Comedy manager, agent, promoter and founder of Get Comedy Brett Vincent talks to Mandy News about his inspirational rise to success from being a successful DJ to owning his own business; Get Comedy.
Give us a little introduction and tell us about how you got involved with comedy?
Before I got into comedy, I was a DJ. I still am a DJ, I mainly do soul, funk and Motown - although I used to do drum ’n’ bass and house which was a slightly different crowd!
It all started in 1997. I was on the Isle of Mull DJing and my Brother - Andre Vincent - who is a comedian said “come over to the Edinburgh Festival and have a look”. I went over there for the last weekend and, in those days, there were parties every single night. There were Marlborough girls that walked around giving you cigarettes, there were Red Bull girls walking around giving you Red Bull, and normally some sort of vodka or whisky company handing out shots and drinks ON THE STREET! Every single party gave away so much free alcohol and I thought “I really like this place!” It wasn’t until the second to last day that I walked into The Pleasance Courtyard - one of the big venues - and I just fell in love with the atmosphere! I’d never seen anything like that before in my life – just a hub of activity, cool people and comedians. I fell in love with Edinburgh there and then.
I signed up to flyer for, and be in, my brother’s show the next year in the attic at The Pleasance – I DJ’d as the audience walked in and out. I flyered for him every day and really got to know all the comedians, bookers and promoters that were around at the time. I went up again and flyered in 1999.
At the same time, I was still training to be a croupier as well as doing other jobs and DJing. At the end of that year, a company called Bound and Gagged, who run comedy clubs, were promoting my brother. At that time they were looking after Craig Charles, Mike Gunn, Russell Brand, Omid Djalili and a few others. At the end of the festival, Nigel Klarfeld (the boss of Bound and Gagged) came up to me and said “you seem to know everyone” and I said, “kind of, I’ve done two festivals now and I know a lot of the comedians and the promoters”. He asked me if I knew how to get from Manchester to Leeds and London to Cardiff. From all the time DJing around the country, I’d learnt all these travel routes and the quickest or cheapest way to get anywhere. He asked if I knew a certain booker or comedy club and I’d say “yes”, so he went “well basically you’re an agent.” I said “no, I’m not, I’m a DJ.” He said “You could easily be a comedy agent. Do you want a job?”
Even though I had to make a big sacrifice to give up DJing and join the comedy fraternity, I’d never been offered a job before and wanted to see how I was an agent.
At the end of 2001, I did a huge DJ gig in Pune, India on top of a 40-foot wooden castle which was made just for the evening. There were about 8000 people on top of the hill. It was such an amazing gig that I thought “I’ve kind of done everything that I wanted to do DJing. This is the best thing I’ll ever do - let’s give comedy a go.”
That is how I stumbled into being an agent - through the people that I knew and the knowledge that I had of being a DJ.
How long was it until you got Get Comedy started?
I was with Nigel for five years. I helped him with the likes of Alex Horne, Lucy Porter, Stephen K. Amos and then signed Rhys Darby who was in Flight of the Conchords, Yes Man, and Jumanji. There was a comedian named Jim Jefferies who basically wanted me to sign him but didn’t want to join the company. He asked me if I’d leave the company and be his agent. It took me six months to pluck up the courage but I eventually quit Bound and Gagged and started with Underbelly with Jim Jefferies as my first client.
I was with Underbelly for five years and while I was with them we became a management and promotions company. I promoted a lot of shows for them – Tom Green, George Wendt who is Norm from Cheers, Michael Urie from Ugly Betty and one of my childhood heroes Michael Winslow who was Sgt Jones in Police Academy. We took on quite a few big shows and ended up looking after Jerry Sadowitz, Stewart Lee, Marcus Brigstocke and quite a few other shows like that, including building Jim Jefferies to the star he is today. Underbelly taught me a lot about promotions and management.
Then I met two guys who were willing to fund me taking on my own business – one from Ticketline and one of the heads of Bestival. They said they were looking for a comedy department, a sister company to their other management and festival agencies and I was asked to join them and run the comedy department.
I finally owned my own business and joined up with them in 2010. I’ve now been doing Get Comedy for 8 years and in 2012 I took over Altitude Comedy Festival as well as signing five or six acts. I ended up programming comedy at about 14 music festivals that year – something I still do on a large scale all over the UK and Europe.
What makes a good agent? Do you think the job you do for comedy acts differs much to being a TV, film or music agent?
There are many different parts of being an agent in comedy, e.g. if I was a musicals agent, I would only be looking after acts that were going into musicals (and maybe musical films). If I was an acting agent, they’d be going into either commercials, TV or film. Book agent, books etc..
