Today’s 5 Free Tips are for comedian Sam Killermann, who sent me the following email:
I just happened upon your Facebook page and website by way of a Facebook ad (nice work), and I really appreciated what you’ve been providing. I’ve been doing comedy for six years now, but just this year I decided to start getting serious about it.
Since January I’ve been able to get on stage once or twice per week, and I’m starting to get a little bit of attention in the area, but I’ll be moving this summer and don’t want to lose any steam I’ve built. I was wondering what tips you have for a long time recreational comic (is that a thing?) who is looking to dive into the scene full-time.
Any help will be greatly appreciated!
Here’s my suggestions for what to do when you’re ready to get more serious about your comedy pursuits…
TIP #1: Study Your Local Comedy Scene
The first thing you should do – especially if you’re moving to a new area – is to try to learn as much as you can about the local comedy scene in your area. Go to shows, talk to comics, talk to audience members, check out venues, and do everything you can to understand the local comedy universe you’re going to be performing in most of the time. Not only will this help you find opportunities to perform and give you an understanding of which local shows are best and why, it will also help you start to see a path to success that other comics in your area have used to grow their career.
Typically, there are certain patterns that develop in local comedy scenes – comics start off at a certain open mic, which leads to a certain indie room, which leads to a certain showcase, which leads to a certain club, which leads to some road work, etc. It’s different in every case, but you can learn a lot by studying the path that other people have followed to grow their careers. That said, the better you understand your existing local scene, the more likely you are to see opportunities to create something new and special for yourself if that’s something that interests you.
TIP #2: Explore Different Ways To “Perform” Comedy
One of the traps too many comedians fall into is thinking that the only way to get serious about their career is to just perform as much standup as they can – I think that’s too limiting of a strategy. Instead, I’d encourage you to broaden your idea of what it means to be a comedian and experiment with creating all different kinds of comedy. This includes everything from sketch, to writing, to making Internet videos, to podcasting, to blogging, to acting, to writing screenplays, to creating characters, etc.
There’s unlimited possibilities for how you can make a career out of making people laugh (which is what your ultimate goal should be), and when you’re just starting out it’s impossible to know what aspect of comedy you’ll be best at or for that matter enjoy the most. Experiment with as many different things as you can and you’ll wind up learning a lot – plus, you’re ultimately going to need to have a lot of different comedy skills in order to have a successful career anyways.
TIP #3: Be Prepared To Be Patient
No matter how hard you work, how talented you are, or how serious you approach your career, it’s going to take time to succeed. It’s important to understand this before you go into it and to recognize that you’re going to have to be patient. Inevitably, there will be times when you feel like you deserve more success than you have and you’ll look at other comedians who you’re sure are not as talented as you and wonder why they’re career has advanced further than yours. You need to be able to deal with these emotions and persevere.
Personally, I think one of the best ways to prepare yourself for this is to be honest with yourself from the start and recognize that it’s going to take time to build a comedy career – there’s no shortcuts. In his famous book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that you have to put in 10,000 hours at something to truly succeed at it – keep that in mind the next time you get frustrated at your career growth.
TIP #4: Capture A Connection With Fans
Just because you’re going to be patient and put in your 10,000 hours, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be looking to make tangible progress every step of the way. As I’ve mentioned before in my post about the 10% Goal, you should start trying to capture a connection with fans from the very beginning. Start a mailing list, have a website where you regularly produce or curate content, and set a goal from the start of ensuring that every person who sees you and likes you will connect with you in some form that you can reach them as your career grows.
Most comedians don’t bother trying to connect with their fans until they’re more established – and some don’t even bother to do so then – and that’s a HUGE mistake. Even if you can get five people in your local area each week to join your mailing list, that would give you a 260 person local mailing list of fans at the end of one year and probably enough people that you could sell out your own headlining show at a local venue – something that most comics still can’t do.
TIP #5: Treat It Like A Business
Finally, if you’re ready to take the next step with your comedy career then it’s important to start treating your comedy like a business instead of a hobby. Be professional in your dealings with venues and bookers, be willing to network with people in the industry, spend time educating yourself about the business of comedy, and invest in yourself the same way anybody would invest in their own business.
Most comedians are inherently not businessmen – they got into comedy because they didn’t want to have a “real job.” That’s fine, but you’ll find that most comedians who actually wind up having successful careers do so in part because they treat their comedy like a business and like a “real job.” Don’t be fooled by the slacker attitude that many top comedians may portray – in private, most of them are deadly serious about the business of their careers. And that’s one of the big reasons why they’ve been so successful.
I hope these tips help, and if anybody else would like to get 5 Free Tips, please let me know.