86 invaluable bits of advice from the comedy industry experts

Ask The Industry Podcast Comments

86 invaluable bits of advice from the comedy industry experts

Fuck me. This little idea has become a commitment and it has been going for 2 whole years now. That’s longer than any of my past relationships combined. Too much info Simon.

Anyway, as is tradition, at the end of every year I publish a list of the stand out quotes and snippets of advice from the guests of over the last 12 months from the guests who I’ve had on the Ask The Industry podcast.

If you haven’t already, please do support the podcast by – 

Here we go (the podcasts are in order, oldest first)…

EP43 – Anne Edyvean – Head of the BBC Writersroom – How To Get Your Writing Noticed By The BBC

“Television is a business on a broadcast medium like TV or radio. They don’t have to stay with you if they don’t want to. If you haven’t engaged them for the first 10 minutes (at roughly a page per minute) they’re not going to wait for that brilliant twist or gag at the end.”

“The online people we work with say you get 6 seconds online before someone decides if they’re going to watch all your content.”

EP44 – Joe Charman aka The Skills Guy – How to build your online fan base

“I tried to put some YouTube videos up and did a bit of tweeting but quickly found that it was pretty saturated and full. And Vine came along and no one was on it. So I joined because it felt like a new place that you could build a following where there weren’t famous people already.”

“I still like to think of myself as a comedian, but my audience is online. I just don’t perform in live rooms any more. So I am not a comedian at the moment mainly because as the social media built up, you have to put so much time into it.”

EP45 – Adam Bloom – How to do (almost) everything from going full time to smashing corporate gigs

“If agents, promoters and reviews knew anything about comedy they’d still be doing it.”

“I don’t want to make friends with my fans, I want to keep that distance and keep that relationship professional.”

“There’s too many awards in Edinburgh now. When I went up there was no newcomer award. They invented that for Harry Hill.”

“When people started putting ‘Fosters Newcomer’ on their poster I realised… this is advertising for Fosters! They’re putting the word ‘Fosters’ all over the place!”

EP46 – Daniel Sloss – What is it like being a full time comedian as a teenager?

“Frankie Boyle put in a good word for me at the Stand which got me bumped up the list and got me my first gig.”

“Our first show had so many great selling points: it was only 30 minutes, it was free and it was during people’s lunch times. Also I got a quote from Frankie Boyle which helped.”

“I don’t flyer. I pay flyerers. It’s too much of a confidence knocker for me to flyer.”

“I do not have a contract with my agent and I’ll never sign one… but, I’ll never leave her. She got me a house.”

EP 47 – Ally Wilson – Head of Live at CKP Productions

“it’s not a case of ‘build it and they will come’ and it never is with events. You have to create a good show and promote it well”

“Once you’ve done a set on TV, that’s pretty much it for that set and do generally need to burn it.”

“It’s always based on having a good show… everything else can be built around that. You need the show to be excellent before anything else.”

EP48 – David Mulholland – Big Cheese at the Soho Comedy Club

“I started the club so I could swap spots with other acts when I was a newer comic.”

“I am still charging the same price I did when I started the club 10 years ago. With inflation that’s quite a bit less. A pint’s worth more than £5 now.”

“Flying in London is becoming less effective. And it’s because of smartphones. It still works. It’s not so much the flyer, but the person flyering.”

EP49 – The European Comedy Festival Network – Live Q&A

“Liverpool is known as one of the hardest place to perform stand up but we’re working to change that.” – Liverpool Comedy Festival

“About 30% of our audiences (30,000 people) come from outside of Leicestershire. And we are always trying to attract more people in by increasing our advertising. Which Dave has helped with as it gives us more money to promote the festival.” – Leicester Comedy Festival

“The biggest problem we face is that there’s a lot of entertainment there. It’s the main location for all arts. And we’re not big enough to paint the who town to make the festival a focus.” – Zulu Comedy Festival

“We’re very alternative. We want to showcase a lot of different types of stand up. And we make the audience aware what they’re buying a ticket for so they’re open to it.” – Comedy Box

EP50 – Graham Smith – Former Commissioning Executive for Channel 4 and Channel Five

“If you want to get something commissioned on TV, you need to know what that channel makes and how they show it. Our job is to save commissioners time by not taking forward ideas which they’re not going to be interested in.”

“Some panel shows exist because they are great ways to promote artists on specific agencies, but there are other places where you as an unsigned performer can get on a show that doesn’t have that direct relationship.”

“Comedy TV shows are notorious for not washing their face… they don’t make their money back. But they do add a certain level of kudos to the channel.”

EP51 – Sam Brady – How to organise your own successful tour with no management, PR or TV credits.

“I did weekend clubs but I hated them. Basically if I wanted to babysit drunks I’d get a job in an inner city school.”

“If someone tells me I can’t do something I’m the kind of person who goes… right… I’m going to do that then.”

“If the venue was more disorganised than me I just eliminated them from a place I wanted to play.”

