CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a comedian.
Is becoming a comedian right for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
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Make people laugh
While making your friends laugh at school or at the office is not the same as getting up on stage and making people who don’t know you laugh, it is a step in the right direction and an early way to practise your craft.
Be informed and relatable
Accomplished comedians pay attention to what is going on in the news. Current events and politics inspire limitless and relatable material. Being relatable is crucial, because to understand your humor, your audience will need to see things from your point of view.
The best routines are not performances. They are, instead, conversations and interactions which build a comfortable rapport with the audience. Be aware, however, that some people do not like to be the center of attention; if you sense that someone feels uncomfortable being exposed or in the spotlight, talk to someone else.
Eventually, you will build a unique stage persona and develop the specific tone from which all of your jokes will be delivered. Rodney Dangerfield, for example, was the ‘lovable loser’ that everyone could relate to. His now famous signature phrase, ‘I get no respect,’ endeared him to audiences.
Write, rehearse, and edit
Write an opener
You will need an opening line to capture your audience and get them laughing. This should be a quick line that introduces you as a comedian. In South Beach, Daniel Tosh opened with, ‘This is my third favorite city to do stand-up in.’ That opener immediately set the tone for his brand of sarcastic humor.
Write tight setups
The setup establishes the premise of the joke. It informs your audience of any background information they need to know to understand it. The best setups are clear and to the point. A classic example is: A priest, a minister, and a rabbi walk into bar.
The punchline is the laugh line of the joke. An effective punchline is an unexpected conclusion to your setup. It usually contains a twist that makes an audience laugh. A simple example is: Nine out of ten dentists agree. One out of ten dentists is an idiot.
Tags are additional or secondary punchlines that come after your initial punchline. They can build on the first punchline or they can take the joke in a different direction. Here’s an example of a Gary Shandling joke with a tag after the punchline: I remember learning to drive on my Dad’s lap. He’d work the brakes. I’d work the wheel. Then I went to take the driver’s test and sat on the examiner’s lap. I failed the exam. But he still writes to me. That’s the really nice part.
Write every day
Take some time every day to write down ideas for jokes or routines. Keep your eyes and ears open. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Learn to find the hidden joke in every event and interaction. The best stories have elements of truth in them, so the best jokes are often grounded in reality. Keep a pen and paper handy. Get out of the house; you need to have experiences to write about.
Get your routine down perfectly. Rehearse it until you can say it without even thinking. Perform your routine over and over again in front of a mirror so that you can identify which parts of it are funny and which parts should be cut out. Keep editing and rearranging your routine until you are confident about it.
Make a video of yourself performing your routine. Watch it several times to make sure you are delivering your punchlines effectively. A solid routine should generate four to six laughs per minute. But be careful not to over-evaluate and over-obsess, which could result in a loss of freshness and spontaneity. Show your recording to family and friends to see if they think it is funny.
Get on stage, practise, repeat
Doing stand-up is like developing a muscle; it requires exercise. The more you do it, the better you will get. Go to every open mic you can to get rid of stage fright, gain comedic timing, and perfect your material and delivery. In short, it’s all about practice and more practice. There is no other way to increase your confidence and establish your stage presence.
Learn from other comedians
Read celebrated comedians’ autobiographies. Watch them on stage. Observe how they communicate and interact with an audience. Consider taking a comedy workshop.
Find your own style
Comedians may purposefully search for their own style of comedy or it may emerge naturally through stage time. The latter process is the more common one, which further underlines the importance of getting on stage as frequently as possible.
Stage time for an aspiring comedian is like residency training for a medical school graduate. It is an opportunity to perform as a practitioner.