative ways creative people write.  He needed to find out what ways worked best for him and what subjects interested him enough to write about.

The next week he came in with the basis of an original comedy bit. I remember it was about playing in a pick-up baseball game when he was a little too old and a little too out of shape compared to guys on the other team. It was based on something that really happened to him and filled with his personal experiences, thoughts, opinions and descriptions of events.

Oh yeah – and it was funny. AND it was a story only HE could have written.

He realized he had wasted fifty bucks on words that didn’t mean anything to him. And he had replaced it with something he couldn’t wait to share with an audience.

So the point is – why would anyone want to get into a creative business without being creative?

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Important announcement: I’m not knocking actors (remember what I said above about memorizing someone else’s script). No way. That is also a very creative and demanding craft. I know because I’ve done it. I respect creativity in all forms and efforts. I’m just focusing today on the comedy and speaking biz.

That wasn’t as eloquently put as a Shakespearean monologue, but I hope you catch my drift.

And to complete this drift, it’s not a smart idea to hire someone to write for you until you both know who you are on stage. The creative artist doing the writing must know the person he/she is writing for.

What is your comedy voice?

When you get to be Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel – or anyone else that burns up material at a breakneck speed – then you can hire writers. Good writers already know who these personalities are and their style of humor. Good writers can write a Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel joke. But writing for someone just starting out – well… they’re just writing words.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Comedy Stylings by The Rolling Stones

Dave – I am still trying to find my “style” or whatever it’s called. I have a lot of single thoughts, but I just never used them because I’ve always felt compelled to do longer bits on a specific topic instead of one thing after another on unrelated topics. I don’t have the transitional material thing down. I listen to some comics, and they can go from short topic to topic without it. I just don’t feel comfortable in that manner yet. When I leave one topic for another, I want to be sure the audience is along for the ride with me. Any help is greatly appreciated. – S.E.

Mix it up!

Hey S.E. – I’m coming at this with some insider knowledge because I’ve seen you perform in my workshop. It’s obvious you already have a lot of comedy material and it’s a good mix between long and short bits. And you know what? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, mixing things up might really be your “style.”

I’ve been fortunate to watch a lot of live comedy and many times I’ve compared a great comedy set to a rock concert. Like with any creative art, there are many styles. Some comics can blast an audience in the face for an hour or change tempos and take the audience on a bit of a roller coaster ride with some ups, downs, and unpredictable U-turns.

The example I use often relates to a Rolling Stones concert (I’m a Classic Rocker at heart). They’ve been “The greatest rock’n’roll band in the world” since Mick Jagger himself announced it at the beginning of their classic live album, Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out back in 1969. Their concerts have been selling out for six decades because they are excellent performers AND because their song choices and playing order take audiences on a ride.

Mick and Keef

For instance, they may open with Street Fighting Man and Jumpin’ Jack Flash – then slow it down with Angie or Wild Horses. The songs are all still classic rock, but the slower ones give the audience a moment to catch their collective breath. Then they’ll kick it back up into high gear with Honky Tonk Women and Satisfaction.

The Rolling Stones take you on a musical ride with different tempos, rhythms, and lyrics.

Does each song flow into the next one?

Sometimes it does, and sometimes not. Songs can be short and sweet like the original recordings, while others stretch out with band solos so Mick and Keith can catch their breath before rocking out again. After all, neither one is twenty-five years old anymore.

Okay, let’s take this back into the comedy world.

A good comedy show can do the same with long bits, short bits, or variety (think props, music – whatever!). Just substitute the word “material” for “songs.”

Some comics are great storytellers. Others rely on the basic format of set-up, middle and punch line for jokes. Working comics have developed their styles through many years of experience and learning what works best for them. Does one or the other style ONLY work best for you? Since you have both long and short bits, I highly doubt it.

So, there’s no reason why you can’t mix it up.

As a comedian, you’re the writer and performer. Like at a Stones concert, give your audience a Jumpin’ Jack Flash (short hard-hitting bit), and then throw in an Angie (longer storytelling) if you want. No one says you can’t – and in the effort you’ll wind up finding your style.

As far as transitions – segues – some comedians need them, and others don’t.


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It’s a personal choice and whatever makes you feel comfortable is what works for you. But either way, it’s how you deliver it (some prefer saying sell it) it to an audience. If they’re relating to you and laughing, then there’s a good chance they’ll go with you if you want to take them in a totally different direction.

