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Playing The Big Stage

What does it take to get hired to play the Improv? Representatives host a forum to help South Florida comics position themselves for success.

by Chuck king
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DANIA BEACH – Unlike the old Carnegie Hall adage, it takes more than practice, practice, practice to get to the Improv.

On Tuesday evening, representatives from the Palm Beach, Dania and Miami Improvs hosted a forum to explain to local comics exactly what it takes to play their stages.

Host Jay Guy hammered home one concept: Professionalism.

“You’re in this business to be funny, but it’s a serious business,” said Guy, who runs the Improv’s New Faces series in Dania and serves as a liaison between the club and comics. “You have to represent yourself like a business.”

Getting booked at one of the Improvs as a host, feature or headliner begins with being funny, but the Improv is looking for much more. Comics make it easier to get booked by also having readily available headshots, professional looking videos of their acts, dedicated websites, professional correspondence via emails and phone calls, acquiring large social media presences and behaving professionally within the club and community.

During the selection process a quality video with with clean, clear audio can make or break a comic.

“If you are not taking yourself seriously as a professional, how do you expect this club to take you serious?” Guy asked.

South Florida Comics Flock To Improv Presentation

Along with helping local comics earn the privilege of performing Improv stages, the presenters also hoped to bridge what some in the community perceive to be a growing divide between the Improvs and local comics who think they aren’t valued by the area’s premier comedy clubs.

“We appreciate you guys. You are the comedy community,” Guy said. “We want to work with you guys, but you have to help yourself.”

Approximately 85 local comics attended the event. Many recorded the presentation on their phones, while others listened attentively and appreciatively.

“This was cool that they decided to help local comics get booked and they want to see us more on their stages,” comic Connie Fernandez said. “These are the stages we want to be on.”

The panel, which also included Palm Beach Improv co-owner and general manager Rene Harte, Dania and Miami general manager Melissa Echavarria, comedy instructor Ramon Garcia and Miami liaison Luis Diaz, also walked comics through the process they follow when booking acts.

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How To Get Booked At The Improv

Comics often first appear on the radar of Improv bookers with performances at New Faces shows, during comedy classes or at other events hosted by the club.

Harte and Echavarria noted that they field a roster of comics to draw from when headliners request their help booking a host or feature. Often those headliners will be looking for specific qualities in a host or opening act – a specific gender, type of comedy or energy level.

One trait growing in popularity: sets clean from vulgarity or explicit sexual scenarios, particularly when it comes to booking a host comic.

“If you had a clean set, I could book you 100 times more,” Harte said.

The Improv will then send a headliner – or, often, the headliner’s agent – head shots and video reels of comics who meet the headliner’s parameters and are available for that week, letting the headliner choose their comics.

“I thought this was really informative,” comic Max Haubenstock said. “I’m still new to comedy in general. It’s great to know how you can get to where you want to go.”

Harte and Echavarria detailed notable changes in the process over the past couple years, including more headliners bringing their own features with them on the road, and the condensed amount of time between being asked to provide a comic and the date of the actual show.

Echavarria said comics only requested local feature comics 11 times last year in Miami. She encouraged comics to let them know their short-term availability – over the next week or two – as opposed to several weeks or months out.

Both Harte and Echavarria noted that being seen frequently around their clubs keeps comics at the forefront of the bookers’ minds.

“Don’t ever feel like you’re bothering me,” Echavarria said. “I want to know you’re out there.”

Garcia stressed approaching all shows and appearances – including as host – as though someone who can influence a career is watching every set. Experience taught Garcia that’s often the case, and he cited examples of how one strong performance or helpful act produced unexpected advances for South Florida comics.

“Every single night, every single time you are on stage, there’s an opportunity,” Garcia said.

More Events For South Florida Comics Planned

With the Dania Improv now open for business and Florida rapidly emerging from pandemic concerns, the Improvs intend to open their stages more frequently to local comics.

Along with the monthly New Faces shows designed to create exposure for comics in the earlier stages of their careers, the Improv is bringing back the Florida’s Funniest contest that’s been on pandemic hiatus, and in November the New Faces of Comedy Turkey Contest will take place in Palm Beach and Dania.

With Tuesday’s event being so well received, Harte indicated she’d like to hold these informational sessions on a yearly basis. The forum also proved insightful for Harte, who learned that many comics had never been exposed to the Improv’s booking procedures.

“I thought it was fantastic,” Harte said. “There were so many new faces in here that don’t know the things that I took for granted that they knew about the procedures. I think they got a lot out of it.”

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