Are people constantly telling you how funny you are? Do you always have the perfect joke in any situation, but no one to tell it to? Have you always thought maybe you should try stand-up? Well, you also probably know that stand-up comedy is a notoriously hard business to break into—but it can be done. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’ve ever wanted to give it a shot.
Be prepared to spend a lot of time on preparation
Obviously, you’ll want to start doing open mic nights at local venues, but even if you secure a spot, you’re going to be devoting much more time to preparing and scheduling than you are actually on stage.
“It’s a lot more time-consuming than people think,” said Eitan Levine, a 32-year-old comic in New York City. “Writing, mics, and the amount of commuting to ‘stuff’ is insane.”
Long before he got into stand-up—which led to his current primary gig writing and directing videos for brands and YouTube channels—Levine started keeping a joke journal when he was a kid. You’ll spend a long time writing and rewriting jokes, so you’d better get a journal, too.
Interact with the comedy community
Sure, the stand-up community is funny—but it’s also serious business. You need to be ready and willing to network. The hardest part of getting into stand-up, Levine said, is “literally just navigating the community.”
“Navigating open mic schedules and how sign-ups work requires maps and Google Docs,” he quipped. “Sometimes you just have to show your face at shows you aren’t on in order for a person to recognize you to maybe book you in a few months. Knowing the gatekeepers and which ones you actually have a shot at getting something from is a whole other part to this.“
Kelsey Caine, a 29-year-old New York City-based comic who founded the Two Scoops Network, pointed out that gaining entry to the stand-up world is considerably harder if you’re not a straight, white guy.
She said sexism is the most unexpected challenge she’s faced while trying to book shows and rise up in the comedy ranks. She also cited what she calls “the sex offender thing,” adding sarcastically, “So many sex offenders do stand-up comedy. It almost seems like stand-up comedy is an environment that allows sex offenders to joke about assaulting people as a tactic to deflect from how they actually assault people.”
Caine has a point here. Comedy, like many other industries, has been shaken by accusations of sexual misconduct in recent years. Comedian Bill Cosby was even convicted of assault and jailed, although his prison sentence was thrown out and his conviction overturned earlier this year.
Know that everyone’s sense of humor is different and you’ll almost certainly be exposed to jokes that offend or disgust you, but you do not have to stay in situations where you’re uncomfortable—even if staying or feigning nonchalance seems like the only way to advance.
You can also find your own community. Yes, the comedy world can be insular and is gate-kept by some powerful figures, but times are changing! You can and should seek out your own community in which you can learn, grow, collaborate, and laugh.
“Go to an open mic … find a place to do comedy that’s inclusive, otherwise it will eat at your soul,” Caine said.
If you love it, don’t give up
Even the world’s greatest comics bomb sometimes. It’s part of the process. Do not give up on this dream because of a bad show or two (or 20).
“I think people also don’t realize how many shows you do that just flat-out suck even after you’ve ‘made it,’” Levine said. “Also, the concept of ‘making it’ doesn’t not exist—it just changes meaning every six months. You gotta really, really, really like this stuff to keep motivated to do it long enough to see ‘returns’ (which is in quotations because it’s more than just financial returns). The amount of effort to have small wins in this world is insane.”
Show up to shows. Take notes on other sets. Make friends. Then, push your way into the space, whatever it takes, and write some jokes about what you learned.