In other words, short bits and long bits can co-exist together.

It all depends on your comedy voice – which is another term for style or who you are on stage. It may also include a transition or segue between every bit, some bits, or not at all. You’ll figure it out – your comedy voice – as you get more experience on stage.

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When should you begin promoting your career?

Hey Dave – Last week I was in a comedy festival. It was a 13-hour drive, but it was a good chance for networking. I was talking with another act who said she’s too impatient about getting her comedy career going. I said that my problem is that I’m too patient. After finishing second at another comedy club’s contest and being accepted at the festival, I should be contacting clubs and bookers all over the area instead of waiting until I actually win a contest. Do you agree? – J.G.

Tell somebody!

Hey J.G. – First of all, if I drive 13 hours for anything, I’m going to make sure somebody knows about it. That’s not exactly a Sunday afternoon drive for me (which is why every seasoned road comic is calling me a wimp right now), so I’d like a little recognition for the achievement. If my kids happened to be in the backseat, I’d expect an award.

How different people react to my successful lengthy trip depends on how they view such an effort. If I told a student driver about my journey, he may look at me as “The Man”. If I walked into a truck stop and made my announcement, I’d probably get more laughs than doing a clean act at a biker bar open mic.

Being accepted to perform at a respected comedy festival and finishing second in a club’s contest are worthy additions to the resume. Each step in your career is a great opportunity for promotion and it’s important to take advantage of it, which is an important subject we’re driving up to next.

But before we head down that road, the question of patience should be answered by common sense. You must be honest with yourself to know when you’re ready for the next level of your career and not push yourself too fast into a position where you don’t have the experience or material to back it up. In other words, if you’re relatively new to comedy and just breaking into the MC role, it’s wise not to promote yourself to the top clubs as a headliner until you’re ready.

What you don’t want to do is sit back and wait for any word-of-mouth to find its way to the bookers. James Bond has a reputation that precedes him, but when finding work in the entertainment business you need to promote yourself. If you have the credits, chances are better the bookers will find out about it if YOU tell them.

You must be honest with yourself as a comedian. There are various steps to consider before you actively promote yourself for paying gigs…

Are you ready for paid gigs?

You absolutely must have experience and a comedy set that has worked successfully (gets laughs) during live performances. These can be open mics, benefit shows – whatever. Let’s put it this way. If someone is paying you to do 20 minutes – you’d better have a good 20 minutes, or they’ll find someone else who does for the next booking.

Also understand where you fit into the business.

Are you an opening act (MC or host), feature (middle act), or a headliner (closer)? New acts will always be considered openers until they prove themselves worthy of a better position in the show.

But let’s say you know that already. You’ve worked hard at writing and performing, and you honestly know you’re ready. That’s when it’s time to get the word out to talent bookers, club managers, and anyone else who might hire you.

That’s when you need to start promoting your career – and it can be a full-time job.


 

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Whenever you have an achievement (accepted to a comedy festival, runner up in a contest, a paid booking in another venue, etc.) make sure the talent bookers for the clubs where you want to work KNOW about it. Send them your news via an email, a postcard, add it to your website and resume, and post it on the social networks you use for business (which should be different from ones you use for family photos, your cats, what you had for lunch, or wild escapades).

You may not get hired right away, but it could add to your name recognition in the future.

That’s the idea behind promoting – networking and marketing. Like writing your comedy material and developing your comedy voice, it’s an ongoing (seemingly never ending) process.

Businesses use branding and logos to keep their products in front of potential buyers and entertainers do the same with successful performances, personal contacts, online postings, emails, and websites.

As good salesmen say, you need to run a product (you as a comedian) past a client (talent booker) on the average of SEVEN times before they buy. So, when is a good time to start building credits and promoting your comedy career? If you truly believe you’re ready – I’d say right now.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

Getting laughs incentive for getting on stage

Hi Dave – I would love any input on public speaking. I am a very timid person, and it shows in presentations I have had. Could you give me any advice? – J.P.

Don’t get too wrapped up in it!

Hey J.P. – When you say timid, I’ll go ahead and assume you’re talking about a lack of confidence on stage. You didn’t mention if it’s because of stage fright or just a case of being shy, but there are many ideas and techniques on how to overcome this and improve as a public speaker (or a comedian that might need a push to get onstage).

