So you have to write a bio for your festival submission/Facebook page/fringe show. Now what?
Most performer bios are straight, earnest write-ups with a laundry list of every show the person’s ever done.
Unless you work for Second City, where bios read like a playbill from Smallville High (“Jimmy Jones is thrilled to be in his third Mainstage revue…“), this is a chance to let your comedy skills shine.
A snappy, well-written profile will make you stand out, so spend a few minutes and make it fun. Below are three great examples. First up, a solo bio for the improvised show, Throne of Games:
Kevin Whalen “Petyr Baelish”
Kevin Whalen is delighted to reprise his role as “Lord Baelish” in Throne of Games. When not playing a self-centered, two-faced pimp, Kevin can be found eating nachos. During pre and post nacho eating, Kevin is probably teaching comedy at the The Second City Training Centre or perhaps performing sketch with The Second City Touring Company. If none of the above applies, you might find him improvising with the comedy troupe S&P or at home deciding which plaid shirt accurately reflects his mood today.
It starts off like a typical bio, then takes a left turn into funny. The self-deprecating tone is a refreshing change from the usual platitudes, and gives an insight into Kevin’s personality. Now let’s look at a team bio:
Standards & Practices
(Cameron Algie, Matt Folliott, Isaac Kessler and Kevin Whalen) BIG BANG. Four gods of improv explode onto the stage and create a new world. A world without rules, limitations or laughterlessness. Using their training from Annoyance, UCB, iO, ITC, Second City and Bad Dog, they organically follow the ideas using extreme characters, heart-wrenching emotional commitment, and wild physicality until there’s order to the chaos. And a new world is born: Awesomeland.
In just a few sentences, Standards & Practices have painted a vivid picture of who they are. And hey, there’s Kevin Whalen again. (What can we say? Dude’s funny.) Note the use of active, playful language that accurately reflects their unique style of improv. For a team bio, you probably don’t need to go into a ton of detail. Just give the reader a taste of what you’re all about in a paragraph or so.
Achtung, baby: S&P’s chutzpah is balanced with brevity. Plus, they consistently deliver the goods. Unless you can do the same, don’t overpromise with a blurb that’s more hubris than humorous.
Now maybe you’re thinking, “That’s all great, but I need to present myself in a professional manner. What if some Big Talent Agent or other really important person reads it?”
As someone who writes copy for a living, I urge you to think of your bio as an ad for yourself. And we all know what happens to boring ads.
It doesn’t matter who you’re trying to impress. Which bio do you think they’ll remember: the one that lists every show you’ve done since you were seven, or the pithy paragraph that made them chuckle? You’re in the entertainment business. Take the opportunity to engage your audience before they set eyes on you.
Now let’s look at that rarest of things, a successful working comedian’s bio:
Anthony Atamanuik has been writing, performing, and producing comedy for over ten years. In 1997 he moved to Los Angeles after graduating with a BS in Film Theory from Emerson College. While living in LA Anthony worked for Jim Henson Interactive, Mr. Show, and sadly, Suzanne Somers. He moved to New York in 2000 and started training and performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in 2002. Anthony has trained with Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, Owen Burke, Billy Merritt, Kevin Mullaney, Seth Morris and others. He performed with various Harold Teams including Creep, and performed with the acclaimed Instant Cinema. Anthony is currently performing with critically acclaimed and award-winning weekend team Death by Roo Roo on Saturday nights. He is also a regular performer in ASSSSCAT 3000 on Sunday night. Anthony also performs his one-man variety show, The Tony and Johnny Show, Tuesday nights at 9:30 pm, and every Wednesday he makes movie magic with Neil W. Casey in the Two Man Movie. He has played various roles in Adult Swim’s Fat Guy Stuck In Internet. He has also appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, The Caroline Rhea Show, The Reggie Watts Live At Central Park Comedy Central Special, and in a very special DVD extra on Todd Barry’s Comedy Central special. For the last 7 seasons, Anthony can be seen on NBC’s 30 Rock, playing a very expressive staff writer who doesn’t speak.
Notice how all three examples have something in the opening and closing that elicits a smile. Even, in fact especially when there’s a lot of info, you want to reward the reader for wading through it.
A lot of bios are written in the third person. It’s more formal, but can come across as pretentious if you’re not careful. (Read some solopreneur websites and you’ll see what we mean.) Whether you write in the first or third person, just avoid coming across as, well, a douchebag. Even though his work is “acclaimed” and “award-winning,” Atamanuik sounds confident but humble.
Update: Since this post was written five years ago, Atamanuik has gone on to land his own series on Comedy Central, The President Show. His brilliant impersonation and improv skills aside, we like to think a kickass bio helped.
For more inspiration, check out Seth Godin’s post on why resumes are redundant in the digital age.
Better yet, buy his life-changing, career-building book, Linchpin.It’s what motivated us to start this blog, and Cameron to ditch a job in advertising for his true passion, helping people overcome anxiety through play. (You can read his story here.)