An education on getting college gigs, college agents, and NACA

A reader asked about getting college gigs. I passed along the questions to Mr. Myq Kaplan, Sandpaper Suit commenter/devil's advocate extraordinaire and also a funny comedian, who does plenty of college shows. Myq's replies below...

how do you get work at colleges?
one, you can cold call colleges and offer your services. you can do some research to see what schools have comedy series, and offer to be a part of it, as an opening act maybe, or if you have a show you want to bring to the school, by yourself or with others, etc. call lots of schools, have DVDs or other promo to send, have a good website, etc.
two, you can get an agent.

how do you get an agent?
one, you can just do comedy long enough and get good enough that agencies start asking you to work with them
two, you can submit yourself to them. most college agencies that exist will generally just work with you when you have a good hour that you can do at colleges, so if you don't have that, then that's the first step. just keep doing comedy (and maybe along the way, number one will happen) until you feel you're ready and then come back and read this again. basically, this answer is similar to the "how do you get work at colleges" one above, wherein you just need to get your act on a DVD and get it to the agencies (some will want to see the full hour, some might want only a shorter amount of time, you can find out who wants what with professional-style inquiries, emails, phone calls, etc.). in my experience, a lot of agencies will look to expand their rosters in the spring, because early summer is when the first NACA submission dates are.

how do i get a NACA showcase? do i need an agent? what's NACA?
one, that's three questions, but i'll take them all at once. NACA is an organization that brings together school bookers and comedians (as well as magicians, musicians, and other things that don't start with "m" and end in "icians").
two, you don't need an agent but it can be costly without it. if you have the money to lay out to join NACA and get a booth, go for it. there are definitely some comics that have done this successfully. check out NACA's website for that information.
three, having an agent can be helpful because they pay most of the money, and potentially lend some legitimacy to your submission. here's the thing, they DO watch a portion of every tape they receive, and having credits doesn't necessarily translate into success in this market, so everyone's got a shot. everyone sends in a tape of 3 minutes of performance. i believe they watch 1.5 minutes, and then for some people who make the cut, they watch the rest of it, and that's how they decide who gets the 15-minute showcase spot, which then determines which schools will book who to come to perform for an hour. so again, i'll reiterate, it's best to undertake this process when you HAVE an hour that you'd be confident performing at colleges (because sure, you can get in with a killer 3 minutes, impress them with a good 15 minutes, but if you don't have the hour once you get to the school, that will hurt you more in the long run than the short-term financial benefits will be able to handle, i imagine).

so, in conclusion, to get college work, you can call colleges and offer to work there, submit yourself to NACA without an agent, or get an agent to do that and more, all starting from the baseline of having an hour-long worthwhile product to provide these people and places.

do college gigs or getting in through NACA pay enough to quit a day job?
you can do a NACA showcase and get a lot of work from it. you can do a NACA showcase and get no work from it. and even if you have an agent, that doesn't guarantee that you'll get a showcase (though good agencies will certainly do their best to get work for you regardless of whether you get showcases, but those showcases are the best shot at getting a lot of work booked at once). thus, if you book a lot of schools at a particular NACA or multiple showcases, then you've got a great shot at paying your bills from comedy and not needing a day job (depending on how extravagant your lifestyle is, which i assume is "very," if you're the average caviar-loving, yacht-traveling comic i've come to know). i personally stopped needing a day job a short time after my first big NACA showcase. but i might not be average (being vegan, i only eat soy caviar substitutes and travel on tofu yachts which cost less).


Unknown said...

Thanks, Matt & Myq. This was very informative. I do have a couple of follow-up questions for Myq if he's inclined:

1) You said that you personally stopped needing a day job a short time after your first big NACA showcase. Did you have smaller NACA showcases before that, and if so how are/were they different?

2) How does an hour that you're confident performing at colleges differ from an hour that you're confident performing generally?

Thanks again for the info. Great post.

myq said...

1) The first NACA showcase I had was for something called the Mid-Atlantic Festival. It was a smaller scale version of the larger conferences, which only had 30-something schools attending, I believe, as opposed to the Mid-Atlantic CONFERENCE that has over 100, if I remember correctly. That region is the only one that has both a conference (in the fall, like most of the others) AND this extra festival (in the spring, and smaller). For me, it was a nice way to get introduced to the whole NACA world, a smaller setting that didn't necessarily launch my career, but was a good learning experience and netted me a fair number of gigs, considering the small number of schools in attendance, comparatively. I believe the next showcase I got was for that same region's conference, the next school year, where I booked enough work to start making a go of it.

