As I get set to celebrate/mourn a full decade performing stand up comedy it dawned on me that a majority of the posts I write concerning comedy have a somewhat negative or cynical spin. Sure there are problems and issues with the art, as well as the business of stand up comedy, but I have certainly learned and experienced some very positive things. Comedy has allowed me to see so many parts of America (and they are all obese). I have heard racist comments in the deep south as well as the shallow northeast. In other words, a career in comedy has allowed me to have a rich and fulfilling experience learning about the human condition in America. It has also given me great insights into how, instead of just being mean and cynical to newer comics, my experience and observations of how comedy has changed in the last decade could provide guidance to those new comics. So that they can become more successful and avoid the bitterness and cynicism that has sometimes stifled me, here are some of my suggestions for people just starting out in comedy or thinking about trying stand up (or maybe even some veterans), because after all: ANYONE CAN DO IT!
1. Put “Comedian” in front of your name and as your occupation on all social media. In other professions you have to earn your title, or at least exhibit some shame in calling yourself something you have not quite earned (like that look on a podiatrist’s face when he demands that you to call him or her “doctor.” Well, comedy doesn’t work like that. Simply claim the title after that first open mic and never let it go. You don’t even need to earn laughs, let alone money, to call yourself a comedian. And by putting it in your Facebook name you announce to the world that you are in fact a comedian. Like they did not know already!
2. Refer to your schedule of shows as a “Tour.” A tour used to mean a sponsored series of events or at least a series of events similar in their significance or theme that calling them a tour seemed to mean something. I might be inclined to refer to my mish mash of performances as a schedule or at least call the section of my website “live calendar,” but in this day and age a schedule is something you put on Microsoft Outlook. You are a comedian! It says so on your Facebook name – so act like a rock star performer and call your list of shows a tour. People will respect you more. Even if that tour takes you to the basement of a taco restaurant.
3. Tweet and Facebook “Up”. Try to re-tweet and #FF as many people above you as possible. And be sure to like the statuses of anyone significantly higher than you in the social media realm. These more successful and/or famous people like being treated well and will recognize you for it. And remember, every set that someone with more momentum than you does should result in either a “you killed”, “you crushed” or “fu*king brilliant!” compliment from you.
4. Refer to the right comics. A corollary to number 3 is to make sure you know who to praise, who not to praise. Easy examples to start you on your way: Louis CK – the best and Dane Cook – the worst. You will look like an asshole who has no idea what is going on in comedy if you veer to sharply from the boundaries that have been set by the comedy community.
5. Do long sets as soon as possible. I had a comedian (said so on his Facebook name) tell me he had been doing comedy for a very short time but was already doing 30 and 40 minute sets. YES! This is what it takes people. Having 30 minutes is easy – if you can speak confidently for thirty minutes, can find a space anywhere in America with a microphone and someone willing to let you do it, then voila! You have thirty minutes of material! Why wait – you may already be ready!
6. Start a web series. Things may not be completely blowing up in stand up in your first 5 months (and you already have a podcast and a blog) so it is probably time to diversify your funny portfolio. Start doing a web series. Nothing will make you a better comedian than by producing non-stand up comedy content.
7. After one year, begin lecturing other performers and sharing what you have learned. Once you have been doing stand up for one year, it is time to start sharing your knowledge with other comics. Snort and chuckle when newer comedians say things that seem arrogant and remind them that you have been on the road and know what this business is really like (even one road gig qualifies you as an expert). However, if you are talking to a comedian with significantly more experience, be sure to show them deference by saying “you know how it is” after complaining to a 12 year veteran how upset you are that your career is stalled after 19 days. And speaking of the road…
8. Never do the road. Not only is the road not a really viable career path at this point except for the independently wealthy or established headliners, but it is not really what you should be about. Working the road will help you get a good 30-45 minutes over time, whereas staying where you are will be good for networking and creating a ten minute set that your favorite neighborhood hangout will enjoy.
9. Record an album as soon as you can and sell it for $5. I defer to comedian Andy Sandford’s Facebook advice to young comedians, which sort of inspired me to give my advice column to young comedians:
hey, if you’ve been doin comedy for 6 months and have 45 minutes of untrimmed quasi-material that no one wants to hear…you need to record and release your own album on itunes ASAP, before you progress and hate the material. In the past, record labels kept artists like yerself down by having standards. Well the future is now, and you can sell direct to fans just like Louis CK, who you are most likely imitating
10. Create a Character. Your voice and opinions, God willing, will never fully develop because within a few years you should be in development for television projects and never have to do stand up again. However, in case you are not quite on that track, develop a character – make your voice sound different, be different, even if the thoughts expressed through your material are not. Greg Giraldo is dead. Pee Wee Herman is alive – which one would you rather be?
Good luck on your comedy adventure young comedian!