Stand Up Comedian
A stand up comedian is a comic whose specialty is performing a live comedy skit in front of an audience. Stand up is an interesting business because it allows for the utmost freedom. When you’re on stage, you can legitimately say ANYTHING as long as your delivery and non-verbals are on point. Your “delivery” comprises spoken aspects of your skit such as tone of voice and pacing. “Non-verbals” are non-verbal forms of communication such as facial expressions and hand gestures.
In essence, there’s something very pure about stand up comedy. A comedian is speaking into a microphone in order to make the audience laugh. Although on the surface, a good stand up routine seems effortless and natural, at its core that routine is a result of hours and hours of practice.
How To Start Your Career As a Stand Up Comic
Before you perform on stage, you need to have a routine that you’re confident in. The first step to having a good routing is researching the dynamics behind humor and what makes a good joke. Go to your local comedy club and observe stand up performances. Which ones are good? What makes them work? Maybe network with the comics that you admire.
Read books about humor theory. Read books about how to write a good joke. Once again, identify professional or amateur comics that you admire and study them closely. Watch their stand up routines and take notes as you watch. Study their deliveries, their tone, their on-stage personas/characters. Study their non-verbals. In addition to studying your favorite comics in action, read biographies about them. Learn their personal philosophies, their preparation habits and also how they got their break in the industry.
There are many different styles of comedy, too many to go over or even list. Some comedians specialize in dry, deadpan comedy. Steven Wright is an excellent example of this style. Note the flatness of his delivery, and also his monotone.
Some comics really focus on facial expressions and an energetic, slapstick approach. Jim Carrey is the master of this style.
Basically, think about your style and your on-stage brand. It may take some time and real life performing experience to form your style—that’s okay. Be patient and work every day towards becoming better.
Your first major step towards becoming a stand up comedian is having a good routine that you’re able to perform. Spend at least an hour every day writing down jokes. Be disciplined. Even if you think your jokes are terrible, write them down and try to perfect them. Once you have some jokes that you like, perform them to yourself in the mirror. Work on your delivery. Take note of your facial expressions and your pacing. You can use tape recorder to help you pin down the tone of your voce. (It’s hard to hear how your voice sounds in real time.)
Once you’ve practiced your routine enough times in front of the mirror, it should seem natural and spontaneous (unless your on-stage persona is awkward and spazzy) even though it’s been elaborately planned and memorized. Once you start to feel more comfortable with your routine, practice in front of real people and ask for feedback. Performing in front of friends can be a great way to alleviate performance stage fright as well as improve.
It’s Time To Perform!
Once you have a five-minute routine you’re comfortable with, sign up for an open-mic night at your local comedy club or bar. No practice can simulate a live performance. You’ll have to gauge the energy in the crowd and be prepared for crowd participation or even heckling. No matter what happens, stay calm, and don’t be scared. You have nothing to be scared of; fear is a choice. Five minutes isn’t very long, and once the microphone is in your hand time will fly.
What’s the worst that can happen? You bomb. Every famous comic has bombed at some point in his or her career. It’s part of paying your dues. When Jim Carrey first performed his impressions at a club in Toronto, he was booed off stage. He bombed so badly that he questioned his future in comedy. That said, he persisted and honed his craft and eventually attained great wealth and fame.
Dave Chappelle, one of the most brilliant comics alive, once said during an interview with David Letterman that the best comics bomb hard because they take risks. They experiment. They’re fearless. And when they fail, they really fail. And when they succeed, they do so on a legendary scale.
Jerry Seinfeld has said that when he’s not receiving any laughs, he simply sticks to his material. He keeps going with his plan, and if people laugh, they laugh. If they don’t, they don’t. That’s great advice coming from one of the best in the business. Stick to your routine and let the world take care of the rest.
It’s okay to be nervous before you go on stage. As a matter of fact, it’s GOOD to be nervous. If you aren’t nervous, it means that something’s wrong or that you don’t care. Above all else, you need to believe. Have faith in all the hard work and preparation you’ve put into your routine. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s cliché because it’s true. If you don’t believe in your own routine, nobody else will believe in it. Now, it’s possible that you’ll believe your routine is amazing, whereas the audience won’t. That’s okay. Remember, you can’t control other people. You can only control your own output.
Monetizing Your Comedy Act
If you keep working on your routine, write new jokes every day, continue to study comedy and successful comedians, you will improve. As you improve, your services will be more in demand. Once your services reach a certain demand level, you’ll be able to charge for your comedy act. This process takes time and work, but above all patience.
Keep performing at open mics/free entry gigs and also build an online presence. You can even record one of your comedy acts and blast it all over the internet—social media, your own personal website and YouTube. Create your own YouTube channel, and create the titles for each video to harp on certain keywords. Google Adwords can help you identify “hot” keywords that people type into search engines.
In addition to filming your stand up routine, you can film skits and blast those all over the Internet.
Basically, if you keep performing and building your online presence, eventually somebody will notice you and want to pay you for your act or brand. It only takes one person. And once you get that initial success, you’ll find that your success will snowball.
There’s no limit to how much money you can make as a comedian. If you’re wealthy, then you’ll have great flexibility as to how much, when and where you work. When you’re first starting out, however, you will be making very little money, probably around $10,000 to $15,000 per year. The people who succeed in comedy persevere through the financially hard times often by working other jobs part time. They continue to hone their craft until they get their big break. You have to be willing to suffer for that big break.
It’s probably a good idea to maintain some type of day job while you’re starting off your comedy career. You could be a comedy writer or find jobs online writing SEO articles, which can be quite lucrative. Just don’t quit! Keep going and you will find some path to success whether in comedy or some industry you’ve never even thought of yet!