Q&A With A College Student

I recently got an email from a college student interested in working in entertainment/comedy. I figured I’d post the Q&A here too, in case it might help others. If you’re a young person and have more questions, ask in the comments or via the contact page.

(*FYI most of these answers do not take COVID-19 and how it’s affected/affecting live entertainment into account – so pretend I wrote this in February of 2020 or 2022)

What is your current position title and what does it entail?
I’m a stand-up comedian. I live my life, notice interesting things that happen, write jokes about them, then perform them on stage. I audio or video record each show, then listen back and rewrite based on where laughs do or don’t occur and what I riffed in the moment.

Other comedy things I do: write scripts and try to sell them to get a TV show or to get staffed for writing on someone else’s TV show, use social media to gain a following, audition/act, create books, create comedy albums/specials, do voice-overs, write/direct/edit my own short comedy videos, etc.

Also I know you’re copy/pasting this to a bunch of people but  “Current Position Title” is way too corporate a term for my line of work.

What is your educational background and how has it prepared you for this career?

I majored in economics and philosophy. Other than general work ethic and thinking about ideas, it didn’t directly prepare me.

Can you recall any specific academic courses that you have found helpful in this role and why?

The most helpful thing I did in college as relates to my life right now was to co-create and write for a parody website of Rutgers called Slutgers.

We’d write articles like “drink of the week” and “sexual position of the week” and do funny captions for user-submitted photos. We’d also create merchandise like t-shirts, shot glasses and thongs and go around the dorms selling them. It was basically “College Humor” but only for Rutgers.

As a student, were you involved in any outside of the classroom activities (internships, student organizations, research, volunteer, etc.)? If yes, what were they and how were they helpful to you?

Mainly, see Slutgers above. I think I did some other things as well: I might’ve been a new student orientation volunteer one year. I think I had some internships at the museum, and I played roller hockey for a year or two, but it was 10+ years ago so I don’t really remember all my “resume building” details. I guess studying abroad counts as something, because I think I talked about that when I interviewed for “real” jobs.

How did you land your first position?

I went to career services. They asked what I wanted to do. I said “I don’t know. But I’m smart and I like to travel.” They said “How about consulting?” I looked into it, different projects and travel, decent pay. Sounded good. So I did all the on-campus interviews with all the management consulting places that were recruiting Rutgers and got a job offer with Accenture.

What are the more challenging and rewarding parts of your job?

Challenging = building a loyal following that wants to listen/watch/pay money to see you.

Rewarding = the creativity. Stuff like when a new joke starts working on stage, or changing the order, or building your new hour by playing with the order.

Also you get to talk to, hang out with and befriend other lost and funny souls. Way more interesting than the shmucks at a regular office’s water cooler.

What advice would you have for young professionals just getting started in this field?

Stop using the words “young professionals.” Learn a little joke structure. Then write some jokes. Put it away for a few days. Look at it again and edit the shit out of it. Memorize that. Then go perform it. Record it. Listen back. Make adjustments. Keep doing that process.

Also be polite/nice to everyone cause it’s a small community and already hard enough. Or just make a viral youtube video that gets you a loyal following and you can skip being good at the craft…

Also with comedy, especially at the start before you find your voice, you should be pretty familiar with what other people are doing/talking about, so that you avoid those subjects. Once you learn your character/viewpoint you’ll have a unique take on the most common of subjects and this matters less, although I still try to avoid very common subjects unless my joke is very specific.

Have you done any freelance work? Is job security with that type of work a big issue in highly populated areas like NYC and LA? 

It’s all freelance work. Job security didn’t exist before COVID19, now that’s just an oxymoron. If you want “job security” go work in something other than entertainment. At least entertainers know they don’t have job security. Everyone else is pretending that they do – see current global situation and Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s Turkey Story below… Regular w2 wage workers = turkey.

Do you have one piece of advice for someone who has never tried stand-up before but would like to try?

I wrote a blog post about it here.

In this digital and social media age, do you think it is plausible and sustainable to pursue a career solely online?

Yes. You can become a Youtube/Instagram/TikTok/whatever else star if that’s where your drive and passion is.

I take a lot of digital audio classes and am interested in possible producing podcast in the near future. Have you had any experience in this somewhat new and popular media format?

Podcasting isn’t new at this point. It’s a mature medium. I did a podcast for 2 years / 100 episodes with two other comedians. It was fun. I learned the skill of bullshitting for an hour and being funny. We never had huge audience growth, so eventually, we stopped doing it. I’ve also been a guest on dozens of other people’s podcasts.

This is true for podcasting as well as all entertainment, if you’re interested in it and have a passion for it, you should do it. Just don’t expect anything to happen from it other than learning how to do it. (“You’re entitled to your labor but not the fruits of your labor” I believe is the quote.)

Recently with all the institutions closing down, how has the CODVID outbreak affected your field and do you think it will return to normal?

