The talk show packet is supposed to model a late night talk show of your choice. At the time of writing, we have pretty much finished a major shake-up in Late Night TV hosts. As writers, we have to try to capture the unique voice of the show’s host.
Current Late-Night line-up
Across the U.S. networks the hosts are as follows; Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Kimmel, and Seth Myers. Some writers often include “The Daily Show” as well, even though the format isn’t strictly the same. In which case, you could probably add “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore”, and “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver”.
A typical Talk Show Packet contains the following:
Character and commentary monologue
pitch concepts for desk piece
various segment ideas
two parody sketches
I think it would make more sense to write for a show that you enjoy watching, rather one you don’t. This may seem like the sucking eggs analogy, but I do occasionally think about writing something I don’t enjoy. But why would I want to waste my time doing that?
It used to be, that you could try to submit freelance jokes to Leno and/or Letterman. Faxing in jokes was what the process was called long after people stopped faxing jokes in. If they bought one you’d get $50 from Leno and $75 from Letterman. Probably not out of their pocket though. The concern for some about doing this is that it takes away writing jobs from union writers, because if you’re “faxing in” you’re non-union. I am not sure if that is something that still happens with the new hosts.
Again there are some brilliant resources out there for learning how to do this. Well, to be honest, I am guessing they’re brilliant as I haven’t actually used them myself. Once again, both iO Chicago and iO West (L.A.) have a course that covers this. The cost of the class is $305 and is 7 weeks long. But I think in order to do it, you have to have completed some of the other classes too. Good for networking, but right now I cannot find any info about the teachers.
There is also a book I am very keen to buy called Comedy Writing for Late Night (not an affiliate link) by Joe Toplyn. He wrote for both Letterman and Leno back in the day. The book is currently priced at $19.69 for the paperback. I think it only comes in paperback.
Not only that, but there’s a workshop you can take with another former writer for Leno and that’s Jerry Corley. His workshop, based in L.A., is The Late-Night TV Comedy Writing Workshop (also not an affiliate link). At the time of writing, it’s $99 for the online version of this course (regular price is $297). The in-person version of this workshop would be good for networking too.
And in case you’re thinking “this guy wrote for Leno?” While I’m not exactly a fan of Leno’s, Corley probably got paid $4,000 a week (at least that’s the current going rate) to be a writer, and he routinely pumps out up to 80-120 jokes a day. If I had the money, I’d take his online class in a heartbeat.
Additionally, in 2014 NBC created a Late Night Writer’s Workshop. It’s every January and, judging from this year’s submission dates, the doors open Jan 1st. I haven’t submitted yet, as this not something that should be rushed. If you getting admitted, you go to NYC for a workshop and they don’t guarantee you a writing position. If you Google Late Night Writer’s Workshop, you can read about the experiences of people submitting to this workshop. Note that, at time of writing, there is an emphasis on diversity.
For me, personally, I am thinking about picking up a copy of Joe Toplyn’s book, because that’s the only one I can afford right now. Creating a Late-Night Talk Show portfolio is definitely something I’m interested in doing. I think the very process of going through it will make me a better writer.
Other than being able to generate enough material on a consistent basis, some of these resources would teach you how to lay the material out on a page. This is something that is equally as important.
Certainly, having such a portfolio with some of the other additions mentioned in other posts could be a good way for you to land an agent.
But with thousands of comedians and comedy writers submitting to only a handful of shows and hardly any staff writer position openings I’m not going to hold my breath. I’ll probably still apply, but I have o keep things in perspective.