NOTE: I have updated my thoughts on this at the bottom, as of 5/27/2020!
I was surprised and really humbled to find that so many people appreciated and enjoyed my post about submitting to late night shows. Yay!!! I am writing this addendum because a lot of people have asked the same follow up question, which is how/when/where does one find opportunities to submit to a late night show? Well, the answer isn’t that simple. There’s no database or message board for these types of things. In fact, many shows don’t want you to know they’re accepting submissions. Regardless, here is a list of ways you can get invited to submit.
1. Get an agent or a manager.
How does one go about doing that? The simple answer is: dedicate your entire life to comedy. When you’re good enough, agents and managers will come to you. I know that’s a verrrry hard thing to believe, but trust me. Also, keep in mind that getting an agent or a manager (or both) does not guarantee success or even mean you’ll get opportunities to submit to shows. It all depends on your relationship with your representation, and your place in your career. It’s still on YOU to make shit happen.
2. Get invited by the show to submit.
How does one go about doing that? Dedicate your entire life to comedy. Become known for your work in your community. Specifically, the New York or L.A. community, but that’s not a rule. We plucked one of our writers from Atlanta, GA. (He does, however, regularly submit to Weekend Update and wrote for a popular blog, so he’s not like, someone we found in a Wal-Mart parking lot being “the funny friend.”) When I was on the road this past summer, someone asked me, “How did MTV pick YOU to host this show?” Almost as if I had been discovered in a mall. Um, no. I worked my ass off for 11 years, slowly developed a respectable resume, got lots of positive press about my comedy, won some Emmy’s, developed important relationships, became a one-woman production crew, sunk myself into an enormous amount of debt, and created the idea for this show with Nikki. MTV didn’t pick me, I PICKED THEM.
Ahem. Okay, sorry for the rant. Here’s how it works:
You want to make yourself the answer to this question: “You know who might be good?” Do whatever it takes to make yourself the answer to that question. Become known among your peers as someone who might be good at writing. At directing. At drawing. At playing a hilarious hillbilly. Whatever it is you want to be. Back in July of 2008, I saw an article in the New York Times about how Jimmy Fallon would launch his show on-line. At the time I was blogging for BestWeekEver.tv. I perked up in my chair and thought, I WOULD BE PERFECT for that on-line stuff at Fallon. It would be my way IN! I knew I could do that job – my experience at AOL and BWE…how could it not be me? But I didn’t have a clue on how to get in touch with anyone there. I had no contacts. I asked this agent who had once expressed interest in repping me, and he never wrote me back. I felt defeated and moved on in my mind. Then, a few months later, within the course of 5 days, three separate people texted / e-mailed me to say “Hey, I recommended you for the head blogger job at Fallon. I thought you’d be good for it.” UM, WHAT! I never told these people I wanted to work there. They just knew me and my skills. I got a call, an interview, and the job.
3. Just ask!
Do you know someone who knows someone who knows someone working on the show? Ask to submit! Don’t be afraid! Yes, you will be slightly annoying! But you might never get the opportunity if you don’t annoy somebody just a little. Be a little aggressive. This is not to say that you should send hundreds of e-mails and tweet at the host of the show repeatedly. Don’t make us hate you out of the gate. I was approached by many strangers via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. I forwarded them to our producer who was collecting names. No skin off my back.
Now. Having said that, getting a job by cold-calling a producer or host is very very very very very very rare! Try to manage your expectations. You’ll probably get ignored most of the time.
4. Pay attention to comedy news.
Did a new show just get picked up? Did a writer leave a show? Those headlines may signal a hiring process. But also, shows move at their own pace so this definitely isn’t a science. It’s important to pay attention to these things though. And if you’re dedicating your life to comedy, that shouldn’t be too hard.
5. Create your own show, so you can hire yourself.
That’s what I did. It was NOT easy, but wow, it actually happened that way for me. Regardless of your situation, just keep working and you’ll be surprised where it all takes you. No matter how you get your chance, the key is that you have to be ready when it comes. When that door opens, you have to be able to walk through it. Every writer we hired has been working for years on their writing with a laser focus. The theme here is DEDICATING YOUR LIFE TO YOUR CRAFT.
AN UPDATE FOR MODERN TIMES, as of 5/27/2020:
I talk a lot here about “dedicating YOUR ENTIRE LIFE to your craft,” and I’m a little annoyed with how aggressive I sounded back when I wrote this! Ugh! This warrants an update. Though I do still believe this idea on some level, I want to be clear about what I mean. I don’t mean, have no other life outside of the hustle. A well-balanced life has its merits, and will make you a more interesting person in general. I have always had other interests and hobbies aside from comedy, and that has made me well-rounded and helped my career in ways I could never have predicted. Some people who are a little too tunnel-visioned can actually become less funny, because their world is so insular they don’t have enough variety in their life diet, so to speak.
I also think that the “dedicate your ENTIRE LIFE” mantra comes with some big caveats that I should have made more clear back when I wrote this, because I was someone who had a lot of other shit I had to do while I was pursuing a career in comedy. When I started, I couldn’t afford to only work on comedy all day long for years on end. I needed a day job, even with the little bit of privilege I had coming into the scene. Yes, I was white, able-bodied, and college-educated, but I did have to financially support myself. So, I don’t want this post to sound tone deaf. The amount of free, up-front work that it takes is incredibly unfair and favors the privileged. I will admit that sometimes, when young people ask me for advice on how to make it, I start with a very gloomy statement: “Be rich.” And then I say “Just kidding! No but really, it does help, I won’t lie,” and I try to fight back the tears while I follow it up with real advice. Then in my hotel room later I beat myself up for being too curmudgeony towards a college freshman. Because even though coming from wealth will definitely give you a leg up, it’s not a guarantee. And it certainly depends on what kind of successful you want to be. Do you want to be an artiste? Or do you want to be Chet Hanks? No matter who you are, this business is brutal and you really do have to want it bad. And if you’re not a straight white man (and I say that with the full awareness that I am just one rung down on the ladder!), you will have to work a little bit harder and that sucks. Do what you can with the resources you have and DO NOT GIVE UP!