Do all of your friends and family comment on how funny you are? Are you a natural performer who loves to be in front of an audience and make people laugh? If the answer was yes to any of these questions, then maybe it is time to start practicing for a new career or hobby in stand-up comedy. Since everyone in the world loves to laugh, there is always a place for new comedians to start new stand-up comedy careers. But just because you are funny, doesn’t mean you will be a great stand-up comedian. Stand-up comedy requires well written material, strong improvisation skills, and strong presentation skills. Where it is easy to find places to perform in your own home town, there is great difficulty becoming a great, well-known comedian.
To be great at stand-up comedy, it is important to learn and fully understand what stand-up comedy is and its rich history that is behind it. By understanding the past, you can learn from the greats of comedy in order to avoid common mistakes, cliché material, or worst of all, accidently stealing someone’s material. The most important thing to remember before starting to get into the hobby is that it is a performance, and the audience is deathly honest of what they think about you and your act. You have to fully expect laughter, cheers, booing, and heckling, and you need to know how to deal with all of them while on the spot.
What is Stand-Up Comedy
Stand up comedy performances are typically short performances where a comedian recites a fast-paced succession of humorous stories, short jokes,, or one-liners, which comprise what is typically called a monologue, routine, or act. Some stand-up comedians use props, like that of Carrot Top, music, like that of Weird Al Yankovic, or magic tricks, like Penn and Teller, to make their acts stand out. Stand-up comedy is often performed in comedy clubs, bars, burlesques, colleges, theaters, or pretty much anywhere people are willing to listen because there are no real restrictions to performance space.
Many smaller venues hold "open mic" events that are tailored to the beginner, where anyone can take the stage and perform for the audience. This is the perfect opportunity for amateur performers to hone their craft and possibly break into professionalism. In North America, many comedy clubs feature the now-iconic brick wall as the backdrop for stand-up performances, or the word “IMPROV” plastered across the wall behind the performer.
What is relatively unknown to most people in the audience is the fact that many stand-up comedians work for years to develop 45 minutes of material, and only usually after practicing their bits repeatedly, a technique that brings perfection to the routine, do they perform them to a live audience. The difficulties of stand-up comedy is expressed by actor-comedian Will Ferrell when he has been quoted calling stand-up comedy "hard, lonely and vicious”.
Stand-Up Comedy around the World
As you look around the world, it is impossible to find a place that does not encourage stand up comedians to practice their craft in front of audiences. The power to bring a smile to someone’s face is often the best medicine to alleviate the most dreadful symptoms. It is no wonder that people from around the world spend their entire lives dedicated to making people laugh. Some become so popular in their own countries that they often travel around the world to perform their acts for an assortment of audiences.
How to Get Started
Stand up comedy is a natural fit for people who are funny and are constantly attracting attention to themselves. But the most important part of stand-up comedy is the ability to make people laugh. Just because you are funny, does not mean that you can make people laugh. The secret to stand-up comedy is self confidence, comedic timing, and well written material. Thankfully, stand-up comedy is perhaps the easiest field of entertainment for new talent to enter because there are countless small venues that hold "open mic" events where anyone who dares to can have a shot at performing comedy before a live audience can have their moment in the spot light.
For anyone thinking about starting to perform stand-up comedy, it is absolutely essential to visit as many local stand-up comedy clubs as humanly possible to get an idea of what it takes to perform to an unknown audience. Open mic nights are ideal for this as famous comedians have certain followings that are in tune to their style of comedy whereas, an audience who doesn’t know you will let you know right away what they think about your comedy in the form of laughter, boos, or silence.
When it comes time to start writing your first bit of material, it is useful to purchase books, DVDs, and CDs to learn the basics from the great stand-up comedians of our time. And the moment you have the basic routine written down, it is now time to start practicing the material in front of a mirror and in front of your friends or family before you jump onto a stage to perform. After then it’s on to practicing in front of friends and then open mic night! This is utterly important because if your material is brilliant, you will throw it all away with one bad performance.
