Tag Archives: elevator pitch

Simon Caine seeks people to literally do elevator pitches for their comedy shows

Simon Caine – Glass half full or half empty?

Comic Simon Caine runs the Ask The Industry Podcast and two Facebook groups for comedy performers – The Comedy Collective and the Edinburgh Fringe Performer Collective.

“You are also doing this lift thing,” I said. “Or this elevator thing, for American readers.”

“It’s a concept,” he replied.

“That sounds like something in a Woody Allen film,” I told him. “A concept that could become a project that could become a…”

This is not Simon but could well be?

“I got a message the other day,” Simon said. “Out of the blue. No context. A message from a girl who saw me in Derby last year. It said: SAW THIS AND THOUGHT OF YOU… It was just an image of Woody Allen with a quote: Life is full of loneliness, misery, suffering and unhappiness. How good is that? She had seen that and thought of me.”

“What’s your Fringe show called this year?” I asked.

Laughter Is The Best Placebo. The strapline for the show is that my life is a constant search for emotional electrical outlets – as in I’m always charging my phone and always trying to project my emotions onto other people. The opening line of the show is that the show is an attempt to work out whether comedy has improved my life or immeasurably ruined it.”

“Which is it?” I asked.

“Definitely the latter.”

“Your fan in Derbyshire is going to love it.”

“It’s on at the Sweet Grassmarket venue, 5.00pm ever day except Wednesdays, when I get rudely awoken by the dustman.”

“I have no idea what that means,” I said, “but we will get to the rubbish later… Your elevator pitch idea is in the same venue.”

The Edinburgh Fringe Apex elevator pitch lift

“Yes. In Apex, the really posh hotel in Grassmarket. They have two lifts and they’re allowing us to commandeer one of them for a couple of hours each day on the 14th and 15th of August.

“A reviewer will get in the lift with a performer, travel 3 or 4 floors and he/she has that amount of time to pitch their show to the reviewer.

“They can do anything they want as long as they don’t touch the reviewer. They can bring in props, do a little skit, sing a song – whatever. Anything they want. Then, at the chosen floor, they get out, a new act gets in and they have the same number of floors to pitch their show.”

“So,” I said, “it literally IS an elevator pitch.”

“Yes, the idea is you get through quite a lot of pitches and the reviewer is left bilious.”

“What time of day is this?”

The performance space for the elevator pitch

“In the afternoon, I think, but we can do it at any point in the day when the reviewers are free. Kate Copstick said she might do it after your Grouchy Club show.”

“So,” I said, “even though a review is not guaranteed, if the pitch is good enough, a reviewer may come and see the show.”

“It’s an opportunity for performers who can’t afford PR,” said Simon.

“Comics at the Fringe can barely afford food,” I said, “which brings us neatly to rubbish. At the end of the Fringe, you are collecting left-over food.”

“Yes,” said Simon, “it’s a food bank collection for the homeless of Edinburgh. If you’re anything like me, you buy food for your flat but, at the very end of the Fringe, there will be some left over. So, instead of throwing it away, you can give it to people who need it much more than you ever did. People you have probably passed several times during the Fringe and not given anything to, like I don’t.

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe – amid the showbiz

“The first two years of doing it, I worked with a charity and wrongly assumed they would be run the same way as the food bank charities in London. It turned out they weren’t.

“With the one I was working with, I found out the people could only go three times a year and had to bring bank statements to prove they were too poor to have enough food.

“And it turned out they were a for-profit food bank, which didn’t make any sense to me.

“Now I have moved over to a thing called The Basics Bank, who only accept food that is not opened, and the Granton Community Orchard Garden. And there’s a third charity, The Homeless Period, who help redistribute hygiene products to women because, obviously, tampons and sanitary towels are not the cheapest things in the world and, if you are broke and living on the street, you don’t necessarily have the money to afford them every month.”

“Shouldn’t,” I suggested, “the period charity get together with the food charity and they can make black puddings?”

“I’m not giving you a reaction to that in case you use it,” replied Simon.

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Networking tips for shy extroverts, for comedians and for Michael Winner…

(This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post)

Always wear clothes appropriate for the job

Always wear clothes appropriate for the job

Last month, I mentioned in a blog that the famously self-confident film director Michael Winner has said on more than one occasion that, when he went to parties on his own, he was sometimes almost too shy to go into a room full of strangers.

This came to mind yesterday, when I went to a seminar (I guess that’s what it was) at Equity in London where members – mostly actors – were being told about and swapping tips on networking

Top tip seemed to me to be that, when presented with some networking opportunity you should always take it and never turn it down. Sounds obvious, but there is the Michael Winner factor of wanting to hide in a hole in the ground.

Almost all performers – actors, comedians, whatever – are extrovert show-offs who want a bit of attention and are Me-Me-Me…

But they also tend to be overly-endowed with insecurity and self-doubt.

Shall I go to that party/schmoozathon and sell myself to important people and further my career or shall I hide under the duvet in my bedroom?

Best advice is probably to think not What might I gain from going? but What opportunities might I miss by not going?

Networking is a bit like dogging. You will get nowhere by staying alone at home in your bedroom.

It was also suggested that selling yourself succinctly involves having a variety of pre-prepared ‘elevator pitches’.

