Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Writer's Audition

With the writer's strike going on, I thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about how the people on some of your favorite shows got the opportunity to march in picket lines this week.

If you are new to the world of sketch comedy writing and ever want to transition into a job cranking out the funny in New York or LA, be prepared to audition. In the world of sitcoms and drama, be prepared to write "spec scripts." These are examples of current and existing programs that you bust your hump to generate and use as your calling card with producers. For the best information on the net that you can find on this, check out Jane Espenson and Ken Levine's blogs. They are veterans who have scribed for some of the best sitcoms and genre television ever and they are very generous with their masterful advice. Does it sound like I am sucking up to them? I am. I admire them and hope to meet them someday. Check them out. I think you will find them worthy of admiration, too.

But on to an area closer to home, translating your sketch comedy chops to TV sketch shows, talk shows or fake news shows. Many of the writers on these programs landed their jobs from Chicago and got their opportunity through their association with the stand-up and improv scene. The more people you know here, eventually, the more people you will know there. Having someone you know who already works there and who is already familiar with your talent is probably the number one way people get on track to be hired. Another way is to regularly get your work out into the universe and build a reputation as someone who is consistently funny, creative and a decent person to work with side-by-side everyday. You do this by producing your own work, or associating yourself with a theater company that regularly produces what can show off your writing skills. Also key is promoting the heck out of it so people will see it and talk about it.

So, first, get yourself noticed as a comedy writer. As you are doing this, hunt down the opportunities. Be on the lookout for anyone looking for a comedy writer. I got my first job as a professional writer at Jellyvision by combing The Reader want ads every week without fail. I became a freelance writer for SNL's Weekend Update by seeing a handwritten fax posted in what's called "The War Room" at Second City. I also did a writer's audition for David Letterman that came to me through two channels. The talent coordinator for Letterman had contacted both Second City and Jellyvision looking for new writers.

So, what's a writer's audition? Well, once you get your foot in the door, the people who are assessing those feet want to see if you are a good fit. They have put together a package of writing hoops for you to gracefully jump through. These usually consist of writing for a few segments the show is known for while coming up with a few things of your own. In the case of the Letterman show, I had to write four Top Ten Lists, two where they provided the topic and two that I generated completely on my own. This type of audition is to see if you "get" the show. If you are a comedy writer and you are auditioning for a show you don't watch or don't think is funny, you're not going to do well.

Needless to say, I didn't get the job. I don't know anyone from Chicago who did get hired from that round of submissions. Unfortunately, I don't know how I did. Not having anyone at Letterman that I knew, I couldn't get the inside scoop on anything. My own assessment is that I rushed the audition package. In my warped brain, I recall thinking that I would impress them with a quick turnaround so they would see that not only am I funny, I can spew forth comedy at the speed of light. This was a mistake. They didn't ask me to do that, so I should have taken my time and made sure I did it right. I also didn't use my resources well. I know a lot of fellow comedy writers and, in my haste, didn't seek any feedback before sending the audition back.

So, how can you be ready when you are tapped on the shoulder to do a writer audition? Be a fan of the shows you want to work for. Practice writing Onion-style headlines, practice writing monologue jokes tailored to specific hosts, try coming up with Top Ten Lists, "desk bits" or entertaining stunts. Do your own news stories and post them on YouTube. Start a blog.


Keep your comedy writing chops up by joining us at Robowriters tonight. 6:30pm. Lawrence and Broadway at the Uptown Writer's Space. Just $5.


Toy Containing Date-Rape Drug Pulled

WASHINGTON - Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful "date rape" drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.

In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys.
Read the full story HERE.

Hello? How many wake-up calls do we need? KEEP THE TOY MAKING OUT OF THE HANDS OF THE CHINESE. Santa's getting pissed. China is trying to limit its population, so it makes sense for them to poison their own children. Let them keep their suffering and oppression in-house.


Yesterday, I asked...

"The beaches of two Dutch North Sea islands were cluttered today when what washed ashore?"

40% rummaged through and came up with "Thousands of pounds of trash"
- Damn those dolphins and their plastic six-pack rings that children keep getting their heads stuck in!

23% took a shot with "Thousands of hypodermic needles"
- Nope. No careless dope fiends of the deep.

7% bet on the longshot "Thousands of sea horses"
- Nope. Everything is okay at the seahorse corral.

30% got their fruit and fiber with "Thousands of bananas"

According to The Associated Press, thousands of bananas washed up on two Dutch North Sea islands on Wednesday after at least six containers fell off a cargo ship in a storm and at least one burst open, a local official said. Residents are no strangers to stuff turning up on their beach; a year ago thousands of tennis shoes, aluminum briefcases and children's toys washed ashore. Some 20 years ago it was a load of sweaters. Sure beats living off of Lake Michigan. All we have washing up on shore here are dead bodies and e-coli.