I’m really excited to present my interview with Bill Sindelar. Bill is a warm-up comedian for live audiences in Hollywood.
Any time you attend a TV show that requires a studio audience, there is a warm-up comedian who gets the audience ready, and guides them through the experience. They will not only get the audience pumped up, but act as a host, answering questions, interacting with the audience, and giving out food and prizes.
I got to see Bill in action when I attended a filming of The Talk, a daytime talk show that films at CBS Studio Center. You can read about my experience attending the show here.
Hi Bill, thanks for taking the time to chat. Can we start with your background and how you got into the entertainment industry?
I started doing plays in elementary school. But I quit when my friends stopped doing them. Once I got into high school I really didn’t have many friends so I got involved in every single activity I could. I think I went home right after school maybe 5 times that whole senior year. I figured it would make people like me if they had to work with me.
When I got to college the next year, I commuted and got involved in theater as a way to meet people. At the time I was going to school to be a sportscaster and had a part-time job at McDonalds. One day I was singing peoples orders back to them and having fun and a customer pulled up and asked if I was an actor. I laughed and said yes. He gave me his card and was an agent in town. That’s how I got my first agent. I was also performing in shows at the SeaWorld in Cleveland at the time, so it just seemed natural that I would move in that direction.
How did you transition to being a warm-up comedian in Hollywood?
I never did stand up. I was actually terrified of it until about a year and a half ago. That was one of the reasons (I was told) that I worked doing warm-up at the beginning. Because I was different than the other guys doing it, had this improv background, and it wasn’t so much about my set as it was about me having fun and interacting with the audiences. But, there is obviously an element of joke telling to the job. It just wasn’t my focus.
I started to do standup because two of the co-hosts of The Talk (a show I worked on) Aisha Tyler and Sheryl Underwood convinced me I should be doing it. So I tried it out and have been working on it ever since. With warmup, audiences come to the shows not expecting a person like us there to entertain them. So the expectations being lower they end up really liking you. When you go to a comedy show the pressure is on to deliver and be funny because people paid to see you. So there is that level of expectations you have to meet. That terrified me.
Many of my readers have probably never attended a live TV taping. Can you explain a bit about the role of a warm-up comedian?
My job is to get you to forget everything that happened to you before you sit in that seat. Traffic, argument with the husband on the way to the studio, waiting outside in the heat, etc….I am there to get you focused and ready for a show and to be entertained. So, we get your energy up, make you laugh, and give you that permission to have fun and react to the show.
People think when they attend a taping they are there to watch a show. They aren’t. They actually have a job and that’s to play the role of the audience member. You’re not there to sit and watch a show, but you are there to bring the show to life. Some shows are live and take a hour. Most are not and those can take hours and hours to shoot. So I help guide you through the show and keep you going.
For anyone attending a live taping for the first time, what can they expect from the experience?
I approach the job as if I am an audience member with a mic. I really try to exceed their expectations when they come . It’s hard because people come [to the show] and think the whole experience is very glamorous. But, lots of times its not. Or people think they get to meet actors/actresses and its a big party. And it can be (there is free food and drinks..lol)… but every show process is different. Some shows let you park on the lots or some make you walk over or some even have a shuttle for you. You check in at security, go to holding areas, walk to the soundstage, and get sat. There is a lot more that goes into it than that, but that’s the basic experience getting to the set.
On The Talk, since its live, I go on for about 15 minutes, the show starts, then we have 5 breaks ranging from 2-5 minutes where we interact with the hosts when we can and I chat with the crowd. On The Voice we have about 800-1000 on our live nights. It is vitally impossible to talk to the coaches because there are so many moving parts and he stage is so massive. Each experience is different. But, I still do try to get to them.
Which TV shows have you worked on? How many days a week could you work?
Before the pandemic I worked all time. Last year I had two opportunities where I worked 33 and 31 days in a row..sometime 3 shows a day. So, yea I was tired. But in our business I am an independent contractor and only get paid when I work with zero sick days or vacation.
This year I have worked 11 days since March 12. I have 9 left this year. I am only working The Voice at the moment. The pandemic has destroyed my position along with all of the hundreds of other people who work to bring in audiences. So all that work last year helped me this year, but if I don’t get work by March, I am most likely going to leave LA. Audiences will be the very last thing brought back to stages. But, this year the shows I had booked were The Talk, The Conners, The Voice, Just Roll with It, Supermarket Sweep, Big Brother, World of Dance.
Do you have a preference between the audience experience for talk shows, sitcoms, game shows, etc?
I don’t. They are all different. I really enjoy talk shows because it is different everyday, smaller audiences, and we can get out. Live shows are a sprint in terms of my job because it is getting the audience going and keeping them on fire for a hour or so. Whereas a sitcom (especially if it’s funny like The Conners) is a marathon in terms of keeping the audience going since that can take 3-4 hours to shoot (which is short by sitcom standards, some take 5-6 hours). But The Conners is so funny it makes my job easier to keep them going. We really get to know each other on a sitcom. The Voice is awesome because there is sooooo much energy in the room and it’s such a great show. Game shows can be fun, but those are often the most painful ones. Those can also take a long time to shoot, and if the show is hard to follow (as some are until they are edited for tv), it makes our audience experience tough.
