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Comedy Show Casting: To Ask or Not To Ask

I recently had a comic approach me about an article I wrote earlier this month covering the power of saying “yes.”

We discussed aspects like saying “yes” to going to another producer’s comedy show for networking purposes, the potential for being cast on a show, etc.

As the conversation progressed, we came to the topic of show casting and the ethics of asking for spots on shows.

This particular topic sparked my interest; as a co-producer for Comedians on the Loose, I get approached on a daily basis about spots for shows whether it’s in person, via email, or in a Facebook message.

If you’re familiar with the production side of comedy, it can be a real annoyance to have requests for spots on shows for a variety of reasons, but the question still remains: “should you ask for a spot on a comedy show?”

Here’s some guidelines for comics to getting cast on any show.

If you’ve never met the producer, don’t ask for a spot

I find it pretty ballsy when a comedian I have never met requests a spot on a show, However, this is ballsy in the wrong way.

Put yourself in the shoes of a producer. At least from my viewpoint, a show like the one COTL produces at Gotham Comedy Club is carefully crafted and thought out months before we even begin contacting the comics to participate. We assess who would best fit in the lineup and complement the headliner. Nothing about the show is random and the overall show quality is taken into consideration.

Additionally, we have to respect the lineup that is guaranteed their spot on the show, so once the flyer is released for a respective show, there’s little to no room for adjustments.

When you request a spot, you’re basically asking the producer to change their concept of the show and add additional stress (because it IS stressful). Unless you know the producer on a personal level, they’re always going to think “I don’t know you, why should I give you a spot?”

Even for future shows, asking someone you have never met for stage time can be tricky especially if the producer has never seen you perform.

I can recall a time when I received a request via Facebook messenger from a comic who I’d never heard of saying she’d “like some stage time on the next Gotham show” because she was “headlining at a show in Connecticut” but failed to even send me a recent video of her set. It came off as expectant, like she was entitled to a spot which will never go in anyone’s favor.

Ask about the casting process instead of requesting a spot

As a comic, I’ve never asked to be cast on someone else’s show so this step is something I learned from the comics on the scene.

Since starting the show at Gotham, I’ve analyzed every request that comes our way and realized there are two separate approaches: one that works and one that doesn’t work.

Asking for a spot outright will always leave a bad taste in any producer’s mouth, but there is a loophole: asking about the casting process.

A steady amount of comics we have cast on our shows have asked specifically “how do I get cast on the Gotham show?” By approaching it this way, it leaves out the awkward conversation that would eventually lead to a “no.”

Our casting process is heavily built into our open mic network. We use those open mic spots as auditions and since the beginning of 2017, at least 80% of the comedians on the show have been seen at our open mics. We may sprinkle in some we’ve seen and performed with on shows, but for the most part it’s comedians from the open mic scene that we cast frequently.

Let the producer see your talent

I can’t emphasize this step enough, but letting the producer see your talent is the icing on the cake for getting cast on a show because it is respect-driven.

At least for the COTL show, every comic cast is talent we have seen in person and we typically assess whether the comic is ready meaning they have a strong set so we can send them off with a good tape and if they’ll complement a particular lineup.

Some comics have been “ready” from the first time we’ve seen them whereas others have built up their performance and shown growth. Either way, we respect what we’ve seen and believe in their talent.

Being seen doesn’t always have to be done at an audition spot, but if you see someone frequently who you know produces shows why not perform in a way that makes them respect your talent to give you an opportunity to perform?

Now, these guidelines may not apply to every show, but the higher the quality a producer is going for, the more likely these guidelines will help you successfully navigate show casting processes.

Got comments or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!

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