How to Become a Stand-Up Comedian
A Beginner’s Guide to Stand-Up Comedy as a Profession
Do you like to make your friends and family laugh? Are your jokes so bad that they can be misconstrued as funny? Many people have wondered what it would be like to try out stand-up comedy and perhaps make some money performing. Unfortunately, few know where to really start. Here’s what you need to know to get started in stand-up comedy, whether as a hobby or a potential career path.
1. Take notes.
This is a must, and I don’t mean take notes like you’re in class. To be a comedian you have to be hyper-aware of your surroundings. You won’t necessarily need a pen and notepad; in the age of millennials, you are better off just opening up the notepad on your smartphone. Start by writing down your observations about people, places, and things. From there you will be able to look through your observations and group them by common traits. This is important in identifying what your comedy could be about it. As a new stand-up, you will have an extremely difficult time finding your voice, but you must trust the process and hone in on how you see the world.
For a more structured plan try this…
For one week, write down all of your observations on your phone. At the end of this week, send the notepad document to your computer. First, read through all of these observations. Now you can create categories based on your method of thinking. Identify about five themes in your observations, and next read through all of your observations, this time adding each one to a specific category. Now on your computer you will be able to compile each week's note-taking into these categories. As you go forward observing the world you will be able to amend the themes. But for now you should be able to move forward with crafting your joke set.
Please note that I would recommend looking into better note management platforms as you get more advanced in your note-taking, so that you can organize notes more easily based on topics or themes, and later on into actual joke sets.
2. Watch those who have done it before.
You may have found your love for stand-up from Netflix, HBO, or Comedy Central specials, but this is not what you should be looking at. These stand-up specials were crafted after years of perfecting the art of comedy. You are going to need to start a lot smaller, and build up from there. Remember, this is a beginner’s guide to performing comedy. I recommend starting with a YouTube search “5 minute stand-up set.” This will give you access to both expert and struggling comedians performing the ideal set length for a beginner.
Once you’ve watched a ton of these short sets (I recommend about 100 to start with), you will be able to recognize common themes of what makes good and bad comedy. Specifically, review the joke structure, whether the author is telling a story or simply offering an observation. This will help you craft your first jokes later on.
Now you are ready to go out and watch some comics perform live at your local comedy club. Make sure you pay close attention to how they present themselves on stage including their body language, facial expression, and cadence in delivering the jokes. You are going to have to repeat this step later on, but this will allow you to get a better idea of your target demographic and the types of topics they might find hilarious!
3. Write some jokes!
Yes, you are ready even if you don’t think you are. How are you going to be a comedian if you don’t have any jokes up your sleeve?
Keep in mind that the two types of jokes you should begin with are anecdotes and observations. Let’s go over how to construct each of the two.
Anecdotes or stories. Write down a short story of no more than 300 words, which is approximately 15 sentences long. You should aim to have a moderately funny observation for one out of every three sentences. This will allow you for four pauses throughout the anecdote prior to the final two sentences and punchline! This is a pretty simple structure to follow for crafting your first anecdote.
Now for the observations. Group two unrelated observations together and connect them comically. You have your bank of observations on your phone, now’s time to group them in two. Take each from one of your five categories and see where it goes. If the paired observations seem totally ridiculous then you are probably on the right track. Finding ways of connecting these disjointed thoughts could make for crazy funny jokes.
4. Round up the troops!
Invite your friends and family over, it’s time to get some feedback! By now you should have written at least ten anecdotes and 50 observational jokes. Tell the group each joke, then ask for ideas on what works and what doesn’t. Based on their feedback, narrow down your list of jokes, to about three anecdotes and ten observations. Don’t throw away the ones that didn’t work, as you may be able to rework them as you gain more experience.
5. Organize your set list.
You should spend some time organizing your set list perhaps based on common or totally unrelated themes. Try to break up your anecdotes with a few observational jokes. Don’t fret, as you will always be able to change around your set based on the feedback you get from the audience and fellow comedians.
6. Practice, Practice, Practice
I cannot stress this enough. You will have to memorize the set and this will take a considerable amount of time. Practice under stress; which can include music blasting or being in an unbearably hot or cold room. You have to get out of your comfort zone and the only way short of actually performing in front of a live audience is to subject yourself to stress in the comfort of your own home.
7. Get your butt to an open mic!
Now it’s time to pop your stand-up cherry! How exciting!
Ideally, pick a spot that will be completely deserted. You will want to start small when you haven’t been accustomed to performing. Once you get performing in front of no one out of the way, you will be able to slowly build up from there. Open mics are a great place to network with other amateur comedians in your neighborhood. Once you become a master at the open mics, you will be able to graduate to the next step in becoming a professional comedian.
Don't be afraid to fail.
As trite as this sounds, there is no other way to put it. If you are afraid of failure you will never become a standup. Part of becoming a professional is mastering the craft. You will need to roll with the punches and accept the good and the bad. As you expose yourself to critique, you will be able to find your voice.
Remember, this is just a beginner’s guide to stand-up to help you get set up in the world of comedy. Wherever it takes you is on you, but you can use this as a launchpad to get your feet off the ground.