200,005 Reasons to Write for Late Night TV

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It is the most exciting time in history to try to get a job writing on a show in Late Night TV!

So when I get emails from people asking if they should pursue an opportunity to write for Late Night TV.

I always answer with a resounding “Yes!” and I have solid reasoning to back it up.

In fact I have 200,005 reasons you should pursue a job to write for Late Night TV.

But before we go there, let’s back up for a moment and look at the traditional method people use to prepare for a career.

The Career Path of the College Grad

Most people go to college for 4-5 years, get the skill set they need to work in the career of their choice.

If it’s a specialty like doctor or lawyer, they put in an extra few years of law school or med school followed by internship and/or residency.

Now I wholeheartedly believe that education is by far the best investment one can make in one’s future.

Every single time I invested in learning a new skill set, my resulting revenue skyrocketed.

Some people tell me that paying to learn comedy writing is too expensive.

I don’t get it.

My sons are in college, just finishing up. One university costs $30,000 annually. The other one $12,000 annually.

That’s quite an investment!

According to Forbes, when they graduate they are looking at an average starting salary of $42,000 a year.

And that’s IF they land a job in their specialty.

It doesn’t take an MIT graduate to realize it’s gonna take a while to make a profit on that investment.

To make matters worse, you’re already 4-5 years in on your investment.

Which leads me to…

200,005 reasons to write for Late Night TV:

REASON 1 thru 200,000
According to the Writer’s Guild of America, the starting salary for a writer in Late Night is $4,198 per week. Most of these shows are yearly. And even if you took 10-12 weeks off per year, that’s over $200,000 a year!

That’s base starting pay!

If you write a 2-minute sketch and that gets on the air, you earn another 3,875.00 for that sketch…
… and if you write a song parody, you get ASCAP fees on top of that!

Not bad, but that’s not all…

REASON #200,001

Writing for Late Night TV is still one of the only jobs in the industry where you can get hired without experience and without a resume! You just have to show that you can write funny.

That’s how I got my job writing for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and how a lot of guys I know got their jobs. In fact, most recently, an IT guy from Peoria named Bryan Donaldson got hired on Late Night with Seth Meyers because of his funny tweets!

Other writers I know simply submitted fresh writing sample packets consistently, then they were called in for a meeting and booked the job!

Frida Deguise, one of my Skype students in Australia works with me on her joke writing. Her career is now taking off–both as a comedian and a writer. She just sold out two shows in Melbourne, Australia and was just hired as a writer on “Gruen,” Australia’s hottest variety/talk show (similar to our Daily Show). Frida, previously had zero experience and no resume in the business. She made such an impression that she got a joke greenlit her first day on the job. (nearly unheard of).

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Get the Free Video: “How to get a job writing for Late Night TV”

REASON #200,002

The cost of the investment in the education (in both time and money) to get the skills for Late Night TV writing is microscopic compared to traditional career preparation. When I decided I wanted to write for Late Night TV, I dropped out of college and dedicated swapped the time I was going to spend in classes at school with time deliberately learning the craft to write for Late Night. I hired a comedy comedy writer from the Dean Martin Roasts to coach me and keep me accountable.

Every day 4-5 hours a day, I wrote Late Night-style comedy. Within 18 months I was hired at The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. 18 months. Compare that with the time and money it takes to get a degree in college!

The amazing part is that–despite the fact that it was hard work–I could actually measure my progress. Once I figured out the structures and developed a process I was cranking out 80-120 jokes a day.

You saw the costs of college above, but get this; Emerson College is now offering an accredited BFA in Comedic Arts. You can graduate with a Bachelor’s in comedy! But if you go to Emerson it will cost you $42,000 a year. That’s 168,000 for that 4-year degree.

Besides, name one job that you can get right out of college that earns you a starting salary of 200k a year?

REASON #200,003

Once you’re a writer you become a member of the WGA, (the Writer’s Guild of America) where your salary is protected and you get great health benefits.

If you like to write jokes, there’s no better job in the world!

REASON #200,004

Writing for a late show like The Tonight Show gives you enormous credibility and leverage. If you’re also a comedian, it opens so many more doors. You can get booked at almost any club because the title “writer” on a well known show is a credit that can be promoted in any comedy club in any city in the U.S. and Canada. After writing for the Tonight Show, I booked audience warm-up gigs, stand-up spots on multiple TV shows, etc. Every show increased my personal appearance value.

Not only that, once you’re a writer for Late Night, you can get booked for high-paying speaking engagements due to your affiliation with the show. Years after I was writing for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, I’m still being booked to speak all over the World.

REASON #200,005

Supply & Demand

The Late Night TV industry has totally exploded. When I was first writing for Late Night, there were 2 shows. Now there’s 9 Late Night style shows and that’s not even including Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” on TBS and Chelsea Handler on “Chelsea” on Netflix. With Hulu, Amazon and YouTube whispering about producing new streaming shows. Plus if you include the daytime talk shows like “Ellen, “Wendy Williams,” and Harry Connick’s new show “Harry,” you can see that Talk-Variety shows are experiencing amazing growth.

