Guide To Becoming A Stand-Up Comedian

Who do you think you are? Some sort of comedian?

We all like a laugh, and there’s no better feeling than making other people laugh. If you’ve got funny bones and comedy in your blood, why not give stand-up comedy a try? It’s easier than you think!

Here’s our guide to becoming a stand-up comedian…

What sort of comedian do you want to be?

Jimmy Carr & Chris Moyles

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If you study the comedians you see on TV, you will see that they fall into several different styles. Firstly, there are the observational comics, such as Jason Manford, Peter Kay and Michael Mcintyre. Often focussing on the frustrations of modern life, these comedians don’t tell ‘gags’, but rather weave jokes into comical stories.

Then there are the pure joke tellers. Their sets don’t contain stories, just one-liner after one-liner. Examples include Jimmy Carr, Tim Vine and Milton Jones. Other styles include the surrealists, such as Eddie Izzard and Ross Noble, and the blatantly offensive, typified by comedians, such as Chubby Brown. Step number one is thinking about what sort of comedy you find funny, and what sort of jokes you’d like to tell.

Is a comedy course a good idea?

Comedy class

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Can you learn how to be funny? The short answer: not really. And, most good comedy courses won’t claim to teach you that. What comedy courses can do is teach about the comedy business, where to get gigs, industry etiquette, as well as being a good place to get feedback on your set. Be careful as to which course you choose, and make sure it is taught by an experience comedian.
Some courses are run by drama tutors, who may know a lot about teaching acting, but comedy is a wholly different subject and should be taught by someone who has been there and done it. In reality, there’s no need for most people to do a course. Generally, your money will be better spent watching live comedy.

Get out and watch some comedy

Comedy night

This is immensely important. Get out and go to as many comedy nights as you can. Nearly every town and city has some sort of comedy night, so there really is no excuse! The more you watch, the more you will understand the industry. You will see the type of material that works, what doesn’t and the different types of performer. Go to a range of gigs, from small open mic nights to full professional shows, as this will give you a broad insight into the comedy business.

At the smaller gigs, it will likely be that you’ll be able to have a chat with some of the performers. Don’t be afraid to go and introduce yourself and ask for their advice – they were there once and will be happy to give you some tips. All this research has an upside as well; it’s a great excuse to go out for a few pints with your mates!

Write some material

Writing material

This can be the hardest part of becoming a comedian. Gone are the days when you could just get up and tell a few jokes you heard down the pub. Today, it is crucial that you write your own material. If you’ve been to lots of comedy nights, you’ll probably already have an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Just write what you think is funny, and then try reduce it down to the bare bones needed to get the humour across.

Whether it’s a joke or a story, if you watch the vast majority of comedians, they are never more than a few seconds away from a laugh. The longer the gap between punch lines, the bigger the payoff has to be.

Find somewhere to do your first gig

Comedy club

If you’ve been out watching local comedy, you’ll probably know where you can get an ‘open-spot’ (basically an unpaid 5 or 10 minute slot). If not, no need to worry, as there are plenty of places on the Internet you can look. Chortle.co.uk is the premier UK comedy website and there is a forum on there with an industry noticeboard, but more and more people are using Facebook Groups to find gigs. The most popular one by far in the UK is the Facebook Comedy Forum. Here you’ll find plenty of gigs being advertised, as well as a lot of useful advice being posted.

Your first gig

Nervous man

Your first gig is a momentous occasion; try to enjoy it! Despite the bad stories you may have heard about people’s first gigs, most go pretty well. You’re not going to be Lee Evans straight away, but as long as you get some laughs, then you’ve got to count it as a job well done!

Remember to record your gig. Whether you bring along a mate to make a video, or simply record the audio of the gig on your phone, it will be valuable for you to look back on later, and see what jokes worked and what didn’t. You’ll be surprised that it’s often the ones you’re not too sure about that get the biggest laughs.

Comedy Gig Etiquette

The etiquette for your first gig is the same as any you will do in your (possibly new) career.

  • Turn up when told and don’t be late
  • Introduce yourself to the promoter so you know you’re there (they love to panic)
  • Don’t get drunk before you go on
  • Be courteous and watch the other acts without talking through their set

Some people panic about whether they will remember their set. Forgetting everything can happen, but this can be avoided by writing some keywords on the back of your hand. These should jog your memory just enough for your memory to come flooding back.

Always put your best joke at the start of your set, and your second strongest at the end. Your best joke will get your set off to a good start and get the audience on your side straight away, and your last gag will ensure your set ends on a high.

You’ll most probably be doing a 5 or 10 minute set. Try to do as close to your time as possible, within a minute either side if possible. Promoters like to run a tight ship, and if you badly overrun, for example, it can make the rest of the night run late.

What now?

Couple laughing

As soon as you’ve done your first gig, you’ll know immediately whether or not you want to do it again. Most people get a huge buzz out of their first gig, and it can be seriously addictive. Review your recording and see what worked, and what didn’t. Keep writing and keep gigging, as this is the only way to get better.

If things go well, after a few months and a few thousand miles travelling to gigs across the country, you might even start to get offered some paid work. And, who knows what could happen next – you might just be the next big thing!

For all those that make it to the big time after reading this: You’re welcome.