A great run down on how to book your act into a comedy room.

The following is an open letter on Facebook written by my friend Don Barnhart. I thought it really contained some dynamite advice and with Don’s permission I am sharing it here. It is a lengthy read but VERY well worth reading. Don is a successful comedian, hypnotist and booker—-he knows what he is talking about!
Open letter to the comedy community on bookings, paid work and more… (please feel free to share)
I would like to share my opinion on how professional comedians go about getting work as so many of the newer comics don’t seem to understand the right way to go about it.
It’s so basic and simple that it might confuse you. You have to ask for work! That’s it. Nobody is going door-to-door looking for the next great comic so that’s why you need a website, current video and an updated bio/resume with a valid email address with contact info. You also need to promote yourself and send your information out to the bookers, agents, clubs and managers.
About every 4 – 6 weeks, you need to send out this info with your current list of avails to the places you are seeking to get work from. Almost every working comic out there does this and the big name acts and celebrities usually have an agent or manager to do that for them but it still gets done. On the average, I get about 10 emails a week from the major agencies and about 300-500 a week from regular working class comics and I only book one club and a handful of military and corporate shows so you can imagine how many emails and phone calls a franchise club like the Improv gets on a daily basis.
It’s out of sight and out of mind so you need to be persistent without being a pest. Most clubs have a small window when they do book and they might book out the whole year in one sitting. If you’re not on their mind at the time, they can fill the entire calendar within a couple hours and you missed out. Keep in mind, the bookers and clubs have their favorites of tried and true acts so even if you did get on the roster it doesn’t mean you’ll be first pick for dates so you have to be patient…really patient. Now if you’re famous or a draw then a club or booker might seek out your talents for a special event but that’s for the performers that actually put paid butts in the seats.
A word to the wise: Bookers really do pay close attention to your social media and most like to hire acts that promote their shows, are easy to work with and don’t create drama and bad mouth other acts, clubs, bookers, club policy, etc. And they really don’t like it when you trash the acts they do book. If your opinion is so important, go open your own club and book whoever you want to but until then, don’t be an asshole. It makes you sound bitter and if you’re really that great, they would be booking you too.
I hear all the time from comics that it’s the club’s responsibility to promote and that’s true. It is. However, keep in mind if there are 10 equally funny comedians, a club will tend to pick the act that goes above and beyond to help promote and bring more people into the club. The competition is stiff out there so you really have to be honest and ask yourself what are you doing to separate yourself from the rest of the heard? Are you a utility player that’s interchangeable and just taking the work, filling the time, draining the bar, insulting the audiences and/or trying to impregnate the wait staff? Are you pleasant to be around or are you a nasty person with a bad attitude that creates a toxic environment that nobody wants to deal with?
Take a really close look at your calendar. If you don’t have the work you want, it’s time to ask yourself what can you do to get it? Are you sitting at home bitching about how funny you are and wondering why the clubs are calling you? When’s the last time you dropped into the club to say hi. Are you doing the same old material or writing coming up with fresh ideas? Is your deliver boring? Are you learning how to perform better? Are you improving in every way that you can? Are you taking acting, writing or improv classes to improve your stage presence? Are you taking a meditation or yoga class or going to a therapist to at least improve your outlook on life? Are you toxic to be around? Is it your act, your attitude or a combination of both?
I find it sadly hysterical when I hear local acts complain that they we’re not “invited” or “they’re not going to beg for work” and this is not just the Vegas scene but it’s happening in every city across the country. You actually have to go out there and ask for work and put your info out there. There are far too many talented acts with solid credits, experience and references that are emailing clubs with their avails so how in fact are you better than them? If you’re not being “asked” to perform maybe it’s time you sent the booker a new video or ask to do a live showcase and show them how much better you’ve gotten since the last time they saw you instead of sitting around complaining or bad mouthing them about not calling you and seeking out your talents. Maybe you just didn’t impress them the last time they saw you. But that’s only a temporary condition if you really are good.
Bookers love to see comedians that are constantly working on their acts and growing and know that everyone starts at the bottom. If you really are that good they’ll WANT to hire you. We all want the best show possible. Anyone telling you different or that your too good or the headliner doesn’t want to follow you is blowing smoke up your ass trying to justify why they and you aren’t getting booked. It’s just another excuse to blame everyone else but themselves. Do you have any idea how stupid it would be to say, “Oh, yeah. You’re so good we don’t want to book you. We would rather have lame acts”. This is a business so great acts keep audiences coming back. Bad acts with even worse attitudes get cut as nobody wants to work in a toxic environment. The audience is listening and so are the bookers and we can tell when an act is just walking through their material and just phoning it in.
You want work? Bug your local club and ask for guest sets so you can work out and get better until they want to hire you. Make yourself invaluable to the club until you get your shot. Offer to help seat the room, clean up after a show. Do anything you possibly can so that you’re there every night in case there’s a fall out or if someone’s running late. (That doesn’t mean go to the club, hang out and drink the green room dry) If someone doesn’t show, you might get a chance to fill in and save the day. Oh, is all of that beneath you? Then go ahead and sit at home and wait for the phone to ring.
