About six years ago, I was at the famous Friars Club in Beverly Hills. It was showcase night. One of the main bookers from the Montreal Comedy Festival was in L.A. to scout comics for “Just For Laughs,” the biggest comedy festival in America.
All the comics were buzzing about it.
“’The Guy’ from Montreal is here!”
Each comedian was supposed to do 10 minutes. I was sixth in the lineup.
When I was announced, I went up there and knocked out my set.
It got a really good response.
It had a socio-political flavor.
It was fresh and edgy and funny.
When I was done, I felt great about it. I was sure I would get a nod.
‘The Guy’ talked to other comics, then approached me. He had those tired eyes, but he looked friendly.
In a kind and authoritative voice, he said these words, “Hi Jerry. I want to thank you for one of the best showcases I’ve seen this week… Really. I’ve seen maybe two-hundred comics…”
In that moment, I was absolutely flabbergasted. (And I didn’t even know that people still got ‘flabbergasted.’)
‘That’s a pretty powerful statement,’ I thought to myself. I also thought, “Holy shit. I’m in!”
Then the booker finished what he was saying. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “…but you’re too old.”
You know what I wanted to do at that point? I wanted to punch him in the head and say, “Well, now you’ll have to go back to Canada and tell everyone that you got knocked out by an old dude.”
I felt defeated. But it’s not the first time I heard “No,” and it’s not going to be the last.
I wanted to argue with him, but I learned a long time ago that when a decision has been made, “No” means “No.” And not just in dating!
I heard that same answer two years prior with the Aspen Comedy Festival, for the same reason. ‘The Guy’ for that festival had said that to my manager.
‘The Guy’ for that festival was a Gal!
But in the years following that “No,” I made more money in this business than I had in any of the priors years.
It’s because I decided that I’m wasn’t going to depend on ‘The Guy’ to decide the fate of my success.
I got out and I got to work. I booked my own gigs, made my own calls in the corporate comedy world and built a reputation within that national environment. The wonderful thing about corporate is so many of ‘The Guys’ know all of the other ‘Guys.’ So much of my work eventually came by referral… and still does.
Network & Television
Executives and Talent Coordinators with the Networks and Festivals are skewing younger and younger.
It’s money. This is a business driven by money. The networks and festivals are looking for sponsors; the sponsors most coveted demographic is the 18-34 male.
That’s who they want as their audience. They tend to be more spontaneous buyers and if the advertisers hook them at the younger end of that spectrum, they can build brand loyalty and have a customer for life.
In their business world, it makes sense. I get it.
But here’s where their “algorithm” falls apart:
The talent coordinators and executives who are responsible for booking the talent, equate the 18-34 demo with 18-34 talent. That means that they believe that the 18-34 male audience they want so desperately to watch their shows, will watch the shows if and when the talent is also 18-34.
Especially in comedy.
The #1 Late Night show in television for the first quarter of 2013 was “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Jon Stewart (The King of Comedic Irony) turns 51 this year. That’s almost twice the average age of the networks coveted demo.
Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report” is the #2 Ranked Late Night show. Mr. Colbert turns 49 on May 13th.
But it doesn’t stop there. If we look back at the highest rated shows in television (even if you adjust the numbers for new channels and cable), the average age of the talent is nowhere near the age of the executives coveted 18-34 demo.
Let’s take a look. These are the top 10 rated series in the U.S. of all time:
Since the slider does not show it, here are the shows in order of most successful:
- Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
- The Cosby Show
- All In The Family
- Family Ties
- Home Improvement
*Friends of course DID fit that demo. But if we were to list the top 20 shows, residing at number 17 is “Golden Girls,” where the average age was just short of Hospice. That show would negate the demo of “Friends” three times over.
Count in Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and you’ll probably agree that the age of the talent is not how the business should be skewed if you want to attract your coveted 18-34 demographic.
It boils down to “funny.” If it’s funny, they will watch.
So, as those of us who have been called “too old” still make them laugh in the clubs and in corporate and cruise environments, maybe ‘The Guy’ will finally pull head out of his ass, look at the evidence that is right in front of him and start booking more talent, based on talent, rather than when they were born.
What does this mean for you?
Well if you’re feeling over the hill, (past 34), keep working, keep making them laugh. Opportunities are everywhere and if you light your own fire, you can work til you drop and love it every step of the way.
In the famous words of Frank Sinatra “I did it my way…” and I would add: And I didn’t have to depend on ‘The Guy.’