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…

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Pro Talk: Becoming a Full Time Comedian

I recently caught up with Clayton Fletcher to get his thoughts on the process of becoming a professional comedian.

claytonClayton Fletcher is a national headliner who performs all over the USA in various clubs and colleges. He has been seen on MTV, Sex & the City, and Rikki Lake. His live comedy show, The Clayton Fletcher Show, takes place every Friday and Saturday at 8PM at New York Comedy Club. For more, visit www.claytonfletcher.com

1. Can you discuss the transition to professional comedian? Is it a gradual process where you make more money each year until you can start doing it full time or is it more like a “zero to sixty” process?

Becoming a professional comedian is definitely a gradual process. I remember the first time I got paid I made $50 for a twenty-minute set in a restaurant. I only had twelve minutes of material so I tried doing crowd work for theother eight. It was the second-hardest fifty bucks I ever earned.

After that restaurant show I didn’t make another dime from comedy for about a year. But that little taste of getting paid drove me to work harder almost as much as bombing at my first professional show did. It doesn’t happen overnight but it does happen.

2. I’ve heard that most of the money is in road work / college work and not from working the clubs in NYC or LA. Is this true? How big is the difference?

Oh, definitely. If you are not a superstar comedian like Chris Rock or Lewis Black the payscale is much lower in the two major markets. The reason is quite simple: the law of supply and demand. If someone offers me $100 for a spot in New York and I demand $125 they can just hang up the phone and call one of the other six million comics and offer him or her the hundred. In Flint, Michigan, I am usually the only comedian in town when I show up so it is easier for me to set the price. Supply in New York is at such a surplus that if half the comics moved to L.A. today, the competition for every spot would still be fierce.

Although if that happened I would not mind at all…

3. Besides performing, what are the various (but related) ways a comedian can try to make money? Are these other streams significant?

The first other significant revenue stream that comes to mind is writing. I have written for film and television, usually as a “punch-up” artist. Punch-up just means that the script is complete except it could be funnier, so they hire comedians and comedy writers to try to add some more funny moments, to punch it up! Typically comics who do punch-up do not get writing credit but the money is often about what you would make on a weekend of performing.

I have also written for corporate projects such as award ceremonies, ad campaigns, and in-house films. Obviously the rates for anything in the corporate world are always higher since a company that is hiring a comedian as a consultant can afford to compensate him. When these opportunities come up, I am happy to be a sellout!

Other ways to parlay your comedy skills include doing commercials or voice-overs, working as a live event host, and teaching. I find that my comedy background gives me a huge edge in all of these endeavors as well. So often on a commercial audition they want me to improvise, and the comedy skills really come into play although stand-up in particular does not.

The other side-business I must mention is producing. There are countless opportunities in New York for self-driven comedians to take responsibility for booking a club on a certain night and then putting a show together. It is a tremendous amount of work (finding comedians, promoting, filling seats, finding a host, negotiating with headliners) but someone skilled in these areas can make a good living doing just that if (s)he wants to. In fact, many comics I started with nine years ago are now full-time comedy producers in New York who hardly ever get onstage themselves. Personally, my need to entertain people is so great that this path would never work for me. I would be like the alcoholic who owns a bar. But for them it has become a niche so I am happy they found their path.

4. At what point do you think someone should quit their day job?

Moving to full-time is a very difficult choice. For most it is terrifying. Once you quit that job, you lose your steady income, your health insurance, and the respect of your parents. I have never had a full-time job so I have no idea what it is like to have any of those things anyway. But if a comic is hungry and her act (not to mention her budget) shows that she is ready to take the training wheels off, I usually advise her to go for it! If things do not go according to plan then she can always hit up monster.com later. A good guideline is to walk away from the desk once you are making (or think you can make) at least 50% more from comedy than you were at your regular job. If this sounds high, remember that being self-employed is very expensive as no human resources department will show up to take care of your basic needs.

5. I read Norm McDonald earns $40,000 to headline a weekend in Vegas. (He then proceeds to gamble away $50,000.) What’s the highest headliner fee you’ve heard about?

I have heard that one A-list celebrity comic earns over $200,000 per corporate personal appearance. Although in these times of corporate scrutiny I would imagine those days are over.

6. I’ve also seen a “headliner” get $60 to do a 45 minute set (in Virginia). What’s the lowest fee you’ve heard? Is there a “standard” rate?

