So how do you get on that gravy train? Do you even want to? First you need writing samples ready to go. Kent Haines discusses how Donald Glover got an email from the producer of 30 Rock one night (that happens to you too, right?) and sent over scripts he had ready to go.
As Donald tells it, he just got an email from the producer of 30 Rock asking to see some of his material. So Donald replied that night with two spec scripts and a bunch of his sketches, and he was hired almost immediately.
When I hear that story, it sounds like a classic overnight success, the sort of thing that could happen to anyone. But it couldn’t. Because Donald had two spec scripts just sitting on his hard drive. Two spec scripts that were good enough to impress the best writers on television. Sure, he got a great opportunity. But he only succeeded because he was ready.
And that’s the problem for me. Because I don’t have two spec scripts. I don’t even have one. If I got that email today, I would be absolutely unprepared to impress anyone with my writing skills.
Don't expect to put together a killer packet overnight either. TV writer Dan French talks about what you need to get hired in How Do I Get Your Job? Some excerpts:
So there aren't many jobs. Less than 100 total talk show jobs, maybe another 50 asundry game show jobs...
It's a good question, because, you see, comedy writers write. Every day. Hours on end. They generate piles and piles of useable, polished material. Comedy writers are obsessive about generating new material, with reworking old material. They have big comedy muscles that don't get tired from generating day after day after day, for hours on end...
I constantly get asked about what goes into a writing packet. The useless but most truthful answer is that it doesn’t matter as long as it's great. It can be sketches, top lists, jokes, columns, standup, etc. It doesn't matter so much what it is, just that it shows that you are drop dead, unquestionably, and forever funny...
The honest part of putting together your writing sample is that you have to work on it not over the course of a weekend when someone asks to see your stuff, but every single week over the course of a couple of years. You want every joke to burst off the page. Those types of jokes don't come out in a week. They pop into your head once a month, if you're lucky.
By far the most common mistake I see beginning writers make is to not have great samples ready when asked. Instead, comics try to throw together stuff in a single night, and it comes out a mixed bag of weak jokes and strong jokes. It comes out not good enough to impress...
My writing packet is a result of four years of daily joke writing, all of which I've reworked and rewritten on my own hundreds of times, and which I've also shown to friends and professional writers who have given me suggestions and led me away from bad choices.
Sounds like a haul. And tough odds. But I guess that's true about most things worth doing in life.
Fwiw, The PIT in NYC offers classes on writing for late night shows.
Want to learn how to write for a late-night show like the ones hosted by Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, Craig Ferguson, and Jimmy Fallon? This class will teach you how. Through easy-to-understand instruction, writing exercises, and constructive feedback you'll learn how to craft monologue jokes, desk pieces, sketches, reality-based comedy segments, and more. This class will give you all the tools you need to put together a strong submission packet for the comedy-variety show of your choice. You'll also pick up skills you can use in writing comedy for game shows, reality shows, and other formats.
I heard someone mention once that you can find sample writing packets online. Anyone got a link?