There’s a constant question every novice and even seasoned talent will ask themselves: how do I get better as a stand up comedian?
The default answer from most sources is typically to “get up on stage.” Sure, stage time is important, but when you’ve hit a rut that you feel you can’t get out of, finding and doing stage time can be agonizing if you feel it’s not going anywhere. We can fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing something good, but that’ll eventually catch up to us causing a resentment for what we’re doing.
Here are some suggestions that can help you pick yourself back up as a stand-up comedian!
Read a book.
It’s really surprising, but from my own observation, it’s common for stand-up comedians to enter comedy without doing any type of preparation or research with stand-up comedy literature.
A newbie comic is likely to start writing with no idea of what they’re doing, get up on stage, and have no clear jokes. Sometimes they don’t write at all (insert eyeroll).
A lot of comedians detest reading books about stand-up. I’ve met several who just assume these authors are failed stand-ups trying to make a buck. However, with any performance art, research and preparation is necessary to gain some level of proficiency.
There are tons of books out there that I’d recommend. My top three choices are:
While no one should expect a book to make them famous or an expert, it helps to provide some type of direction. I’m currently reading Mastering Stand-Up and the excerpts on act-outs, anecdotal stand-up, and ad-libbing made me think and motivated me to see how I could improve in these areas. Other parts of the book may be more in line with what you’re going for. It’s all about what you take from it and tailor to your own performance.
Take a class.
Personally, taking a class is how I started in stand-up comedy. It helped guide me and motivate me to develop my first set. Additionally, it helped me gain insight to comedy as a business and understand this isn’t just about the craft...it’s a full fledged money making industry. For the newbie comedian, this might be perfect to gain a better understanding of comedy: how to sell yourself, joke writing from actual comedians, etc. For the seasoned comic (which I witnessed in the same class), it can help get them out of a perceived rut.
My only warning when taking a class is to check your ego. It’s common for seasoned comedians to think they’re above taking a class or feel they know better than everyone there. You clearly don’t if you’ve hit a rut in your comedy and you’ll gain more out of a class when you allow yourself a fair effort. Mentality plays deeply into what you get out of a class.
Step back and live your life.
This one is very personal to me, but you have to live your life. Period. Comedy is a lot about drawing from personal experience and it can be very easy to get into the monotony of getting up on stage multiple times a week, writing, being cut off from the outside world thinking that it’s beneficial to your craft and then you realize you have nothing to talk about anymore.
I’m not suggesting you take an extended sabbatical, but know when to take time away.
An athlete in training doesn’t see gains without resting and it’s very similar for comics. For example, I’ve seen comics on the scene and those who’ve submitted tapes to our shows saying “I go to fifteen or twenty open mics a week.” However, the end product is not good and it’s clear that the volume of performance doesn’t mean quality growth in the craft. Some comics have even gotten worse compared to where I last saw them perform. Kind of mind boggling if you ask me. If you approach a craft without an end goal you’re going to be aimlessly navigating it. “Resting” allows you to step back and re-evaluate what you’re doing so changes can be made. This might be different from one comic to the next, but overloading with a routine will eventually catch up with you.
Doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t equal growth. For stand-ups, this is how we approach practicing our craft and volume can be both a good thing and a bad thing. If volume means you don’t have a life, then you’ll have nowhere to draw from experience-wise. Something to think about.
Now, some suggestions may work for some comics and for others may find less value in it. Every comic is different and it requires your own personal approach that you have to figure out. A balanced approach is the starting point.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and tell us your thoughts!