Is there a difference in how you work a live show (like The Talk) compared to a taped show (like The Conners)?
OMG yes. I kinda said it earlier. But The Talk is a sprint and The Conners is a marathon. On a live show we can’t fail. It’s live so we need to hit everything. On the sitcom we need to hit the jokes for the actors for their rhythms and beats. And we do multiple takes of stuff on sitcoms. It’s a tough balance to keep the audience going during a sitcom because you don’t want to burn them out to early. Where as The Talk, I only need you for a hour so it’s pedal to the metal.
What sort of preparation do you do before each show? Is it something where you really need to think on your feet?
I am a over preparer, I think. Well, I know. At the moment I am doing this from The Voice. We are shooting 2021 blinds this week. My call time was 11am, but got in at 9am. I wanted to go over the schedules with the right people, get settled in, and focus on the day. I can’t just walk in and work. I’m always early. But each show is different. The Conners, for example, I read the script a couple days before, mark any notes I may have for producers. [This is] because there may be stuff in the script we haven’t seen on television yet. So, there is stuff the producers may or may not want to explain to the studio audience. But the hardest part of the job is reading the room and thinking on your feet. You have to have those tricks to get them going if they are a flat crowd-or know how to tone them down if they are to energetic.
One thing I’ve noticed at TV tapings is that the audience really plays a part in the show. They provide the laughter, but the writers also measure a joke on the response it gets. Often, writers will rewrite scenes and jokes based on the audience reaction. Do you have any other examples of how the audience can impact the show?
OH gosh I have seen audiences ruin shows. I try to remind them, even with this virtual audience right now on The Voice, you really do have a job and aren’t there to fill a seat or screen. That’s where the pressure for my job becomes really intense. On a sitcom they have spent months working an a script, if the audience comes in and is flat for whatever reason, I get the blame. The audience is that thing that is so important but they don’t want to have to think about. So if they have to then I’m not dong my job.
Imagine you are auditioning at The Voice and you come out to an audience that is smiling, clapping, dancing, or standing….then the artist gets nervous and thinks they are bad or that the crowd doesn’t like them. They shouldn’t have to think about that. They should be able to walk out to a friendly environment that is ready to be entertained. I was doing another music show where I got yelled at because the crowd wasn’t booing loud enough. I can say I was happy to move on from that show after the season.
Film tourism has increased a lot in the last few years, and people are enthusiastic to see some of the places where their favourite movies and TV shows are filmed. You get to work on actual sets that millions of people only see on TV. What is the atmosphere and excitement like in a studio?
Some of my favorite memories come from the original American Idol and Hannah Montana. Both were shows so many people watched. The excitement and buzz in the audience was amazing because they knew they were part of something so many people would talk about the next day. There is nothing like a live audience on a music show seeing everyone sing and dance to songs and artists they know. Seeing kids meet Miley on Hannah was just amazing
Do you have any favourite sets or studios that feel extra special to you?
I still have a special place for stage 36 at CBS Television City. It was the location my first show-The Wayne Brady Hour. I knew Wayne and his wife (at the time) Mandie by working at Universal Studios in the theme park with them. Mandie saw me work a crowd at a event and told Wayne he should hire me to work on his show. SO that whole experience I carry with me.
Do you have any nightmare stories about audience members?
Honestly yes….soooo many…lol… And the nightmare stories mostly come from people having the idea in their head of what the experience will be and then how it unfolds. People also don’t read their info packets, so they don’t follow the directions and guidelines for coming to the show. But for all the bad ones, there are awesome ones and really really great people who come to the shows.
Are there any other areas of the industry that appeal to you, like acting, writing, directing, etc?
I came out here to act and host shows. I found this other career along the way that I was lucky to break into, but right now I really would like to write on a multi cam or single cam show. So I have been writing scripts and working on that during this pandemic. I’m trying to reinvent myself at 45 in a industry where my job may not come back till June of 2021. And you can make as much art as you want, problem is you have to find a way to get paid for it.
As a warm-up comedian, you get to interact with the cast and crew, as well as the audience. I won’t ask for any dirt on celebrities, but do you have any you really click with? Anyone you love working with?
OH so many of them….I think alot of celebrities get a bad wrap, but there are also those that totally deserve it. Some of my favorites (In no order) Miley Cyrus, Wayne Brady, the Backstreet Boys, Joey Fatone, Jeff Foxworthy, Blake Shelton, Carson Daly, Julie Chen, Sara Gilbert, Michael Fishman, Jason Earles, Leo Howard, Emily Osment, Jeff Probst, Aisha Tylor, Tom Bergeron, Carrie Ann Inaba, and one of my all time favorite Bonnie Hunt. She has always treated me with respect, but also as a talent, seeing past me just being a warmup host. She has also given me other opportunities. So I guess if there was a order she would be at the top…lol.
Hypothetically, if you could work on any past TV show, which one would you like to be a part of?
Golden Girls, The Wonder Years, and Night Court.
How can my readers follow you and keep up on your career?
Thanks so much Bill Sindelar, for sharing your knowledge and experiences with the many shows you’ve worked with!