In comedy, you have to have certain tools to be able to sell yourself whether it is to club managers, agents, show producers, networks, etc. The general checklist often goes:
A website or landing page where you can find contact information
A workable headshot (no one wants to crop around a blurry image)
A SOLID TAPE
Comedians on the scene are usually lacking in one or more of these areas and you can sometimes get away with lacking certain tools. A website isn’t always the most important thing starting out and neither is a huge following; however, I put having a tape in all caps because this is probably where it’ll leave the worst impression if not done correctly.
Here’s what I mean on this.
Tapes are a representation of your brand.
For the most part, many comics get annoyed when I talk about branding. Sure, I am not the great and powerful branding expert, but as a show producer working with bookers, club managers, and meeting all types of industry people, I have picked up on business knowledge relative to comedy. Clubs, agents, producers, and so forth look at what you represent and what you can do for them. The idea is to leave no room for doubt in that tape and you have to take the mindset of “being so undeniably good that no one can say ‘no’” a step further.
What a tape should entail.
I see on average 5-10 taped sets a week. While I prefer to see a comic perform in person before booking, a tape is often the only way to see the material as comics tend to be very busy.
Now, I’m not this type of producer who only requires a professional quality tape to book. Tapes are often hard to come by and can be expensive. Not everyone can or wants to do a bringer show and not every production practices filming their live shows. This can be worked around by filming on a smartphone. It doesn’t matter if it’s an open mic or a live show because you never know when you’ll have an amazing set that captures the elements of what most people look for. What exactly are those people looking for? Well, at least from what I have learned, tapes should not be too lengthy. At least five minutes, seven minutes at most (this might change if you are looking for headliner spots). Tapes should have clear sound and be something where you can physically be seen. A $10 tripod on Amazon can help with that. Additionally, you have to be captivating from start to finish and have a clear style: dirty, clean, observational, blue, a mixture of these, etc.
When I attended the Laughing Affairs panel last year, one of the things Jessica Pilot told us was that bookers really only view the first two minutes of a set. If you can’t sell them yourself in that first two minutes, you’ll likely be passed over. That seems harsh, but when you have so many people wanting those few spots, it makes a lot of sense to operate in that way.
When tapes go wrong.
As I said earlier, for booking Gotham shows, I often receive 5-10 tapes a week...and the majority of them are just awful. The main fault comedians have with taped sets, especially new ones, is that the material is JUST NOT READY. New comics especially will get very excited to have their first filmed set and try to sell themselves off that. THIS IS A MISTAKE because your first set will likely be the worst thing you’ve ever seen of yourself when you’re deeper in comedy. A set that isn’t fully ready is not going to be an accurate representation of your brand. This might be able to be salvaged with a better set as time passes, but you always want that first impression to have a good impact.
Additionally, I’ve seen tapes that go wrong for other reasons. Some are instances that are so preventable: the comic was drunk or high (NEVER SHOW THAT TO ANYONE), they couldn’t capture the audience quick enough, the video is distorted or nothing could be seen clearly, or it looked like the comic was just going through the motions. Let’s just put it this way, if your set isn’t seen as captivating or is seen as unprofessional, that damage may be irreparable depending on who you send your submissions. It’s up to you if you want to send that out, but if your video doesn’t embody professionalism or lacks being captivating it’ll result in being passed over. Plain and simple.
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