After a terrific graduation showcase for one of my classes this week, I sent out an email congratulating everyone on a job well done.
One of my students sent me an email: “The compliments are nice, but when does it translate into a paid gig?”
That’s a great question and is one of the most burning questions comedians have who are starting out in this business.
The hard and fast reality is this: It NEVER “translates” into a paid gig! Let’s get this straight…
No one will ever walk up to you after you do a random showcase and offer you a job. If it does happen, then it will be a rare occasion indeed.
I have had students who have showcased and got approached by managers or agents and developed other key relationships at a showcase, but to have someone come up to you and offer you a job without you developing a relationship with them first, is very rare. Especially in L.A.
Does this mean you cannot convert what you’ve learned in a class into a paying career? Of course not. What it means is that YOU have to get out there and chase the work.
The student who asked me this question is a sweet, kind woman who has a funny act, but doesn’t hit the mics regularly.
She reminds me of the “Guy And The Lottery Ticket” joke:
“A man is sitting on the sidewalk in front of a liquor store that sells lottery tickets. Every day you can hear him praying, “Please God, let me win the lottery. Please God let me win the lottery… Then one day a priest sees him on the sidewalk, empty-handed, praying. The man catching the eye of the priest says, “Father, is there a God? I’ve been praying for weeks… how come God won’t let me win the lottery?” The priest puts his hand on the man’s shoulder and says, “First, my son… you have to buy a ticket.”
The only thing I know for sure is what has happened to me in my 25-year career as a stand up comedian: I was hitting the mics 3-6 times a week. I was meeting other comedians. I was developing relationships and building a reputation.
One of the first paid gigs I got was when I was doing an open mic in Chatsworth, CA. I’d done this open mic probably twenty-five times. I would arrive at the bar at sign-up time and stay till close, supporting the other comics. I developed a casual business relationship with the booker. He liked my style and was impressed that every time I hit that mic, I had new material and was getting consistent laughs. He commented on it and asked how much time I had. I said, “about an hour.”
He asked if I had video… and I had a couple of tapes in the backpack I carried with me wherever I went. I handed it to him. He was impressed that I had one on me. (I thought to myself Wow! Some of that “crazy” shit my Dad told me to do is paying off!) The booker took the video home to watch it. I was excited.
The very next week I went back to that open mic, my heart soaring with anticipation of getting a job. When I got there I found out that the booker who took my tape just went out on the road to do his “new” act. That man’s name was Carlos Mencia…
JUST KIDDING! It wasn’t Mencia…
But he did go out on the road for two weeks. I was disappointed that I would have to wait for him to return, but I was already going to that open mic for about six months so what was another two weeks? The very next day the booker called me and told me he liked the video and he had a gig for me in West Covina at a place called Lamp Post Pizza. It paid a hundred bucks and you got food and a couple of drink tickets. I thought to myself: “I’VE MADE IT!”
I did the show and did really well. I got my hundred bucks, but was too nervous to enjoy the free food. I came home and was so excited that I got paid for telling jokes! I basically got paid for doing something that used to get me into trouble back in school! Fuckin’ Eh!
I was so excited and jacked up from that experience, that I researched and called everyone I knew that did comedy. I found something called Comedy USA, a publication that culled and printed information for comedians, bookers and clubs. I called all of clubs listed. Ninety percent said “NO.” I called more. I got a Fed-Ex account, got my tape duplicated and sent it out to everyone I could. Slowly, I started to get work. Most of it was filling in for last minute cancelations and some of it was driving 5 to 6 hours to make fifty bucks, but it was a start.
I spent 5 days a week, making at least 10 calls per day for my career. I sent out tapes, traveled to clubs and auditioned in person whenever I could. Eventually one job turned in to several jobs. I did this all without an agent or manager, (Sometimes my wife called as my manager). Eventually I turned it into a career doing 40-45 weeks of work a year and more. But I chased it and I worked it. Every. Single. Day.
My point is this: YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK! YOU have to hit the mics 3-6 times a week. YOU have to develop the act to where it’s nearly flawless and YOU have to chase the work to win this comedy lottery…
In the words of the Priest: “First, my son, you have to buy a ticket!”
Every once and I while I get an email from someone promoting their event, wondering whether my ‘readers’ will be interested. In most cases it’s a case of someone wanting to reach people for free. I have no problem with that. It’s creative and it means they are doing their job shamelessly promoting their event.
I do my best to vet the event, to make sure it’s not just some “bringer show,” that wants to exploit the students in my classes or my readers, have them bring all the students friends to “their” show and collect “their” door money. Those I DO NOT promote, because there is no mutual benefit for my readers or my students.
Once in a while I receive a great opportunity for up-and-comers to get exposure. I believe this is one of them.
