So You Wanna Be a Stand-up Comedian? Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

So You Wanna Be a Stand-up Comedian?

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So, you've decided to become a comedian. You think you've got what it takes to make an audience laugh. But how do you go about it?

Well, if you're not from the UK, go ask a local comedian. Maybe they'll tell you how you do it, or maybe they'll tell you just to keep reading this entry (even though it's UK-specific). They might even tell you to sod off1. But if your ego can't take that, then you've no business being on the stage in the first place.

Right, on with the show. You'll need several things to get going:

A Venue

Large comedy clubs such as Jongleurs or The Comedy Store in London won't normally accept virgin comedians. They charge a lot at the door, and so they are obliged to put on decent entertainment. They don't have the discretion to take chances on a new act who might be extremely bad.

Instead, look in your local entertainment listings and find a contact number for your local small comedy club. (The XS Malarkey Comedy Club in Manchester is a fine example of such a club.) When you call the club, ask for an 'open spot'. An open spot is not a symptom of bad acne, but is typically a five or ten minute time-slot in an evening's entertainment that you will fill with laughter. Expect to be given a date for several weeks in the future. Do not expect to receive any money for an open spot, because that's a quick and simple way of being sworn at.

Material

Write your own. You'd be amazed how many people still remember that joke from your favourite 1970s sitcom. You may get laughs from the audience with other people's gags, but the promoter won't book you again.

Racism, sexism and most other 'isms' are generally considered bad taste. Some comedians, however, use bad taste as a means of expressing some social comment, and this kind of provocative humour can be very popular. It can also die on its bottom in an extreme fashion.

Silly, crude sex jokes or 'knob-gags' as they're known, are unfailingly popular. Yet the comedian who relies on them entirely often bores the audience eventually, and also shows a lack of imagination.

So that's what not to do. If you want to know what to actually write, then don't look here. Look inside yourself instead, Grasshopper. If you think something is funny, then the chances are that at least some of your audience will too.

Practice

Practise, practise, practise. Memorise your material; you're doing a comedy show, not a poetry reading. Time your act; if you're supposed to do five minutes, then do five minutes, not eight or ten. In fact, if you're serious, buy one of those vibrating-alert-countdown watches. And use it.

Practise while imagining you have a microphone. A mic is a strange thing... too close to your mouth and you sound like a bingo caller... too far away and you sound like a mime. This varies from mic to mic, so you'll never quite know.

A Thick Skin

You will die a death. Maybe not on your very first gig, but you will. People have lots of different ideas of what is funny, and sooner or later you'll perform to people who are just not on your wavelength. And it ain't fun.

If you find yourself dying at each and every gig, it's probably time to re-evaluate your ambition. Unless you do it for your own amusement, à la Andy Kaufman.

On the Night

  • Be early. Sorry, is that difficult? Be early. At least an hour. This way you can say hello to the promoter and try out the mic. Also, the promoter will be grateful that you have spared his ulcer by turning up.

  • Do not drink!

  • Empty your bowels. You will need to, and it is preferable that you do so before the show, unless your act is severely scatalogical.

  • You're being announced. You hear your name, and you come onto stage. There's often a moment of sheer panic when memory goes on strike. Oops. Smile. Make eye contact with your audience. Start with your first gag. What's this... a smile from the punters? Whoop-dee-doo! Plough on, and hopefully you'll get a few laughs. If you do, you've done well; most audiences are still sober when the open spot comes on. At the end of your five minutes (you won't over-run, will you?) you'll walk off stage to polite applause.

And then, if you're serious... you'll do it all again soon.

1Get lost.

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