4 Tips On How to Become A Comedian

I’m staring at a piece paper. I wrote these words on it but I’m not reading them.
Gross. I need to work on my capital G’s.
Read your notes. Read them. You need to get ready. Okay.
What does that even mean? No one is going to think this is funny. Why did I sign up? I can just leave like I did last week. Yeah! I can leave, work on it more at home, and come back ne-
“How do you say your last name?”
“Higginbotham. ‘Botham’ like Gotham.”
“You’re on after her.”
ALREADY?! I’m going to vomit. I’m going to vomit on stage. This town is too small for me to be the Deer Pimp Vomit guy.
What do I do?!

That is what went through my mind before I went on stage for the first time. Thinking about doing stand up for the first time in Denton? Have no fear! 

Well, that’s not fair to say. You have every reason to be afraid. But, try to have fun. Regardless if you've been doing this for years or are just getting your toes wet, comedy is about having fun. Here is a personal list of the top 4 things I wish I knew when I first started:

4. Perform as often as possible
Worried about mom’s spaghetti coming back up? You’re probably thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong. Instead, try to focus on what you came to say. Stop trying to predict the future.

If you’re the panicky type, breathe slowly; exhale more than you inhale. Drink water, read your notes, look at the performance space and imagine performing your set perfectly. Go outside and practice out loud. Cry if you need to. Maybe prepare a recovery quip to say if a joke doesn’t land. I’ve seen people come out and say it’s their first time just to relieve some of the pressure.

Maybe you don’t mind being in front of people. If that is the case, firstly: fuck you, you lucky bastard. Secondly, you still need to perform as much as possible to get your rhythm of speech down. More on that later.

Your confidence is more noticeable than you think and the only way to get it is to keep getting up there. So, get up there.

3. Write
I’m not here to tell you how to write or what to write about, I’m just going to tell you what made me more confident in writing. I have found that my best jokes and bits come from two places:

  • The subjects I rant about or the impassioned stories I tell my friends. I try to translate that to the stage as a monologue or one-sided conversation. I find that this also helps with memorization. I don’t have to memorize every word, I just have to know that my grandma farted while she set up the VCR when I was 12. I will say there is a fine line between always trying your bits on people and realizing the story you just told is funny enough to try on stage.

  • Physical humor. No explanation here. It’s silly and gimmicky and probably something that will embarrass me in the future, but I like it. I like to start my set with a laugh and I’ve always appreciated silent, physical humor. The guy that asked me to write this saw me sweep rose petals off the ground while medieval music played … then I told jokes like nothing happened. So … yeah.

Whatever it is that makes you fluently express yourself. It might take a year to ‘find your voice’, but the journey is [insert inspirational quote]. 

2. Take notes
Listen to the audience while you’re up there. Don’t be afraid to back out of a joke if they don’t seem into it. Or, do some extra work to convince them that they are into it. There’s no need to give up on a bit because it didn’t work one time. Re-word the jokes that get a medium response, change the order of a story, combine bits, work on timing, blah blah blah. I have found that I will write a two-page story, perform it, then cut it down until it is barely 4 sentences long before it works. If you feel like it can work or you really like the bit, try it from every angle.

Listen to your favorite professional comedians with ‘workshopping’ in mind. They probably toured around the country for some time before getting on stage for their one-hour special. Imagine how your favorite joke started. What do you think they did to get it to where it is now? You might be able to find a video of that joke in its earliest stages. What changes did the joke go through before it became special?

I print out my set every time I go up. After the show, I take notes on my print out. Time, date, venue, crowd size, how much I drank, which jokes worked, and most importantly, which jokes didn’t. Which brings me to my next point.

1. Suck
You suck. You have to suck. People will tell you that you suck. Get better at being told you suck. Be okay with sucking. I suck and you’re reading this for my advice. It’s okay to suck. Getting good at this takes time. Have a sense of humor about the low points. Don’t take it out on yourself or the audience. Just know you have another task ahead of you: how to make it work better. 

One time I got upset after a show didn’t go well. I was angrily pacing around until another comic reminded me that I described a ‘Braveheart’ parody in which Ray Charles farted at the invading English armies: ‘Rayfart’.

In other words, don’t take it so seriously.

Header image design by Sara Button