Levity Entertainment is promoting an online comedy competition, where the winner will be able to appear before Levity talent agents for possible representation.
Who Is Levity?
Levity Entertainment is owned by Robert Hartman and Judy Marmel Brown. They are the majority owners of the “Improv” comedy clubs and they are vertically leveraged with a couple of other production companies responsible for specials that appear on HBO, Comedy Central and other channels. They are some pretty heavy hitters in the comedy arena and only positioned to become bigger sluggers. So, in a nutshell, they are GOOD TO KNOW!
Remember to please read all instructions, details and official rules before submitting! Then keep up with the project and maybe you might be luck enough to be chosen for this new comedy project. The great thing about this project is, no matter where you are from, Levity will fly out out to L.A. to be a part of this!
So what are you waiting for? Give it a shot and GOOD LUCK!
One of the biggest complaints I receive from comics and students trying to get mic time is that “everything seems to be a bringer show.”
Several of my students “burned out” their bringers, early in the game, just trying to get more time on stage to develop their act and build to thirty minutes…
Which leads me to the second most popular complaint: “How’s a comic develop 30-minutes when the only spots in town are six minute sets or, at most, ten?”
If you’re not familiar with the “bringer show,” read my post on bringer shows…
Let’s face it, a comedian has limited opportunities to play longer sets where he doesn’t have to worry about packing the room with his family and friends. So instead of complaining, let’s try to find solutions.
One of the best ways to get around the bringer show trap is to set up your own room. That’s right! Find a bar or restaurant or lounge that is a good location for a comedy room and pitch the idea to the owner.
In setting up a comedy room there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
Let the owner know why it might be good for their business. Keep in mind, the only thing they are concerned about is how it will benefit their business. If they don’t see the benefit, then they probably won’t like your offer. Once you give them your best pitch and they can’t see the benefit, then move on to the next room.
Try to set the room up outside of the L.A. or your city’s perimeter. L.A. is filled with a glut of rooms. Your odds are better if you get to the outskirts of town.
Book quality comedians.
Set the show up professionally.
Run a tight show that runs about an hour and a half to an hour and forty-five.
Two of my students, David Conolly and Brian Zuanich, decided to set up a room in Long Beach at the Cohiba Club at the pier. They set up a curtain, lights and sound because they wanted to “transform” the club into what resembled at comedy club. They did a great job too! They put on their first show January 28th. The show was standing-room only. They put quality comedians on the stage, (all students from my Stand Up Comedy Class) and the audience loved it.
The owner did well at the bar (They had a bar/door split, where the club kept the bar and Brian and David kept the door). As a result of the successful evening, the owner told them, that normally he doesn’t do this because comedy “sucks.” But this group was a “class above the rest.” Now they are to have a regular show once a month in Long Beach.
Once they have this successful formula in place they just need to duplicate it in different locations outside the L.A. perimeter and they could wind up with weekly shows.
Keep in mind that your job as the show producer is to keep the best quality comedians on the bill and allow for one new person per week. If you consistently have good comedic talent on the stage and you have relentless promotion, then you might have some success, although there are no guarantees. Comedy rooms can be more fickle than a 9th grader during a first kiss. (I can say that because I was a ninth grader once and during my first kiss…the only thing I remember is that she told everyone how fickle I was).
Promoting and producing a comedy show as a comedian can be beneficial in multiple ways. You will benefit from booking your own room, building relationships with other comedians who want work and getting work from those other comedians who book rooms.
The bigger your network of comedians and friends in the business, the more opportunities come your way in the long run.
That’s no typo up there in the title. I’m going to rebrand the word; change it from not only a noun, but also to a verb. The act of being a comedian. The connotation is so narrow isn’t it. “…An entertainer who seeks to make people laugh with sketches and funny monologues…” But being a comedian is so much more.
“How To Comedian” is my series on equaling out the word show-business and giving comedians tools so get work, the business end of the equation. Since I was 23, I haven’t had a full-time job. Everything I’ve done has to do with being a comedian and focusing on comedy. There have been times when I slowed down on the road to spend more time with family, but ultimately all my income has come from knowing how to comedian. That includes telling the jokes and making a living.
When I hang around the comedy store or talk to other comedians, their primary concern is getting work. “There’s not enough work out there…” is the common line.
I’m going to tell you something right now: there’s more work available as a comedian than you can even imagine.
Here’s the catch: to get started, you need 3 things:
You just have to know where to find it.
You have to have the balls to go and get it.
And you have to be able to work CLEAN!
Wow! Is that all? It may seem like a small requirement and it is, but in reality only a small percentage of comedians out there have these qualities. Some have balls but can’t work clean. Some work clean, but don’t know where to find the work or they don’t have balls.
Sad, but true. Stick with me, my cheeky laugh-makers, I will guide you through.