But right off the bat I’ll say one I’ve never subscribed to as a method to build confidence or overcome stage fright is picturing an audience in their underwear. I’m assuming once again, but when you’re on stage as a public speaker I would think you should be concentrating on what you’re saying – your message – and don’t need anything else to think about. Plus, there are always going to be too many people in an audience that I wouldn’t want to see in their underwear.

So instead of suggesting the extra brain work that comes with underwear picturing, a great way to get over a lack of confidence is to do what the comics told me when I first got interested in this crazy business.

Use humor.

The Shy Guy

You may be timid, shy, or nervous when you first walk on stage. But as someone who has been around behind the scenes a LOT, I’ve seen a LOT of people in that tongue-tying, dry-mouthed, hand-shaking condition suddenly break out and come alive once they experience their first laugh from an audience. It’s a life-changing event, spiritual awakening, shot of adrenaline and the same feeling as love at first sight – all rolled up into one big sucker punch to the gut.

That’s why comedians and humorous speakers say getting laughs from an audience is addictive.

I’ve watched many people from my workshops make their stage debut in front of large audiences at The Improv comedy clubs. Some were full of confidence; some were faking confidence – and some were just flat out nervous and scared. Members of this last group would fit into the category of timid – and the main reason was because they lacked experience on stage. They had never done it before in front of an audience and didn’t know for sure what to expect.

They needed that sucker punch to find out for themselves.

Nothing can truly change a lack of confidence until you have the overcoming experience for yourself. In this case, the experience of making an audience laugh. It’s powerful enough to make your first-time onstage fun, memorable and… well, addictive.


 

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Getting laughs can usually lure a timid person to try it again… and again… and again…

During my workshops I watch our shows from the back of the room. I can see if someone is going up on stage with a fearful look in his or her eyes. But as soon as they get that first laugh, it’s like a veil being lifted from their face.

The difference is like night and day – from black and white to color.

The same is true with speakers.

Humor engages an audience and keeps them interested in what you’re saying. Even if you’re giving a political speech, a technical training seminar, a sermon, or anything that’s not a stand-up comedy act, a good speaker will mix up his delivery a bit. It can be subtle or BIG. They’ll go from soft to loud, or from high energy to almost standing completely still to make a point. Everyone’s different. Watch a (good) speaker on television or during a lecture and you’ll know what I mean.

For a journey to the other side of this, think about the most boring teacher you’ve ever had. Would the class have been more interesting, and would you have stayed awake longer if they had just added even a speck of entertainment value? I need a nap just remembering some of the boring monotone instructors we had to sit through in lecture hall… yawn…

Basically, it’s tough to hold an audience’s attention by using only one emotion all the way through a presentation or performance. That is why even a lot of eulogies include funny memories about the deceased. Humor is one of the delivery techniques that engages the audience and can seriously offer an interesting change of pace – whether it’s during a boring lecture or sad eulogy.

The late (and great) George Carlin told me during an interview for my book Comedy FAQs And Answers that he used language (we were having a conversation about dirty words) to keep his audience’s attention. And when he had their attention, it meant he was in control and could take them verbally anywhere he wanted. When Carlin performed, his audiences were practically sitting on the edge of their seats waiting to hear what he would (dare) say next.

Humor does this.

Make someone laugh and they’ll want to see if you can do it again. And while they’re waiting, they’ll listen to what you have to say next.

That means you are in control.

And that makes it a confidence builder- get it?

A great way to get over a lack of confidence (being timid or nervous) on stage is to use humor. Comedians go for as many laughs as possible. But as a humorous speaker (public speaker) go for a laugh. When you have their attention, follow it up by delivering your message. The combination of addictive laughter and an audience interested in what you’re saying should be the needed confidence boost to inspire you to do it again… and again… and again…

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An Introduction Email Talent Bookers Will Read

Dave – What’s up. I have a quick question. You’ve helped me in the past with the structure of my Bio and Resume by looking in your book, How To Be A Working Comic. My question now is, I’m trying to come up with a structured letter or email to send to bookers or comedy clubs to get booked. Something where I would also have a link to a page with me performing. Would your book have something like that or could you point me in the right direction? I would really appreciate it… man! – K.B.

