One of the first questions most comedians ask me is either “How do I find an agent?,” “What does an agent do?,” or “Why isn’t my agent doing anything for me?”
At the root of all these questions is some confusion about exactly how agents work and what their role should be in a comedian’s career. So, I thought I’d share a few basics about the agenting game that will hopefully help answer those questions.
1. There are different kinds of agents for different kinds of tasks.
The first thing to understand is that not all agents bring the same skill sets to the table so the kind of agent you will want may vary depending on what your career goals and needs are at the moment. Among the most common types of agents are Personal Appearance/Booking agents whose job it is to book you live gigs, Theatrical agents who are the ones that will hep you land acting roles and auditions for film and television projects, Commercial agents who can help you get work in commercials, and Literary agents who can help you sell screenplays, books or get hired to write for TV shows.
Typically (though not always) you’ll wind up getting represented by a single agency who will have a team of agents to work with you so that each of these individual needs are covered by the same company. But one thing you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re just starting out and seeking or getting the attention of an agent, is to have a clear understanding of what kind of agent they are and what they’ll be able to help you with. Make sure it matches your goals.
2. Agents only get paid when you get paid.
Any agent that wants to charge you an upfront fee to hire them isn’t a real agent. Keeping that in mind should protect you from a lot of scam artists out there.
True agents only get paid when you get paid – they make a percentage of the income that they help you generate, typically 10% of that income. This is important to understand not only because it can help protect you from getting scammed, but also because it frames the way agents work and how they decide who to sign.
An agent will only represent you if he/she believes that you have the potential to earn money relatively soon – because otherwise they have no way to get paid for the time/effort they put into you. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings I see among comics about what agents are looking for – yes, you need to be talented, but what really will catch their attention is if you’re talented and have a clear path to financial success. There’s lots of talented comics out there that can’t get representation and it’s usually because they have no fanbase, niche, or traction in the business side of comedy.
3. Getting an agent doesn’t mean that you’ve made it.
Another common point of confusion is that many comedians seem to think once they have gotten themselves an agent, that they’ve “made it” and they can sit back and let the agent do their magic while the cash and opportunities roll in. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
In reality, once you get an agent your work is only beginning. A good agent will push you to spend more time/effort on your career, create new opportunities for yourself, and build things that the agent can help you sell. Remember, your agent is only going to get paid if they’re able to monetize something that you do so they’re really going to need you to be “doing” a lot in order to justify the time they’re spending on you.
4. Your agent works for you, not the other way around.
Even though your agent will pressure you to work harder and try to guide you to a financially successful career, it’s important to remember the context of the relationship. When you get an agent, you are hiring them – not the other way around.
Ultimately, it’s your career and your agent works for you (for a fee). That means that you should always be in control of your career and ensuring that it’s headed in the direction you want it to go. It also means that if you feel like your agent isn’t paying attention to you or isn’t working hard enough for you, that you shouldn’t be afraid to leave them and seek out a new agent. Having a bad/lazy agent is worse for you than having no agent at all.
However, if you’re going to dump your agent you should make sure that you’re doing so for the right reasons. You need to be honest with yourself about whether you’re giving the agent enough material and projects to help you with as opposed to just scapegoating your agent for your own laziness.
I’m sure many of you have had interesting experiences with agents in your own career – leave a comment below to let us know what you think other comedians should know about agents…