So you’ve been seeing yourself doing something outrageous or your friends told you you were funny enough times to take a crack at it… Awesome, and let me be the first to welcome you to the most depressing journey of your life.
In all seriousness, I hope it works out.
Let’s start by breaking down the steps.
The only rule in stand-up comedy is that all material must be original. You cannot, under any circumstances, use someone else’s work. No memes from the internet, no old-time jokes from your dad, and definitely not someone else’s stand-up. NOT EVER, NO EXCEPTIONS!
Not sure where to start?
If you are not sure where to start with writing, try writing down your favorite party story, one that you tell a lot and gets everyone to laugh. From there pick out the places you expect to get a laugh, this is your punchline, make sure it is concise, be prepared to say it clearly, and pause after. Sometimes people laugh because they know it’s time to; I know that’s not what you are hoping for but it’s better than no pause and no one has time to laugh.
When writing from a story you usually tell be prepared to abandon the story. This means that you might only say one or two sentences that account for about 30 seconds of your five-minute story. This is great because you are trimming the fat, in other words taking out unnecessary details that have nothing to do with what is actually funny. This can be hard because you might think something is important but really you could do without it.
There is only one way to get better at stand-up comedy, to do it.
Where to find your first mic?
Get on Facebook groups, find the local website, get on Eventbrite, or just straight up ask someone in the area.
Do not bring your friends to your first show. First of all, if you drag your friends to an open mic they will never forgive you. Second, the first will probably be the worst, bring them when you are doing better and need to bring friends because a show producer asked you to.
In public speaking, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, no one knows how nervous you are until you tell them. No one can see your hands are sweaty, that you are red, or even that you are shaking. I am confident when I say people won’t see it unless you tell them it is happening. If you speak with confidence people will listen, but if you take your time to stumble by and look through your notes unprepared it will be obvious.
Second, you need to keep everyone engaged. Try to let your eyes wander around the room as if to make eye contact with everyone person. Typically there should be a very bright light (and when you feel nervous it looks blinding bright) and you should look around just the same, do not look directly into it unless you want to make a defined facial expression.
Lastly, try to speak slowly and exaggerate body language. You can be the best joke writer in the world but no one wants to watch a deadpan for an hour. I know you are just getting started but try to get comfortable moving around early so you can practice it the entire time you are learning.
You can download a simple recorder on your phone or kick it up a notch with zoom that you can plug into the mixer and get the exact microphone audio.
But the important part is you listen to it. Sure, listening to your voice is not pleasant, but this will get you further faster. Suck it up and make time to listen. I tend to listen in the car but it could be more helpful to listen in a place you can take notes.
You only really need the audio but videos help a lot. It can feel weird filming yourself at a crappy open mic but you’ve already grown the balls to get up, might as well. Do not post this video online, give yourself time to work on the jokes first. You can clip out any crowd work you might not use again to post if you need it.
What didn’t work and why? Did you say too many filler words like “like” and “you know what I am saying?” Word to the wise, no one knows what you are saying, just say it and speak clearly. Did Something land and you didn’t give enough of a pause? These are things you should be learning in your review.
Keep in mind that you are starting at a crappy open mic and there is a chance that it would be better received at a comedy club or a place where people paid to be there and want to laugh. Open mics are filled with nervous people not paying attention.
Remember that the important part of listening is learning and retaining what you have learned. Remember to make the pause longer, remember to say filler words less, and remember to cut the unnecessary details. I once watched someone take ten minutes to tell a 30-second setup and punch line. The joke was good, and in no way needed a ten-minute story.
Do the same material over and over. Even if the only place you have available to you is the same open mic with the same people, they will appreciate that you are working on what you have (even if they don’t love it all the time). It is an essential part of the craft. If you do different material every time you step on stage, congratulations you are doing improv.
Get Out There
When you feel like you are in a place where you are ready to move from open mic, get out there and meet people. No one is coming to discover you at your local dive bar, and even if they were they would probably ask how many followers you have and not care about your set.
This is an industry where people are here to make money, you have to see your value that way as well. If you are newer you will be asked to bring people because that is where your value is. If you find yourself bringing more than ten people to a show do yourself a favor and produce your own, you make more money and people in your local scene will want to give you time in exchange for time on your show. Please pay your performers and good luck on your journey.