How to Get Started as a Stand-Up Comedian

Stand-Up Comedian
Stand-up comedian Joe Mande
whose style is to criticize public figures
with sarcastic, barbed jokes that highlight
hypocrisy or stupidity. (CC image)

In our incredibly stressful world today, people are craving comic relief. Anybody who can show them the humor in today's turmoil is revered as a God. Look at all the successful movie and TV celebrities that started out as stand-up comics. The great Rodney Dangerfield started out as a stand-up comic. Jerry Seinfeld started out at open-mic night in a New York comedy club. Roseanne Barr started out in the early 1980s with stand-up gigs in clubs in Denver . Even the stunningly successful Ellen DeGeneres started out as a stand-up comic.

Stand-up comic pay varies all over the place depending upon experience, tallent, and popularity. Top Comedy Secrets says that comedians who work in the comedy club market and comedy one nighters can generally earn between $100 - $200 for a single 45 minute performance. If a comparison is made on an hourly basis with a typical day job, that would be in the range of $133-$266 per hour.

Making it as a stand up comic is a goal desired by many, but enjoyed by few. However, with the right combination of determination, practice, and hustle, it's absolutely within the grasp of a talented amateur. The potential to be the next great stand up comic is yours - get on stage and start sharing your laughter with the world!

Understand your on-stage persona or attitude. Are you a deadpan comic? An angry comic? Brutally sarcastic and ironic? Goofy? Let your persona match your writing.

Writing Jokes

Try your hand at writing jokes. Most good jokes come from the intersection of two seemingly unrelated ideas, or from a formerly unexplored observation about something most people overlook on a daily basis. Buy some sort of book to learn how to write a joke.

Write more jokes. The more you write, the easier they come. Some days you'll have five or six jokes to record, and some days you'll have none. You should, however, be starting to create quite a backlog of material. Keep a notebook with you at all times. Take notes as funny thoughts come to you or write down strange occurrences that strike your funny bone.

Write a small routine and perform your "set" in front of a mirror. Note the things about the delivery of your jokes that you like, and also the things you don't. You can also try video-taping yourself. Make sure your jokes will be understood by the audience, and re-write if needed. Note verbal ticks like "Um," and "Uh..." and minimize, unless your persona is awkward and nervous.

Joke writing takes practice. The more jokes you write, the better you will become at timing, delivery, and at developing your own personal style. Beware of telling shock jokes that are in poor taste, unless it truly is funny. Few comedians can actually pull off a rape joke, for example.

Work on your confidence and make memorized material seem spontaneous. If you use a different voice when you're reciting memorized speech try to transform it into something more conversational. Consider taking an introductory acting class. This will help you get over stage fright, learn to project your voice, and give you some acting practice.

Find an "open mic" venue nearby and sign up. If you can call ahead of time and secure yourself a spot, you will be unable to back out. Warning; Some open mic nights are themed toward fiction and poetry and usually don't take kindly to comics. Make sure the specific open mic night you sign up for is an appropriate venue.

Finalize your set. Run through it a few times; it should be anywhere from five to ten minutes long. For your first set don't worry so much about time. Five minutes is plenty, and when the microphone is in your hand, time slips away faster than normal. Leave about thirty to forty-five seconds total of "laugh time"-time when the audience is laughing at your jokes.

Stand up. Leave the microphone in the stand if you'd like, or take it out. It's recommended you take it out if it's your first time; the feeling of a microphone in your hand and the freedom to move around while you speak puts you in quite a bit of control. Take your time, making sure not to mumble or speed through your delivery. Enunciate. Speak loudly enough that even those in the back can hear. Maintain eye contact with the crowd. Smile, but don't laugh at your own jokes. Be prepared for shout-outs and heckles.

Know when you're done. Either you've reached the end of your set or you've just gotten a large applause for a joke you know you can't top - now's the time to thank the audience for their attention and for the time they've taken to get to know your comedic styling. A simple "You guys have been great, thank you," should be more than sufficient.

Organize a "social safety net." Call friends you know will be supportive, and have them come to watch. This way, even if you bomb, you'll have people to laugh at your jokes.

Stay for the other acts. You've done your thing, and now it's only polite to watch some of the other regulars. More importantly, there's a chance another stand up comic will... well, stand up. You'll either know you were better than him (or her), or you'll be able to learn something from him (or her).

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