EP52 – Henry Normal – Cofounder of Baby Cow Productions


“I don’t think TV is the be all and end all in the comedy industry. I think the biggest problem in the industry is people arent’ expressing themselves or saying what they want to say. I think we need to get back to creativity based on a new and original way of looking at the world.”

“I’ve always thought it was weird that 60 million people watch TV but who decides what goes on comes down to around 10 people. Because there’s a natural tendency towards these people to pick their own tastes. So I’d like to see that change.”

“I wanted to be a poet. But that doesn’t fit in with earning a living or television, so I needed to earn money another way in order to do that.”

EP53 – Earl Okin – Why there are so few good musical comedians.

“A lot of musical comedians are stand ups who use music as a joke, where as I come at it from the total opposite angle.”

“I don’t care what they say about email and the internet and people doing it themselves. What you really need to get fans is TV.”

“The industry thing, wrongly, but they believe it like it’s gospel, that they want the young audience. And they think to get the young audience you need a young looking comedian. But it’s wrong.”

EP 54 – Karen Koren – Founder of the Gilded Balloon

“I remember when we started 30 years ago comedians saying ‘I don’t want to go on that late comedy has to be at 8 or 9pm’ but they did it and the time slot didn’t matter.”

“You can live and work in Scotland as a comedian more now than you ever could, but really you have to go to another city.”

“I don’t think there’s too many awards in Edinburgh, but I don’t think there’s enough prestigious awards.”

EP55 – Mick Perrin – The secrets behind the global touring network.

“I wasn’t in comedy, but I heard this chap, Eddie Izzard, was looking for a tour manager, so I went for the interview and got the job. And that was the first tour I ever did. And we went all over the world.”

“The thing we were most worried about when we first started doing arena tours was sound. When you’re playing to 10,500 people you have to use delay systems so the people at the back are hearing the sound a millisecond behind the people at the front. This also means the laugh is delayed.”

EP56 – Robert Popper – How to “make it” in TV.

“With a show like Friday Night Dinner, it’ll be 23 minutes long, which means you’ll have a 30 minute cut and it won’t be funny until it’s finished.”

“To move all the equipment takes 40 minutes. It’s mainly moving and adjusting the lighting. So you’d spend 6 weeks planning the shoot before you get on set.”

“The only reason you’d shoot a series in order is to help the cast understand where the plot is going and where we are in terms of narrative.”

“You’re not a writer on South Park. The only writers are Matt Parker and Trey. You’re just there to facilitate their minds with ideas.”

EP57 – Matt Price – The art of storytelling at stand up clubs

“The difference between a storyteller and a stand up is a story teller has a narrative in some form.”

“Historically ‘storytelling’ was a label that was used as an excuse for not being very funny and not having any jokes. Now it’s changed. At the Edinburgh Fringe you can see people doing hour long storytelling stand up shows.”

“I entertain the audience that’s in front of me. My job as an entertainer is to entertain the audience in front of me. And to do that I’ll do anything but singing and nudity.”

“If you’re at a comedy club there’s no point in doing anything that isn’t comedic.”

EP58 – The ParaPod – How To Build A Cult Podcast Following

“There was a time in series 1 where I was talking to you daily for 3-4 weeks. I was having to talk Barry down and explain to him that they’re shouting at what we’re presenting and not him.” – Ray / Ian

“I hadn’t thought about what or how it was going to go. I just liked what Ray had done in the past. I like talking about ghosts. So there was a chance for me to work with someone who I liked and talk about ghosts.” – Barry

EP59 – Ian Boldsworth (the artist formerly known as Ray Peacock)

“I asked my mum for a grand so I could become a comedian. I have no idea why I thought a grand was enough. But I she lent it to me. And I’ve never paid her back.”

“If you only do things which don’t make you miserable, you’ll be alright. If you say point blank you refuse to do things just for money. You find you can make money from things that you like doing.”

“I regret humoring clubs for a long while by performing at them. Places like Baby Blue in Liverpool and the Frog. Because they couldn’t be further away from what my comedy utopia is. I don’t think they’re good for comedy. Not those two exclusively but clubs of that ilk make the comedy seem like an after thought.”

EP60 – Andrew Ellard – The art of sitcom script writing.

“If you’re still asking questions, you’re not laughing. If you’re still not in the universe of the character, you’re not laughing.”

“The reason I get any work at all is because people recommend me. You can’t tell from the credits what I do. Because who knows if that script was in good shape when I got my hands on it. Or if I screwed it up. Or if they ignored my notes.”

“Too many people think that the director is the author of the thing. But that’s never the case. You go into TV or film to collaborate.”

“A writer could have written the best scene in a show and get no credit for it. But the caterers will. And the reason for that is all down to money. Because if you get a writing credit on a show you get a certain amount of residuals. So what you end up is a lot of writers fighting to make sure other writers don’t get credited.”

EP61- Jonathan Pie – The power of political satire on social media

“The busier the area the harder it is to film because anything and everything can put me off. And as the popularity has grown people stop and record me and I have to stop and start over in case they upload it before I do. It’s a real pain.”

