You Can Be on The Late Show—It Beats Watching from the Sofa

Two Manhattan Comedy School graduates made the big time with appearances on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We spoke with Emma Willmann, who performed at the Ed Sullivan Theater last September.

A Comedy Cellar regular who’s also been on AXS TV’s Gotham Comedy Live, Emma loved the Comedy Writing Bootcamp course she took with MCS instructor Corey Kahaney. By the time she began trying for a late night spot, she had a manager and agent, but being a MCS vet turned out to be an asset, too.

One night, as she was killing it at Comedy Cellar, a booker from Colbert’s team approached her. That meeting launched the months-long process to be confirmed as a guest on the show. Emma created a spreadsheet of jokes that fit both the show’s style, and the episode she would perform on. She developed the list with the guidance of the booker, Jessica, who offered notes to revise and refine the material.

To land that coveted post-prime-time spot, comedians must submit a five-minute tape of their best work. Producing one, however, sounds easier than it is. Emma says the challenge is figuring out which five minutes best capture who you are, and it’s a limited time to ensure that every line lands.

“You can’t win the audience back as easily as when you’re doing a longer set,” she explains. “and when you’re performing, five minutes goes by quickly.” She met the challenge, though: Her appearance on the live show was a hit.

Emma’s past MCS training paid off as she worked on her submission content. “The course has a built-in structure, and taught me writing tricks and theories to incorporate material,” she says. “Looking back on the experience, I appreciate how the repetition and refining process facilitated working on a late-night set.“

What’s more, MCS founder Andy Engel—a New Talent producer for decades—also provided support. He invited Emma to do a five-minute set on one of his Gotham Comedy Club shows, and the performance was taped so she could submit again to the booker.

Emma emphasizes the importance of having more than one iron in the fire during the process, even with a pending opportunity as big as Colbert’s show. While she was tweaking her set for that spot, she was pursuing club appearances, TV and radio work, and festival gigs.

She has other advice for comedians eager to break into late-night. For starters, leave your ego at the door.
”Be willing to do what’s needed,” Emma says. “Networking is a big part, and it’s mutually beneficial. Be good, be on time, make yourself an asset—which includes being funny.”

In fact, at one time she was an intern for Andy at MCS, a learning experience as well as a unique opportunity to connect with other comedians and industry professionals. She also suggests getting onto the college circuit, and doing as many open mics as you can. Both provide valuable skills to build and manage your career. 

 “There are so many funny people,” Emma says. “So it takes time—but don’t rush it.”

She’s now focusing on landing another late-night spot, as well as working on a range of other projects that you can find on her website.

Congratulations as well to Carmen Lynch, who also appeared on The Late Show in February this year. She’s got her hands full this week at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Want to up your stand-up game like Emma did? Register for a Manhattan Comedy School course soon.