There are a million stories about entertainers who never read the contracts they sign. As a comedian starting out, I understand how some people don’t believe this is important until money is involved. Like most of them, I was more concerned about working on my comedy. I would jump at the chance to perform in anyone’s videos that were posted on YouTube, websites, and other social media outlets. Working the craft and getting my name recognized the only a goal of mine. Until it backfired on me!
During a “Meet & Greet” event for the NYTVF, I was fortunate to meet someone who was serious about creating a ‘grass roots’ sketch comedy show. She would finance her project, and those interested would volunteer their time in exchange for acting/writing credits. Scripts were submitted, reviewed, and rehearsed. Below is a summary of the sketches I was featured in:
Frankenstein, Dracula, and ‘The Wolf Man’ are rappers in Georgetown and Dupont Circle.
A skit that lampoons DC’s lack of preparation when snow arrives.
I play President Obama at a press conference, with a special appearance by Oprah Winfrey.
Two business men accidentally bump into each other, and politely argue themselves into a frenzy. NOTE: This video was accepted on the ‘Funny or Die‘ website.
During pre-production, I learned the title of the show was called ‘The District Down Low‘. After explaining the meaning of ‘Down Low‘, to the producer, the working title was changed to ‘The District Low Down’. We completed the pilot episode, and it was submitted into the NYTVF festival. A short time later, it was mentioned that the show would be submitted for IMDB credits. I was impressed. There was a lot of work put in by everyone, and because it was a volunteered based project – that was an unexpected reward. NICE!
Then I discovered the title of the show was not changed. I was shocked! Why would anyone market a show with a title associated with black men who enjoy gay sex while being married? Especially if that is not what the show is about? That made no sense to me. But what’s done is done, and I didn’t have creative control on the show.
What have I learned from this experience?
Get everything in writing!
I got the IMDB credit, but not the for what I expected. Verbal agreements don’t mean a thing. Going forward, I will use consult with the Washington Area Lawyers for the Artists for future projects. Membership is only $35 per year for performing artists, and they provide free or low cost legal options their members.
Take acting lessons!.
After watching myself in these videos, I realize my acting really needs work. Getting on stage to perform comedy comes easy to me. However, I lack the formal training required to make my characters believable on screen. Knowing the problem is half the battle! There are several acting classes available in DC that won’t break my budget.
Write and produce my own show!
This experience did not leave me bitter. It was the first time I was involved in a TV show, and I gained a lot of ‘on-the-job’ training at no cost. Using that experience, I began to write more material for a show I will produce in the future. I attended classes at my local public access station (DC Television) for television production, editing, field technician and studio technician. Their courses were inexpensive, and provide a solid foundation and resources for producing quality shows.
In closing, if you’re working on a project – be sure to review all of the documentation associated with it. If there is none available, inquire about creating your own, to create a paper trail based on what was agreed upon. Having a contract will assist you in disagreements during pre/post production.
Wayne Manigo is a comedian and co-founder of DC Comedy Writers Group. He is the creator of “Addicted to Comedy,” and the ‘brainchild’ behind the annual comedy conference, Starting Stand Up: A Comic Beginning. He also produces the show, Bellylaughs in Bethesda at Caddies at Cordell.