Until there’s a vaccine that gets distributed to the whole population, all live performances are fucked. My guess is that will be the next 6-18 months minimum. It ain’t gonna be pretty.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? Consider taking my NYC Comedy Class or booking a private one-on-one comedy coaching session (in person or via Zoom)

More Stand-Up Comedy Tips:

“10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said” Quotes

I recently read “10 ½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said” by Charles Wheelan. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. As always, if you like the quotes, buy the book here.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 8.34.43 PM“Look around every once in a while and ask yourself; Have I created a race out of something that ought to be a journey?” (61)

“A journey involves following a passion. You identify a worthwhile goal and then work relentlessly in that direction. There are often tremendous external rewards, but the direction and motivation come from within.” (61)

“If you think of life as a race, then every setback means that you have fallen behind. Every risk has a potential failure lurking nearby.
But if you think of life as a journey, then every setback helps direct you to a place where you will be more likely to succeed. Every risk has a potential adventure behind it, or at least a learning experience. you are not necessarily in competition with everyone around you.” (65)

“Your parents don’t want what is best for you. They want what is good for you, which is not always the same thing.” (89)

“Most parents want some form of “tenure” for their children, even if it forecloses the option of a Pulitzer Prize. But if you, as a young graduate, want the Pulitzer Prize, you have to be prepared to go to the precipice and leap. You can’t always expect your parents to be excited about that.” (93)

“The accumulation of wealth becomes an egregiously oversimplified yardstick for measuring life success… I am not saying that you shouldn’t work hard. If you think you will become exceptional at anything without lots of grinding away, you are delusional.” (100)

“Take joy in the journey, rather than building your life around how good you expect the view to be when you get to the top.” (105)

“I try to ask myself, Is the journey still worthwhile if the mountain turns out to be enshrouded in fog at the top?” (106)

“At one point I asked, “Do you really think you can win?”
He said, “I don’t have to. I just have to run a race that my grandchildren will be proud of.”” (107)

“Technology and globalization and the other forces of change are like a stream running downhill. We cannot stop them; we cannot turn them around. But we can direct them. We design the incentives, build the social institutions, mediate the disputes, make the laws, and decide how our collective resources will be used or not used, shared or not shared. We, as educated and responsible adults, have the ability to shape and direct the inexorable forces as they come spilling downhill.
Change is inevitable; but progress depends on what we do with that change.” (112)

“Don’t try to be great. Just be solid.” (116)

“Being great involves luck, and unique circumstances, and a lot of other forces beyond your control. You can’t just make it happen by working more or trying harder.
There is an irony here, of course. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.” (118)

Liked the quotes? Buy the book by clicking here.

BINGO! For New and Hacky Comics

I thought this up while sitting through a more painful than usual open mic. It’s meant as a joke, but can serve as a reminder for all of us to avoid the easy jokes.

In the past year I’ve definitely done 4 out of the 5 topics, and 2 out of the 5 bombing jokes (and probably other squares I’ve forgotten about), so I’m not claiming to be better than anyone…

Clayton Fletcher: Auditioning Q&A

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…

Other Comedy Tips:

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How To Get Rich

Do you want to get rich? Do you want to have so much money that it’s obscene? Well, it’s easy! Just stop focusing on earning or saving money and focus on creating value and giving to others. Not only will you get rich over time, but by giving value to others, whether it’s valuable advice, laughter or a genuine human connection, you’ll feel better too. And yes, most people won’t reciprocate your gift. That’s okay. It wouldn’t be a gift if it was quid pro quo. You earn good karma for helping others and giving feels better than taking.

moneybagSo here’s my challenge: Give and create one million dollars in value for other people in the next year without expecting anything in return. See what happens and report back.

So how do you create a million dollars in value? Everyone has their own unique skill set that others find valuable, so I can’t tell you something like: “Create a website for every senior citizen you know, they value websites at forty dollars each.” This challenge is not about assigning a specific monetary value to every interaction you have with a person. It’s about doing more than is expected in every interaction you have. All of us, especially me, can always do more. You can give this extra value at work by doing more than what they pay you to do, especially if it won’t get recognized. Or, you can even do it for one of your hobbies: For example, if you love playing tennis, give some free lessons.

Although the focus should not be on the actual monetary sum, discussing the sum can help make my idea clearer. Giving one million dollars in value can occur in various ways. You can give one person a million dollars in value, give a million people a dollar in value, or give something in between. Coming up with one great million dollar gift or a million really small gifts seems really difficult to me. A more realistic goal is to divide up the million dollars by the number of days in the year, which rounds to $2,740. Now try to give $2,740 in value every day. Some days you might give twenty-seven hundred people a dollar of value, other days you give three people a thousand dollars of value. For the internet inclined, if you have a blog with 2,700 readers, and you can give a dollar of value a day to each of your readers, you’ll hit the million dollar mark easily (and probably end up with more readers by the end of the year).

And yes, I feel like a hippy writing this, but my experiences over the past couple of years have me really believing this is true. When I’ve given someone something without expecting anything in return, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Posting free comedy tips on my website has led to successful comics getting in touch with me. Giving other comics stage time and not asking for anything in return has led to me getting stage time. I didn’t write tips or ask people to do shows so that they’d help me out, I just did it because it seemed like the good thing to do. The things I’ve received back in return were all just nice unintended side effects. However, every time I’ve pitched someone, asked them for something, or expected something in return, I’ve gotten nothing. (And deservedly so!)

So go ahead, take the million dollar challenge.

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