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!”
Amy Gordon literally does her "no holes barred" approach to comedy. She’s a perfect example of how to be a funny woman. What makes this specific to a woman being funny? Well, the approach is all woman! If comedy is about surprise and shattering expectations, take a gander at how she approaches the mic with such a demure attitude, nicely dressed, carrying a purse, for crying out loud! But then… And if comedy is also about encountering obstacles as we try to accomplish something (Charlie Chaplin), she nails this in the most unexpected way. The reason she pulls this off is because there’s not a single time where she’s over-the-top. Everything is played as ‘real,’ from all of her expressions in the beginning to her trying (more obstacles) to hit the ‘high notes’ with the Kazoo. There are a few of reasons I posted this:
To point out that when a comedian does an act-out like this the reactions have to be real. Comedy is about heighten REALITY, but it has to be real. If she went over-the-top with ‘mugging’ or was overtly sexy with the Kazoo ‘insertion’ (that just sounds weird doesn’t it?), then the piece would not play and the audience would be turned off. But she plays it just right, hitting all the beats on the way.
The second reason I posted this is to show to those skeptical people out there that women CAN BE FUNNY, and this is a perfect example of how to be a funny woman.
The third reason I’m posting this (and my original motivation for it), is to point out to the naysayers that just because she uses a prop doesn’t make it unfunny. One of my students was told by a "comedy teacher" not to do prop comedy. Let me put that bullshit to rest, there is nothing wrong with using a prop. But it’s like profanity; use it wisely. If you use a prop because you have no material, it will be viewed as just a distraction away from the fact that you don’t have any funny. Amy Gordon clearly has the audience "in love" with her and she’s using not one prop, but three, (four, if you include the purse).
You do have to be careful when you do prop comedy. Make sure the joke isn’t "punny," but solid. So take a look at this video. It’s 3:14 of solid laughs, right from the start and watch the way Amy uses every opportunity to trigger another laugh, while still keeping it real. This chick knows how to be a funny woman!
If you enjoy this video, please leave a comment. LET ME KNOW YOU’RE ALIVE!
Video is your calling card! As a comedian I like to post my videos online. I also post teaching videos, joke-writing videos, and other comedy video presentations. One of the problems I run into is that I need my video to be a specific format and it always seems like it’s not the right format for the hosting web page I’m trying to post it on.
More recently, the iPad and iPhone revealed that they don’t play flash video! So, if you want iPad and iPod users to be able to watch your videos, then you’re going to have to convert the video to mp4 format. I would recommend it since, in a recent report up to 20 percent of video watchers out there are watching videos on their iPads or iPhones. Considering that 9.1 million people Google the word “comedian” on a monthly basis, that’s just short of 2 million people that can’t see your video! That’s a lot of viewers! Don’t miss out on this demographic. Get your videos seen!
I’ve done some research when it comes to this and I have for you on my blog two video conversion programs that you can download and use for FREE! That’s right bitches, FREE! All you need to do is download it to your computer and start using it to convert your videos to the mp4 format so it’s viewable on Quicktime (Apple’s video format). Why would I take the time and write a blog about FREE video conversion software? Because (Big, hairy, creepy voice) “I love you!” Here they are:
Also, here’s something really cool “Any Video Converter” the screenshot you see below, also has a built-in YouTube video download application! That means you can download YouTube videos to your computer! Cool shit, huh? All you have to do is go to this page and download the the sofware by clicking the orange box that says “Download Free Video Converter.”
Handbrake is an excellent video conversion software too! It’s fast. It’s easy. And it gets it right when it comes to the right conversion that will work with Apple video. The only shortcoming with Handbrake is that it does not seem to support Windows Media Video files, meaning that if you have a .WMV file, it does not recognize it and therefore won’t convert it. So grab handbrake for FREE and give it a test run. See how easy you can convert your favorite videos. And remember, it’s FREE!
I hope this helps you to get your video up online. Keep your eyes open for more information when it comes to video and how to shoot it, get it online and get it recognized so that people will find it.
There are a lot of sayings I remember from the greats, that stick with me to guide me and motivate me during my journey in comedy. I thought I’d share some with you while telling you a story in this comedy lesson that may help you learn to avoid not being invited back.
Spencer Tracy once said, “Be nice to everyone on the way up, because you meet those same people on the way down.” No place is this more true than in show business. Every business has their fair share of heady, selfish, temperamental people but show business tends to get more than its fair share. And it’s in this business where your attitude can get you in big trouble and that’s what this edition of comedy lessons is focused on.
One of my favorite sayings is actually from a club booker in Vegas: he said, “Jerry, I’m-a break your legs…” Kidding! The booker is Tony Camacho and he books Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club at The Tropicana Hotel. He said, “Be remembered NOT for what you do off-stage. Be remembered for what you do on-stage.”
Coming up in this business I learned to always be nicer than expected, earlier than expected and more prepared than expected and I try to convey that to my students in my comedy courses. Clubs have rules and if you don’t respect the rules you can do yourself and your fellow comedians a disservice.
One of those rules in comedy is to “mind the light.” In most comedy clubs, you are given a certain amount of time to perform on stage. At many of the clubs in L.A. it’s 5-7 minutes, sometimes you can get longer, but most clubs you get 5-7. Clubs have a system to let the performer know when their time is up. Usually there is a light set up somewhere in the showroom that will be turned on when you have 1 minute left in your set. After that, the light flashes and that basically means ‘get the hell off the stage.’
Minding your light shows that you are a professional. It shows that you know how to put together a 5-7 minute set, execute it, and get off the stage on time. Subsequently, it shows a T.V. talent coordinator that you know how to craft a tight set and wrap it up on time and in television, time is crucial.
My class recently had a showcase at the Comedy Store in the main room and one of my comedy students decided he would ‘run the light.’ This essentially means he planned to intentionally go over his time to try to get more time on the stage and thus a longer set on video. He bragged about it back stage and then took the stage. At six minutes his light came on and right then he started a bit that was at least 3 minutes long if not longer. At seven minutes the light started to flash and he ignored it, continuing his set.
The show producer cued music stopping this comedian in his tracks. (Music being played is the equivalent of the ‘hook’). The comedian said, “good night” and left the stage. But running the light wasn’t bad enough for this comic, he then bitched and moaned about it backstage while other comedians were trying to get into the right frame of mind to prepare themselves for their sets. Then he stormed out from the backstage area to the back of the showroom and started yelling at the producer, “That’s f**king bullshit. That’s so unprofessional!”
The comedian not only was incredibly unprofessional himself and intentionally ignored the light, he then started blaming everyone else! The guy has zero introspection a sure-fire personality flaw that will ultimately lead to failure…unless you’re Christian Bale.
This is one of the fastest ways to not be asked back by a club producer or booker. Despite the fact that this comedian was told numerous times to mind the light in the past, he thought he’d disrespect the club, the booker and his fellow comedians. The audience heard his yells of protest, too, as he marched to the back of the showroom.
So what’s the comedy lesson? He’ll definitely be remembered, not for what he did on-stage, but for what he did off-stage, and probably won’t—at least by that booker—be invited back.
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.