Now, if you’re not getting the work you want it’s usually one or two things. Your act isn’t as good as you think it is or your personality and offstage behavior is not what others want to be around. In some occasions it’s a combination of the two. When you tell people how great you are or that you’re a seasoned headliner but you have no work to back it up perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your place in the comedy community and go get better, not bitter.
Most comedy clubs book 3-6 months in advance some even book out as far as a year so that way the comedians can route their travel. As for myself and most bookers out there, a reference can go a long way to get your foot in the door and your info to the top of the pile but they still want to see your resume and a link to a video so they know they’re getting a professional comedian and not an amateur, a glorified open mic-er or a guy that can get you really good weed. Asking to do a guest set or showcase at your local club is even better and most comedy clubs are open to that or run an open mic or showcase night. Vegas being the exception as most of the comedy clubs have a limited amount of time so they rarely do showcases.
This is one of the reasons I started the Monday Madness Showcase at Jokesters. It’s a chance to showcase acts that I may not be familiar with or haven’t seen for a long time. It’s a chance for them to be considered for future paid work, give them quality stage time at a professional club, to help them grow and to get a better demo so they can go out and get even more paid work from other clubs. It’s not an open mic so if you want to do a set, send me an email with your avails, any new info, where you’re working, references and link to a recent video.
Even when you email a booker your avails, they may not get back to you right away as they’re booked out and don’t have time to reply to everyone seeking work. That’s why it’s important to follow up and send your avails out every 4-8 weeks or sooner if your schedule changes. Don’t get mad and bash the club, booker or venue if they don’t get back to you right away just keep them posted on what you’re doing, where you are working or any new credits you may have. Give them a reason to want to book you. For some clubs, it may even take a few years to get you into their rotation, as there are a ton of talented and seasoned comics that kill every night so they may not be ready to take a chance on someone with less experience or a bad attitude. Can you deliver the goods each and every night in spite of the size or demographics of the audience? I’ve seen far too many acts that do 1 decent show out of a full week and then wonder or blame the club as to why they’re not getting booked back.
Bashing the talent a club does choose to book doesn’t go a long way to move you up the ladder. It just makes you look bitter. Other bookers may take notice and might not want to hire you either. If you think comics talk, bookers talk even more and want to protect themselves from hiring a potential nightmare act or someone who is going to turn on them if they don’t get what they want. You might be funny but they don’t want the headache, as there are far too many great acts that are easy to work with. Besides, if you’re opinion is so valid, go open up your own club and then you can hire whomever you want to but until then, you have to play nice.
Are you scared someone might say no and crush your dreams or overinflated sense of comedy genius? Welcome to the club. Get over it and send your info anyway. If a club doesn’t hire you, you can always ask why but you better be prepared to hear the truth. I see too many comics that don’t ask why they’re not getting book and choose to blame the club or booker and even worse I’ve seen other comics go ballistic when told the truth. Maybe you’re just not really as good as you think you are. Maybe you’re not the right fit for the club or the club was already booked up. If you don’t get booked right away, wait a bit and send in new stuff. Rinse and repeat and keep doing it again and again and again. Get better and resend your stuff. Set up another showcase. Don’t go off in a huff, get all pouty and trash the club or booker because the comedy world didn’t open up and say, “Come on in, you’re the one we’ve been waiting for.” We all have to pay our dues but if you’re doing the same act and not getting better or booked, maybe it’s time to change it up.
There is no club, booker, agent or manager in the country that wants to book a bad act and we all want the best talent we can afford. I am flooded with emails from professional comics that work 30-40 weeks a year that want to come to Vegas but I’ve only heard from a few Vegas acts actually asking for work and I read a bunch more about how they’re overlooked. Nobody goes to McDonald’s looking for a steak. You, the talent have to actually go to where you want to work and seek employment, it’s doesn’t work the other way around. A local guy I hadn’t seen in awhile recently emailed me and asked to do a set to show me what he’s doing. He came in, did great and got booked. It’s that simple and that’s how the business works. If you’re funny and not an asshole there’s a good chance you’ll get hired.
Don’t complain about the acts that are getting booked and paid. Maybe it’s time you should go out and watch them and see why they’re getting hired and you’re not. Model your behavior after successful people and ask them for help, advice or what it is that you can do to get better. Network and learn from each other.A great case in point is The Ice House. On their comedian submission page they put it bluntly. “We will only reply and contact you if we have work available for you.” That’s it. No reason just if they have work available. Took them a few years to get back to me and then they did, they finally gave me headline weeks. I didn’t trash talk and bash them in the mean time, I just got better so I was even more prepared.
Now, if you’re interested in being on our Monday Showcase, I encourage you to send me your info at bookings@donbarnhart.com
If I don’t get back to you right away, follow up in a few weeks. I wish you all success in your journey.
Don Barnhart

~ by Nick Lewin on April 19, 2017.

2 Responses to “A great run down on how to book your act into a comedy room.”

  1. GREAT advice!! Thank you for sharing, Don!

  2. Thanks for sharing Nick! Having started out at The Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach during the 80’s, I had the honor to learn from the best in both the standup and variety arts and wanted to share what I learned and hopefully pay it forward. Great working with you again. You’re funnier than ever and a class act.

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