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DAN FRENCH has an M.A. in Rhetoric, and a Ph.D. in Media Studies, but don't let that fool you. And he still hasn't mailed us an 8 X 10.

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Dan French

The original "What Works"
"Tom Kenney"

"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
TV Development

"Whose Line is it Anyway?"
French's gag in a Quote-A-Crostic!

"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
TV Programming

"Your Showcase Set"
How to craft an L.A.-ready set

"The Clogged Drain of Comedy"
Who belongs on the stage? Comedy in L.A.

Why move to L.A.?

"Good Side/Bad Side"
What does comedy mean to a culture, post-911?

What should a manager do?

"Standup on TV"
What does TV want?

"Cash for Words"
Writing for dollars

"Stoking the Joke Machine"
Writing for a living

"Screenwriting for Standup Comics"
Just what it says

"Random Realizations"
Wisdom born of experience

Casting Season in L.A.

"Ladies & Gentlemen: A Job"
Working at Best Damn Sports Show Period

"LA Freefall for All"
It happens to everyone: Freefall!

"Hollywood or Bust"
How to change to succeed in L.A.

"How Edgy"
Column #2

"How Hip"
Column #3

"Who Writes Your Stuff?"
Why don't comics ask for help?

"The Art of Standup"
What would we gain by "turning up the art"

"Christmas Wish List"
Holiday column

"Getting Exercised"
A writing exercise

"High Octane"
Road vs. L.A., Monologist vs. Performer

"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
Television Programmers

"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
Television Production and Development

"Castle Breached"
Working at Late Late Show, Network television gig!

"I Like LA"
The third of five columns on writing comedy for money

"Hollywod Carousel"
Between BDSSP and Late Late Show, what I learned


Your Showcase Set

I didn't write anything last month. You try living my life.

I've been writing in the first half of this year about the surreal playground we call The Media, giving some big picture on how it just might work for standups convinced that TV lies directly in their futures. I now turn toward actually saying what standups who want to be on TV need to do (not what they need to know), which is probably where I should have started four months ago, but hey, I like to be complete.

For comics who want to be on TV, here's my advice.

There are six things a comic needs in order to get on TV, in no particular order: a killer showcase set, a connected manager, the ability to be schmoozey, the ability to audition, the ability to act, and a cosmically lucky fit between what is needed and what you are.

I'll get to managers, schmooze, auditioning, acting, and cosmic puzzles in other columns. This month I want to talk about the part that comics can most control -- the showcase set.

What exactly is a showcase? You hear about them all the time out here. NBC is showcasing comics at The Improv. Letterman's people are looking at some comics tonight at the Laugh Factory. Messina-Baker is showcasing their comics for the networks.

Every comic who comes to LA must have a showcase set. They do them to try to get stage time, to try to get a manager, to try to get an agent, to try to get the attention of casting directors, to try to impress producers. But what are they?

A showcase will be anywhere from 5 - 10 minutes. In it you are expected to carry a room with your energy, your performative style, your character, your personality, your comic timing, your comic confidence, your visuality, your voice, your facial expressions, your likability, your magnetism, your uniqueness, your acting ability, the characters you do, the voices you do, your own comic perspective on the world, your biography, your quirky life experience. Oh, and your material.

It's absolutely essential that standups understand the next point I am about to make, and they almost never do. So here it is: Showcases are not standup.

They look like standup. They sound like standup. They are not standup.

Standup is about getting laughs. That is all it is about. Showcases are about "showing" what you can do. The laughter of the audience is secondary. It's great if it's there, but it isn't the determining factor in whether you will be "the chosen one." You can kill and get passed over. People kill all the time out here and get passed over. It drives them crazy because they crush a room and still get passed over. Didn't they see how funny I was? Don't they know what's funny? What is wrong with this town? On the other hand, you can go on stage and get tiny chuckles and be plucked immediately by the media gods. People who are very mediocre standups get plucked all the time. Because there is something about them that a particular media casting agent or producer can use, that can be developed, that fills a niche they need filled.

