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7 Things To Do When You First Start Doing Comedy

August 11, 2013

“How do I start doing comedy?”

I get asked this all the time by people who have just decided to give comedy a try but have no idea how or where to begin. So, I’ve put together a few quick suggestions for comedy newbies that I think will help you get headed in the right direction no matter what type of comedy you’re pursuing – stand up, writing, acting, etc.

Also, if you’re a veteran comedian who happens to be reading this please take a moment to post a comment with some advice of your own for newcomers – I’d love to make this post as helpful a resource as possible for new comedians and I’m sure you guys can help me do by sharing the lessons you’ve learned over the years.

Here’s my suggestions for things comics should do when they’re first starting out…

1. Be Honest With Yourself About Why You’re Doing This

The chances are you don’t know exactly why you’ve decided to give comedy a try, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking a couple minutes to think about it. Are you trying to build a career in comedy or is it just something that you envision more as a hobby for yourself? Are you doing it because you’re passionate about it or because your friends keep telling you to give it a shot?

There’s no right or wrong answer to any of this – but the better sense you have of what you’re trying to get out of comedy before you even start doing it, the easier it will be for you to figure out what to do and to measure your progress along the way.

2. Immerse Yourself In Comedy

If you want to be a good comedian, you better be a good comedy fan first.

Thanks to YouTube, Netflix, podcasts and this list of classic comedy specials there’s never been better access to literally every comedian that’s ever gotten a laugh and one of the first things you should do is immerse yourself in the world to educate yourself. The more comedy you watch (and perhaps more importantly, see in person), the more you will learn about what works, what doesn’t, and what resonates with the type of comedian you’d ultimately like to be.

If you don’t love watching comedy, the chances are you’ll never be a very good comedian.

3. Make Stuff

No matter what type of comedy you want to pursue, it’s critical to start performing and/or making stuff as soon as you can. It will take a long time to find your voice and figure out how to “get good,” so you need to seek out opportunities to learn by doing. You won’t get better at standup by just performing to a mirror, and your great web series idea won’t be great until you start actually filming it (and probably not until you’ve filmed a bunch of them first).

Don’t worry about failing when you start out, just worry about making. Which leads me to my next suggestion…

4. Experiment

In the process of making lots of stuff, don’t be afraid to experiment with different formats and types of comedy in an effort to find out what you ultimately want to concentrate on. As I’ve said before, don’t fail victim to the fear that every comedian must conquer.

5. Broaden Your Definition Of What It Means To Be A Comedian

Even if your passion is stand up comedy, don’t pigeonhole yourself into thinking that’s all you need to do to succeed because that’s a recipe for frustration. Here’s why you need to think bigger if you’re hoping to have a career in comedy.

6. Network

One of the keys to building a successful comedy career is also one of the least talked about – the importance of networking with other people in the business. Every comedian, booker, venue owner, and assorted person you cross paths with in the course of pursuing comedy can potentially be a huge asset to your career down the road. Try to meet and connect with as many people as you can (regardless of the level they’re at in their own career), always be professional, and never be an asshole (easier said than done, I know). Ultimately, the relationships you develop will be almost as important as the talent you develop.

Too many comics think of the comedy business as a lone wolf industry where networking doesn’t really matter as much as it would in the business world, but in actuality networking might matter even more in comedy than it does in traditional business.

7. Be Patient

If you decide to go after a career in comedy get ready to be patient. Know that it’s going to take years (probably at least a decade) to make any kind of real progress financially and there will be tons of frustration along the way – and on top of that, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever actually “make it.” In fact, the overwhelming odds are that you’ll never be able to make a living from comedy.

I don’t say that to deter you from pursuing it, because there will always be people that succeed and you can certainly be one of those people – but you need to understand going into it what you’re actually taking on. Are you prepared to be patient enough to put in a decade before seeing any real results? Because that’s what comedy is, and that’s the path you’re choosing if you want to be a professional comedian.

More Reading For New Comedians…

Here’s a few more things I’ve written that you might want to read as you get ready to launch your comedy adventure…

How To Be A Comedian Who Succeeds

What It Really Means To Be In The Comedy Business

10 Things Comedians Wish Somebody Told Them When They Started Comedy

If you’re a veteran comedian and have some suggestions to add to this post for newbies, please post your suggestions in the comments below. Thanks!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

jeff lampton August 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm

when you’re starting out, don’t take yourself so seriously. it will be years before you find your voice. open mikes aren’t the be all end all. if you bomb, so what? that’s what they are there for. in the beginning, bombing is an invaluable tool. learn from it. and always go with your heart. never do what you think others would like or what others are doing. put on the type of show that you would pay to see.

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Ray Mack August 11, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Good stuff Josh! Other avenues outside of comedy are definitely important!

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Robert August 12, 2013 at 7:43 am

This is more for people pursuing comedy as a career: when you start out, don’t start in venues that are above your level. That will likely just lead to disappointment and not take you where you’d like to go. Also, prepare. It will make you look more professional and you will be likely to get the attention of people who matter.

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Sarah February 28, 2014 at 6:11 am

Watch someone who you find funny and enjoy watching or admire and who’s style of material works for you and take notes. (Whoopi Goldberg). Write stories and material down. Talk to people ask for stories about them see which ones you think you could use an which ones need altering also look at moments in your live. Read and listen to the news and to society.

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