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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“The Nightly Show” with Larry Wilmore Canceled by Comedy Central Provides New Opportunities

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It was only a matter of time before Larry Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show” on Comedy Central got the axe.

Following that brutal appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner where Wilmore looked like a new comedian trying to get one laugh before he got the light, it seemed like it was just a countdown to Wilmore’s show being struck from the programming board.

Quite frankly I don’t know what Comedy Central was thinking giving Wilmore his own show in the first place. Yes, he’s smart and funny and a great writer, but that doesn’t convert to that on-camera gusto that is needed to develop, let alone compel and retain an audience. Especially an audience of 18-34 males. (Comedy Central’s main demographic).

Sure, Wilmore’s great. But he lacks pizazz and on-camera comes across as dull.

It seems like Comedy Central has been struggling to grab an audience in the variety talk show space since Jon Stewart took his exit.

According to Deadline Hollywood, now that Wilmore is gone, Comedy Central plans to fill the slot with @Midnight until they find a replacement.

That’s a Bad News–Great News Scenario

That’s great news, creatives! Think about it: what’s been missing since Jon Stewart left the Daily Show? The energy, the edge, the razor sharp and laser-quick wit and instincts of Stewart.

Sure Trevor Noah is funny and smart. But he doesn’t have that contemporary, modern high-five-me-at-bar type of gusto. Neither did Wilmore.

I think Comedy Central made a huge mistake allowing John Oliver and Samantha Bee to flee to HBO and TBS. Have you seen either of those shows? They have the edge and the energy that is totally missing at the Daily Show.

And I mean really? TBS? That’s like the ‘witness protection program’ of television; nobody knows they’re there!

Isn’t that right Conan?

If you haven’t seen these two shows, watch ’em. They’re filled with that attack-the-status-quo-energy that the Daily Show currently is missing since Stewart left. In my view the secret sauce comes from the contemporary and relatable analogies the hosts draw to the misgivings of the targets of their ridicule.

They’re not only entertaining us, they are informing us and increasing awareness.

That’s exactly the pattern that was used when Jon Stewart was at the helm.

I’ve got to tell you, that when stuff like this is happening in our industry, I get all charged up!

I mean sure, a show got canceled, but you gotta look at the bright side. The show wasn’t sustaining any numbers.

Where some people see failure, I see amazing opportunity!

I mean what a perfect time to self-produce a show that has that edge.

If I was new writer trying to break in, not only would I be writing and submitting packets every three to six months, I would be collaborating and self-producing a 5 min. edgy variety/talk show just like the Daily Show with the same type of enthusiasm and gusto that was ever-present at that show.

Why would you self-produce?

*Because with the technology we have today, it’s easy. You can download Wirecast (http://www.telestream.net/wirecast/) and produce a multi-cam show using your iPhones.

Want to do it cheaply get the FREE TRIAL of wirecast, then upgrade to eliminate the watermark for $9.99

Better yet, use Open Broadcast Software (http://obsproject.com/). It’s a little less user-friendly, but I’ve heard good things. One of the really good things I heard was that it is FREE! *

**(The asterisks indicate an update since the post was first published).**

The simpler, the better because you don’t want to get bogged down in the editing bay.

Better yet, rehearse a tight 5-minute, well written show and live stream it! Then develop an audience and a subscriber base, then you can create pressure on the the industry to the point where they have to take notice of you.

Think about it. If you develop a really strong following that’s watching you because you stream solid content on a daily or semi-daily basis, somebody in the industry will take notice.

You can put it up on Twitch.tv and build your fanbase. There are gamers on there right now with 30-thousand + subscribers. Subscribers who pay 5 bucks a month to be there.

Even if you have a rusty calculator in your head, it doesn’t take but a second to realize that that’s bank.

Who’s Gaming on That Platform?

Twitch.tv has over 100 million monthly users and they just added a comedy category on that platform. Can you say, “ground floor opportunity?”

