If you’re in the comedy business you know that in order to get the big jobs you need to have representation. I’ve seen it first hand in the selection process of late night shows. Agencies have a tight grip on the talent going into these shows (remember that Writers and Directors are considered talent as well). There are a lot of ways to approach this so let me start by stating the obvious – there is no one right way. In fact, you should be trying several methods at once.
But before you try anything take a good hard look at your content online. How much work do you really have to show? Getting in a room is one thing but once you’re in there you have to show them your work. For writers, agencies will need at least three (strong) writing samples. It helps if you have stuff online since odds are they won’t even read all of your material and may just end up watching one of your funny videos. For comedians that focus is even stronger. You HAVE to have content online. that’s the only way to get their attention these days. So that’s your first step. Don’t worry too much about the quality of footage (though sound is always important), and just start posting stuff online. Did you do a five minute set at an open mic? Tape it and post it. Have a funny idea for a video to shoot with friends? Shoot it.
Ken Levine’s great post on this focuses on the combination of networking, and quality content.
Networking and contacts are important. That’s one of the reasons it’s so much easier if you’re in Los Angeles. You can work out in the same gym as an agent. He’s the guy on the Stairmaster texting. A fellow parent at your kids’ school could be a tenpercenter (I always loved that expression). Get into any pick-up basketball game in West L.A. Chances are you’ll be slamming a WME agent into the boards before too long.
Do you know a working writer who is a big fan of your work? Ask him to recommend you to his agent. Do you have a professor who loves your work and is willing to make a few calls on your behalf?
Date Anne Hathaway.
Find out where agents went to college. Maybe you and a CAA guy both are Southwest Arkansas State A & M alums. Use that as an introduction.
Do you know anyone on the crew of a multi-camera show? See if they’ll get you on the floor during a filming night. There are always a few agents milling about. They’re the guys in nice suits hanging around the craft-services table. Texting. Casually make their acquaintance.
Finding those connections, no matter how remote they are, is essential for an intro meeting. I’ve also noticed that it helps having a manager. If you can find a decent one, then they probably have their own connections and can get you in a room. The same things I wrote above are also applicable to finding a manager – you have to show them you have enough content for them to sell. “Products” they can pitch like a writing gig, a stand up gig, and online videos.
What I’ve learned from sitting in meetings with agents
A typical intro meeting with the likes of CAA, WME, APA, and the rest of the alphabetical agencies looks the same. They are looking at you as a business. So you have to show them your products. Think Shark Tank, but less sharks. You’re funny, that’s cool. But they want to see that you have a plan. For example: You create content on four fronts – Web videos (show examples in meeting), Writing for websites (show examples in meeting), pitching a TV script (show examples in meeting), and touring with your stand up set (Invite them to a show you scheduled a couple days after the meeting). Assume they haven’t seen or read any of your stuff even if you sent them the links prior to the meeting and they replied with “this is great!”
They can tell that you’re creative but also have some products to sell. And they can choose which one to focus on. Everyone will smile and promise some “exciting things ahead” and then you will hear nothing for weeks. That’s when you follow up and do the same cycle all over again with better content. During one of those cycles one idea will hit and move forward. Frustrating? Yes. Makes any sense? No. That’s how the agency game works. One thing to remember is that you will probably not be offered to join one of the big agencies so focusing on smaller ones, while still getting in meetings with big ones is the logical step. Why not the big ones? Because they only want talent that has proven itself to be a success. So that means after a few years at a small agency the big ones will approach you on their own and offer you the world. Just keep that in mind when you walk into an intro meeting at a major agency like WME or CAA. It’s good to have the meeting but you probably want to start with a smaller agency that can actually take the time to work with you.
When Sara Schaefer and Nikki Glaser had to choose writers for their new late night show “Nikki and Sara Live!” on MTV, they focused on the quality of the packets sent in. Sara explains her process in this great advice post. Money quote:
I wanted to make sure we weren’t dismissing people who were perfect for us, just because they were strangers or unknown in the “scene.” For that same reason, anyone who wanted to submit was allowed to do so. It wasn’t invite-only, or open only to those with representation. While reading the mountain of submissions, I judged each packet with equal harshness, not knowing who they were. I wasn’t imagining the material in the voice of the person who wrote it, I was imagining it in MY voice – and it really helped when figuring out who naturally fit our vibe. I wasn’t considering their gender, race, or coolness. I was just reading what they wrote.
All of this is to say that the focus has to be your work. Take a look at your Youtube channel. Glance at your scripts folder. Do they look good? Make them look good before you approach managers and agents.
Once you think you have something to show, set aside two hours a week for finding representation. Don’t try to push yourself too hard to find them. The agents are not the only focus you should have. Online videos that “go viral” (ugh, even though I hate that word) can be a better use of your time at this point. How to create better online videos is something we’ll be talking about on this blog a lot. Spoiler – That perfect joke you wrote for the video? Make it even more extreme. Otherwise online viewers will NOT share it. The most important part is to make people share the video, not only see it.
So to recap:
Make good work. Find your connections to anyone remotely involved with the agency world (this is the hardest step but definitely doable). Get an intro meeting. Show your products. Smile. Repeat.