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Secret Agent Man

The Ugly Truth About Your Talent

The Ugly Truth About Your Talent
Photo Source: Pete McDonnell

Mitzi Shore, legendary owner of the Comedy Store, once said, “It’s a sin to encourage mediocre talent.”

I think she meant it’s wrong to give performers false hope, but here’s the problem: This is a business where everyone does just that. Nobody ever says what they really think. That’s why there are so many untalented actors still plugging away in the trenches.   

For example, I’ve never heard of any agents who said to their clients, “You’re not that good. You might want to rethink your life.” But you know what? I guarantee it was on their mind.

Hell, even when agents are dropping clients we always go out of our way to soften the blow. Here’s what I usually say to an actor who’s about to get the Ned Stark treatment:

“I have some bad news. We’re dropping you as a client. But listen, it has nothing to do with you. The list has gotten too big and we have to make some cuts. I’m sure I’ll regret this decision when you start making money for another company.”

Now here’s what I’ve wanted to say on more than one occasion:

“I have some bad news. We’re dropping you as a client. The reason is because you haven’t made a single dollar for this company in an entire year and it’s not like you haven’t had a ton of opportunities. And to make matters worse, all the casting directors you’ve met refuse to bring you back in. So it’s fairly obvious this career is a dead end and you might want to start thinking about selling insurance.”

That was a fun paragraph to write but I could never be that honest in real life. It’s easier to lie. And that’s how I deal with all actors, not just the ones I represent.

Over the years, I’ve passed on thousands of people because quite frankly, they were terrible and I didn’t see any possibility of improvement. But was I candid about that? Nope. Instead of telling them the truth, I said something like, “It’s not a good fit,” or “I already have too many clients just like you.” And as a result, those actors are still hanging in there, waiting for a break that will never come.

I’ve also been to a million workshops and boy, does the bullshit fly in that setting. Just last week, I was paired with a casting director and we were forced to watch a performance that smelled worse than the streets of New York after a four-week garbage strike.

When the nightmare was over the casting director smiled and said, “Nice job. Thank you.” I was stunned. After the actor left, I asked if she meant it. The casting director laughed and said no, of course not. The guy was terrible but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.  

And that’s why so many actors die from encouragement.

So why is this? Why are agents and casting directors never straight with actors? Well, the truth is we don’t take any pleasure in crushing someone’s dream. And let’s be frank: Would you really listen if I told you to give up and go home? I doubt it. If anything, you’d probably double down just to prove me wrong.

I believe industry professionals need to be more honest with actors. If your waiver production stinks, we shouldn’t call it “interesting.” We should just tell you the truth. That’s how people learn. 

Now what about you? Be honest. Would you rather hear the ugly truth or an attractive lie?  

Like this advice? Check out more from Secret Agent Man

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