10 Tips for Getting Hired Writing for Late Night TV by NOT Following the “Rules.”

late show stephen colbert marquis at the Ed Sullivan Theater

In almost every script writing book I’ve ever read, authors like to assume there are rules to that need to be followed in the entertainment industry in order for you to break in. I’m here to tell you there are NO RULES. In fact, I think I know more people in the business who have gotten a job working as actors, writers, and comedians who basically wrote their own rules.

Mark Wahlberg, for example basically designed his own career made his own path and is now a mogul in the entertainment industry. Brian Donaldson, an IT guy from Peoria got plucked from Twitter by Late Night with Seth Meyers. And I got a job writing for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in a very untraditional way, without experience, connections or a resume. I just proved in a phone call with Jay Leno that I could write current events jokes that were worthy.

So I have put together for you my 10 tips for getting a hired writing as a Late Night TV Writer by NOT Following the Rules.

1. DVR all the Late Night Shows each week. Spend time watching them and studying the monologues, desk bits and sketches. (You’d be amazed at how many people who want to write for Late Night TV are NOT doing this—mind blowing, right?).

2. Write 20 current event jokes, then listen to the top Late Night TV hosts deliver their jokes. You’ll find that the rhythm of your jokes usually has a tendency to match (or come close to matching) the rhythm of one particular host. I had a student who said he couldn’t figure out which one, then he listened to Chelsea Handler. Soon after, he wound up getting a job writing for Chelsea Handler.

3. Set a goal to write 25-40 current events jokes per day. It may be hard at first. When I first started I could only write 3 jokes per day. With coaching and persistence and learning a process, within 18 months I was able to eventually write 80-120 jokes per day. You don’t need to hit that mark of 80-120 to work in Late Night TV. Most writers are pumping out 25-40 per day.

4. Put together a submission packet of 2 pages of monologue jokes, a desk bit idea and a sketch idea. There’s no need to write a script for the sketch, just write the idea in a synopsis. For the desk bit, write the name, the concept, then include 4 jokes.

5. Watch the credit crawl of the show or shows you want to submit for. Find out who the head writer is. (Usually they are credited as “Supervising Writer”). Call the show’s production office. (You can find that on IMDB Pro). Tell them “I love what you’re doing with YOUR show. I think I would be a good fit as a writer. I would love to submit a packet. Can you tell me specifically what you look for in a sample packet?” (Write down this conversation or record it so you have the details).

6. Format your sample packet to match those specific requirements, write a cover letter (doesn’t need to be elaborate, just to the point). Be sure your name and contact info is on every page of the submission packet and send it in. Better yet FED-EX it or even better messenger it (if you live in the immediate vicinity in the same city as the show).

7. Follow up with a phone call or twenty. The head writer of a show is busy. But polite persistence pays off. Ask them if they received your packet and what is the best time frame to follow up. If they give you that information, be sure you respect it.

8. Continue writing every day. Your new goal is to finesse a newer fresher packet for the next submission. (Which should be every 3 months). It’s important to understand that you’re probably not going to get the job on the first submission. That’s totally OKAY! But following up via phone and submitting new writing packets helps to build a relationship with the head writer and most jobs are gotten because of some kind of a relationship.

9. Reach out to people on Facebook or in your circles. Ask anyone and everyone if they know somebody who works at one of the Late Night Shows you are targeting. I had a good friend whose buddy was the guy who held the cue cards for Jay Leno at the Tonight Show. He worked his ass off to write a submission packet and had the cue card guy deliver the packet to Jay Leno. In two months, he got a job as a contributing writer for the show and eventually ended up on staff.

10. Find out where the hosts are making personal appearances and show up. Bring a sample writing packet with you. If you are fortunate enough to make contact with them then give them your packet. I would include a mailing label with the address of the production office on the envelope along with a return address. If you can’t meet with them. Find the stage manager of the auditorium where they are appearing. Ask him to deliver it to the host.

So these are 10 kick ass tips for getting your packet written and submitted. There are no guarantees in this business. Your only guarantee is YOURSELF. But, if you never give up, you continue improving, you continue submitting and you continue building your relationships and I can assure you that you will get noticed and most likely (if your skills are solid), you will get a job in this amazing business.

Please leave me a comment below. Part of your job is to develop a conversation even comments on forums can help to start you on the path to developing relationships! 🙂

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Are You Taking Advantage of the Immense Opportunities in Comedy?

opportunities in comedy

I started in stand-up comedy in the late eighties right at the end of the first major comedy boom.

There was a glut of comedy shows on TV. Because of the need for content, TV shows were booking comedians who were just not quite ready. As a result, audiences were getting burned out on it.

Shows like VH-1 Stand-up Spotlight, A&E’s “An Evening at the Improv,” Caroline’s Comedy Hour, Comic Strip Live, Comedy Central’s The A-List… The channels were full of stand-up comedy shows.

In fact, one night, I was at a comedy club in Phoenix and out in the bar, the bartender laughed because I was on the TV on A&E’s An Evening at the Improv. As a joke, he changed the channel to VH-1’s Stand-up Spotlight and I was in the middle of a set on that show.

And if a schmuck like me was appearing simultaneously on two comedy shows, you know there was too much comedy on TV! That kind of frequency belongs to someone like Jerry Seinfeld or Dave Chappelle.

For more than a decade comedy went through a slow period. There were no longer lines outside comedy clubs. The TV comedy shows got canceled and loads of clubs closed around the country.

But in the last 5 years, comedy is going through a resurgence that has never been seen before in history.

And you are right in the middle of it. But are you taking advantage of the immense opportunities in comedy that are right in front of you?

We live in a day where the internet, social media and streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Originals and YouTube Red are all investing heavily in new content.

Concepts that were once passed up by the networks are now being picked up by the streaming platforms.

The landscape is changing all around. The sitcom is being redefined where more shows are being shot on location rather than in a studio with 4 to 5 predefined sets. You can probably thank Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm for this new direction.

The immense success of the sketch show of Key & Peele is making content providers hungrier for comedy.

The Late Night landscape has done a 180 in the way that genre used to treat politics. Stephen Colbert has literally gone off the rails in attacking the president with his comedy.

It’s more than just a monologue, it’s personal!

Even the content-creating software available is jumping on this new creative train. There use to be one standard software for formatting script content. It was Final Draft. Now, the mainstream companies are getting in the business. Amazon has come out with Amazon Storywriter, a free software, and Adobe, the designers the dominant company for editing software (Premiere Pro), has introduced Adobe Story a multi-layered scripting, budgeting, and scheduling program for writers.

What should this change be saying to you?

It should be saying loud and clear that you need to up your game and develop your writing chops so that you can start developing that additional revenue stream as a comedian.

Being able to write and produce content changes your game from working club to club and pay check to pay check to having the opportunity to create and build financial stability and remain relevant in entertainment.

Whether you investigate the opportunities in writing for Late Night TV (which has exploded), writing television shows or writing screenplays, adding that skill-set to your repertoire is almost essential for you to develop security and a long-lasting career in comedy.

This is all great news because just writing every day and learning to develop your skill as a writer is the first step toward getting there.

I started as an actor. I added stand-up to my skillset so I could work when I wasn’t working. I was also writing headline jokes every day, submitting jokes for greeting cards, magazines, and radio. This served not only just to earn some side revenue, but every day I was getting better at writing my jokes.

Then I started writing scripts. I made some progress there, sold a sitcom teleplay, then reached my goal of writing and executive producing a movie, (Stretch, starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood).

That success opened up more opportunities.

So get to work!

There’s no better time than now to start considering developing your writing because the opportunities in comedy are bigger and better than ever!