Of course there is always an exception to every rule, and to pretend that they don’t exist is a true shame. While presentation is three quarters of the battle, it is necessary to showcase the power of well written material. The famous, but unfortunately now deceased, stand-up Mitch Hedburg suffered from the most sever stage fright imaginable, and because of his fear, he spent half of his career with his back to the audience and the later half hiding behind his hair and sunglasses. But his one liner style of comedy that audiences couldn’t resist his jokes like, “I don`t have a girlfriend. But I do know a woman who`d be mad at me for saying that”, “A severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer”, or “I love blackjack. But I`m not addicted to gambling. I`m addicted to sitting in a semi circle.”
Styles of Stand-Up Comedy
The idea of describing every style of stand-up comedy immediately feels like an impossible task. This is because it is an impossible task because there are an unlimited number of styles that people adhere to, but for the most part, people choose to mix styles to create their own unique style. Some of the more famous styles that you have probably heard of are observational comedy, like that of Jerry Seinfeld, topical comedy, often seen on talk shows like Jay Leno, impressions of famous people, or comedic stories, like those of Dane Cook.
The problem with certain styles, like observational, topical, and even impression comedy, is that they are used too much and getting old. Not many people really care about observational comedy anymore, and even Jerry Seinfeld has retired from it. Impressions are not necessarily an actual style of comedy. Sure they are fun to hear, but they are more of a talent than a form of comedy. And besides, everyone can do an impression of Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, William Shatner, and Elvis, so we really don’t need to hear your impressions unless they unique.
Nowadays, comedians get famous for inventing new forms of comedy that people tend to relate to. Examples of this would be Mitch Hedburgs’ one liners, Carrot Tops’ prop comedy, Dane Cooks’ wild stories, or George Carlin’s rage filled rantings. All of these comedians are famous because of their style of comedy, plus they generally have some well written material. Even though I hate Carrot Top, his act is usually quite clever and one of a kind. As long as your material is fresh, and your style is unique to yourself, you will be quite successful in the world of stand-up comedy.
Tips for Success
Keep a notebook with you at all times. You never know when a funny idea will hit you, so it is crucial to have something to make notes on no matter where you are. You also have to ensure that what you write down are thing that YOU have thought of, and isn’t from another act.
Don’t ever tell your audience what to think. No matter what you tell an audience, they typically believe you. Tell them your act is serious, a drama, isn’t funny, or that they don’t have to stick around and they will believe you. The only you can tell an audience that they won’t listen to is that you act IS funny.
Avoid at all costs the “Endless Close”. Unfortunately, not every performance of yours will be positive, but it is important to not continue to tell jokes after the final joke bombed. If your final act completely bombed, it is time to walk away, and avoid eating into the next comic’s time.
All topics are free game, but it is important to ensure that the topics you want to talk about are appropriate for that audience. For instance, people who are sensitive should see comedy that`s billed as a clean/non-offensive show-and the comics who agree to do that show should abide by those guidelines. Many corporate events/ private parties fit into that category and therefore, the comic`s comments should reflect that.
Never steal material from other comedians. It has been said many time above, but there is a level of professionalism that has to go along with being a stand-up comedian, and unless you are willing to work towards your own goals using your own material, you will eventually be called out to be a hack. People want to listen to original material that is fresh and funny. If they wanted what the other guy has, they would go to the other guy.
Stand-up comedy can be a very rewarding experience if you are willing to put the time into that is need to attain success. Not only is it a hobby that can, and has for other comedians, launch new comedians into Hollywood stars that are famous for being funny, but it truly is a fun and rewarding experience. There is not a single person who does not get a sense of pride from making another person laugh or smile, and the chance to do it on a grand scale can be the most rewarding experience of your life. But we again must return to the hardships of the hobby that one has to go through to become a better comedian. At some point in your career, both early on and later, you will have to face hecklers, and you will have to develop a way to respond in a positive manner. The second you explode on stage, vis-a-vi Michael Richards, your career is essentially over. But whether you simply want to make people laugh or want to develop a full time career, you have to dedicate yourself to your art, and you have to learn something that most comedians never learn: How to take a joke.