2) I'd say the technical answer to this question is that someone could have an hour of material that they're confident in performing, but that would be completely inappropriate for some percentage of college gigs. (Some schools don't place any restrictions on people, but there are those that do.) If your hour is filthy, it might prevent a lot of schools from booking you at NACA (unless your 15-minute showcase is clean, in which case, they might book you and either be fine with your filthy hour or feel tricked by your clean fifteen being non-representative).

An additional answer is this--I'd say that for any headlining position (for a college or otherwise), it's best to have MORE time than the amount you are generally contracted to do. If you get somewhere and find that some of your stuff isn't working, and maybe crowdwork isn't filling in the gaps, it's best to have as much time as possible available to you. (Because it can always happen--you have an hour you like, and you run into an audience that doesn't go for some of it, and that hour shrinks fast.)

So, I'd say in this and any comedic endeavor, always be aware and confident of your abilities as far what you can deliver and what will be expected of you.

Hank Thompson said...

Thanks for the insights, Myq. Tricky those tofu yachts, you gotta get where you're going before they absorb too much fluid and start to crumble and/or get attacked by hungry turtles. Same with tofu chopsticks.

I'm figuring that feedback is rare when you submit or audition but have you (or anyone else here) ever received feedback from a booker or agent or decision-maker of some kind? Was it helpful? Was it generic or specifically tailored to you?

Also, and this is a question that might warrant its own post (probably already has), but what's the definition of filthy? One can talk about sex without being dirty or is the mere suggestion of sex considered filthy? Is it like that nebulous definition of porn: you know it when you see it? Does clean material have to be church-ready or just not about any subjects that the average audience member might be offended by? I feel like a noob (well-- I AM one. I'm so noob I still use the word "noob") even asking this question but examining a few of my jokes I'm not sure if they qualify as dirty. They're close, but not obvious. Lately I've been doing a lot of writing and performing of jokes that are unquestionably clean in order to eventually be able to get footholds at places in and around Chicago, one in particular that mandates new comics work clean just to get their faces on the list of new faces. (there's only ONE classic club here. Absurd!) I suppose you might say if I'm not sure then it probably is, but I haven't been around enough to know where the lines in the sand are drawn.

myq said...

To answer your first question, about receiving feedback from "a booker or agent or decision-maker of some kind," sure.

Some people give feedback, others don't.

Some people give generic feedback that may or may not be helpful; others might give specific feedback that may or may not be helpful.

Sorry if this answer is not super-helpful; let me give you some specific feedback on your question: it's sort of vague and open-ended and I'm not sure exactly what you're looking for (unless I've already answered it, in which case, you're welcome).

As for a definition of filthy, different people have different standards.

There is no one line that is drawn.

Sometimes it's "don't swear at all, period."

Sometimes it's "no more than three fucks in a 45-minute set."

Sometimes it's "as many fucks as you want as long as they don't refer to sex, and you stay away from topics like rape, pedophilia, incest, etc."

Sometimes it's "talk about rape, pedophilia, incest, etc., as much as you want, just don't use the word fuck. But shit is okay. But no more than three times. And only if it's not referring to poop. Unless it's during the incestuous rape of a pedophile."

PS It's usually that last one.

PPS Actual answer here--for most situations, the best thing to do is to ask the booker or someone in charge what they desire/require/expect of you. Whenever I get to a school I ask them if there's any language or topics that they want to restrict; most of the time, they say to say whatever I want, sometimes they say not to be a homophobic asshole, and on rare occasions like at Catholic institution once I was told to avoid discussing gay marriage or abortion (mostly if priests were in the room) and one time specifically (also a religious school) I was told the only restriction was to not discuss any kind of birth control, period, no matter the attitude or perspective on it. Which I think is the weirdest.

In any event, the answer to this question is to ask your own, I'd say. Who wants you not to be filthy and what does it mean to them?

(In the context of getting work at colleges via NACA, the usual advice I've heard is to err on the side of being as clean as possible at the showcase, and then when you GET gigs, ask about what they care about.)

Unknown said...

Thanks, Myq!

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