Thursday, October 27, 2005

"Send Me A Tape"

Humor columnist James Lileks is promoting his new book, and is preparing to make the rounds of the TV talk shows. Today he describes the trials and tribulations of putting together a clip reel:

They really want to know two things: are you affected with noticeable gargoylism, and can you talk while cameras stalk you like giant monocular predators?

So once you know what your purpose is, it's easier pinpoint your problem and find a solution:

I found a way to get around the whole no-clip problem: I said I had clips, and here they are, and then I spliced in a 50s Civilian Defense film about biological warfare. After 15 seconds of that I admitted I had bupkis, and went on to explain that all my clips are old and irrelevant. But let me tell you more about the book, and show how I can talk about it! If nothing else they’ll know when to turn it off, since I added subtitles halfway through that said “I just go on and on after this; blah blah, have me on your show. Rather sad. You can eject now.”

Now, I could talk about how this reminds me of the Saga of Getting a Good Tape when I was doing stand-up in the '80s. About how comedians would sit at the bar, or in the diner, and exchange tales of "what the bookers wanted in a tape" that were usually as colorfully off-base as our concept of what somebody wanted in a romantic relationship--which was a good clue as to why we all had too much time to sit in a diner.

"They want a prop comic, but a monologist, who can work clean, yet blue, and who's intelligent, yet stupid...oh, and they don't like women."

And I could talk about my various escapades and debacles in obtaining said tape back when the technology wasn't easily available to everybody. You'd either have a friend, spouse or another comic shoot you with a hand-held video camera, which back then was the size of a Pontiac and always gave you that shaky Video Verite look that said, "My friend is taping me with a home video camera on Open Mike Night."

Or you would go the professional route and book one of the few professional videographers who specialized in taping comics at comedy clubs, and pay to have that person come in and set up at the next decent gig you had in town...or pay their transportation to the next decent gig you had out-of-town. Once you did this, one of the following was guaranteed to occur:

Considering the perils involved in the enterprise, it's amazing any of us got booked at all. Or that any of us ever wised up to the fact that most often, a booker said "Send me a tape" as a stalling mechanism to put off rejecting you until they saw whether or not somebody else would give you the seal of approval, because none of them wanted to be responsible for turning down the next Eddie Murphy or Robin Williams.

Fortunately, sooner or later, we'd get sick and tired of trying to follow all of the "shoulds" and sources of misguided wisdom that were killing off anything that made us funny to begin with and say "What have I got to lose." And that's when good stuff would happen.

So, I could talk about all this, but I'm swamped, so I'll do the cop-out thing and say go read Lileks, there's always something that gives me a laugh there.

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