I'm a stand-up comic who's been on Comedy Central, Last Comic Standing and the Tonight Show. I've toured almost 300 colleges and I was recently named one of LA Weekly's "Top 10 Comedy Acts to Watch" and one of Funny or Die's "30 Comedians to Watch Under 30." Currently I'm working as a segment producer on MTV's Ridiculousness.
A BEGINNER’S GUIDE
A lot of fellow young people ask me what first steps they should take when trying to become a stand-up comedian. I thought I’d make a nice little blog explaining it.
The two main rules are: 1. Keep Writing and 2. Keep Getting Up.
Keep a small comedy journal on you at all times and write down every funny little thought you have. Or at least keep a big notebook at home and write down something on your hand so you can remember when you get there. Constantly writing is the most important part of being a comedian. Most of the things you write won’t be that funny, especially at the beginning, but that’s okay. You never know when you’re going to stumble upon a premise that people love, which brings me to the second rule.
Once you’ve sat down and attempted to write punchlines for all those premises, you have to try them out on a crowd. Hit up as many open mics as possible. Every time you go on stage, you’ll learn something new. Even if you don’t do a new joke, you’ll gain confidence in the old ones, and maybe you’ll improvise a new “tag” (the additional lines that follow punchlines.) If you’re doing it right, it should be an immense filtering system. I write about 3 jokes a day, and then I try them out of friends. If my friends like them, I’ll try them on stage. I’d say I try about 20% of the jokes I write onstage and about 10% of those I actually keep in my repertoire. In other words, I only keep 2% of the jokes I write.
A good site for learning where the open mics are is www.ChuckleMonkey.com
Now that your writing some jokes, here’s some quick tips on how to make them better. Make sure you put the absolute funniest part at the end. I can’t stress that enough. I see so many shitty comedians say unnecessary words after the punch. For instance, the first draft of one of my jokes was: “When I use a public restroom, I tend to make a game out of my urination, going for distance and accuracy. Last week, I tried to hit a cigarette, and the guy smoking it was pissed off.” Much funnier once I changed the ending to “I pissed off the guy smoking it.” Hold out on the reveal for as long as possible.
Secondly, make sure there’s a funny twist in the joke. The best jokes have some sort of reference to something you usually don’t associate with that premise. It’s about making weird connections. For instance, if you’re talking about building a house, you could somehow relate it to playing Jenga. Except don’t actually use Jenga, because that’s very cliché or “hacky.” Also avoid topics like Viagra/Cialis 4 hour erection commercials, Valtrex commercials, or Michael Jackson. It’s been done.
Once you’ve got a decent 5 minute set, start asking around for who books shows. You’ll probably meet bookers at the open mics. It’s all about networking. Probably the best tool for getting booked is putting video of yourself online. This is very easy.
First, borrow a digital camera and tape a show. If you can’t get a show at a decent place, produce it yourself. Put out flyers and get all your friends and family to come. Tape your set. Now “capture” it to your computer. Now go youtube and upload the video. Once that’s complete, you can ask bookers for an audition or “guest spot” and send them a link.
Once you have 15 minutes of solid material, you should ask for a “guest spot” at one of the A-level clubs (like an Improv, Funnybone, Connections, etc) in your city. If you know a comedian who already works there, have him recommend you. Or, if you’ve really got balls, call up the club pretending to be a manager and saying you want to take a look at. I’d save that shit as a last resort though.
Obviously, I’m not the end all authority on comedy. But once you start meeting other comedians, you’ll get plenty of advise on these things, whether you want it or not. And if you don’t, just smile and nod. Don’t be a dick when people are trying to help you (or anytime for that matter.) Remember, it’s all about networking. If you’re a nice guy with any talent and you follow these basic rules, you’ll be on your way.