From Creative Stand Ups:
50 Stand-Up Comedy Tips
Want to learn how to become a professional comedian? Here are 50 time-tested stand-up comedy tips that will help you build a solid career in comedy. While there are hundreds of comedy tips to choose from, applying these 50 stand-up comedy tips are going to help you at every level of your comedy career. Whether you’re an aspiring comedian with stage fright or you’re getting paid gigs, these comedy tips can still take you to the next level.
TIPS FOR WRITING STAND-UP COMEDY
Don’t attempt to both write and analyze your material at the same time
When you try to analyze how funny your writing is while simultaneously trying to write you’ll end up frustrated. This will give comedians writer’s block every time. Break writing down into writing for quantity (getting words, ideas, and joke premises on the page) and writing for quality (revising your material until it gets the laugh you want).
Pick a Point of View
Comedians that don’t have a defined point of view aren’t interesting to audience members. They’re just talking about “stuff”. Don’t be afraid to find your authentic point of view and stand behind it. Even if it’s wrong the audience will get a good laugh at how ridiculous it is. More likely than not, the audience will identify with your crazy reaction to a situation and you’ll end up creating rapport with the audience and getting some huge laughs at the same time. Learn more about comedian point of view here.
Write every day
Don’t just write when you feel like it. Either have a set time to write every day or decide that, whatever happens, you’ll find time to spend at least 10 minutes writing… even if nothing great comes out of it. Writing every day gives you’re ideas time to develop between writing sessions. When you get back to writing the next day, you’ll have more ideas to work with.
Allow ideas to evolve
You best material isn’t going to be written the first time through. Usually, comedians will write a joke that gets the main idea of the joke across to the audience and test it out. From there, they repeatedly revise and test their joke out until they find the best way of writing and delivering a line. Many comedians do this 20, 30, or 50 times before settling on the final form of the joke.
Get into flow
Creative flow only happens when you stop constantly checking yourself. When you’re in a creative mood, don’t stop it by questioning yourself. Just let it flow. Write as much down as possible. If you begin analyzing your comedy writing too early you break the flow. It’s like attempting to run a marathon and turning around every 15 seconds to see how well you’re doing. You can always analyze, so stay in flow while you have it.
Learn the mechanics of writing comedy
There are many principles of writing and performing stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy has been around a long time and the comedians that have gone before you have figured a thing or two out. Don’t try to build an entire career by trial-and-error. Learn what works and what doesn’t early on and then apply those rules. You can always break them later. We teach all of these principles in our Faster & Funnier stand-up comedy course.
Don’t just use one writing strategy
There’s a lot of comedy teachers that make writing comedy sound simple (i.e. “All you do is step one, two, and three… then repeat). Problem is, if you use any kind of a system to write material the audience is going to figure it out REAL quick (good luck building a 45 minute set). Instead, learn the principles of those systems and ditch the system as quickly as possible. Using the same strategy as everyone else will get you the same results as everyone else (stuck doing open mics for eternity).
Continually switch around material to create a stronger, more consist set
Each joke within your set doesn’t stand alone. Some jokes work best paired with others or further away from others. Continually switch around the order of your jokes to find the right sequence. Usually, this means creating “bits.” Think of jokes as paragraphs in a book, bits as chapters, and your set as the whole book. Each bit has a common theme that makes it go well with other jokes. Continually restructure the order to find the best sequence.
Don’t worry about spelling or grammar when writing
Stand-up comedy is spoken, not written. The audience doesn’t care if you didn’t spell a word correctly cause they’ll never know. However, countless time comedians will think of a great joke, begin writing the setup line down, see that they didn’t spell something correctly, go back and change the spelling, and then… forget what the hell the joke was. Spelling can wait. I joke that isn’t captured on paper may never be seen again.
Don’t steal material
This will get you instantly banned from the stand-up comedy community. What’s scary here is that no comedian is going to come up to you and tell you they know you stole a joke… they’ll either quietly decide to never work with you or they’ll talk behind your back. Either way, you lose. It’s not worth killing on an open mic and burning bridges you’ll need later in your career.
Comedy is about self-expression
Don’t sit down at your computer and try to “think up jokes.” You’ll be very frustrated when nothing good come to you. Instead, use your writing time to express yourself. Talk about your frustrations, your ex-girlfriend… whatever. Comedy gets it’s power from the audience’s ability to identify with you and your material. When you don’t express yourself, you’re just saying words on a stage.
Don’t require perfection
If you require perfection when you write comedy you’ll end up loathing your writing time. Until you get a joke on stage you’ll never know whether it’s funny or not. Even famous comedians test out their material. If you’re doing a joke that’s new then, by its very definition, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Accept that perfection is impossible and instead strive for excellence.
TIPS FOR PERFORMING STAND-UP COMEDY
Don’t memorize every word of your performance
If you memorize every word in your performance you’ll end up very mechanical on stage. Two things will happen. First, you’ll lose all feeling in your material. You’ll know longer feel authentic to the audience. Instead, the audience will feel like you’re talking AT them instead of TO them. You don’t naturally memorize words when you talk to your friends ,you just do it. Second, you’re going to forget where you were at. The first thing that breaks your concentration will derail you and, since all you know are a string of words, you’ll be unable to remember which word you were on… the whole thing is going to fall apart. Instead, memorize what you want to talk about and then simply talk about it.
