So here’s you: an extremely talented actor looking to book comedy shows in Los Angeles. You’re not just talented; you’re gracious (twice as humble as the next guy!). But no matter how talented you are, LA can be an intimidating town. But continue reading, and you may just learn a few ways to not just survive, but to thrive in its unique comedy landscape.
LA of the Land
LA is at the center of the push toward improv in all forms of American comedy. Call it the Apatow Effect, but the trend toward laughs generated by performers who have easy chemistry with each other has moved beyond his circle. Recently, for example, Jonah Hill took his improv chops to Martin Scorsese’s set for “The Wolf of Wall Street”.
While improv may electrify movies and comedy shows in Los Angeles, the process of heightening often leads to many scenes of American comedy ending with characters shouting at and over each other, at least according to writer/director Edgar Wright on his commentary track for “The World’s End”. Even if you agree with Wright that the best comedy is tightly written on the page and barely strayed from, you’ll still need to be comfortable improv-ing or at least continuing scenes past their end on the page in search of that one line that will make the director crack up and make you a star. But before that can happen, you have to book the gig.
Auditioning and Never Hearing “No”
Auditions can be a nerve-wracking process. In addition, the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” attitude of LA can be surprising to recent transplants from other comedy hotbeds like New York and Chicago. For whatever reason, casting directors for comedy shows in LA have a unique talent for making you feel like another nameless cow moving through the slaughterhouse.
What’s worse, there’s a deeply ingrained culture of never saying “no” in Hollywood. Far from being an exhortation to agree to every part and accept every challenge that comes your way like Jim Carrey did, the Hollywood ban on “no” extends to all facets of the industry. Essentially, it turns “yes” into “maybe” and “maybe” into “never in a million years.”
What this means for you at first is to not get too excited every time someone says they have a part for you or that they’ll read your script if you email it to them (you are writing yourself brilliant parts only you can play, aren’t you?). The other, even more important side is to realize the reason no one will ever reject you outright is because they don’t want to burn any bridges in case they need you later. You can look at that as cowardice and opportunism, or you can see it for the fact that no one knows when they might need you. And no one, not even you, knows for sure that they’ve seen the best you have to offer.
How to Prepare
The best way to stand out in an extremely-packed field of actors auditioning for the same comedy shows in Los Angeles just so happens to be the motto of the Boy Scouts — always be prepared! LA is a town of dreamers who have the positivity (or self-delusion) to hang on to the slimmest of hopes. Fortunately for you, many of these dreamers competing against you aren’t just unrealistic flakes; they’re completely unprepared.
Whether they got the sides the night before from their agent or decided to crash an audition, you’d be surprised at how many comedic and dramatic performers walk in front of casting directors with no idea of the project’s tone and having made no choices beforehand. If you know your lines and understand the script, you’re already in the upper half of applicants. Researching past works is another great place to start. If you’re auditioning for a show, it helps to have seen a few of its recent episodes.
Finally, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of time management in LA as an actor. Everyone understands traffic and makes allowances for lateness, but being there on time helps you stand out (especially if others are not). But beyond competition, arriving with time to spare lowers your stress level and gives you time to get into character and assess your goals for the audition, like highlighting your physical comedy skills. That’s hard to do if you’re circling the building looking for a parking spot minutes before your audition is scheduled.
Getting the Training You Need
Of course, the other way to beat your competition is to be better than them. It’s in your power to be better informed, more practiced, and more experienced than everyone else trying to get on those same comedy shows in Los Angeles. Acting classes and working with private acting coaches are great for this. While it pays to be a team player, especially in improv, you can expect to be overshadowed and outright steamrolled onstage by your fellow performers trying to catch the eyes of agents in the audience. Your secret weapon here is one-on-one personalized instruction. You don’t have to worry about that overeager busybody monopolizing your teacher’s time when, for the duration of the session, you’re the only student they have.
Good lucking breaking into the scene, and we’ll see you on stage!