Today I’m talking to Clayton Fletcher about auditioning. Clayton Fletcher has appeared in countless productions for TV, film, stage, and radio over his 16-year career as a comedian, actor, singer, and musician. He headlines The Clayton Fletcher Show at New York Comedy Club every Friday and Saturday at 8PM. He auditions regularly for opportunities across all media, and once in a while, when all the stars align perfectly and the comedy gods are on his side, he gets that magic ‘yes.’ For more info, visit his website.
Who are the different types of people you will audition for in your career?
The three types are jerks, egomaniacs, and wannabes. Just kidding!
The people involved vary depending on the type of audition. If it’s a TV audition, there is a collaboration between the producer, who puts up the money and therefore has the final say; the casting director, whose job is to narrow the talent pool to only those in whom the producer may be interested; and the agents and managers who fight to get the talent in front of the casting director. So as you can see, a lot of people have to say “yes” before you end up on TV.
In a comedy club audition, we audition for the talent booker. It is often done in the form of an “audition spot” in a normal show in front of a paid audience who may or may not know they are watching an audition. Sometimes the talent booker is the owner of the club, as in the case of New York Comedy Club, which is where my show takes place every weekend. Other clubs have a manager or assistant manager act as talent booker, although even in those clubs having the owner on your side doesn’t hurt.
In an audition for a festival, such as the prestigious Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival or Melbourne International Comedy Festival, there is an Executive Director. His or her job is to fill the festival will a wide range of comedians who fit into the themes of the shows lined up. These themes may be “New Faces” or “Alternative Comedy” or even “Hot Gay Comics” to name a few. A festival director typically has a small team of scouts and advisors assisting him/her in finding talent. This team may include bookers, managers, agents, producers, casting directors, and comedy club owners. Many of them also scour the internet and viewing different comedians’ websites.
How do you get an audition?
Getting any audition is much easier with the help of an agent or manager, people who make much of their living through helping comics get auditions! But for comics without representation, there are other means such as contacting the casting director or producer directly for television, submitting a video in the case of a festival, or being referred by another comic in the case of a club.
At New York Comedy Club (home of The Clayton Fletcher Show each Friday and Saturday at 8PM), we have a bimonthly showcase for Al Martin, the owner. New comics who climb the ladder at the club by performing in our Sunday Open Mic and our 8pm weekend shows may be asked to audition for Mr. Martin. Outstanding performers are offered opportunities such as being passed for guest spots and paid spots, entering our groundbreaking Development Program, or even auditioning for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, as two of our new guys did last month!
What do you do different in an audition set vs a regular set? Does this depend on who you’re auditioning for?
It does not depend. Nobody wants to see you improvise or do crowd work in an audition set. Unless you are specifically asked to do improv, you should stick to your material. Generally audition sets are very short, so you need to make an impression. Pick the jokes that show your point of view, emphasize your persona, and most of all make the crowd laugh their butts off. For most things it is best to keep it clean as very few club owners are impressed nowadays with your thought-provoking revelations about your penis. They have heard it all before, so make sure your stuff is absolutely original.
How do you choose what jokes to do for your audition?
It varies based on the genre. I would do a much different set for Conan than I would for Playboy TV. And NYC-based material could work for a comedy club audition in town but nobody in Canada knows much about the F train so I wouldn’t try that for Montreal. You need to find the balance between being yourself and giving yourself a chance to get the gig, so pick the material that is appropriate for the job. It is a business after all, especially when you are auditioning!
I’ve found I’m more nervous when I know I’m auditioning then when I’m doing a regular set, I’m sure others are the same way. Do you have any tips for how a comic could control their nerves?
I think everyone gets those jitters, Ben, but I’ve learned that those butterflies are actually friends of mine! Being nervous gives me focus and energy, improves my concentration, and lets my brain fire on all cylinders. At this point, I accept that I am nervous and just do my best to turn it into a positive. If I am so nervous that I have no fun onstage, the audience has no fun either! But the good news is typically crowds do not see the nerves, they just feel the energy and sense that the comic is really into giving the performance.
If you’re not sure you’re ready to audition, is it better to say “no” and hold off or try the audition anyway? In other words, how bad is it to be seen too soon versus getting that additional stage time and experience auditioning?
This is a tough question. I never auditioned for anything in my first seven years of comedy! I honestly felt that I wanted to hone my craft and have a big unveiling when my act was ready. I have mixed feelings about this decision, looking back. The positive is that when I do finally get in front of people now, the first impression they get is hopefully a good one. But the downside is that I have been around a long time but many in the industry have never heard of me despite my ten years in stand-up. Still, I have a much better shot at booking something now than I would have years ago due to my growth as an artist over time, so I guess I am happy with the way I played it. Time will tell how much it all ends up paying off for me I suppose…
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