How to be a stand up comedian
My palms are sweaty, my throat has gone dry, my legs are shaking and my mind has gone blank. I’m stood next to the stage and a man, much funnier than me, has just announced my name. I am about to make my foray into the world of stand-up comedy.
5 weeks earlier, a message was sent out via the Union that a comedy night was to be hosted, and they were looking for acts. Many people have told me I can be funny, but that was normally with a pint or two inside me.... but on a stage....? In front of strangers...? I wasn’t too sure! But hey; if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
Step one: The Writing!
This is by far the hardest part for me. It is so tempting to get up there and tell jokes you already know, or maybe that funny line from that sitcom that was on that random channel a few years ago. Trust me; I’ve seen people try it. Someone will know! (In the biz this is called ‘The Unoriginal Sin’). Instead, think about the little things that annoy you or make you laugh. Even if it is the smallest detail of life and you feel a bit strange for noticing it... you really aren’t the only one who thinks this; and don’t hold back. You have to leave all of yourself up there, your personal life, your embarrassing stories and if you feel uncomfortable sharing this information with random strangers who will stare at you and judge.... this isn’t the hobby for you. There is a rule to a stand up jokes; it should have two punch lines, one to set up the premise and one to knock it down.
“Who decided 90° was the ‘Right’ Angle?! What’s wrong with 160°? Or am I just being obtuse?”
This is the key to writing a good joke. The big thing that you’ll hear comics say is that they have found “Their Voice”; this is the indefinable thing that took me two years to find. It will not come overnight and takes some work. That way of being that makes you, you.
Step Two: The Practice
Practice, practice, practice! Going on stage with a note pad or all of your jokes written on your hand doesn’t look good and isn’t slick. Get all you want to say written down, stand in front of a mirror and find yourself a fake microphone (hairbrush, aerosol can or even a cucumber) and go through the lot. You’ll look and feel silly at first, but you need to practice. Hone your delivery. Where you pause, how you talk, how you stand. Also, time yourself. What feels like 5 minutes in real life is quadrupled on stage. You have no idea how long that feels up there.
The key to memorising your ‘set’ is all in the segway. Have a sentence that leads you from one joke to another. Remember these and your memory should kick in with what you want to say and don’t worry if you forget something. I’ve forgotten my favourite joke so many times it’s unbelievable.
Step Three: The Gig
First of all, you need to find one. Some universities have comedy societies, and some Student Unions’ have gigs available, but chances are that you will need to get in contact with your local comedy club. Most of these will have ‘Open Mic’ nights for newbies to cut their teeth. This will normally take the form of a ‘Gong Show’. This is very old school. You have 5 minutes to make your mark and try and last for the full 5 minutes, however, if the audience don’t like you, you can be gonged off the stage! This is your gig over. (I once saw a very loud Welsh lad with a lisp last 45 seconds).
Do not let this put you off and if you get gonged off keep it up and try again, because when you’ve had enough practice and you last the allotted time, the euphoria is unbelievable. This is also a great place to meet other new comics and hear about other gigs. When on stage, don’t lose your cool. Everyone knows you’re new and will give you a chance to compose yourself; and if you are still feeling nervous, find a point on the back wall, fix your gaze and tell your jokes to that.
That’s enough to get you started... all I can say is good luck, be funny and don’t be driven away. Remember, being a comic is about announcing to the room that you are the funniest person in there.
That’s why all the chairs are facing you!