Some people are under the impression that stand-up comics simply get on stage, interact with the crowd, say whatever comes to mind, and have the ability to “be funny”.
99% of the time, this is absolutely not the case.
When you watch stand-up comics, they have come to that stage with written material. If they’re really good, it is material that has been honed and worked on for many nights on stage. These are jokes that have been told and adjusted so many times that the jokes have become second nature; it may seem, to the audience, to be improvised or candid.
So, how, as a comic, do you get to this point?
If you have ever expressed, to family or friends, that you want to be a stand-up comic, you may hear, “Oh, just get up and do it.” Take it from me: do not “just get up and do it”. If you get up on stage with absolutely no idea what you want to say, it is almost guaranteed to be the longest five minutes of your life.
If you want to be a comedian, you need at least three jokes. Crafting those jokes takes time and inspiration. At this point, you may be wondering where your first jokes will come from. I’ll explain how to get the writing process started.
Everyone has a couple stories they tell friends about a crazy night or something crazy their dad said, and people laugh. You might have even heard, “You should be a comedian.” These are the kind of stories to bring to the stage.
Don’t think you’ll remember all your great stories if you simply take the stage. Use a few weeks to prepare. Keep in mind that you should write down material on a physical notepad or as a note in your cell phone. When you think of something strange, something funny from the past, or even something that confuses you, makes you angry, sad, or crazy, write it down.
These are the notes you will take with you on stage for your first show. If you are lucky enough to have a friend in comedy that can get you on the stage, or you know of a local comedy club who will put you in front of an audience, go ahead and try it.
If you don’t happen to have that opportunity (or you’d like to try the safer route), sign up for an open mic. Open mics are designed to help comics work out their material. Think of it as a gym, where a bunch of comics get together to work on their craft. $5 will usually get you 5 minutes in front of a crowd of comedians, and you will be among your peers.
Have the two or three jokes or topics ready, and don’t hesitate to bring those notes up on stage. Every comic in that house will know what it’s like to work on new material. And, if you ask, more often than not stand-up comics are eager to help each other out with new material at open mics. You will also find these mics a good resource to get booked for a show (usually a “bringer show”) or network with other comedians.
Author Brian Roth has performed at Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, Stand Up NY Comedy Club, New York Comedy Club, the People’s Improv Theater (PIT) and other clubs in NYC. He hosts the #Rothcast on BlogTalkRadio.