So, I heard you want to do stand-up. Of course you do!
Who doesn’t want to do stand-up? My wife. That’s who!
Who doesn’t want to be on stage in front of hundreds of people and be the one who is making them laugh? I know who doesn’t: my wife doesn’t. She is petrified of being on stage. On Valentine’s Day 2014, I proposed to her at Laughs Unlimited comedy club in Sacramento, CA; brought her up onstage and everything. She still hasn’t forgiven me for that. Most people, like my wife, are deathly afraid of being in front of a crowd. Apparently more people are afraid of public speaking than dying.
Why is that? Why are people afraid of public speaking? Are they afraid of embarrassing themselves? Being made fun of? Stuttering over their words? Profusely sweating, struggling to get through their presentation at work? I had this fear myself all the way up until my first ever stand-up gig eleven years ago. In high school, I got a D in Drama. Say it with me — D is for Drama. I had all the butterflies in my stomach, my palms were sweaty; I’m sure somewhere, there was mom’s spaghetti. Yet, I took those same butterflies everyone gets, fought through them, and performed in front of 150 people. For twenty-two minutes. That’s right, my first time ever on stage, I performed for twenty-two minutes. Was it twenty-two minutes of HBO Special quality material? Of course not, not even close! Calm your expectations, reader! Did the people that came to see the show laugh throughout and even let out a few belly laughs? That I can remember? Yes. At the end, I would say about 75% of the crowd gave me a standing ovation. Yes, 99% of the crowd was made up of friends and family! So what?! Not to toot my own horn, but… toot toot.
Let’s get back on topic: YOU!
You want to do stand-up. How to start? How do you write material? Should you do material from established comedians, so you can get comfortable on stage? And then write my own material? First of all, let’s talk about that last question: HELL NO! Absolutely not. Never, EVER go up on stage with someone else’s material. I don’t know who came up with that logic, but it was probably a veteran comedian pranking an open mic’er.
How to start your stand-up career? Let’s be clear and set some realistic expectations: you probably won’t have a huge, successful career in comedy. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer but just a Real Rachel. I was reading a blog called Diary of a Stand Up Comic, and they had a post called “Why Do Comics Quit Doing Comedy?” In the post, she talks about people she looked up to when she started who had decided to leave the business. One of the reasons stated was “people don’t seem to show up to comedy clubs just ‘wanting to laugh.’ They show up with a ‘make me laugh attitude.’ Cellphones are left on. Texting is rampant in the front row, and done with an arrogance suggesting it is their right.” Wow, I can totally relate to that feeling, but I’ve soldier on. But I definitely have considered calling it quits, many times. Mainly after I have bad sets. Comedy is hard, people. Trying to be professional comedian has, roughly, the same success rate as someone trying to make it in Major League Baseball. Yes, it can be done. But you have to be the best of the best of the best. This is true just as much as it is not true. If you have the right look and an appeal that is marketable, then guess what? Talent is icing on the cake. You’ll be on the fast track whether you have the goods or not. That’s show business. But let’s focus on the goods, because you can work on the goods.
1. Get to an open mic -Go online and google open mics. If you live in a semi-metropolitan city, chances are, there’s a couple open mics in your area that will have stand-up comedians on the show. Go to a show, meet the producer of the show, tell him/her it’ll be your first time on stage and go from there. There answer will depend on the set-up of the show.
2. Work on material -This is a very personal thing. Every comedian develops their way of writing material. You will find whatever works best for you through the process of elimination. I can only tell you what I do. I’m pretty funny when I’m around my friends, as I’m sure you are too. So, whenever I make them laugh, I pull out my phone, and write a note about what I did to make them laugh. Then I’ll go to an open mic and try to recreate that moment. I’ve heard Jamie Foxx explain it as “ capturing lightening in a bottle.” That may not work for you; you may be a sit-down-at-a-computer type and write jokes off the top of your head. At first, try it all! Work on writing 3–5 minutes of material, because that is what will be given to you at the beginning. Run The Light blog, is a blog by comedian Jeremy Cash, and he also stresses the importance of 5 minutes; in his blog entitled, you guessed it — The Importance of 5 Minutes. The author states “Stand-up comedy is all about getting better, learning from your mistakes and getting back up again.” Later they state “Once you have a good five minutes and you know it backwards and forwards, you can tuck that away.”
3. Have fun -The reason you love making people laugh is because it’s fun. I approach the stage like a child entering a playground. I just let loose and have a blast. That is my approach, and it may not reflect how others approach comedy. My #1 goal is to have fun, because I think if the audience feels that I’m having fun, then they’ll have fun. If it stops being fun, then maybe it’s time to find a new career. Have you tried improv?
That’s all I got for now! So, good luck! If you read this before you go on stage, let me know if I was any help, or if you actually do plan on getting on stage or if you felt like I was just blowing smoke up your ass!