Remember the last time you were at the doctor filling out your personal information and health history?
Well, Roman Urbanski did that not too long ago and had fun writing in his job. And it didn’t go unnoticed.
“It’s funny because I went to the doctor, and there’s a line that says occupation. The doctor came in and the first thing he said was, ‘Cue card guy? What’s that?’” Roman says. “To be technical, I guess it would be cue card writer and holder. Sometimes when my name is listed in the credits of a show it just says, ‘cue card.’”
Roman works for cue card company, NYC Q Cards, where his skills are contracted out to various shows. The production teams contact his boss, Wally Feresten, and from there assignments are divvied out to the team. Roman’s main gig is working on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Monday through Friday, as well as Saturday Night Live on Friday and Saturday. Throughout the year he also will work on a smattering of random shows. NYC Q Cards works with late night shows, reality shows and even lectures or speeches for corporate events.
When not writing cards, using tape to change said cards and witnessing some serious moments in pop culture as the shows he works on are being filmed, you can find Roman with his other love: music. He’s currently in country rock soul band Bad Man Yells. He sings soul and his bandmate croons country.
How did you transition from studying music in college to being a cue card guy?
In the entertainment industry, it’s a lot about who you know. A friend of mine, who also is a cue card guy, had let me know they were looking for another cue card guy for the company he worked at. I kept giving him my résumé. And one day, Wally, [the owner] said, “Bring him in. Let’s see how he does.” I was brought into Late Night with Jimmy Fallon one day and they basically sat me down with pens and cue cards and said, “Alright, just copy what I write.”
At first it’s super hard. You use these big metal pens … and I’m a lefty. You’d be surprised how many lefty cue card guys there are. Basically, I just tried writing. They said it was horrible handwriting, but then said that when starting out in this role, we’re all bad. I just kept at it and before I knew it, it was like second nature. It clicked, and at that time they said I could go use the cards for a show. Simultaneous to practicing how to write a cue card, you learn the process for holding cue cards. Friends will come up to me and say, “I can hold a cue card.” But I don’t think they understand there’s a way to hold them that you need to be aware of.
The way I ended up transitioning from music, which I still love to do, to my job in cue cards, was just about putting my name out there and taking advantage of opportunities that came to me.
Can you walk us through your day?
Given the shows I regularly work on, we come in and have a fairly routine schedule. For Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, we have a rundown and a schedule. We’re given the script of whatever sketches are happening that day and myself and another cue card guy basically split up the script and just write it out. That’s what we do; we’re given a script, and we write everything out on the cue cards; the stage directions and everything. Later on in the day, we’ll write monologue jokes before the show. The head cue card guy will rehearse those monologue jokes with Jimmy. Then we’ll go and do the show and he and I will hold them.
In a nutshell, my whole day is spent writing cue cards. And we have white tape – it’s like our eraser. And since scripts are often being rewritten while we’re writing out the cards, we’re constantly working and making changes for the cue cards.
Say you have a gig outside of the studio. Do you run around the city with big white cards?
When I work remote, they give me a script, then I write on cards and later on we rehearse. It’s my job to make sure there’s a good eye line for the actor. One time, in Pennsylvania, I had to use one of those luggage racks that valets use. If it’s in the city somewhere, I’ll walk around with a bunch of cue cards. And no matter where you go or where you’re working, you’ve gotta have your pens, your tape and your cards.
We love seeing Jimmy Fallon give away cue cards to fans.
Jimmy gives cue cards away. He did it the other day, but before that, he hadn’t done it in a while. If it’s a certain joke that’s particularly funny or crazy he’ll take the cards and give them to someone in the audience. Usually the main cue card guy, Steve, will hand them off to Jimmy. I’ll be there right next to Steve with the next cards he’ll need.
Between Late Night and SNL you have the opportunity of being front row for incredible moments in culture. What’s that like?
A couple of weeks ago, we had a Bruce Springsteen week on Late Night. Bruce was on the show on Monday and he played with the E-Street band. Tuesday through Thursday, other bands came on to perform Springsteen songs. Then on Friday, the show was all Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band playing with the Roots. Everybody was playing music on the floor. They invited the audience down when they were playing. It was one of those times when I thought, “I can’t believe this is my job! It’s an incredible moment right now.”
That day was something special. People were coming down from other floors of the building to see if they could see this thing. It was the most surreal experience of my life. We do a lot of shows every day, but when something like that happens, well, you never see that on TV. An incredibly talented and famous musician just had everybody captivated, and then he invited the whole audience down to the floor. It’s times like that we’re I’m incredibly happy I get to do my job.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I think the most challenging part of my job is the fact that some shows require 14-hour days. And when you have those long days, you’re usually stuck in the same area. You sit there in your department just chipping away; writing … and writing … and writing. Sometimes I’ll be writing out a sketch and then find out that out it was rewritten. And then I have to toss everything I’ve worked on. But then again, that’s happening in every department at the same time – whether it’s wardrobe or writing. Everything is being tweaked, but at the end of the day, you have a bunch of people you can relate to. When the show’s done and you realize you put out this live show in front of the country with your co-workers, it’s all worth it. I feel so glad that despite whatever happened during the day, we were able to put an amazing show forward.
A great job is one where you feel productive and you also have a great time doing it. Everybody works hard, but at the same time there’s comedy and laughter, you know?
What is one lesson you’ve learned in your job that sticks with you?
To be ready at all times. TV, like life, doesn’t stop for you. So no matter what situation you go in to, you need to always be open and be ready for what you need to do. No matter what you’re feeling at one point, you have to go into a situation and be able to work. And you see that on a bigger scale, obviously, if you ever go to theatre. You wonder, how they’re able to perform every single day. They’re the ones who are really good at it. No matter how you’re feeling on any given day, you have to be able to go in and perform your best – no matter what.
Who are your role models?
I have a different role model every week. I play music. It’s part of my life. I’ll always continue to do that. I think in terms of music, Jim James, who is the lead singer of My Morning Jacket, is a big role model of mine. He does what he wanted to do and he draws from all these different influences and people. And I think that has a lot to do with his success; he created his own destiny. He’s a cool dude, he’s funny and he’s really captivating and makes really cool things.
Co-workers of mine and I always create our own ideas to pitch to one another in hopes of maybe making something of it. You know that show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? The guys who created that show – Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day – were people who were acting and getting random jobs, but then they got together and created their own thing and believed in it. They found something that they thought was hilarious and they created it. Now it’s just a huge success.
What advice do you have for people who want to break into the entertainment industry?
Do whatever you can. I was always taking advantage of every opportunity. And I still try to do that. Keep yourself out there. Whether it’s behind the scenes or in front of the camera, constantly keep your eye out. I have a bunch of friends who are making short films and I always offer to help. I think in the entertainment industry, it’s really easy to be able to do something. It might not be for a huge channel, but that’s how you get there. And when you talk to other people, you find out that’s how they got there, too. It’s work. When you’re in the entertainment industry you’re constantly working on something, so you should start getting involved as soon as you can. Apply to every job you can and also keep an eye out for whether it’s Craigslist or Backstage.com – anything where they’re looking for any type of job.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
In five years, hopefully I’ll have seen myself touring with my band in some sort of capacity. I do love making music. Even if it’s just me and my band traveling for a few weekends and just making music, I’d be happy. But I also want to do more geared toward what I’m doing now. My co-workers and I have a lot of ideas. Within the next five years, I’d like to come up with a few ideas and pitch one of them to somebody in the company.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Cue cards are super fun and work as an extremely good option in many situations. If you want to contact us to work on your cue cards, reach out to Wally Feresten through our website.