Hollywood wisdom is that you should have an elevator pitch for your movie project in case you accidentally meet a studio chief in a lift in a building and he is only going up one floor. You have to encapsulate your 120-minute movie in one sentence…

  • Romeo & Juliet in the West Side of New York
  • Robin Hood in gangland Chicago
  • Love Story crossed with The Wild Bunch

Some pitches are more effective than others.

When networking yourself rather than your project, you have to encapsulate your entire professional life in two sentences but – as you are selling different versions of yourself to different prospective employers or financiers – you need perhaps five different versions of your pitch prepared for five different circumstances.

This is something I have always spectacularly failed to do.

When asked at a party, “What do you do?” I have a tendency to look blankly at the person and say, “I have no idea. Never have. Still don’t.”

Someone once told me: “John, your career appears to be unfocussed”. It was intended as a criticism.

I took it as a good thing – variety being the spice of life and all that.

Most bizarre insight of yesterday, though, came when the problem of working at home cropped up.

When I was a student, I lived in a house of bedsits in Hampstead. Surprisingly cheap. The landlord was an altruistic Christian and merely covering his costs.

One of the other rooms was rented by a woman who lived in a big house in the next street. She was a novelist. Every morning, she would walk out of her own front door, come round to our house, go into her bedsit, write until 5.00pm, then go back to her own home.

I used to think this was eccentric until I found difficulty working from home myself (despite the fact my third bedroom is kitted-out as an office) and found working in the local library – or in an Apple Store – was easier.

This was taken one step further yesterday when someone said that, when about to do work at home, she changed into ‘office clothes’ – she put on a dark business suit… When she had finished her work at home, she changed back into her casual homely clothes.

This sounds bonkers at first, but is logically eminently sensible.

Someone else said that her boyfriend did the same thing – except he just changed into a bow tie.

I think I may buy a bow tie.

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Why most stand-up comics could learn something from movies, rabbits and sex

(This blog was later published by the comedy industry website Chortle)

Around now – just three weeks before the Edinburgh Fringe starts – there is a glut of desperate stand-up comics performing Fringe preview shows in London.

Well, they are not so much preview shows – more often a desperate cobbling-together of last-minute ideas, trying them out in front of an audience and seeing what may or may not work. One already excellent comic I saw recently was performing 18 dry-runs of material and still not totally secure in what his Edinburgh show would contain.

I’ve seen four of these Edinburgh ‘previews’ recently: two by very experienced performers; two from less experienced comics.

All four had almost entirely good material but, even with the best material, over the course of an hour, the pace sagged slightly in places – the comedians meandered because they hadn’t totally nailed-down the best structure to make their shows work.

That is fine. That is what try-outs are for. The comedians had and have no real problem beyond the natural in-built self-doubt and insecurity without which they would not be comedians in the first place.

It does seem to me that the greater the neuroses, the better the comedian.

I am not a performer, but inexperienced ignorance has never stopped me giving advice.

I have edited most of my life – scripts, books and, in particular, video. I think stand-up comics could get some help from the movie industry.

When comics have problems structuring their hour-long shows, they worry because the details don’t work. They get mesmerised by the details. It is a near-definitive situation of not seeing the creative wood for the trees.

They are mesmerised by the complexity of their own show’s structure and they would benefit from thinking of what, in the movie business, is called The Elevator Pitch.

It would allow them to clarify the whole into which the details fit.

In Hollywood, the theory of The Elevator Pitch is that, if you have a movie idea which you want to sell and you accidentally get into a lift (which our Colonials call an elevator) with a studio executive, you have to pitch your entire movie idea to him (or her) by the time the lift/elevator gets to the next floor, the doors open and he/she gets out.

The conventional wisdom is that you have to pitch your idea to him (or her) in 10 or 12 words.

When comedians are structuring a one hour live comedy show, they will not get anywhere fast if they are mesmerised by the complexity of the structure.

If you try to think How do I fit joke A next to routine F and do I put H or C in there before I use my ‘banker’ punchline X? it is like trying to put together a jigsaw made of pasta.

But, if you can explain to yourself in 12 words or less the single central concept of your show, then it concentrates your mind. Every part of the show has to be made to be relevant to that 12 word raison d’etre.

If a section of the show cannot be made to be relevant to that one central idea, then cut it out, no matter how funny. If the choice is between getting some good laughs for three minutes with that one section but screwing up the overall pace and narrative cohesion of the hour-long show, then dump that three-minute section immediately.

If it really is THAT good, it can be used some other time. By using it here you are slowing, skewing or de-railing the overall show.

If you try to build an hour-long show looking from the details outwards, you get mesmerised by the trees and cannot see the over-all shape of the wood.

If, however, you look from the outside inwards and constantly have the overall shape of the wood in mind, then you can plant the trees within that overall shape.

It is a tad easier on the creative brain.

I am also reminded of a schoolboy teaser:

How far can a rabbit run into a wood?


Halfway… After that, it’s running OUT of the wood.

Which is another way of saying…

If you create a narrative comedy show – and, at one hour in length there needs to be a linear narrative to avoid the audience getting flummoxed – you need to be aware of one legendary but vital cliché.

You need a beginning, a middle and an end.

The Elevator Pitch gives you an overall key theme to which 100% of the show must be relevant – if it isn’t relevant, cut it.

The rabbit-running-into-a-wood analogy means that you have to know the central core towards which you are running and – unlike the war in Afghanistan but like sex – you should have an exit strategy and know where your final climax is.

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Filed under Comedy, Movies, Theatre