The Basics: Selling Yourself In Comedy
The business of comedy is all about being able to sell yourself. No matter how you feel about your art or how tired you get hearing about the business of comedy, it’s still a business.
Not only do you have to sell yourself by performing to an audience (let’s hope they like you), but you also have to sell yourself to the people making things happen: producers, casting directors, agents, etc.
Selling yourself as a comedian for actual industry opportunities requires a few basic elements to be able to do this effectively.
Here are those things.
Substantial, polished material.
Having material is pretty obvious to be a comedian, but so many comics try to push having a lot of material versus having actual polished material. The first focuses on volume alone whereas the latter focuses on quality and readiness. It’s often professed by comics the amount of material they have in their back pocket. I’ll hear: “I have [random number of minutes] of material, you should book me on your show.” However, when it’s really cut down and analyzed, the actual material that’s ready to sell is much less. If they profess thirty minutes, it’s really only ten minutes that is ready. In addition to the amount, your material has to be attention-grabbing. No one cares to hear a boring joke about Tinder for five minutes. They want to hear the stuff that you can make impactful. If that is about Tinder, then congrats; but you have to make sure your material has a new spin on it and has originality.
I guarantee that any agent or producer will feel much more confident with you if you have an hour of polished, impactful material versus ninety minutes of jokes that aren’t worked out. The latter leaves too much room for uncertainty and whoever is giving the opportunity needs to know you can deliver.
An industry-standard headshot.
Headshots are one of the basics for being in any entertainment profession, but you’d be surprised how many comedians don’t have a useable headshot. The image may be too wacky (big turnoff to professional entities), the use of props looks more like an obstruction, or the quality is bad. Other times comics just don’t have one or they are trying to pass off an obvious selfie as their “headshot.”
Headshots don’t have to be expensive; you can find a good one for just $100 bucks for 5 useable headshots, so there’s no excuse to not be able to have one in your arsenal.
A quality tape.
A tape is something you should always have readily available to share with anyone asking to see it; you should also never reach out for an opportunity without presenting your tape in your first point of contact.
Even if you aren’t at your peak in comedy, people still need something to see that represents how you are currently performing. If you’re performing differently than you were six months ago, but are still using an old tape, you’re only doing yourself a disservice. Additionally, a tape means an actual set. Not clips of your jokes, but an actual set where you perform from start to finish.
In the beginning stages of your career, a website may not be super important. A website is ultimately an expense and you don’t want to spend money if it’s not going to be useful. For example, if you’re booking a few bar shows or bringer shows or still only navigating the open mic circuit, a website is not super important. However, if you’re beginning to be known at clubs and trying to get actual club spots, then a website becomes more imperative. This takes you being cognizant of your own skill and presence because the more serious you want to be taken, the more a website comes into play. It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. For the most part, what’s needed is a landing page where someone can find your contact information for booking, social media links, access to headshots, and your tape. That’s really it. If you have something like a blog or video projects you’ve done that’s even better, but for the most part, keeping it simple is all you need.
Like a website, a following’s level of importance changes as you get further into comedy. Having a following means the actual people that like your comedy that will at some point come and see you perform. It’s not measured by the friends that come to your bringer show, it’s those you have made an impact on with your comedy.
The cardinal rules of gaining a following are quite simple:
“be present, be active, be impactful.”
No one will follow anyone who appears to be lazy and as entertainers, we have to lead our own way. Social media helps, but it really takes an active approach to make yourself known on the scene and the industry.
There you have it: the basics of selling yourself in comedy. Always keep in mind that nothing happens overnight and it takes time to cultivate something that is ready to sell to the industry. Even if you experience rejection, it’s better to have the basics than to not have them.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!