This year our lives have been seriously impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic that left so many people jobless and homeless and took a tremendous toll on our physical and mental health.
New York City is the biggest comedy capital in the world and home to so many comedians who are trying to make it in a very competitive scene. A big part of our lifestyle has been taken away from us when the comedy clubs closed in March with no clear reopening date in sight and people are slowly losing their minds. Probably the most important part of building a successful career as a stand up comic is having plenty of stage time. For the past 7 months comedians all around the country, and especially in New York have been trying to fill that need by producing shows in parks, on rooftops, and parking lots as well as using the ZOOM platform for online shows and events. While online and outdoor shows work for some, the others are having a hard time adapting to it and are spiraling into depression.
So what are the things we can do to improve ourselves as comics even if we are currently not performing often, or in some cases, at all?
Write new and edit old jokes
I understand that stage time is important and that you need it to work out new material and practice your act. However, when we are not performing we should be writing new material and extensively edit the current one. Comedian Michelle Wolf is known to spend 2 hours every day doing just that. You might think that you already have 45 minutes of material but the harsh reality is that you probably only have 15.
If your goal is to be able to record an album or release a special you really wanna think about the quality of what you are going to publish. In the words of comedian Anthony Jeselnik “Your special is your legacy” so why not invest extra time to make it the best it can possibly be? Remind yourself that brevity is the soul of wit. Oh, you edited your joke 10 times already? Do it 10 times more. Every joke can grow and be perfected. A lot of times I see a joke I wrote several years ago and remember something else that I can attach to that joke: a new detail of the event, funny expression, an act out, tag line, or a new joke that can follow. Don’t be afraid to try different writing techniques either, writing from a completely different angle can totally transform and elevate your joke.
Consider starting a personal project
Being just a stand-up comedian is no longer enough. Even if you are good enough to land an agent you still need to figure out a way to get more traction with your work and get more fans. Just look at Kevin Hart, no matter how much he’s already accomplished he is still constantly doing something and connecting with his fans, which is why he’s one of the most successful comedians in the world.
You need to have that project that will complement your live performances, help you gain followers, and keep you relevant. Most pro comics are either part of a radio show, or a podcast, have a published book or write a blog, create video series with original characters, etc. so this is the time to think about what kind of project suits you the best.
These days it feels like everyone and their mama have a TikTok account and it seems like the platform became a chaotic vessel for people to seek validation, get discovered as a “next big thing” and make a quick buck. The platform has been a great asset for many people to showcase their talent and yes, some of them benefited greatly from it while others are just videotaping their personal nervous breakdowns hoping to gain followers that way. Dave Chappelle always insisted on wanting people to laugh WITH you, not AT you, so keep that in mind when publishing content. At the end of the day, you are your own brand.
Develop a skill that can advance your career
The more you know the more valuable you are, to yourself and to others. Learn how to use that video editing software to help you release clips of your stand up, take (safe) classes for voice over and acting, find an online course on screenplay writing, etc. Keep in mind that a lot of successful stand-up comedians end up working on commercials, write and act on TV shows and movies. I understand that the times are tough financially but there are a lot of cheaper resources available to help you start: iMovie for video editing, discounts on classes, free YouTube tutorials, etc. Do what you can and work with what you have.
Work on your health and personal image
We are living in very challenging times so keeping good health (physical and mental) should be your priority. Self-care and being kind to yourself is very important.
Furthermore, physical appearance greatly impacts our confidence and this is even truer for performers. As comics, we make fun of our appearances all the time, for many it’s an essential part of their act, and changing your look impacts how you present yourself and what jokes you choose to do. If you feel like you are not comfortable with how you look now is the time to work on that part of yourself, no matter if it’s changing your body, your haircut, or your clothes. You have a right to change and you have a right to change your jokes too. This too shall pass and when it does you want to be the best version of yourself and not reject opportunities because you don’t feel good about the way you look. I’ve seen way too many examples of that, especially when we are offered to be on camera, people are so afraid of being judged for their looks that they miss out on these opportunities and just wait to get another chance when they ARE ready, which, honestly, might never happen.
Luck happens when opportunity meets preparation. So be prepared and good luck.
Got questions or something to add? Comment below and share your thoughts!