Consider the additional fact that since Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert departed Comedy Central, they’ve been scrambling to find an effective replacement. Look for 1 or 2 new shows from C.C.

Good comedy content is in high demand and continuing to grow. Problem is, the talent pool of good comedy writers is seriously thin. The next 5 years is going to be a boom period for good comedy writers. If you’ve thought about writing for Late Night TV, what you do in the next 6 months can have a huge impact on the rest of your life!

Performing the Same Jokes Doesn’t Make it Boring

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I just got an email from a young comedian who was worried about doing the same jokes he did last time he was on stage; “… it’s a ‘bringer show‘ and I’m expected to have 5 people there. My friends are coming and if I do the same jokes it’s going to be boring.”

I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard this.

Let me share something with you about that:

There’s nothing wrong with doing the same material you did the last time…

… as long as it’s great material!

I’ve been doing stand-up for 27 years. I work a lot. I’m constantly writing new material. But I have a core set that I’ve developed that gets a great response and often when I’m doing my hour or 90-minute show, it gets a standing ovation.

I have people come to see me who have seen me before. Sometimes they ask me to do their favorite bits. If it works into what I’m doing that road trip, I’ll pop it in.

A while back, I was doing a week in Oklahoma City and this biker walks up to me before the show and says, “Hey Man! I saw you here a while back and I want you to do that ‘Cow’ routine that you did last time. Brought the entire chapter with me. Forty of us bikers rode over an hour just to see ya.”

I looked at the table he referred to and there they were; forty bikers.

You know what? You could be damn sure I did the request!

When some random person approaches you in a club and makes a request based on what they saw the last time it should speak to you as a performer.

It says that you left an impression and, to them, the material was memorable and had an impact on them and they want to hear it again.

So guess what? You’re proabably NOT “boring” them.

Sometimes, as I’m developing my new act, someone might come up to me after a show and say, “I wish you did that bit you do about Mormons. I love that bit.”

In another example, Brian Kiley, who’s the head monologue writer over at The Conan O’Brien Show, is a local favorite in L.A. clubs.

He is often doing the exact same 7-10 minutes and you’ll hear a lot of jokes you’ve heard him do at other times.

He’s usually honing and testing the set because he has a T.V. spot coming up that he’s rehearsing for.

But here’s the cool part: whenever he’s on stage, not only is the audience laughing, but the back of the comedy club will be lined with comedians who’ve heard him before. His jokes are so strong and well-written that the comedians want to hear them again.

It’s the same reason we watch certain movies again or listen to our favorite songs, because they resonate with us and they make us laugh, cry or reminisce.

When you song search on Spotify, are you usually looking for songs you don’t know, or songs you’ve heard before and want to hear again?

When I was younger they had these things called comedy albums. (LOL!) Then they had comedy cd’s, then comedy VHS videos; now it’s DVD’s, links, netflix and YouTube.

But back in the day I had George Carlin’s albums, Richard Pryor’s, Steven Martin’s. We didn’t just listen to those albums one time, we listen to them–I don’t know–hundreds of times?

I remember Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’. I had the album and the video. I watched it over and over again. Same routine. Loved it each time. Who says we don’t want to hear the same jokes?

Just because they are the same jokes, doesn’t make them ‘lame’ jokes.

Remember, even if your friends are reluctant to laugh at they jokes they’ve heard, it doesn’t matter because the audience is always different and if the material is awesome, the people who haven’t heard it will be laughing. And I assure you, because laughter is a socially contagious experience, your friends will be laughing too.

When you’re starting out, I cannot emphasize the importance of building that core act. You should do it constantly, revise, refine and polish. Add act-outs, tags and toppers. Until it crushes.

Worrying about your friends hearing the same jokes is counter-productive to you really developing and polishing your act. Not to mention that it can have a cascading negative impact on your development.

It limits you because if you’re always doing new material you never get to ‘own’ it. Therefore you’re always somewhat in your head and never truly present and in the moment.

As a result you never come across as utterly confident and if you’re not utterly confident, nobody in television will want to book you and your friends will still experience discomfort and won’t want to come to your next show anyway.

So don’t worry so much about your friends. Throw in a new joke or two into your core set and develop an act that’s memorable.

Because when the 40 bikers ride over an hour to see your show and request their favorite bit, a bit they’ve heard before, you can be totally assured that you are NOT ‘BORING.’

Go get ’em!

One Reason Why Late Night TV Needs Fresh Writers

why late night needs fresh writers

Ratings are down for Late Night Shows. Of course they are. We don’t have 3 networks like we did back in the day. There are hundreds of channels to choose from so Late Night Talk Shows are competing for an audience harder than a new product competing for shelf space in a supermarket.