“I only worked with Russian Today because they were the only place that would let me have full creative licence to do anything. I got in a lot of shit for working with ‘the Russians’ but the irony is that they were the only people who gave me the freedom to do anything.”

“Jonathan Pie came along because I hadn’t had an audition for two years and last year I decided to give it all up and quit acting. I could see 40 and it’s very easy to be poor when you’re in your 20s but in your late 30s it wears a bit thin. So Pie was my last roll of the dice because I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.”

EP 62 – Post Edinburgh Fringe 2016 Panel

“If you have a story or something autobiographical and you feel you have to do it, write it down, put it in the drawer and then do it when you’re famous when someone might care.” – Hils Jago.

“It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it well enough but 99% of performers aren’t doing it well enough.” – Copstick

“If your first show is about your dead dad, for example, you might not have the comedic tools to handle it yet. So don’t start with it.” – Bruce Dessau

“We’re sold the idea of coming to the Fringe to win an award as a performer. And you feel like being funny isn’t enough to win.” – Barry Ferns

“If you suggestion someone and they fail on TV it’s your fault. If you suggest someone and they fail and they have awards it’s not your fault.” – John Fleming

“I never go to see a show or reply to an email from a comedian or PR saying “please come see my show”. There’s just too many of them.” – Steve Bennett

EP63 – Ariane Sherine – How to move from TV writer to stand up comedian

“I got to the final of the Laughing Horse new act and never went because I was scared that getting a bad review would mean I’d lose work in telly. I wish I hadn’t done it but I don’t regret it.”

“I’ve always thought that the more things you can do the better. It makes life more interesting and varied and fun. I wanted to be a pop star, but only because I wanted autonomy over my career and do to lots of different things.”

“I like the idea of being recognised rather than famous. And as a writer you often are just paid to write the script and very few people know who you are and you don’t get to see how people react to what you wrote.”

“I got a TV writing agent and then a literary agent and I got really good at being really rubbish and I just coasted. Because that would have been the best time to get my scripts seen and my book ideas out to publishers. But I was in some bad relationships which screwed me up.”

EP64 – Julia McKenzie – What are BBC Radio 4 looking for?

“We compete with indie production companies for some work, but we also have internal commissions where I might say we should pay for a script to develop a project which has come to us to go further. But for both we have to go to the network and give them what they want.”

“Even though the use of on-demand players is on the rise, an extremely large number of people listen live and the collective listening experience is very much alive on our station.”

“For a lot of our writers TV is the goal but the perceived kudos is higher but often the audience numbers are significantly lower.”

“Radio is the best place to hone your writing skills because you can’t rely on any visual tricks so you really have to be a sharp writer.” 

EP65 – Tony Law – Mental health and the life of a comedian

“I was dying on my hole. Promoters docked my pay if I came off early. And it was only when I came to Edinburgh that I realised I should do what I find funny and focus on that.”

“In 2013 I was getting a lot of success. But I wasn’t capitalising on it because I was drinking and I knew I had to stop years before that, but I just didn’t do anything about it. But now I am clean and this is like the start of a new chapter for me.”

“I let drink and drugs convince me that I didn’t have any mental health issues, but only getting sober showed me that I am as mad as everyone else, if not more.”

EP66 – Helen Zaltzman – The history and future of podcasting.

“Think of editing as not wasting the listeners time. People say ‘podcastings easy, you just talk for 2 hours and put it out’ but there’s no other medium where you would just accept unedited content.”

“When we started in 2006 there was less competition online in terms of entertainment. Because now loads of people have a podcast and TV is also online. So I think the best way of standing out is to do something less general.”

“I think if you can see yourself making 50 episodes of a show or running with the idea for years then you should do it.”

“I think podcastings has been really slow to develop by comparison to other forms of entertainment. YouTube started in 2005 which is the same year Apple added podcasts to the iTunes Store.”

EP67 – Armando Iannucci – I’m not a political satirist!

“The advantage of being on radio is the immediacy of it. You write and record it that day and then it goes out. But also you learn the value of economy. Every word is important. You can’t get round it with a colourful costume.”

“In the halls at the BBC you get to know other writers and work with other writers which is great for improving. ”

“By being offered a TV show with no experience in making TV, aside from being a scary and daunting proposition, we were able to try things out and learn the hard way of doing things but it was our own way.”

“I remember the day after I went freelance thinking, if I think too hard about this I’ll get too scared. Other than the TV pilot I was asked to do I have no idea what the future holds. And that’s scary.”

“We wanted to make The Day Today and the BBC asked us if we would make it but they’d get a producer in to edit it. Me and Chris [Morris] didn’t like that idea so we turned them down. Then Hat Trick asked us to make it and we turned them down. Which was scary but it wasn’t the right fit.”

“In every project I go into I work out what my bottom line is and if that’s not met I don’t do it.”

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Simon Caine is a comedian, author, podcaster, writer and social media manager. He's the host of the Ask The Industry Podcast (iTunes link) , writer of jokes for Twitter and teller of gags on the London comedy scene. He's also the person writing this and it is taking all his willpower not to make a "Simon Says" joke.
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