Sunday, 1 August 2010

Starting Stand Up Comedy - Finding Your Stage

Starting your career in comedy is an easy task. In order to become a "comedian", you must get some stage time; it doesn't matter where it is, or how little people there are in the audience. So long as you talk into a microphone in front of people for more than a minute and don't get booed off, then congratulations! You are a professional comedian! Feel free to introduce yourself as a "Joke Merchant" or sign cheques (and you will be signing a lot of cheques) as "Gagmeister General", and so on. Let's get started.

First you will have to find out if there are any comedy clubs in your city or area. Searching popular bars is a bad idea, as most people would prefer to talk over a mediocre musician or band than a comedian. This is good manners.

Seek out small back rooms in pubs and bars, ill-suited art spaces and conference rooms in the hotels of industrial districts. These are the real places where raw comedy talent is. Often due to the hardcore topics and controversial material, which is much less-suited to the popular clubs, there will most likely be a lack of audience members. Do not let this put you off. It's a widely believed fact that the more popular clubs (read: financially successful) are only popular because the comedians who get to play there in front of several hundred people and get paid for it due to their hard work are considered to be Sell Outs.

Within the stand-up comedy business, a "Sell Out" is someone considered to have betrayed the intrinsic ethos of comedy by
a) constructing jokes/material
b) researching their material for factual accuracy and to avoid potential plagiarism
c) affecting an appropriate stage presence to help boost the impact of said material

Other offences include such acts as rehearsing/practising material, occasional ad-libbing on stage, seeking out new audiences, rewriting bad material, affecting a positive attitude on stage and toward other comedians, keeping within the set time and making the audience laugh.

You don't want to go to one of those clubs when you are just starting your comedy career, lest you become a Sell Out. In the meantime do the smaller clubs to build up your experience, then change the system from the inside once you reach the bigger clubs. The smaller clubs are a goldmine for showbiz tips and tricks, as quite often the club runner has been in the business for many, many years. His success goes without saying as the club is still in business despite low audience turnout.

A good way to get some stage time with these smaller clubs is to send the runner an email. The less personal and friendly the better. Here is a basic template you can use for getting your first gig:



Five minutes at next gig?



Being personable is not a trait club managers look for in new talent. This is especially obvious in the managers themselves. Being friendly to other comedians will only make you look suspicious and a potential Hack.

A Hack is someone who steals other comedians' jokes and material. For someone to be considered a Hack, they must talk about a subject that another comedian has knowingly spoke of in the past. 100%, word-for-word accuracy is not necessary to accuse someone of stealing material. Subjects that are definitely out include: air travel, the difference between men and women, mothers in law, etc.

You should receive a response and confirmation of your spot within a day to 12+ weeks.

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