Comedy is an ever shifting landscape, I’ve seen so many changes in this industry over the past 13 years since I started comedy. No matter what happens in the scene comedy will always be around and the more talent in this field the better! The greatest thing in comedy no matter if it’s going through a hard time or not it can always use new talent. There is no bottleneck in comedy meaning once there is a certain number of great comedians the doors shut, comedy can take as many great comics as it can handle. Becoming a professional comedian takes time, humility, talent, and a great work ethic. So let’s look at what I think it takes to get there!

GETTING STARTED

I’d like to first start off by saying there is no “right” age to start comedy, I’ve witnessed a man 82 starting comedy and started getting paid gigs 2 years later. Being older in at least my opinion can be a huge advantage from the standpoint of you have a deeper well of life experiences and observations to draw from. Starting in your teens and early 20’s has its advantages as well. If your looking to get into acting youth will be on your side. Also it takes many years to become a great comic so starting young allows to be a season veteran and only be in your 30’s.

So what does it take to become a professional comedian? Where do you even start? Well good news I have the answers. But first let’s talk about the tools you need to become successful in this tough industry.

TALENT

There is more than one frame of thought when we speak of talent, we have all seen comedians that were not the greatest comics on TV and I think a lot of comedians jump into this industry because of this factor. I truly believe to have a sustaining career talent is definitely needed. Yes there are cases of people making it “big” without a lot of talent. In this day in age in entertainment the only way to have a career that spans your life is by honing your talent. I’ve read a lot of articles that say talent is not the most important thing (in fact most do) I disagree, comedy is an art like anything else. If you’re a painter and you don’t have talent you’re not going to make money at it. The people I do see that make it with marginal talent usually have something else going for them like their really good looking people (in our culture we love looking at really good looking people). Also there are some people that have that “it” factor where that person lights up a camera. For the rest of us talent and hard work is the only thing that works.

The other thing I would like to talk about is a subject that’s never talked about in these articles and that thing is humility. Being humble will serve you well in comedy. Comedy relies on failure in order to get better at it. Being humble allows to look at your material subjectively. So many comedians that are egomaniacs rarely get better because they can’t take criticism or see where they’re set needs work. Humility also helps inside the community. Comedy is a very small community getting a bad rep is very easy if you’re arrogant. Remember to treat others as you want to be treated!

TAKING COMEDY CLASSES

Taking a comedy workshop is not a bad idea before you start comedy. Finding a good class can be difficult as most of the people teaching the class are no longer stand ups and where more than likely not that good to start with. Finding a great class is not impossible, usually the ones taught at comedy clubs are pretty good and taught by working comedians. If the comic is a working professional he must be doing something right! Although most classes teach you the basics of how to write a joke they teach a “old school” approach to joke writing that in today’s scene doesn’t usually work that well. The good news is it can give you a little foundation as you move your career forward.

My motto is learn to write, then learn to make people laugh hard, and then you can start looking at finding out what it is you want to do with your time on stage otherwise known as finding your voice.

Is a comedy class necessary? Not in the least, Comedy, no matter how hard you work at you will hit plenty of bumps on the way. Before I started comedy I took an improv class, a writing class, and an acting class. I can tell you that the most beneficial to me was the acting class. Acting classes allows you to be a more free performer and can help you break through the fear of performing. Everyone’s experience is different and you have to find what works for you.

WRITING

This is by far the most important thing. Writing is how we get better, think of it like this. My sister in law is a very talented artist, when she started she wasn’t the best so she painted for hours a day until she became a professional artist and know makes her sole income off of it. I write a lot through the week and the more I write the better my jokes get. I’ve been doing standup for well over a decade and I can tell you trying to live off of talent alone can work for a little while. Meaning you can become a touring comic but if you want more out of your career then dirty hotel rooms and never being home then you’re going to have to hone your act and keep moving your material forward.

I see a lot of road comics that never write new material the just stay on the road telling the same jokes over and over again. Doing this makes you stagnant, you can’t evolve unless you’re willing to let go of material that works and write new material that will take time refining on stage. I talk to a lot of bookers and club owners that are very keen on their comedians they bring through are showing up the following year with at least a new 10 mins or more in the act. Comedy doesn’t work like bands where the crowd only wants to hear the hits. Sure you might have someone come up to you after the show and and where glad you did an old favorite joke of theirs but they are always more excited to hear what you’re talking about now. The greatest example of this is Louie CK arguably the best comic in the country, he toured with the same act for 15 years. After he was bored with that phase of his career he made it a point to write a new hour every year. Now most of us will never be able to write an hour a year but the point I’m trying to make is that if Louie was still doing that old act would he be where he is today? The answer is NO! So always write even if nothing funny is coming out just write!