What is it that the casters and producers see that they can use? Reread the paragraph on what a showcase set is. They can use your energy, your style, your visuality, your demographic, your acting, etc.

Media people figure they can hire writers to give you material, and the studio can supply a great audience to get you laughs. What they need from you is all the other things - acting, energy, quirk, likability. That is why they would agree to hire you, to pay you. Because you would make a good pawn in their comedic chess set.

Standups horribly misunderstand showcases. We think they are about material, and being clever, and killing the audience. I have seen so many showcases where standups who are usually funny eat it horribly. They eat it because they expect the audience to do its share. Standups expect the audience to bring energy to the moment instead of expecting to have to supply all the energy themselves. They expect the audience to laugh. But most showcases are on slow nights of the week when there isn't much audience present. And half of that audience is industry, and industry doesn't laugh. When audiences don't laugh, standups bail out of their showcase set and start crowd work, which is the death throe of a showcase. Once you bail, if you're lucky, you can show that you can write instead of act. Or, if you're not lucky, you show that you're mean and desperate and really not all that clever without material. Or if you're even more unlucky you show that you can't handle a low energy room just with your performance.

Even if you are eating it in a showcase set, take that with grace and continue your planned set. Turn up the volume on the elements you are trying to show instead of abandoning them. You may feel better in your standup soul if you switch and go on the attack, but you are showing panic, lack of patience, and lack of acting professionalism.

Stay with the set. Power the set with everything you've got. Stay with the set.

Which begs the question: What should be in the set?

This is also a major mistake standups make about showcases. Standups pick their funniest stuff, their best lines, or the stuff that gets the best reaction. This is wrong. You should pick stuff that shows you can act, shows your unique perspective, tells your biography, and sets up the exact role you would play on a sitcom or the exact situation you would use in a sitcom about you. Picking your best lines is disaster because you end up with a hodgepodge of scattered material and unrelated jokes that don't work when taken out of the context of your longer show. Picking what gets the best reaction is wrong because you are used to the reaction of an audience of regular human beings, and industry are not regular human beings.

So I'll say it again: Your set should be about you, should display all your acting abilities, all your useability for the media. It should not be designed as a standup set. It should be designed as a showcase.

Last thing about showcases, and this may be the weirdest thing of all. Everybody wants to get showcases, they are the keys to the kingdom we all believe lies just behind the casting door. But if you get showcases you will quickly come to hate them. 99 per cent of people end up hating showcases, hating them with all their souls, with all their comedic spirit.

Why? Because showcases are all about failure.

It's rare that anyone does a showcase and gets something out of it. You'll have a great set, but the industry exec was at the bar. You'll have your banjo bit ready and see the guy in front of you pull out his banjo case. You'll be the funniest person for a thousand miles, but they need a teenager. At the beginning of the night showcases are full of energy and buzz and possibility. At the end of the night they are mired swamps of failure, bad feelings, resentment, anger, guilt, second-guessing, and rage that someone else got picked or no one got picked or that you didn't get picked. Standup feeds your ego; showcases pull your ego into the dark abyss that underflows this pretty world we call "comedy."

So here's my last piece of advice: Prepare for showcases differently than you prepare for standup. Write a killer set about yourself that is crafted down to the last detail and rehearsed so you can do it full force even if someone is killing your mother on the corner of the stage. Stay with it whether the audience is happy, sad, screaming, yawning, or melting like some weird science fiction being. Try to get as many showcases as you humanly can, look forward to those you get, look forward to being in that weird environment. But do not look forward to the reward of doing well. Look forward to being enough of a professional artist that you can do this very difficult format very well. Look forward to the magic moment when you do the same showcase you've always done, and this time a real exec producer-- not a junior agent or a wannabe manager or a key grip who wants to be a casting agent, but a real, honest to god person with actual power in Hollywood-- comes up and says, "You're exactly what I need."

I wish you luck with your showcasing, my friend. If you pass you will be invited into the next chamber of the journey into the hallowed bowels of stardom. You will get to schmooze, you will gain a manager, you will get to audition, you will have to act, you will eventually fit in the cosmic media puzzle.

And that is where it really gets weird. HOME Back to the Top