I usually get two responses when I tell people that I’m a stand up comedian. “Really?! I could never do that,” and the even more common… “Really?! You know I’ve always wanted to do that.” If you want to give stand up comedy a try – do it. It’s 3-5 minutes of your life.
There are no rules, expectations or ramifications for going up at an open mic. I’m not saying it’ll be easy. I’m not even saying that you’ll have a good time while you’re up there. But it might be worth it.
Worst Case Scenario: You bomb miserably. And so what? Lots of people bomb. Professionals even. I once saw Bill Burr do a series of wife beating jokes that let ALL the air out of the room. It happens and it’s no big deal.
Best Case Scenario: You find a new creative outlet that gives you the freedom to say whatever the hell you want.
Here’s a few tips to help you glide on in. (That’s what she said.)
TIPS FOR BREAKING INTO STAND UP COMEDY
1. Go to Open Mics
If you want to do stand up, than you should go see stand up. Look up you local open mic nights and catch a couple of shows. You might be thinking – can’t I just watch a famous comedian’s special? No. You need to study the comics/audience in their natural habitat. Pay close attention to the comics’ performances. What’s working? How is the audience responding? How are the comics winning them over?
2. Write some material.
Real talk, your friends might be laughing at your jokes because they love you. An audience of strangers expects a little more when you hop on stage and say you’re a comedian.
Stand up comedy is all about having a strong perspective and giving a unique spin on the world we all know to be true. Audiences also love surprises and unexpected connections.
I have a joke comparing oral sex on a lady to the end of the movie Goonies. People laugh because they have no idea where I’m going with it. Then they laugh again when they get the connection for themselves. It always hits.
If you’re struggling with what to talk about, you can try…
Telling funny stories
Making unique observations
Making fun of pop culture
3. Sign Up to Perform
Every open mic is a little different, like a precious snowflake. Some have you come early and sign up the night of while others have you submit online. Find out how the show is run, what time you should be there, and how long your set can be. Sometimes the order of the comics performing is posted in advance. If not, just check the list when you arrive.
4. Write Out a Set List and Practice!
I like the think about my set list as a cheeseburger in reverse – meat (strongest jokes) at the top and bottom with the condiments (so so jokes) in the middle. In less tasty terms – start strong, finish strong.
Set list notes should be short, just a couple of keywords that remind you of the joke. For example my set list says things like: “Goonies, Tampon Sneeze, I Don’t Give Birth.” Make sure your order feels natural and makes sense with your topics. You don’t want to be up there looking like a balloon someone just blew up and let go of.
Practice your delivery, timing, and transitioning from joke to joke. Stopwatch app yourself to make sure that you are don’t go over time, potential laughs included. Feel free to take your set list up with you but make sure it’s on a small sheet of paper. Heads up, it’ll never be as helpful as you think. Know your stuff well enough to glance at it for 1.5 seconds and keep going.
5. Show Up and Kill It!
Be sure to introduce yourself to the host, find out where you are on the order, and ask when you’ll be given the light. The light is the host’s way of letting you know it’s time to start wrapping it up. Respect the light, because everyone will hate you if you go over.
More than likely, you’re going to feel nervous. You might stumble over a couple of words or forget a punchline. It’s cool, dude. We tend to speak faster when we’re nervous, so keep that in your mind. Slow down and don’t plow through your material.
I tell my students that stand up is a conversation, you talk through the mic and the audience talks by laughing. If you tickle them, pause, then pick up where you left off. Sometimes people laugh when you don’t expect them to, so be listening just like you would in any conversation. You don’t want to step on an audience laughing at your jokes. It’s kind of the whole point.
I started doing stand up because it terrified me, and I wanted to face my fears. Two years later – it’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ve gotten to host shows, open for national headliners, and I got a job at a film studio being the comedy warm up act for live studio audiences. You just never know. Give it a shot! And if you hate it, you never have to do it again.