Here’s the kicker… 75 percent of the users are male and 73 percent are ages 18-34; Hello? are you listening? That’s the exact demo Comedy Central is coveting!

That’s how you work outside the system to develop notoriety inside the system.

Besides, what an amazingly cool thing to do while you write and develop your Late Night TV packets for (in-system) submission.

You’re basically repurposing your writing, using it on your self-produced show while you’re still submitting it in your packet.

That’s just cool!

You want a quick show that’s well-written with cutting jokes and with a host that has a strong and dynamic identity; preferably with an edge of sarcasm or cynicism.

In other words, someone who’s not afraid to call ‘bullshit,’ and make it relatable and funny.

So if you don’t know how to write comedy in that fickle Late Night TV structure, then now’s the time to get those skills so you can begin to participate at a level that just 2 years ago was unheard of.

So get to work on your shows, creatives!

Comedy Central is dying to see it!

Jon Stewart’s May be Back Before the Election, but Don’t Expect to See Him

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Earlier this year you we learned that Jon Stewart wasn’t retiring. He was actually very busy. His next project found him landing at HBO where he signed a 4-year production deal.

But don’t expect to see Stewart’s face on the screen anytime soon.

In an interview this summer, Stewart said that he’s done doing television.

More specifically he meant that he was done appearing on television on a regular show. Being on TV 22 minutes a night, 5 nights a week is grueling. Stewart did it for 17 years, it’s easy to see how he could burn out.

But now he will be producing animated shorts that he hopes will hit the HBO screens by September.

HBO’s programming chief Casey Bloys said at the TCA’s that it will be an animated parody of a cable news network. These animated shorts “allows (Stewart) to comment on events in real time,” Bloys said.

Stewart is also slated to voice some characters.

Rumor has it it’s going to be “Onion-like.” Not sure what that means. But it might mean that the show is going to present exaggerated fake news in response to real news that’s happening in real time.

Jon Stewart led a revolution that changed the face of TV comedy. As a comedy writer, it would be wise to follow Stewart and keep up with what’s happening.

How Can You Prepare for This as a Writer?

Once again, the landscape for writers is continuing to expand, presenting more opportunities than ever before in history.

So How can you prepare for this as a writer?

I would suggest working your short-form current events jokes on a daily basis. Work your joke writing like you would work out at the gym. Set a schedule. Instead of arms and back day, why don’t you make it current events one and two-liner (monologue-style) jokes. Instead of ‘leg day’ why don’t you make that Seth Meyers ‘Weekend Update’ style day. Instead of cardio why not set that day to work short sketch.

Find out what’s on TV now. What’s hot. What gets people going and copy it in your practice so that you can be prepared for any opportunity.

Better yet, get your writing packets together, get them out there on a regular basis and make your own opportunity.

Because remember, “luck” is simply opportunity meets preparedness.

Keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground. Or better yet just keep your eyes on the internet.

Go get ’em!

What Does Apple Stock Teach Us about Writing for Late Night TV?

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Watching for opportunity to write for Late Night TV is sort of like following the NASDAQ or NYSE.

In the market, every time there’s movement in a company’s management, the stock fluctuates.

Fluctuation means opportunity.

When you pay attention, it could be life changing. If you purchased 2000 shares of Apple stock at this time in 2005, at $5.60, it would’ve cost you $11,200.

Today, even as Apple stock is down from its highs, that same stock would be worth $197,320.00

Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 4.43.21 PM [Chart courtesy of Google Finance]

That’s a huge profit on your money.

Which is why stock market investors watch the market and study a company’s maneuvers with an eagle’s eye; for that opportunity to turn $11k into $200k.

When a good brand is having some bad luck it’s a great time to move in.

 

So what does that have to do with writing for Late Night TV?

The same thing that happens at Apple happens in Late Night TV all the time!

A writer interested in writing for Late Night TV, should be paying close attention to the movements that happen behind the scenes just like a market investor eyes the NYSE or the NASDAQ.