Every year from November to January, I am booked solid with “corporates” and other events that pay between $600 and $5000 per appearance. (To be completely transparent, the $5000 gigs are not as common, but they do bite sometimes when I pitch them this price). Those gigs pretty much set me up for the following year. Not bad, huh? I’ve been doing that since my early twenties in gigs no one has ever heard of. But it didn’t come easy.
First, I had to learn to work clean. When I started, I didn’t think I could even step on stage until I had an hour worth of material. No one told me what I needed. I didn’t have anyone to guide me. So I wrote and wrote until I had an hour. My only audience at that time, to try my material out on, was my parents and the comedy traffic school I was teaching. The material had to be clean.
Once you have your hour of clean material, (really, all you need is around 40 minutes), and you’ve honed it and rehearsed it so that it generates laughs every 20-30 seconds, (In club auditions they look for a laugh-point every 18-20 seconds, but for corporate you have more flexibility), you can begin to move to the next step: Knowing where to find the gigs.
My suggestion is to start locally. Call your local Toastmasters, Rotary Clubs and other similar organizations (they all have websites). Tell them you would like to do 15-30 minutes of comedy for one of their luncheons. Offer to do it for FREE. That’s right. FREE.
Trust me on this. When you give away your best stuff, they will buy anything from you.
When you do an event like this for free, ask them not to tell people that you’re doing it for free. Give them a professional solid, funny show and you will be amazed at how many business cards are thrust at you after your appearance. All these folks own businesses and are looking for something new. They see how effective a comedian can be at a corporate event and now that they got a taste, they’ll want to see if they can afford you.
I do this every year at different Rotary Clubs in the area and it works like magic. I always book at least one gig, usually more. Think about it, for an hour or two of my time, I book a gig that usually pays a minimum of $1000.
So let’s start there. I don’t want to make this blog too long. Comedians have a short attention span! See, this is where having balls comes in. You can’t just wait for the work to come to you, you’ve got to go out and get the work! That’s your job. That’s the first step in really learning how to comedian!
The irony of this scenario is even though this technique works like magic. Over 97 percent of comedians won’t do this and I’ll see the same faces at the Comedy Store saying, “There’s not enough work out there…”
What’s this video have to do with getting an audition or an agent as a comedian or actor? Good question! The answer is simple: Many actors and comedians don’t get work because they give up trying way too soon. If they are lucky enough to get a booker or an agent on the phone, they get one “NO!” and they give up.
You Need Persistence
A comedian or actor—whether you’re trying to get representation from an agent, get seen by a casting director or get get booked by a club booker, needs persistence, “polite” persistence. We hear someone say “no,” or at best nobody returns our calls or emails and we give up. We get that familiar lump in the pit of our stomachs, that feeling of rejection and we stop calling. Most of us don’t like that feeling, because…well, it doesn’t feel good! So we give up. I mean why revisit that feeling right?
Well you have to keep calling and keeping in touch because it’s your job. Many times, even after you meet an agent or casting director and they see that you are good, they simply forget who you are. It’s a simple as that. They are not attacking you personally they just don’t think about you, because they are incapable…because few humans have the capacity to truly multi-task.
Take an actress for example. My student Kim Hopkins is a fine actress. She attends casting workshops and consistently gets the highest ratings in her reviews from casting directors. They literally gush over her. A manager she’s been trying to get to represent her can’t understand why she’s not getting called in.
“Why aren’t they calling you in for these auditions?”
It all comes down to multi-tasking.
Although our brains are bad with multi-tasking, they are excellent with focusing on one task at a time. So when Kim does the workshop, the casting director may love her and think she’s the bee’s knees. But when that casting director goes back to work and has a thousand submissions for a job Kim might be perfect for, Kim is not even close to being in their thoughts, simply because it’s impossible! The brain doesn’t operate that way.
This is Where The Manager Comes In
If the manager was doing their job, they would give a call to the casting director and remind them that Kim was in their workshop. That simple reminder that operates what’s known as bottom-up brain function (something that gets our attention like a phone ringing), could be the trick to getting Kim into the brain of the casting director. Does that make sense?
If I was a manager and I knew an actress was going to the workshops and getting great reviews with casting directors that were consistently working, I would represent that actress in a flash, because she just made my job a thousand times easier! All I have to do is submit, then make a phone call to remind the casting director about the actress.
How Does This Affect You As a Comedian or Actor?
So how does this affect you as a comedian or actor? Well, you have to keep calling every three weeks or so. Keep them posted on what you’re doing via Facebook, your website, twitter. Visit them often at casting workshops. Drop by a club to do a guest set. Make sure you keep reminding them who your are, stay polite and persistent, and never let the lack of return phone calls get you down. It’s nothing personal, they just can’t multi-task.