Standing up is hard. It is no wonder that it is one of our first and most celebrated accomplishments as human beings.You are defying gravity literally every second you do it and daring the universe to challenge your authority.
So I find it understandable that this phrase is attached to one of the other most difficult things to do: make strangers laugh. Speaking in public is one of the most common phobias people have, and adding to that the expectation of being entertaining by yourself makes the experience all the more intimidating.
But still, I feel like I have frequently talked to people who want to try standup comedy. The popularity of standup comedians has only increased, especially in the last few years, leading many to think, “Man, I wonder if I could do that.”
For many of these people, that is all that ever happens. This desire just ends up fizzling out, often because people have no idea how to start.
Well, that is what I am here for. If you are wondering how to make a career or be successful at standup, look elsewhere. What I do know is how to get up the nerves and figure out how to get on the actual stage. I have spent the last few months getting onstage attempting to convey my weird sense of humor to rooms full of strangers, and at this point I have become an expert on walking up to the stage.
Or at least, I’m no longer an amateur at it.
Step 1: Make Material
This is probably the most obvious one, but before you get onstage, you need to have some jokes to say. What I would recommend is that if you even have the tiniest inkling of doing standup at some point, start thinking of and writing down jokes now. The goal is to just gather material so that you will be able to weed out bad material.
In fact, writing down jokes is definitely worth doing. Even something as simple as, “man purses” will give you something to anchor that joke to and help you remember it. Having a wealth of jokes you can find and point to will help you create a set without struggling for time.
Step 2: Find an Open Mic
Here is a secret about comedy: you can just go to a place and do it.
Like, people will let you up on a stage where you can tell jokes, and you do not even need to know anyone there.
In fact, if you Google, “open mic comedy in (city),” you will probably find something.
So, do that, and find the rules for it. Find the time for sign ups (which is usually a half hour before the show), and then show up early. Sometimes if you show up right as they are taking sign ups, you will be able to get in, but depending on the place, you may not. So be safe and show up at least fifteen minutes early. If they say signups start at 7:30, be there at least by 7:15. Some places, earlier than that.
Step 3: Suck it up and Suck
Your first set might go well. It might go terribly. Even if it goes well, it might be because of the act before you, or it might be because of the specific audience, and the same goes for if it goes terribly.
In other words, your first set is not about doing well. It is about doing.
Get onstage. Do your jokes. Finish your set. If no one laughs, okay, just finish your set. If people laugh a lot, that is great; finish your set. If you can, record it so you have it for future reference.
The thing is, if you do not bomb your first night, you will bomb soon after. That is okay. All that matters is that you get it done.
I’ve seen a couple comedians leave the stage after only a few jokes because they are not going well. I think that was a mistake. Every bombed joke is a learning experience, and figuring out what jokes do not work is just as important as finding out what jokes do work.
I once went onstage and took my whole set telling a story about how Jordan sent me down a river in a kayak without telling me what to do at all. It is a pretty funny story and one I have recounted several times to friends and family members with moderate success, so I thought it would be a good choice for the stage.
For 95% of my story, I got nothing.
It was not until my final punch line that I got laughs, which was great to know. I knew that the story’s ending really worked, but none of the jokes in the buildup landed, so I know in revising that joke to either punch up the setup more or just condense it so it is basically just the final punchline. I would not know that if I had not known how to suck it up and stay on stage.
Remember, as Jake the Dog said it, “Sucking at something is just the first step to being sort of good at something.”
Optional: Listen to professionals talk about comedy
What really helped me make the jump from just wanting to try comedy to actually doing comedy was listening to comedy podcasts, mainly You Made it Weird. Hearing people talk about the craft behind the process made me more interested in it and more confident that I kind of understood it and would have some semblance of an idea of what to do onstage. Plus, that is a really entertaining podcast.
I have not figured out the keys to being a successful standup comedian. I am not even sure how to be a good standup comedian. But I feel like I have figured out how to get up there and enjoy it for what it is. And if you put yourself out there and try it, I think you will see something similar.