How Do You Network in the Comedy World?

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As a former comedy agent at UTA and WME, Priyanka represented numerous big-name writers and performers before leaving to start a TV production company with Jack Black. Now she writes and produces on her own, but she still encounters a tidal wave of comedy hopefuls looking for the advice, information, and pep talks that only a former agent can provide.

In show business they say that it’s all about who you know. Well, you’re in luck, because now you know Priyanka!

I meet lots of great comedy people — in improv class, at shows, at parties — but how do I make any of these work relationships stick? I’d love to follow up with half of the people I meet but it seems so forced and desperate to “grab coffee” and “pick someone’s brain.”

–Margot L., Los Angeles

The following presupposes that when you meet new people who intrigue you, you get their contact info. If you’re not getting contact info, please start, even if you think it’s embarrassing. Ask for it, or ask a mutual friend, or just look it up. You can reach almost anyone with a Google. Next, fine-tune your picker. Be selective. When you meet other people who work in comedy, figure out whose work and opinions you respect and like, these are the people who can help you grow, and who will make great collaborators.

1. Insert yourself into their lives

For people ahead of you on the path to success: Everyone is going to want to give you advice, but pay attention to people in positions you envy. That’s the job you want, and the person you zero in on. People who have “made it” generally have too much noise in their inboxes, and too many newbies asking them for help, so how can you get them to notice and aid you without being super annoying? First, don’t just email them and ask for help. Friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter or add them to your mailing list for shows or whatever, so that despite themselves they are passively informed of your creations. You never know which show or short in their feed will strike a chord. Just exist on the periphery, at first. Eventually they will forget they don’t really know you, and then you stop by for coffee. Then stop by for coffee every few months.

For people right where you are: You have friends, right? Recruit more targeted friends. Pick smart and funny ones. Instead of being discouraged by the funniest person in your improv class, invite her to a non-work BBQ and a brunch. Behave as though you’re friends the second you meet, and and it’ll stick. I can’t tell you how many people are in my life because I’m overly familiar, and they totally think it’s weird at first. Make sure they’re nice, because who wants to work with jerks, and life is long. There used to be a lot more room for jerks in the comedy business, and that room is getting real small. Keep inviting people you like to stuff. Ideally, feed them. This basic recipe works like magic.

For people behind you: Be nice to the assistants and interns and that new kid who follows you around at UCB. They might all be comedy geniuses. Assume everyone is a genius until proven otherwise. While you’re at it, invite them to that BBQ you’re having too. People remember who was nice to them when they didn’t know anything, and in ten years you’ll have a whole list of amenable actors, writers, directors, agents, managers, producers for your projects.

2. Really listen

When you actually have a one-on-one interaction, be a normal person, and put work on simmer. It’s not a job interview, it’s person you hope to have a long term relationship with. It’s a date. I overhear so many conversations between that are just kids pitching projects to experienced talent, and I cringe. No one is going to help you with your projects unless they feel that they know and like you first. This is like that advice about asking a ton of questions in interviews. Find out all about them. You might have been to the same place in Maine, or your sisters might have attended the same school, or you both love a new book. Just talk, and connect on a human level. This is life, not LinkedIn. If there is something you need immediate help with, ask for advice instead of a favor. Make it “how you would handle this situation” instead of the burden of “can you help me?” It makes people want to help you, if they can.

3. Be generous

While you’re listening, really listen to what the other person needs. You might think you have nothing to offer, but don’t sell yourself short in all other areas. When they talk about their lives, you might learn that they need a reservation somewhere, or the name of a good dentist, or a guitar teacher. Be very aware of the holes in their lives, and see if you can make any connections necessary to help them out. If you make yourself useful, other than being a decent person, you also lay the foundation for banking goodwill. This will allow you, over years, to collect points for being a mensch, and over those years, you will cash it in in small increments. Continue to be generous, because it’s a currency that will pay you back tenfold. And don’t listen to the people who tell you it’s a cutthroat business, kill or be killed or blablala. It’s competitive, yes, and challenging at times, but there’s enough work for all of us, and don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.

Have a question about the comedy biz for Priyanka? Send your queries to thebusiness@splitsider.com or bug her on Twitter.

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