If the comedy community had an FAQ page, “How did you get that?” would be at the top of the list right after, “Who books that?”. In the last year I’ve gotten booked more than ever and it's no coincidence that it also the year when I started asking about the shows I wanted to be on instead of waiting for them to notice me. I know asking isn’t always a popular thing to do. When you’re new and untested, it takes a certain level of hubris to demand to be booked before you’ve shown that you have the skills to back it up. But in my experience, asking for what I want professionally has always yielded more better results than not.
Before I did comedy I worked in the music industry interviewing bands and reviewing albums. Before I worked in the music industry I was a person that wanted to work in the music industry but wasn’t sure how to break in. I started by writing an email to a local radio station that played the kind of music I wanted to write about and asked if they would consider me for an internship. I was 15 …and there wasn’t an actual internship that I was applying for, but I knew that I wanted to be part of what they were doing at 98.3FM. I pitched an idea for what I wanted to do, why I thought I would be great at it and when I was available to begin doing it. I got lucky and the right person read my email and over the next several years I worked my way from intern to full-time host. Once I had honed my industry skills a little, I knew I wanted to interview bigger bands and review major release albums. When I was 19 I started a blog that next to nobody read but I just kept posting, 2-3 times a day. Eventually that blog became the portfolio of writing I submitted to major publications and by 21 I was freelancing for people that were big enough to grant me access to the major names I wanted to sit down with.
I’ve approached comedy pretty similarly: I decided I wanted to do it, I found ways to practice and once I felt confident, I started asking the people to consider me for opportunities. As silly and fun as comedy is, if your goal is to do it at any level beyond open mics, you have to treat it like a job- and it is pretty rare to get a job that you don’t apply for.
If you have been doing the work and consistently developing your act at open mics, but haven’t gotten booked on a show, more than half of the time it is probably less that you’re not funny enough and more that the person running it just hasn’t seen you yet. Even in the smallest comedy scene, there are a lot of faces that cycle in and out and it is ridiculous to expect everyone to pay attention to your growth specifically.
In my experience the people that book rooms are much more likely to consider your booking request if they’ve seen you watch their show before. Comedy is often a give and take in this way but it is important to remember that attending a show is not a bargaining chip. You don’t get to say, “Well I came to your show so now you have to put me on.” but you do get to say, “I think your show is great and I would love to be part of it. What can I do to be considered?”. Try striking up a non-booking related conversation with them in person and then send a polite follow up message thanking them for the good time and expressing your interest. There is a huge difference between putting a show runner on the spot and asking, “When are you going to book me?” and submitting your work for their consideration.
You can also try to get booked from the inside- if you see a show of comedy festival posting about needing volunteers, offer your help. Shows often need someone to work the door, to help set up chairs, to post flyers- there is a ton of work that goes into running a successful show. Offering your help in this way not only gets you face time with people who can book you, it shows your investment in the making the show a success and your respect for what the show-runner is doing.
After you have made a connection with the host or show-runner, try to get in touch with them through the show’s booking email or social media account. If they makes themselves easy to connect to on social media, following them isn’t a bad idea, just don’t stalk people who barely know you- it is not a good look. A great message to send a show you have already been out to support goes something like this:
Hey (Show-Runner’s Name),
(Name of show you saw) was so much fun last night, you run a really great room! I would love to work with you in the future-do you accept video submissions?
(Your first and last name)
Final recap: Be present and pleasant. If you're actively trying, are funny and cool to work with, you're going to get booked- eventually. It's always nice to be invited to do a show but if you sit around waiting for people to discover you, you’ll be doing a lot more sitting than stand-up.