2012 Melbourne International Comedy Festival:
• Jeez Louise: Funny Women’s Business

Posted on 17 April 2012

Jeez Louise once was a regular conference, where women who were interested in the business of comedy could learn and network over three days. I know of a number of women who got their start at those conferences. I loved it.

Jeez Louise has been pared back considerably, but it’s not dead. Every year now they are holding a single event: a discussion panel at The Wheeler Centre where women can come and hear insights from experienced females in the industry. This year the topic was agents.

The event was moderated by comedian Clare Bartholomew. With her were: Kevin Whyte, our token male and Managing Director of Token Group; MaryAnne Carroll, Executive Producer – Comedy, Network Seven; Judith Lucy, agented comedian; and Anne Edmonds, un-agented comedian. This mix provided a nice balance and broad perspective on how agents fit (or don’t fit) into the process of creating comedy.

What do agents do?

Kevin Whyte emphasised that comedians often need managers more than agents. Comedians need to be funny, then they need people to help take care of the logistics. At Token Artists he has eight agents and eight managers working to see that their clients are most effectively getting their work into the world.

What agents bring to a comedian are expertise, contacts, and relationships. Agents are able to doggedly negotiate for higher fees without making the artist look like a jerk. This is dangerous for comedians in the position of having to negotiate for themselves. “(Agents) know what the market is, and how much money to ask for.” Agents also protect their clients from the soul destroying process of pushing past rejections.

Judith Lucy, who is one of Token’s clients, confirmed that having Token deal with many of the housekeeping tasks has tremendously reduced her stress in putting together a show. It has also made it easier for her to build up her audience, since she has more time to develop her relationship with the public.

She’s also grateful for being able to speak with Token about where she wants to go with her career, and they take action to see it happen. In particular when she left radio, they helped her to move into television. The one thing agents/managers won’t tell you is take a break. You have to firmly insist on a week or two off now and again.

MaryAnne Carroll said she does headhunt and does (at this time) accept pitches for Network Seven programs. So you aren’t hamstrung if you don’t have an agent. However, once the contracts come out, she suggests unrepresented artists get an agent who can guide them in their understanding of those contracts.

Anne Edmonds said that it’s not a given that after ten years of comedy you will get a TV show (Judith Lucy responded that it took her twenty years.) Most comedians are making their living by touring and you can do this without an agent. As mentioned, it’s just more work. The beauty of live standup is that no one can tell you you can or can’t do your show.

How do you get an agent?

All members of the panel agreed that the main way to get an agent is to carve a niche out for yourself, develop your voice, and BE FUNNY.

Whyte pointed out that it’s good to produce for yourself for awhile, so that you understand the process. Token wants people who are smart and easy to work with. They will only go with comedians they love, because agenting and management is about forming an intimate relationship with the comedian.

Do the creative work. Hone your artistic skills. Don’t worry about the commercial things. Let that come to you as you learn how to make people laugh in your unique manner. When you start getting some buzz, then invite agents to your shows.

Whyte said that Token never uses free tickets from comedians approaching them. They buy tickets, then feel freer to make an honest assessment about whether they are prepared to bring you on board. Nevertheless, they always look at the invitations and take the comedy festival very seriously.

When you do start sending out those invites, be sure to invite agents who represent people you like. Don’t just go for the biggest company with the shiniest list.

What is the current state of the comedy industry?

Judith Lucy was very positive about comedy in Australia right now. So many more opportunities are available. Most radio stations use comedians for announcers. Panel shows on TV include comedians. More film comedies are being produced. When she started out she had to go to a theatrical agent for help. The comedy industry was too small for agents to specialise.

Carroll painted a mixed picture about television comedy. Certainly reality shows are using Australia’s comedians. Narrative comedy is almost the sole domain of the ABC and SBS. Sketch comedy has also hit a low.

According to Carroll her business is to sell dogfood. Shows have to rate—no matter how great they are. Appealing to key demographics is crucial. When it comes to comedy Australia has become something of an attack culture. If the public doesn’t like your comedy, they take it personally and complain loudly. This has caused more than one show to be axed after only a couple episodes.

Carroll and Whyte also expressed concern about the sexist attitudes within television. Whyte said even he found television confrontingly blokey. “For female stars we get asked, how will it sell to the male audience, but the reverse is never asked.”

Carroll promised she would be doing her best to bring in more female focused comedy shows. Whyte said that outside television, he is finding demand for strong female MCs for events.

Conclusions

The final piece of advice all panel members firmly agreed upon: if you are going into the comedy industry, you have to love the process, not just the outcome. You can’t know if and when fame will hit, so you better enjoy the journey.

The Jeez Louise panel series is proving to be invaluable to developing comedians. If you attended this event and found it helpful, be sure to tell the organisers of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. If you missed out, but are interested in future panels, tell the comedy festival that as well. The event is free and they need to know this is something worth their ongoing investment.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


No responses yet. You could be the first!

Leave a Response

Recent Posts

Tag Cloud

Meta

Katherine Phelps is proudly powered by WordPress and the SubtleFlux theme.

Copyright © Katherine Phelps