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So you want to be a comedian...

  • #2
    Registered Users Posts: 128 ✭✭ RobbieBonham

    This may sound like I'm up my own 'thoin', but bear with me. Thought I'd (finally) throw in my two cent(s) on what are the Dos and Don'ts of getting into performing comedy, as there are a large number of young comics that post here regularly. Here's the ten biggies!

    1. THE most important one, and I know it's obvious, but only do your OWN material (or something someone has written for you). Do NOT do other comedians' material. Obvious to most of us, but you'd be surprised how many people not only use established comedians' material, but have NO IDEA that that's not acceptable. There is no room for 'cover bands' in comedy. I have actually heard open spots say they're trying to work in some of their OWN material into their sets. WTF?

    2. Time-keeping. NEVER do more than told to by the MC / Promotor. If you're told 7 minutes, do 7 minutes. 6 and a half is even better. Its not about how funny you might be. MCs have a schedule to keep and any over-running usually cuts into the last comic's time. There's nothing worse than a brash open spot who thinks he's hilarious (he may even be) so goes on to do 12. You probably won't get asked back again. Also (and this is true for comedians of every level) if you get a HUGE laugh (like with applause etc) a minute from the end, go out on that! It's very hard to top a major laugh with one minute to go!

    3. DON'T try for gigs you're not skilled enough to do yet (such as, for example, the Comedy Store). You'll only make it harder to get back in if you're not good enough yet.Stick with pub clubs that actively encourage open spots. If you're serious about doing comedy, you'll get a chance one day, when you're ready. For instance, if you're still doing gigs thinking 'I hope to God there's no hecklers tonight', you're not ready to do big venues / corporate entertainment, etc.

    4. Always carry a notebook. You never know when something funny might occur to you (usually happens to me on the bus to a gig, whilst gazing out the window).

    5. Dont try to do a new set every gig. Get a good backbone to your set, and add or take from it over time. Chances are no punters will see you more than twice in the first year or two anyway (apart from regulars, but there's not many of them).

    6. Start on a strong joke (the quicker to the punchline, the better) and end on a strong joke. There's nothing worse than a new comedian spending 5 minutes to get to the first punchline (however good it may be). The audience will get bored quickly unless they have a couple of immediate laughs to kick off! Put your looser material in the middle.

    7. What to write about: I'm sure we all have philosophical or political stuff we want to talk about, but again, you have to wait til you have the confidence to make it funny. If you look 12, or are nervous, the audience are not gonna buy your 'hardened look at life', because you don't look like you 'walk the walk'. Stick to everyday, easily identifiable observation about general life, and stay the hell away from 'paedo' jokes unless you're already a known comedian (or are an unusually talented newbie, but that's rare). You have to know how to get an audience to like you, or how to 'disarm' any hostilities, before trying risque stuff. It's not about getting your point across on subjects, it's about making people laugh. Promotors dont want someone who's 'clever'. They want someone who makes a room laugh almost constantly. There are actually open spots who send dvd recordings of themselves DYING on stage for 15 minutes straight, because they think "well this audience didnt get me, but the promotor watching this will". He won't watch more than 30 seconds without a laugh in it.

    8. Don't bring any assholes to your gigs. By assholes, I mean people who will not have the decency to stay quiet for the other comedians sets. This will reflect badly on you, and make it harder to get a return slot. Make sure any friends know the etiquette of the particular club you're playing. Also, don't be an asshole audient yourself.

    9. If a performance you did six months ago looks squirmingly awful in retrospect, you're probably doing things right (especially if you can acknowledge it's not as good as you thought at the time). It means you're getting better. As good as any of us think we are, there's ALWAYS room for improvement. I'm doing it 5 years, and I squirm at stuff I did 6 months ago. Same with artwork I do. The better you get, the worse your early stuff will look.

    10. I'm not one for taking (or giving) advice (well... apart from this post) but I'd suggest only take advice from those who are doing well. It's as true in comedy as it is in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings...lol... Some people think they know what they're talking about, but if they're struggling themselves, they can't know that much, can they? I may not even know what I'm talking about, for all I know. This list is basically just me commenting on some very obvious things I've seen over the last 5 years. I'm not claiming to be an expert, but I've some experience. I have no idea what I'M doing most of the time, just doing what feels natural. And by those 'doing well', I mean those who are well received by audience, promotors and other comedians alike. Not those who are 'in with the right people' for largely business purposes.


  • #2

    11. Record as many of your gigs as possible. Video if you can, but at very least audio. You can buy a good quality digital dictaphone for about €50 [heh - I said dic] I personally replay my gigs, and rate the punchlines based on audience reaction between 1-5. 1 being - No reaction. 5 being - EVERYBODY laughed + cheers + round of applause. If a particular gag gets too many "2's" or shudder a 1 I cut it from my act. If something is getting a consistant 4 or 4.5 [consistant 5's are rare], I try and examine what about that particular gag works so well, how can I bottle this "magic" to use throughout my entire set. I keep the information on a spreadsheet, for clearer visability.
    You can also track your LPM's (laughs per minute), if your hitting 3 or more then you're doing something right. It also allows you to pick up on any bad habits you may have .. like consistantly saying " But.. eh!" or "you know what I mean".

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