Focus on what you want to tell the audience, not on yourself
When you focus on yourself you get stage fright. When you focus on the audience you feel passion for what you’re saying. The brain is wired to think of only one thing at a time. When your focus is completely on the audience you’ll forget yourself and sink into the moment. You’ll begin enjoying comedy more than you ever have. There’s no room for stage fright. Also, when you concentrate on the audience, the audience is going to feel that. They’ll feel that you’re being authentic. When you care about them, they’re going to care about you.
Talk TO the audience, not AT them
Break down the 4th wall. You’re not on television. You’re live. Talk to the audience as if they’re actually there. When you talk TO the audience you’ll come off far more authentic and the audience is going to respond to you more positively. When comedians launch directly into memorized material it signals to audience members that they’re just on stage “saying words.” There’s no connection there. The audience is going to stop paying attention.
Perform several times a week
The more time you spend on stage the more success you’ll have. Performing frequently allows you to test out the ideas you had while writing much faster. If you’re going to rewrite a joke 50 times before settling on the perfect one, you might want to perform more than once a week. Not only does it help you revise your material, but it helps you develop stage comfort as well.
Find a home venue
A home venue is a show that you feel very comfortable performing on. When you perform on new shows you never know what the audience is going to be like. Having a “home base” gives you a place where you can take chances, try new jokes out, or learn how to interact with audience members. After you’ve had a few good shows at that venue, you don’t really have anything left to prove to the audience or fellow comedians. You can relax and be more creative.
Create a set list
A set list is a piece of paper that goes in your pocket (or sometimes on the stool) while you’re on stage that reminds you of what subjects you want to talk about. While certainly not necessary, for new comedians it is comforting to know that if you forget what you wanted to talk about that you have a back-up. Only write one or two words per subject on your set list. If you try to write the entire joke out you’ll end up reading the joke to the audience.
Just because you get a laugh doesn’t mean you’re “done”
Getting a laugh doesn’t mean you have a finished joke. It means you have the basis for a joke. After a joke gets a laugh your job is to figure out how to maximize the laughter for the next audience by revising the joke. Try taking out words that aren’t necessary or adding other words/phrases in. Test. Test. Test.
Don’t pick on audience members
There are audience members out there that are scared to death of a comedian talking to them. If you pick on one of them the audience is going to empathize with them. If the audience perceives you as being mean to an audience member they’ll turn on you for being a jerk. That said, keeping it lighthearted is a great way of building rapport with the audience.
Balance writing and performing
Comedians are most effective when they balance their writing and performing time. Writing for 20 hours for every show you perform on is going to waste a lot of your time. You’ll find that ideas you spent a lot of time on aren’t what the audience wants to hear. Instead, spend time writing and get it on stage as soon as possible. That way you’re next writing session will be even better… which makes your next performance even better… and on and on.
Don’t take it out on the audience. It’s not their fault nobody showed up.
We get it. You spent a LONG time writing and practicing and now you show up to an open mic and there’s only 3 people sitting in the audience. Frustrating. That’s why comedians don’t put all their hopes and dreams on a single show. For successful comedians, it’s about hitting 2-5 shows a night. They don’t get mad because there’s another show right around the corner. When you get mad that the audience isn’t big enough you’re going to phone it in. When that happens, you might as well have stayed home. You’re not going to learn whether a joke actually works because you won’t tell it correctly. You’ll also miss the opportunity to work on crowd-work (a skill that will be HUGE later on in your career).
Open mics are for training. Use them to learn your craft
Aspiring comedians tend to think that open mics are a place where everyone spends hours and hours before the show making sure everything is perfect. Not true in the least. Open mics are for learning your craft. That’s it. If the audience didn’t pay to see you perform than you don’t owe them anything. This might sound selfish, but it actually makes for a much better performance. Instead of doing the same jokes you’ll end up stretching yourself and possibly writing new material off-the-cuff.
Don’t speak formally
Throughout school you’ve been taught to write very formally. You were taught to write complete sentences, to use introductions and conclusions, etc. But that’s not how people communicate in everyday life. When you talk to a friend you’ll say only half a though and pause. You’ll use informal words. You’ll gesture. This is what people are accustomed to when communicating. When you get on stage and speak as if you’re on a school debate team it comes out awkward and inauthentic. Listen to how you and others around you naturally speak. Your performances should mimic it.
TIPS FOR MARKETING YOUR STAND-UP COMEDY
Get good. Then get seen
Job #1 is to get to the point where you can consistently go out and get laughs on stage. If you’re hit-or-miss with your performances, you’re not ready to market yourself. Take the time to develop a solid set and get some stage time under your belt. Don’t burn bridges by performing on shows that are above your experience level. Bombing an open mic is no big deal. Bombing a show that people paid money to see (i.e. a showcase) is a big deal. You can be sure that that booker isn’t going to want anything to do with you again… even if you’ve gotten better since.
It doesn’t matter what medium you use to market yourself, if you’re not worth talking about you’re not going to get the YouTube views, the Twitter followers, or whatever. It goes back to “Get good. Then get seen.” But being remarkable isn’t simply about having high enough quality material. Just because you get the audience to laugh doesn’t mean that they’re actually going to remember you long after the show or become a fan of yours. Remarkable is all about becoming “sticky” in the mind of the audience. The number one way of doing this is by being highly creative. Here’s more on how to become a more creative comedian: