Written by James Lang
Stand Up Comedy Tips From the Best in the Business, Giving You the Tricks of the Trade So You Can Master the Journey!
Why are you here? No, it’s not a trick question. Improving your stand up game is important if you have dreams of making it big, so why are you reading this right now? Why are you pursuing stand up? If your answer isn’t: “I’m reading this because I love comedy, I love making people laugh and I would do it no matter how successful I am.”, then you’re on the right track. If you’re looking for a get-famous-quick career, then a career in comedy is most certainly not for you.
If you’re brave enough, and have enough heart to continue, then here are the tips from comedy’s best to make you a stand up pro!
1. Practice, Practice and More Practice
“…In comedy it’s stage time, stage time, stage time…The more you’re on stage, the better you’re going to get. It’s as simple as that.”
– Johnny Sanchez
There are few things more true in the world of comedy than the fact that experience makes all the difference in the world. Timing, stage presence, and reading your audience are all learned skills. If you aren’t pouncing at every mic in every bar, restaurant and theatre, you’re missing the point.
Have stage fright? Congratulations, so did every known comedian when they started out. The only antidote to stage fright is spending more time up on the stage and building up an immunity. Get out there, harness the nervous energy that stage fright gives you, and let your light shine!
2. Cut Your Teeth in Your Hometown
“First, don’t even start in L.A.. Start in whatever town you’re from. Go to those little clubs. When you’ve got your stuff together, come out to L.A..”
This nugget of truth can apply to anyone from a smaller town that dreams of hitting the comedy circuits in L.A., Chicago or New York City. Thankfully smaller towns are sometimes more forgiving. Bringing your friends and family out will provide a margin of safety and support.
Finding yourself, and what makes you funny is one of the most important steps in becoming the best version of your comedic self. The freedom that small town clubs and bars offer up and coming performers is worth its weight in gold.
The bottom line: Don’t be a copy, be an original. Develop in your natural habitat and make the jump to the big name clubs and cities only after you’ve mastered the small town scene.
3. Study the Greats
“…information was priceless. To get to sit down with Harold Ramis and have him walk you through his career, you know, it implants somewhere in your brain. You don’t even know how it does. Just in your unconscious somewhere, there’s all these stories; and as you have to make choices in life, you apply that information.”
There are many ways to grow and develop as a comedian. However, the path to becoming the ultimate stand up comedian is fraught with forks in the road. The decisions you make every day on your journey impact how long the journey will take. Will moving to LA or NYC be an onramp onto a highway, or a time-eating detour?
Listening to the stories about and interviews of famous comedians is a great way to get insights into the journey ahead. This isn’t about copying comedic styles or jokes, but understanding how to climb the ladder of comedy effectively. This is the same reason many artists attend Julliard; not to copy, but to borrow inspiration from the greats.
4. Let the Feelings of Life, Not the Experiences, Dictate Your Comedic Material
“….mostly it’s about having a more normal, humbling life. It’s not like events that take place. It’s just feeling what life feels like…Last season was about being in a T.V. show. That’s when you go alright, we’re starting to make a thing about the thing we’re making, about a thing we’re making…”
Many budding comedians go searching for comedic events in their daily life. They’re looking for significant moments, and losing focus on the feeling of life, and where they are in the moment. Comedy should be a natural, unforced product of your environment. Humble observations are the seeds that you can plant in your mind, and given enough time, they can flower into truly great bits.
When you’re the center of attention, surrounded by your celebrity, as a comic you can get away from the feel of real life. Don’t let a single event or subject consume you. Listen, try to melt into the background and enjoy the life happening all around you.
With the struggles involved in making it in the brutal world of Stand Up, stepping back and re-centering yourself is a gift in and of itself.
5. How Much Better do You have to be Than the Competition?
“…I always looked at it as, okay, not only do I have to be better than the other guys, but I have to be a lot better…”
– Judah Friedlander
For many aspiring stand up comics, the transition to bigger markets can mean a total culture shock. Hitting the local clubs to perform a set is suddenly a chance, rather than a certainty. Lottery systems for amateurs at clubs isn’t new, and Judah Friedlander shared some of his experiences above, proving himself in the nightly open-mic sessions around L.A. and NYC.
Unfortunately, life isn’t fair. This extends to the comedy club circuit. To get the attention of booking agents and promoters, you don’t only have to be better, you have to be a lot better than the other performers. This is why comedy is a long struggle with a payoff that always feels like it’s just one amazing set away. Passion will determine who survives who waves the white flag of surrender. Are you up to the challenge to continue growing well beyond the competition?
6. Composing the Perfect Joke
“I like the first line to be funny right away…then indicate you’re telling a story…then look for the link like a jigsaw puzzle…count syllables to get it, it’s more like songwriting…The biggest laugh has to be at the end…In my world the wronger something feels, the righter it is. To waste this much time on something this stupid, that felt good to me.”
To say that Jerry Seinfeld is a comedic genius would be a total understatement. The quote above refers to a joke he sketched out on his trademark yellow pads, dealing with the all-important subject of “poptarts”. It’s a funny word, so he went on a compositional journey to see where it would take him. Each part of a joke has to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, with a strong opening, a zany middle and an even funnier ending.
Of course this is only one comedic style, and you don’t want to limit yourself to someone else’s comedic structure. However, this formula has endeared Jerry to million of loyal comedy fans over the years.
Just like a pair of pants, try it on for size and see if it works for you!
7. Write About What You Know
“Probably the biggest single greatest influence on my creative process was something my old English teacher said to me when I was about 13 or 14. He just said write about what you know.”
If nothing else, life provides endless jumping off points for great comedy. The beauty of writing about what you know is that your perspective will be 100% original. Sure, there will be comics with similar backgrounds, but nobody has had the exact same experiences you have.
Share your experiences with your audience. For Ricky, this meant leaning on his television addiction for comedic observations. This dovetails perfectly with Louis C.K’s advice earlier; finding ways to fade into the background as you look at the world around you from your very own, unique vantage point.
8. Passion and Desire Define Your Success
“…If you choose to become a fucking comedian, there is no turning back. Alright? And you gotta go into it, alright, you can’t even consider quitting. And it has nothing to do with fucking talent. It has to do with desire..”
We’ll end on our eighth tip, hammering home the most important point made earlier. Comedy is not for the faint of heart. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you don’t have staying power, fueled by a burning desire to live the comedic lifestyle, you’re going to burn out and crash. Please don’t take this warning lightly.
Comedy is fun and energizing, but for our favorite comedians, that journey to greatness was paved with unimaginable self-doubt, self-improvement and fortitude. As with many things in life, nothing can truly stop you if you refuse to give up. Life isn’t about how many times you get knocked down (a lot!), it’s about how many times you get back up and keep chasing that dream.
Are you ready for the challenge?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and feel inspired to live out your calling in life. If you are hungry for all the fun that a comedy show in NYC has to offer, we hope you’ll consider our incredible lineup of talent at the hottest clubs here on BestComedyTickets.com!