That $60 you just mentioned is an insultingly low price for a road headliner. Hey, who books that gig? Can I get his information? What, I like Virginia…

There is no standard rate but generally comics have a bottom line. Kidding aside, I know how much I would charge to do 45 in the South and every comic has his own number in mind. But it is almost like the number of girls you slept with: you keep it a secret and you might embellish one way or the other depending on who you’re talking to!

7. Anything else about the financial aspects of comedy you think aspiring comedians should know?

Well, I come from a theatrical background and a show business family so my attitude was always if I do what I love, the money will come. Now that I am in my thirties I can tell you that such romantic idealism is for suckers! The money only comes when you work extremely hard at your craft AND your business. I made a lot of mistakes in the financial area when I started out, viewing myself as an ar-teest. But now I see myself as a performer AND a shrewd businessman. And that is the reality for anyone trying to make a living as a comedian.

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Hi-Tech Comedy: Clayton Fletcher

Every week I’ll be interviewing a different stand up comedian about their use of technology to further their career. For the first installment, I’m honored to present Clayton Fletcher.

claytonClayton Fletcher is a national headliner who performs all over the USA in various clubs and colleges. He has been seen on MTV, Sex & the City, and Rikki Lake. His live comedy show, The Clayton Fletcher Show, takes place every Saturday 8PM at New York Comedy Club. For more, visit www.claytonfletcher.com

1. How are you using the internet / social media to promote your career? 

Nowadays a comic has to be on everything. You can find me on facebook, myspace, twitter, google, and of course on claytonfletcher.com.  When I am on the road, I use the internet to let my fans know that I am coming to their area. I am doing a show in my hometown, Baltimore, in a couple of weeks and there is a facebook page that is dedicated to my “homecoming show” that weekend. I will see people in the audience that night that I have not seen since elementary school! And I have facebook to thank (or blame) for that.

2. Have you noticed the payoff yet?

Of course! People use my website to purchase copies of my comedy album, Clayton Fletcher: Actually Funny. They book me for gigs after watching my clips online. They engage me for personal appearances and corporate dates through my website. The web has really changed the way comedians get jobs.

3. What do you think about posting videos of your show online?

It is a great way for people to see my work and decide whether they want to hire me. But the bad news is that I run the risk of the audience being too familiar with my material. Any time I do a joke that I have on YouTube, it does not get the same laugh as it did before it was on there! The truth is the audience has heard the joke already because nowadays people like to sample a comic before they go pay money to see him live. But what is really funny about that is that they sometimes say “Man, why didn’t you do that bit from the website?!? I love that joke!!” And I’m like, “But you’ve already heard it!” But I remember how many times I listened to my Bill Cosby albums as a child, so I totally get it. If a joke is funny enough, you will laugh at every time you hear it, not just the first time.

4. How do you think digital tools will change comedy?

Well, in the old days you used to have your manager send a VHS to a booker and then they would discuss whether you were right for a certain club or a certain gig or whatever. Now many of us do not even have managers because we can interact directly and quickly with buyers. Instead of waiting three days for the post office, all they have to do is click on the clip and see it right now. Everything is much easier this way and there is less of a need for the “middle man” in many cases.

5. How much information do you tend to share on the social networks?

I try very hard to keep things professional on there. I do not disclose my address or whom I am dating, etc. My previous experience with stalkers has taught me to love my fans more from a distance. Not to say that I do not interact with them, because believe me I do. I answer each and every e-mail or comment I receive! But I have learned to keep my private life private. I mean it is possible to have a real friendship with a fan, but comedians have to be careful how much information they broadcast to the general public. So my Tweets are more “Performing at Carolines tonight” and less “Slept with Sarah last night.”

