10 years ago today I set foot on stage (if you can call a portion of the bar at a bowling alley a stage) to do comedy for the very first time. I did a minute of “jokes” that I seem to recall went over somewhat well. Within two weeks I was doing 2-3 open mics a week (bombing pretty much every time), and within the next two months that was up to about 4 nights a week pretty solidly for the next few years. I’ve met lots of interesting people, learned many new things, and had experiences I never would have had this not happened. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some very talented people, and have learned a few things that I’ll pass on to newer comics (who will ignore this just like I probably would were I in their shoes).
- Have fun– seriously, if you’re not having fun, what the hell are you doing this for?
- If you can quit, you probably should– stand-up comedy is hard. You’ll run into obstacles that are frustrating, and you’ll second guess whether this is the right thing to do. If you aren’t driven to continue to do stand-up, if you don’t have a passion for it, if you don’t get jittery when you take a week off, then those who are driven, who are passionate, and who are effectively addicted will pass you by. Find what your passion is and do that, but don’t waste your time with stand-up.
- The success of your peers is a good thing, even when they suck– you’re going to work with lots of comics, some of whom are great, and some of whom are awful. People you know will see mainstream success, some of whom are great, and some of whom are awful. It’s always a good thing for comedy in general. Comedians having jobs leads to more comedians having jobs. Unless they look and sound just like you, you’re not really competing with any of them for any jobs, so just suck it up and be happy for them, regardless of how you feel about them as performers. Then trash talk them to your comedian friends behind their back, like we all do.
- If someone says you can do their show only if you bring a certain number of people, tell them to fuck off– bringer shows are bad for comedy. They are a shortcut to get on stages that once held some cachet, but no longer do. You get to be on the main stage at the Comedy Store? Big deal. It’s no longer anything of which you can be proud, since ANYONE WILLING TO BRING TEN PEOPLE CAN DO THE SAME THING. They prove nothing, validate your career in no way, and for people who have been in the industry a while, they indicate that you’re new and/or shitty.
- No one cares– doing a big show that you’re nervous about? Don’t worry, no one cares. Seriously- you could bomb and do the worst 20 minutes anyone has ever done on stage, and it won’t really affect your life and career in any way. Even if it was at a TV taping, it won’t matter. I saw someone who I started out with bomb terribly on HBO, and now he’s got his own TV show and is highly promoted by Comedy Central. You know why? Because no one in the Hollywood side of the business cares about how well you do. So stop being so nervous about your show at a dive bar in the middle of nowhere.
- Bookers don’t care how funny you are– want to be on a great show? Send over a great demo tape to the booker, and prepare to hear nothing back from them, ever. Most of them don’t care how funny you are, they only care about how many people are going to come buy overpriced drinks in their venue because of you. So find your audience, connect with them, cultivate them, and make it easy for them to share your comedy with their friends. The sooner you can do this, the sooner you can get on better shows.
- Appreciate those who’ve come before you– watch video of those who have been successful, buy CDs of successful comedians, go see them live, and pay attention to what they do. Do this even if you don’t find them funny. I have CDs from comedians that I don’t really care for, but I’ve learned a great deal about how they deliver jokes, the way their jokes are structured, why that humor works for them, and how those techniques would work for me. Do that.
- When you think you’re good, you’re not yet– After 6 months, I thought I was funny. I wasn’t. After 2 years I thought I knew what I was doing on stage. I didn’t. After 5 years I thought I was ready to showcase for club owners. Nope, not the time. It wasn’t until about 2-3 years ago that I really figured things out. It takes about 1000 times on stage to really know what you’re doing, and depending on where you live and what your workload is, that will probably take somewhere between 5-10 years to happen. Sit back and enjoy the learning process.
- If you’re under 30, you’re boring– that’s OK, you haven’t had a chance to live yet. But just know that your stories about being drunk, or teen angst, or your youthful indiscretions are nothing compared to the stories of someone that has made decades of bad decisions in their life. So do your shitty mildly amusing jokes while you go out and live through some real events, and in a few years you’ll have some material that can match the stage presence you’re working on now.
Let me finish this off with a thank you to some of the people who have encouraged me, given me work, been my friend, and otherwise made this process easier. To Mike Muratore, Stephen Glickman, Kris Lezetc, Dante, Anthony Ramos, Eric Edwards, Joey Gaynor, Steven Pearl, Jen Murphy, Yul Spencer, Fred “Rerun” Berry (pictured with me about a month before he passed away), and I’m sure I’ve missed a few who deserve to be here, THANK YOU!