Making Your Comedy Newsworthy
Have you noticed the increase in comics filling the airwaves since the election became "Indecision 2000?" I'm not just talking about the hilarious parodies being done on "Saturday Night Live," or seeing the savvy observations of stand-ups all year on "Politically Incorrect." You can now also turn on MSNBC during the prime time news broadcasts and see newscasters chatting up and asking the opinions of political and Out comedienne Kate Clinton; on FOX News network's "Judith Reagan Show" there's "Daily Show" creator (and one of my favorites), comedienne and writer Liz Winstead; or the observations of comic and actor Tom Shillue, along with other new nightly guests.
Why the sudden interest in booking comics on hard news broadcasts and news panel shows? Segment producers know the whole country has been watching just how comically each of the late night shows is treating the candidates, and that pundits are writing and broadcasting about who's doing material about whom. As well as having stock footage of these shows to present to viewers, producers also like to have their own comedy specialists as well, and keep files on which they can get to job in all during the year. Sometimes name guests also cancel at the last minute, and it's believed comics can handle last minute bookings better—wing it, as it were—because, hopefully, they have a mental data base full of material to use. Even the most serious news broadcasts need a little levity for long shows, especially when they're waiting for an overdue press conference to start and are stretching their airtime, or when they have no new information, but plenty of air time to fill.
So how do comics get these jobs, and how can you tap into this work vein if you're a political comedian? This isn't a beginner's game, but if your talent is political comedy and observation, or if you do great political imitations within your material and you've started getting booked to do that already in comedy clubs, you don't need an agent, manager, or publicist to make yourself known to shows. (Not that it isn't a big foot in the door, but you can do it without them.) Watch news programs (your local news, cable, radio shows, or the national biggies, too). General switchboard numbers for these stations and, sometimes, specific shows are easily available from directory assistance. Call and ask who to send a package to for the programs you see as using your type of guest commentary. When in doubt, ask if there's a talent/guest booker to send to, or for the name of the segment producers. Many of the personality news broadcasts, like Judith Reagan's show, have an e-mail address to contact her or her staff. Introduce yourself briefly—in writing—say what you've got to offer (what you do and what you can talk about and how you might add to the mix of the show), and who's currently hiring you to do that already. (It never hurts to have a glowing letter from a club booker in your mail package as well.) Ask for their booker's contact information, and, after your initial mailing, keep updating them by mail monthly.
Have a memorable card or postcard that you send each time, so they'll start to remember you (this often leads people to think they've already heard of you and your work). Have a professional-looking short videotape, picture, and resume ready to send with your contact number (and an answering machine message that's professional enough so that, if you're lucky and get the call, you won't lose their interest because of a lackluster outgoing message). Ask to be put on file for future consideration when they need comic commentary, or as a last minute guest. (It's wise to choose a show that shoots near to where you live for the latter.)
And don't stop there. If you're a comic who does special material on something else, like being a Mom or a Dad, start mailing many months before Father's and Mother's Day to news, daytime talk and radio shows, and keep sending updates monthly on where you're being seen. They might use you for that holiday. (For example, Oprah had a show for Mother's Day on moms with interesting jobs. It featured Andrea Kolb, a comedienne who, aside from doing her own mommy humor, also hosts group shows featuring other Mom/Dad comics.)
If your material is about quitting smoking, you could have been sending out info on yourself to be featured for this week's National Smoke Off Day. If you're an Out comic, you could have sent a package on yourself for October's annual National Coming Out Day. It's never too early to start planning now for next year. Look up all the holidays and memorable days in history written on calendars. (The web and Hallmark are two accessible sources.) Think about if your comedic niche is right for one or more. It may take time to make yourself known to the news shows, but that's how any agent or manager would try to generate the same interest in your specialty. This type of work-generating "homework" is something you can always do, even when you're not getting as much time as you'd like in the clubs.
One comedienne I think is hugely talented and perfect for sitcom development is the very sassy and saucy Brit, Sherry Davey. She's already claiming her niche by doing "Sidewalk Catwalk," an exclusive web-only series for ComedyCentral.com's Spotlight series. As TV Guide recently described her, "She stalks the streets of Manhattan to upbraid vacant models and the badly clad."
From street style, to the deepest trend-savvy crevices of pop culture, to backstage at the shows, Davey (the self-appointed Queen of Fashion and Comedy) examines the trends that influence fashion and the politics behind them. It's a great showcase for her talent, and another example of a comic making her uniqueness known.
Finally, speaking of unique, congratulations to drag diva and one of the funniest monologists I know, Flotilla DeBarge, for her appearance this week as a character on NBC's "Law & Order." The divine DeBarge's comedy and music are also featured Wednesday nights at NYC's Barracuda. Great crowd work, and really special, unique characters will also be on the menu if you go.