10 Takeaways from the NYWIFT “Casting Comedy: Funny People On-Camera” Panel

By Mellini Kantayya

New York Women in Film & Television assembled a panel some of New York’s most respected and prolific casting directors—Jessica Daniels (Dead Beat, The People vs. OJ Simpson), Jennifer Euston (Girls, Orange is the New Black) Erica A. Hart (Casting Coordinator at ABC Primetime Casting), Gayle Keller (Crashing, Louie), and Seth White (Broad City, Difficult People)—to share their insights on nailing that comedy audition.

Here are ten takeaways for the comedy veteran and newbie alike:

1. Do not be afraid…really. Casting directors are your advocates, not adversaries. Whether they’re long-time champions of your work or it’s the first time you’re walking into their office—they’re rooting for you! Your success is in their best interest. They want to help you shine. So take that knowledge into the room with you and a good time will be had by all.

2. Put your best foot forward…everywhere you put your foot. Of course you’re gonna to bring it in the room, but bring it to every aspect of how you represent yourself as well. Inviting industry to your show? Be proud of the show and your work in it. Posting a reel? Make sure it makes you beam, not cringe. Sending in a self-tape? Be certain it’s something you’d be pleased to have biggest of the bigwigs watch—as they very well might. (More about this on #7.)

3. Wear what you want…kind of. We’ve all heard the ol’ “wear the same thing again to the callback” advice. It’s a myth. Be comfortable in what you’re wearing but also make it easy for the decision maker to see you in the role. Don’t wear a costume per se (the panel unanimously expressed a distaste for lab coats and scrubs, etc.), but rocking that velour tracksuit to play a lawyer might not be the way to go.

4. Stalking is bad. This should go without saying, but the panelists shared some anecdotes that were hilarious to hear and likely very disturbing to live through. Though they did have different preferences on how they like to be reached — some preferred mail and some didn’t, some didn’t mind getting email while others really minded unsolicited email — they all agreed a Fatal Attraction communication style is more likely to land you a restraining order than an audition.

5. To adlib or not to adlib? That is the question. So go ahead and ask it! The casting director is your ally (see #1) and liaison between you and the project. They have information you don’t. One decision maker may love improv, whereas another decidedly won’t. Also be mindful that many executive producers are brilliant writers who have honed that script over months—so your improv will detract from rather than add to the script. The only way to know for sure is to ask.

6. Unbutton it. And speaking of adlibs, if you add a little improvised bit to the end of your scene (a demi-denouement, if you will), be prepared to do it again. Regardless of how fabulous your take was up until that point, casting directors don’t have the time to edit out an unneeded “button.” (See #5 and #1). Consider a look or a gesture instead which can serve the same purpose.

7. Know thy self-tapes. Self-tapes are not thrown into the abyss—they’re one-hundred-percent-fo’-reelz auditions. Sure, they may only be seen by the casting office—but they also might be seen by a producer, network executive, or Shonda Rhimes (repeating for dramatic effect) Shonda Rhimes. So, if it ain’t Shonda-worthy, do it again (quite possible solid advice for everything else in life as well).

8. Successful selfies. If you’re okay spending the money at a lab or studio to self-tape—great, but it’s unnecessary with the quality most smart phones provide. A few considerations can go a long way toward making a good impression. Don’t use a rehearsal app and be sure your live human reader is not louder than you are. Use a blank, non-distracting background (no wallpaper, no windows), and make sure your tape is fast and easy to download (e.g. Vimeo or a private link, but not YouTube).

9. You do you. Don’t work too hard to “show the funny.” Let it come out organically. Put yourself into the character you build and present what you adopt Bryan Cranston’s advice for actors: since who books the job is subjective, don’t go in trying to get the job—go in to do your thing. Kill it, have fun, and then forget about it.

10. Words of wisdom: lightning round. So much of life is luck. Enjoy downtime, enjoy when it’s crazy busy. Take care of yourself and be a good person. Even if you’re doing the most menial task, do your best because somebody’s watching. Talent and persistence will eventually pay off.

“Casting Comedy: Funny People On-Camera” was one of over 50 professional development programs produced annually by NYWIFT. See what’s coming up next.

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