When you start make sure that you have around 10 mins of material. more than likely your first year on stage you’ll only be getting between 3 to 7 minutes so why 10? You can rehearse that 10 minutes all day but when you get on stage it’s human nature to speed up your act because you just want to get to the laughter and when the crowd is not laughing you tend to speed up more! So having the extra material will allow you to stay on stage for your entire set without closing early.

RECORD YOUR SETS

It’s tremendously important to record your set, to this day I still record every set and listen back to it so I can hear how I delivered a joke when it worked and when it didn’t. Sometimes a good joke that’s been working can start to fail and you can drive yourself insane trying to figure out what’s wrong. Listening back you can hear where you might be making some miss steps in your delivery of the material. Word structure is very important and simply switching two words around can make the difference of a joke killing or bombing on stage. Also when you listen back to your set you can hear where you need to rewrite a line to make to joke better which brings up to….

REWRITE!!!

Rewriting jokes is the name of the game, you can go and watch your favorite comedians with decades of experience and they are not impervious to having new jokes fail. I live in LA and get to see some of my all time favorite comedians trying new material out and seeing them struggle with it, which I have to tell you makes me feel great as you see them as humans not unstoppable comedy Gods even though that’s how we perceive them. They to must go through the painstaking process of rewriting the material until its ready for their next special. I use to host several open mics and that’s what I watched for from the new comedian. Are they working out the material or coming out week after week with the exact same jokes and wondering why their not getting better.

OPEN MICS

Everyone starts off at open mics, Open mics can be anywhere in the comedy clubs, bars, coffee shops, someone’s backyard, in a pizzeria, and the list goes on and on. When you start a lot of the open mic crowds can be a little difficult but that which does not kill you only makes you stronger! The open mic circuit can be a little wearing but if you love being on stage and making people laugh it’s a small price to pay. When you first start going to open mics you will more than likely being going up near the front of the line up or the last. Some open mics can have up to 30 comedians on the show and if a professional shows up they can bump you down the list. As you start going more and more often and showing improvement you will start moving to the middle of the list which is the easiest slot for laughter.

So how do you find these open mics? You can look them up in your area with a simple google search, or you can call any local clubs to see if they have an amateur night which most of them do. When you go to your first open mic it can be a little intimidating but just know a lot of other newer comics are feeling the same thing. Introduce yourself to some of the other comedians, other comics can help you along your journey from finding a writing partner to someone that knows of other good shows in the area. Being a nice person will get you on shows just as quickly as being funny.

SET GOALS

We all want something different from this experience, some want to be famous, others to become a professional writer, or just to be best stand up you can be. Without goals you can lose a lot of years fumbling around this business being happy in your comedy bubble. Once you know what you want for yourself start figuring out how to make those goals happen! I spent over ten years on the road before I moved to LA, it was comfortable being a road comedian even though I’ve always wanted more. So after the big move I started writing down all the things I wanted to get into while I’m out here and once I was focused on my goals I’ve accomplished more in the few years I’ve been out here then in the rest of my career.

THE WORLD WIDE WEB

It’s easier than ever to get recognition for your creativity with social media.Create characters, start podcasts, Facebook posts, and tweets. these things can get you traction and and who knows you may even be discovered through those mediums. Explore your creativity, it’s never been easier to shoot sketches, or your act and upload the to sources like Facebook and Youtube. Managers and agents are looking to see all what you can do to see where they can place you. If you’re “just” a standup this will be a more difficult road. Use your comedic talent for as many different outlets as you can so when the time comes to have a meeting with an agent you can show all the different things you’ve put out there besides you’re stand up.

HARD WORK

Comedy is known to be one of the most difficult jobs in the entertainment world after all you are the writer, director, producer, and performer of your own show. This takes a lot of work to become proficient at. When you start out you have to get on stage as much as possible, once a week will not cut it. If your doing one show a week and another is doing 5 shows a week that comedian will be over a month ahead of you.

Experience is the one thing that can’t be taught so you need to get as much stage time as possible. When you have a job and going out most nights to open mic it can make it tough but you have to keep your eyes on the prize. Every comic I know that has worked hard at their comedy has seen a lot of great accomplishments in their career. Working hard can give you the edge over more talented comedians. So work hard and become the comedian you want to be!