10 Tips to Get 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 to Get Hired as a Late Night TV Writer by NOT Following the Rules.

1. DVR all the Late Night Shows each week.

Spend time watching those shows 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 area around where the show is taped).

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! 🙂

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

larry-wilmore-the-nightly-show-canceled

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?

apple_logo_nyc

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.

Sign Me Up for Late Night TV Writing Industry Updates!

Don’t Suck! The 9-minute Comedy Mastermind Session

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This could be the most important 9-minute comedy lesson of your life.

In the next 9 minutes you’re going to learn a lot! I mean a ton! I’m calling this article my 9-minute Comedy Mastermind Session.

When it comes to comedy writing and theory, my argument always focuses on structure.

“Structure is king!” I’ll usually say.

Listen to the Audio Version

Getting to the point and getting the laugh with a strong point of view while saying something that actually means something is crucial but structure is where the laugh occurs… not just trying to be funny.

This next 9-minutes focuses on that.

Structure is really the keys to the car that drives comedy success. I’d argue that it’s not just important, it’s crucial!

Side-by-Side Comedian Comparison

In the next 9 minutes you’re going to look at two comedians.

Rob Delaney and Brian Kiley.

Delaney is your classic internet sensation comedian. His rise to notoriety came via Twitter where he had 1.26 million followers! But you’ll soon learn that Twitter comedy doesn’t necessarily interpret into stellar stand-up.

Brian Kiley is the head monologue writer for Conan O’Brien. Kiley is a master of structure and joke telling. But his joke telling style is so well finessed that it doesn’t seem like he’s us telling jokes.

Take a look at these two comedians as they appear on 2 different late night shows.
Structure vs. No structure. It’s Kiley with solid structure and Delaney with just telling a story and trying to be funny

You be the judge…

…and as always I would love to hear your comments.

Enjoy!

Rob Delaney

Let’s take a look at comedian Rob Delaney. He performed a set on Jimmy Kimmel Live. He wasn’t prepared, he lacked structure and he totally shits the bed…

Caution: You might have to will yourself to watch the entire 4.5 minutes. But it’s important that you do.

Brian Kiley

Now let’s watch 4.5 minutes of Brian Kiley. Brian is a master of joke structure. You don’t have to be like him or deliver your material in this more “joke” form, but you’ll easily see the difference between structured and unstructured material.

Conclusion

In my view, structure is king.

Brian Kiley’s set is far superior in it’s structure and it’s story-telling than Rob Delaney. In fact, rumor has it that Delaney tried to make sure that this didn’t get out. I get it.

I’m not posting this to slam Delaney as a comedian. I’ve been doing stand-up for nearly 30 years, I know how hard it is to get on T.V. So big props to him for just getting the spot. But when you get there you’ve got to have a structured set.

Your effectiveness is judged by laughs per minute. If you’re not getting laughs, the audience is tuning out.

A stand-up comedian’s time is also limited on late night TV shows. Comedian’s sets have been running around 4 minutes 30 seconds! I just watched comedian Dulce Sloan on Conan and she only had 3 minutes!

You gotta get to the jokes fast and keep them rolling! If you don’t you might wind up like Rob Delaney and totally shitting the bed.

There are two primary ways to learn how to build comedy and story structure into your comedy act: 1. Get up and try it and learn through trial and error and hopefully find your way to doing what the successful comedians are doing… or 2. Drop in on one of my comedy classes and learn why people laugh and learn the structures that trigger that laughter. You can also really jack up your comedy writing skills at one of my Weekend Comedy Writing Workshops.