As a comedy agent, you are also looking after their live work and there are different rungs and different levels of comedians depending on if you’re an open spot, a travelling comic, a headliner, star or a compere. They’re all on different wages and different timings and you’ve got to book their diaries so they’ve got money, week in week out. You’re also looking after their promotions and tours plus trying to get them on to TV or Radio, into films, into panel shows, on stand up shows and voiceovers, as well as helping create their Edinburgh Fringe shows and writing a book.
There are so many different elements to looking after a comic or celebrity compared to when you look after actors or even music. Some people do crossover but I think, as a comedy agent, you are looking after the whole spectrum of the arts for your client - and you’re basically trying to make them as much money as possible.
That also comes with making sure that you are putting your comedians in the right place at the right time and not in the wrong gigs. That can be tricky; if you’re booking a new comedian in front of 6000 people then you’re asking for trouble (and potentially some booing). It’s knowing the right people to book for the right shows and knowing what your client is best at and which direction they want to go in.
A lot of the time I sit down with my clients and say “what do you want to do over the next year?” or “what do you want to achieve over the next three years?” What is your final goal? Do you want to be playing arenas like Kevin Bridges or Micky Flanagan and ready for really working hard on the comedy circuit honing those skills? Or do you want a bit of both like John Bishop, Jimmy Carr or Michael McIntyre, or do you want to travel the world doing shows everywhere like Jim Jefferies, Glenn Wool, Pete Johansson and numerous others.
You’ve got to figure out the right career path for the talent you have. Some comedians nowadays just want to be actors or famous or just want to be on TV, so they’ll just write 20 minutes of great stand up and their route will be straight into TV doing all the panel shows or celebrity shows. You really need to listen to your clients to get the right route so they are not wasting their time and yours.
Tell us about what you’ve got coming up next?
Currently we have the Winter Wonderland Comedy Club in Hyde Park every night until January 5th 2019 (46 shows over 7 weeks), then the Altitude comedy festival - which is one of the festivals I own. It’s really difficult booking that festival because over the years we’ve had Eddie Izzard, Jimmy Carr, Micky Flanagan, Frankie Boyle, Tim Minchin, Bill Bailey, Lee Mack, John Bishop, Jim Jeffries, Milton Jones, Kevin Bridges, Sean Lock and Katherine Ryan just to name a few. I’ve had nearly every great comedian play. Just trying to book it year-in year-out to try and beat those names is really difficult.
I’ve just finished booking and running the big Comedy Central festival, Comedy Central Live - which was in Southampton this year. It had Jimmy Carr, Katherine Ryan, Russell Howard, Rob Beckett and a plethora of the most amazing young and new talent. We’re currently looking at doing another one in 2019.
I’m also booking comedy for Camp Bestival, Rewind Festivals, Y Not Festivals, Belladrum, Grinagog and Shindig (I have to add here that Shindig is one of my favourite festivals ever as it’s a great independent festival – one of the only independent ones left). I’m also booking Snowbombing and hopefully Snowboxx as well as numerous other comedy clubs and theatres up and down the country.
So we’ve got a lot of booking festivals as well as preparing at the start of January to build up for the next Edinburgh festival – which is still the biggest art festival in the world. It takes its toll but it will be my 22nd Edinburgh festival next year.
What advice do you have for people wanting to become an agent and those looking for representation?
Patience. As a young act, it would be much better if an agent approached you rather than you approaching an agent. As an agent, I would rather go and find someone that I want to look after than be bombarded by messages saying ‘I’ve been gigging a year and I need management’.
If you’re a young act, I would say hold fire, you don’t need to be signed yet. You know when you’re ready to be signed because someone will approach you and say “I love that joke or set, I thought it was brilliant. Let’s talk, let’s see what you want to do.”
Work on your material, work on your stage time and someone will sign you if you’re good – that’s how most agents think it should work.
If you’re wanting to be an agent, also patience. For the first eight years of being an agent, I didn’t sleep and I didn’t go on holiday. I didn’t go anywhere – I just worked and worked and worked and watched as much comedy as I could. I had to make sure everyone knew me and my acts. I had to make sure that acts were always busy and that they always had money at the weekend.
The amount of time that I put in for the first 8-10 years has helped me out in the last 8-10 years. You’ve got to be committed. You’ve got to be committed to comedy, to going out, to meeting people as well as the paperwork, continuous phone calls and emails every single day. It takes patience to build up your own stable. Don’t be an agent that just signs LOADS of acts and then treat them like shit, throwing them at a wall hoping one will stick, as you’ll just have a shitty wall.
Also, making sure you’ve got a good eye as well. That you’ve seen enough comedy to go “I know someone that will book them or someone that will definitely take them and think they’re brilliant - I’m happy to look after them!”
It is commitment and the love of comedy – that is what you need.
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