You’ve always wondered: How do I do standup comedy?
I can barely even leave the house anymore. There’s all these people lining up, demanding how to do I standup comedy. So I’m telling you now. for once and for all.
Step One: Comedy Preparation
Find a comedy open mic. i found my first open mic in the free weekly in the town that I lived in, the one that was full of missed romantic connections and rock show previews.
Open mic is spelled open mic. I think it should be open mike, because that is short for microphone, and mic is not short for microphone. I have lost this battle. It’s open mic.
Write down every funny bit you do, every story you tell, you know, everything that makes you funny. Try to edit these things down to their essence.
If you can, read your jokes to a friend and see if they can give you notes.
There are a lot of classes that teach you how to write standup comedy about your background and your family. I think they make everyone sound kind of the same. It’s never been what I like to do, personally.
Up top, do a joke introducing yourself. This can be as basic as “I’m a Mormon from Las Vegas, and nobody thinks I exist,” to, “I’m mostly carbon-based and fun at funerals.”
Most standup open mics are three minutes in big cities with big scenes, but they can be five in smaller scenes. It depends on how many comics usually show up. Prepare what you perceive to be three minutes. Practice it.
Read your little script several times. Memorize it, even. You’re going to get better at memorizing things in the future, so start working on it now.
Step Two: The First Set As A Standup Comic
Show up at the open mic, a little early. See what the other comics are doing. Are they writing their names on a notepad? Putting little slips of paper in a bucket? Do what they do.
Watch other comics. When you’re new, you’ll learn a lot about what to do, and what not to do, by watching other people do standup.
Look for the light. Someone, usually the host, will raise a phone to indicate that your time is about up. Wrap it up, it’s usually a minute.
If you’ve done all the jokes you wanted to do, thank the host and get offstage. This is called “giving the time back to the room.” You will look like a hero.
Record your set on your phone. Do this as much as you can. When I was coming up, I had to buy a little voice recorder and remember to bring it. Now it’s pretty easy to even take video of every set you do.
When it’s your turn, take the microphone out of the stand, and put the stand to your left and a little behind you. When you’re wrapping up, put the microphone stand back in front of you and put the mic in it. This looks professional.
Did you do super well? Probably not. You don’t really have any of the skills you need to do well. Did you do OK? If so, statistically you’ll probably keep going. Feel that rush of endorphins? Enjoy it. One day that will pass, and whether you shine or suck, all sets will leave you feeling empty inside.
Step Three: The Review
Listen to your tape. I know it’s painful. Listen to it. What jokes worked? Mark them on your notes. Can they improve? Can you remove any words and make them work better?
You’ll try a lot of things, a lot of joke forms, but for now, try to write things in this pattern: Setup/punchline. Here’s the setup. It’s the observation or the beginning of the story. Then there’s the punchline, it’s a misdirect or absurd point. Circle the part of your joke that is the setup and the part that is the punchline. Are they in the wrong order? Fix it. Anything that you say after the punchline is a tag. If the joke didn’t work, don’t do the tags.
Now that you’ve done a set, put your funniest joke at the end and your second funniest joke at the start. Now, keep writing jokes.
Step Four: What’s Next, Comedian?
What’s next is you keep writing jokes, you keep going up, you make friends, you get booked on your friend’s shitty shows, you keep writing and going up. After you’ve been onstage a thousand times, you’ll be consistent. You’ll know what you’re doing. You’ll be able to get laughs. People will start asking YOU: How do I do standup comedy?
When people ask, how do you do standup, this is never the answer they want. They want to hear the shortcut, the backdoor, the easy way to get good and be successful!
There is no easy way to do standup comedy. It’s gonna be three years before you’re competent, and maybe another five to get anything resembling “good.”
Is that what you wanted to hear? No? Sorry. Nobody does. I thought I was done as a comic at six years in, but I see now that I’d just begun. I’m starting to get pretty good now, at seventeen years in. If you want to do something that doesn’t take as much time, be a doctor.
GENERALLY GOOD COMEDY ADVICE
Don’t punch down. Don’t make fun of the disabled, the less fortunate, people who don’t have your advantages. There’s plenty of rich, powerful idiots. Make fun of them.
Don’t tell a story about a funny thing your friend did. That’s your friend being funny, not you.
Don’t try to get laughs from what you’re wearing. Everyone seems to go through a phase with this. It’s low key prop comedy.
Don’t worry too much about sounding like your comedy heroes. This happens and you’ll grow out of it.
Don’t just be the yelling person. We’re covered on that.
This time when you’re learning standup comedy is the time to try everything you’re interested in. Guitar comedy? Sure! Observational comedy? Why not? Impressions? Go for it. When you’re not getting paid is the time to do exactly what you want, when you want. It’s no-stakes. Go for it!