Because turning $11k into $200k over a period of 11 years is a sweet investment, but a job writing in Late Night TV can turn $0 into $200k in a year, because that’s the minimum salary for a staff writer working in Late Night.

So a writer should be paying close attention to the Late Night TV market, because drama is happening big time over at CBS.

A new showrunner coming to “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and rumors flying around that James Corden might be tapped to replace Colbert as host, add fuel to the fire that there is going to be huge movement in late night TV, especially at The Late Show.

Shows like this are always in flux. The average tenure of a Late Night writer is 2 years so the staffs are always somewhat fluid, but you know the network has real concerns when they bring aboard a new showrunner.

Those facts alone are something to pay attention to, but add to that the fact that Colbert’s ratings at The Late Show are less than promising and The Late Show not getting any Emmy nominations this year are a huge concern.

I mean, that hasn’t happened since 2003.

Consider that Colbert brought most of his writing staff from The Colbert Report to The Late Show. Some heads are bound to roll.

That means opportunity!

When the Audience Tunes in to Watch the Character

Interestingly enough, none of that surprises me. When CBS president, Les Moonves, gave the cold shoulder to Craig Ferguson and opted instead to offer the Late Show position to Colbert, I lambasted him.

I didn’t think that Colbert was a proper fit for the throne previously occupied by David Letterman.

He’s especially not a fit because the person that made The Colbert Report so successful was NOT Stephen Colbert, but his character; that buffoon conservative who was parodying a talk show host.

It was the character he played who was popular.

So when you move to The Late Show and decide that you’re not going bring the character with you, your fans probably won’t follow.

Because the audience is tuning in to see the character.

Imagine hearing this: Ladies and Gentleman, heeeere’s Dan Whitney! How would you respond? Probably not excited right?

But what if I said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, heeeere’s Larry the Cable Guy!” Those Larry the Cable Guy fans would go crazy… even though Larry the Cable Guy and Dan Whitney are the same person. Dan Whitney plays a character called Larry the Cable Guy. And it’s Larry the Cable Guy who we’ve tuned in to see.

But even if we choose a performer with a character that has the same name as the performer and that performer decides not to do the character we’ve grown to love, it usually ends up in failure or imminent career demise.

When Steve Martin took the podium at the New York Public library in front of a sold out audience, then lectured about his art collection, fans were bored to bits, to the point where the event goers were given refunds.

They did that because they paid to see Steve Martin, that “wild and crazy guy!,” not an art historian.

Usually known for his high energy, shirtless performances, glam rocker Billy Idol did a concert about a year ago where he sat on a stool and played acoustic guitar. The audience–his biggest fans–booed and heckled him.

I mean, come on, Billy, at least take your shirt off!

Or like when Jim Carrey decided he wanted to be taken as a serious dramatic actor–well, how many of you just furrowed your brows and said, “I’m sorry, who?”

The fact is, when you build a career based on a character and that character builds a frenzied fan base, then you decide that you don’t want to do that character anymore, chances are–or at least history shows–that your fans are not fans of you, they are fans of your character.

Moonves should’ve seen this coming, based on the trail of Hollywood road kill that lay before him.

Did I just go on a rant?

Late Night Writers Should See This as Opportunity

My point is this: Writers who want to get into Late Night TV should be paying close attention to what’s happening in behind the scenes in Late Night TV.

There’s amazing opportunities happening and right now anyone who’s interested should be preparing their writing packets and sending them into their favorite shows.

Why your “favorite” show and not just Colbert?

Because, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is going to probably fire some writers and replace them with other writers; some will no doubt, be from the staffs of existing shows.

Those shows will now also have openings that will need to be filled.

This creates opportunities all over the the Late Night landscape.

So, writers, get your packets written and take advantage of these incredible opportunities.

You never know, it could turn out to be your Apple.

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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).

gruen_frida_deguise_writing_credit

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!