Showcasing for Television

Hanging after the showcase with comics Sonya White, Katrina Brown, and Mel Fine.

I don’t get nervous before comedy shows I headline because I have control over what I will be doing. Doing a set for TV show is a different story. I have never written standup thinking of television. My brain is focused on pushing the envelope and hitting on stuff that television wants no part of. Only in the past couple of years, when I started going deep into my personal angst over my life upheaval has that changed. I finally feel ready to do TV.

So I was part of a showcase last night for a standup television series that is for a cable channel focused towards Moms. I would doubt they are going to use too many dudes, but I have a unique story of spending 2 to 3 days each week playing Mr. Mom to a child with special needs and twins. I knew I would be threading the needle to get selected, but I felt I had a chance.

A few years back there was a new version of Star Search. It was hosted by Arsenio Hall. So they were going across the country having showcases for new talent. I was invited to be part of one in Columbus, Ohio. I ended up having a great set and the network person spoke to me after the show. They told me they really liked me and wanted to see me again. The problem they had with me was that I had a joke about Jared from Subway and they couldn’t use that. I never got another call-back, so it was one of those possible missed opportunities.

Here’s my tips if you ever get a chance to showcase for one of these shows. They should tell you this stuff, but they usually don’t. I’ve learned this stuff from different showcase auditions/people in the biz.

  • Skip doing any jokes with companies in them. I have a comedic fetish for making jokes about products. In my career I have made jokes about Subway, Target, Wal-Mart, Macy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Little Caesars, Dominos, Fazoli’s, Budweiser, Miller, SPAM, Manwich, etc. I think it’s funny to jab at this companies. This is a problem, though, when these same companies could be advertising on a TV show. Let’s say you are being positive about Target, like I am in my show. Well, let’s say Kohl’s is advertising on your show. They aren’t going to be happy about that. To stay away from this trouble, TV types don’t want you to do material with name brands.
  • Stay away from political material. Not only does TV want to stay away from it, when it is rerun, topical material generally doesn’t hold up. The term people in the business use is make it Evergreen.
  • Don’t talk about poop or pee. Innuendo dick jokes happen all the time (try every episode of 2 and Half Men), but it’s very rare when defecation is discussed. Not sure why that it is, but that is just the way it happens.
  • Probably not a great idea to make a joke about a TV show that is on that same network’s air.  (Person this is directed at you know what I’m talking about, I warned you before, and you had a great set, despite ignoring my advice:)
  • Unless it is vital to the character you are selling, try to look good. It is TV, not an audio CD.
  • I don’t know if it makes a difference to the TV people, but be respectful to the other comics. After you get done performing, don’t talk loudly in the back during other people’s sets. Oh and don’t go long. If they tell you to do 5-6 mins, do that time. It’s not fair to the people who go on late if you do longer than that when you get an earlier spot.

I’ve done a few of these TV showcases and last night’s one I was a part of was the best I can remember. Everyone involved was very professional and treated each other well. It’s a very cut-throat experience, but everyone I spoke to before and after did a nice job of letting go of that. Lots of talent was onstage last night. It was good night of comedy for the people who came to see it.

I can tell you that personally I had a hard time coming up with my set because I was all over the place cutting and pasting to fit what the show wanted. I did pretty good, but forgot to do a big joke I had planned on doing, plus I was a little too rushed in my delivery. I’ve been doing standup for a long time, but a show like this got me a little jittery. I hope for the comics who have never done one of these showcases you now have a better idea of what they are like.

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