6. What’s your weirdest online experience involving your comedy career?

Once a woman from England visited my website and sent me an e-mail asking me to perform at her mother’s birthday party. She offered to fly me to London first-class, pay for my accommodations at a fancy hotel, gourmet meals, saying that she had seen The Clayton Fletcher Show in New York when she was here on “holiday” and thought I’d be the perfect entertainment for this gala event. She came off as very wealthy and we did negotiate a price for the show. She sent me a check that was for an amount larger than we had negotiated, by $3,000!!! I notified her of the error and she told me to go ahead and deposit the check. I did and it cleared. A few days later she informed me that an error had been made, that I had been paid my fee plus that of the DJ for the party. She asked me to send her the balance via wire transfer. I decided to wait a few days because I was more than a tad suspicious of her by now. I mean I wanted it to be true, but you never know. Sure enough my bank called me the next day and asked me who wrote me the counterfeit check. I asked them who allowed it to clear! I am really glad that I never sent that wire transfer because I don’t think the FBI would care much that I’d been swindled out of $3,000. But the worst part was I turned down an actual weekend of road work for this fake London birthday party. You can never be too careful. I always tell comics that story because I really almost fell for it, and I think I am a pretty savvy New Yorker myself…

Pro Talk: 7 Tips for Ambitious Comedians

This is a guest post by Clayton Fletcher. Clayton is a professional stand up comedian who plays all over the country, has been on HBO, is a regular at Caroline’s on Broadway and has his own weekly show at New York Comedy Club. You can learn more about Clayton on his website here.

Clayton Fletcher

1. Get onstage as much as humanly possible
In my view, becoming a really good comic requires hours and hours of stagetime. When I started, I did every open mic in town and at least one bringer show every week. I would also ask to perform at family parties, office functions, basically anywhere and everywhere I could. There is just no substitute for stagetime. 

2. You will always be a bringer
What I mean is suppose that someday you become famous and you are asked to be the headliner at the Laughy Ha-Ha Club in Plano, Texas. They will invest fortunes in advertising your arrival, marketing your performances, and staffing their club so that you can have a great show. If nobody comes to see you, do you think you will be asked back? Always promote every show you are in. Especially in New York where there are ten million comics, one great way to get a leg up on the competition is to help the club out by letting your fans know you are coming! Since comedy clubs are businesses, they will appreciate the fact that you help increase their patronage!

To put it another way, if you were in a great band that had absolutely no following, how many gigs do you think you would be able to get twice? Why should comedians be any different?

3. In the beginning, stick to one club.
The other side of the coin is that if you are popular enough to have friends who want to come see your show, you should focus your efforts on one club. Many comedy club owners (Al Martin among them) pride themselves on developing young talent into tomorrow’s superstars. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a club owner say “I gave him his start and now he’s headlining for me!” or “Why should I book her? When she started out she did bringer shows and open mics every week at ______ Comedy Club! Now she wants to work for me?” You simply can not build a solid relationship with a club by spreading shows out in all the clubs around town.

Become associated with one venue and the rest will follow. If you are talented and you put the work in and show loyalty to a club and a producer, we remember this and look for ways to help you down the line. And then when you try to get work at Club B and C you can say “Well I do regular feature spots at NYCC and now I am trying to branch out.” It lends credibility much more than “I am doing bringers all over town” ever can.

4. There is more than one way to get there.
Many comics ask me what they should do if they do not have friends. Frankly, I am skeptical of anyone who claims not to know a single person who wants to see them perform, but if you are in this group, you still have hope! Get your stagetime in “non-traditional” venues. When I started out I did shows in sushi restaurants, pizza parlors, every bar in New York that had a back room, and quite a few that didn’t. Most of these shows were disastrous but believe me if you can kill at McMickerson’s Pub while the foreigners watch a soccer game, you will tear the roof off the Broadway. Again it all comes down to stagetime and finding ways to get it.

5. Write write write.
Comedians are writers. When you finally get up onstage, you should not be at a loss for words. Rework the old stuff, try to come up with new stuff. Never stop writing!

6. Produce your own show!
One of the best ways to get onstage early in your career is to put your own show together. You can learn to MC, you can begin to network with your peers, you might even create the next “hot new comedy room” in New York. Best of all, you will have the flexibility to do what you want for as long as you want onstage. But even then, if nobody comes to see you I doubt your neighborhood bar will keep Jeffy’s Comedy Night going for long. As I said, we are all bringers and always will be.

7. Be polite.
There are so many comics who seem to have never been taught manners. How many times haveI been dealing with a paying customer only to have a comic interrupt me: “What’s the lineup?” And howfew times have I actually been thanked for helping a new comic get an opportunity? Politeness is in shortsupply these days, so even a simple gesture of mutual humanity can go a long way.

In closing, I want you all to know that I am here for you and I am rooting for you. So build your act, find your persona, build your fan base, and we can all conquer New York City together someday soon!

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