PS – We all love your emails and words of wisdom! So keep’em coming!

Hey K.B.

First of all, I’ll start with the “last of all” in your message. Thanks. I just want to help you guys get on stage.

What you’re talking about is a cover letter. It’s an introduction to you and a request to check out your video and performance credits for work. Just about everyone uses email instead of mailing a “letter,” but we both know we’re talking about the same thing.

Writing the cover letter (like the bio) can be almost as creative as your comedy material. Not everyone will agree with me on that, but I used to get a lot of cover letters with promo packages when I was booking A&E’s An Evening at the Improv and believe me, with so much competition to be noticed, the creative ones would catch my attention.

If I had to read something, it might as well be informative AND fun.

You’re a comedian, so I would expect you to be a funny person. I would also expect to be entertained – at least a little bit. Just don’t make your cover letter an entire comedy monologue. The only exception would be if it is really, REALLY funny. Otherwise, save your best bits for your promo video and on-stage showcase.

Keep it brief!

You don’t want to make your cover letter too long and wordy. You should be able to introduce yourself (that’s what it’s for) and say everything you want the reader to do (the purpose behind a cover letter) in just two or three short paragraphs.

If you have another comedian or booker as a reference, mention it somewhere toward the beginning. Then tell the booker you’ve heard nothing but GREAT things about his club and you would abandon your entire family and all worldly possessions to perform there.

Okay, maybe not in those desperate words – mainly because you don’t want to come off as too desperate.

But it never hurts to send out a bit of good will and a compliment or two (great crowds, best comics, beautiful club, professional staff – pick one). Use your common sense on how you might kiss-up to the boss without sounding like a kiss-up.

The showbiz term for it is schmoozing.

Mention a couple of your most impressive credits. Did you win a contest? Have you played another major club? Headline a benefit show? Perform at colleges? Again, just a couple – don’t go overboard.


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If you don’t have a direct reference or connection with the booker to use at the beginning, you might still have a good recommendation. Comedians and speakers that perform for local organizations, benefits and/or colleges – wherever (and yeah, sometimes for free) should always ask for a letter (email) of recommendation. If you don’t – you should. Then take a line or two from one or two of those and put it in the body of your letter:

“Jenny Comic was very funny and helped to make our fundraiser a success.” – (credit quote to person and organization).

Then come right out and ask the booker to watch your promo video. Say it – don’t hint at it. ” Attached is a link to my video… please watch it… I’m sure you’ll enjoy it… I want to play your club…”  (As always, use your own words).

If you’re doing this by email include a working link to your website that contains your video or a link for your video. If you’re sending a snail mail letter, highlight your website link in the body of your letter AND include a promo package with a DVD.

****As I’ve mentioned earlier and in past FAQs, just about everything today is done online and that’s the main reason the book How To Be A Working Comic was updated to include online promoting. But what is now found on websites – and often requested by talent bookers – is the same material outlined in earlier editions of the book and what you would find in an effective “hard-copy” promotional package.

Now back to the cover letter… uh, email…

At the end of your message thank the booker for his or her time and (here’s the secret) instead of saying something along the lines of “I hope to hear from you soon,” Tell him or her you will contact them within a certain time frame. Usually, two weeks is good.  This follow-up can be done by email, but I suggest a phone call. There’s always a chance they will call you, but I wouldn’t hold my breath unless you have a solid gold reference from a major comedian or have already worked for a big-time talent booker.

The idea is to keep the door open for you to contact the booker again. AND you’ve mentioned this in advance.

Now, this is where today’s article could turn into a book chapter about “playing the game” when contacting talent bookers and building professional relationships. I’ve talked about that in past newsletters and will probably repeat myself in future ones. The focus behind today’s FAQ And Answer is to map out your cover letter.

Remember, you work in the entertainment “business” and should treat it that way – as a “business.”

Creativity can be a major plus in promotions, but you also need to be professional about it. Keep your email (cover letter) concise and to the point. Talent bookers receive a lot of submissions and don’t have time to read through pages and pages of sample comedy routines or promises of, “How you are going to change the face of comedy,” or “How you have been funny since birth.”

Tell them what you’ve done, throw in a recommendation (if you have one or two) and that you would like to work for them. Then make it easy to find and watch your promotional video. That sounds like a “working” cover letter to me.

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