It’s a super competitive market out there which is why I came up with 3 Reasons Late Night TV Needs Fresh Writers.

New Hosts Almost Across the Board

Not sure if you’ve been watching, but it’s an interesting time in Late Night TV. We have new hosts across the the networks with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, James Corden and Seth Meyers.

Who would’ve thought the day would come when Jimmy Kimmel is the veteran host. He debuted in January, 2003.

As far as the ratings are concerned, The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon is far in the lead in that regard, but it’s not the ratings that are getting my attention. It’s not the hosts. I think the hosts are capable and talented.

It’s what’s happening behind the scenes, in the staff rooms that bothers me. So indulge me as a jump into reason number one:

Lazy Writing

I’m usually not guy who armchair-quarterback’s late shows, but lazy writing is something that bothers me to my core. I think it’s one reason why Late Night TV needs fresh writers.

There are writers on those staffs who are making a lot of money. The basic salary for a staff writer on a Late Night show is $4000 per week. That’s the base. You’d figure that if you were making that kind of money, you would bust your ass to keep that job.

The laziness first hit me when I was watching Seth Meyers over at ‘Late Night.’ I like Seth Meyers. Never saw him do stand-up, but loved him on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update and when I saw him host the ESPY awards in 2010, I was totally sold that he would be a solid Late Night host. I was also aware that he was bringing over a bunch of seasoned writers from Saturday Night Live to write on ‘Late Night’ so I was excited for some rockstar material.

Retreading Old Sketches

When I first tuned in, they had Meyers doing a sketch where he looks in the mirror doing “Affirmations.” “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me!”

Ring a bell?

Seth Meyers Affirmations

I’m like, What?! That’s Stuart Smalley, Al Franken’s character!

What’s so significant about that? That character first hit the air on Saturday Night Live in 1991 from a sketch of the same name.

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#Lazy Writing. You would figure that the writers coming over to Late Night from SNL would bring experience, not recycled sketches.

As a Late Night TV writer, it’s your job to make your host look amazing and funny, not like he’s a retread from last century.

And “Late Night” airs in the 12:30 time slot in much of the country so what a great opportunity to be cutting edge and do something completely unique, right?

I mean where’s the lightning strikes? Where’s the ‘WTF’ moments? I just don’t see it.

Some of these writers are treating their comedy material like I treat my cough syrup with codeine; they use it way after its expiration date.

Severely Dated References

The most recent disappointment was over at the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. He did a joke about Donald Trump taking the Nevada primaries and dropped in a reference to Siegfried and Roy.

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Those guys haven’t been on a Vegas stage for 16 years.

Sixteen years! I mean while you’re at it, why don’t you just drop in a Y2K reference!

I mean, think about it this way: of the networks’ coveted demo of 18-34 males, none of them would have been old enough to even go to Vegas when Siegfried and Roy were actually relevant!

The youngest would’ve been two and the oldest would’ve been eighteen. How the hell are they even supposed to know who Siegfried and Roy are?

C’mon writers! Get out of your cubicles and tap celebrity culture of today, not last generation!

Duplicated Jokes

I would’ve let that go, but then I saw this:

James Corden at the Late Late Show did the same joke that they did over at Late Night with Stephen Colbert. I know that happens and all and I can hear some of you saying it’s ‘parallel thought’ and I get it, but not only was the joke done on the same network, but it was done the following night; a full show cycle later.

Is nobody doing their homework?

The good news is that it IS a ‘WTF’ moment. The bad news is that it’s NOT the type ‘WTF’ moment that makes your host look like a rockstar. It’s the type of ‘WTF’ that will take your ratings in the direction the stock market goes everytime China farts.

Not good.

I’m not writing about this simply to trash talk the shows. Those of you who know me, know that I’m a big supporter of people succeeding.

When Conan first hit the air he sucked and I celebrated when he found his groove, but I can tell you, with Conan, it was never about lazy writing, it was about his comfort as a host.

But in Late Night today it’s about the writers. When I was writing for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno I remember a veteran writer telling me that the burnout rate in late night writing is about 2 years.

Maybe some of these writers are experiencing burnout.

The reason I write this is there are a ton of fresh writers out there who would kill for the opportunity to be a late night writer.

Some email me from all over asking about how to get into the biz.

I got in because I found myself in college spending my days writing jokes on celebrity culture and current events rather than going to class.

So instead of fighting it I just came back to L.A. and wrote every day until I landed a job writing for the Tonight Show.

Are you like me? Do you do the same thing? Well then start setting goals to start writing 30-40 jokes a day.

Compare them with what’s on the Late Night shows and see if you’re better.

Because Late Night TV needs rockstars. Late Night TV need YOU!

Maybe YOU could be the one to help these hosts finally bring the ‘WTF’ moment.

Go get ’em!