Starting out in the world of standup comedy

What I’ve learnt in my first year of comedy

The purpose of this article is to help try answer some questions for anyone who has just started out or is thinking of starting out in the world of standup comedy. No doubt professional comedians will be able to give some better advice having been in the industry for 10+ years, however we don’t want to bombard these newbies with too much information at once so this article should be a good starting point.

Now that’s sorted, let the information transfer begin:

  • If you haven’t started out in standup comedy then I suggest you book your first two gigs, seriously DO IT NOW!
  • If you haven’t booked your first two gigs, don’t tell everyone that you intend to do standup comedy. Book the gigs first and then spread the word!
  • If you aren’t sure which room you should contact for your first gig, politely ask some comedians at a gig and I’m sure they’ll point you in the right direction.
  • Don’t worry about failing, because you will definitely fail. Ten years into your career you will STILL have bad gigs, you just have to accept that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose but as long as you have a positive attitude you will be fine.
  • You will learn a lot about your jokes when you fail so record every gig and analyse what was different, was it the delivery? Was there someone on before you who told some horrid jokes and upset the audience? Did you deliver it exactly in the same tone as when you told it on a successful night?
  • Stack the deck, if you can rope all your mates into coming down for your first comedy gig you’ll be likelier to succeed and also have a lot of fun. Hopefully it’ll give you the drive and ambition to keep going.
  • If you stack the deck on your first gig you will probably bomb really bad on your second non-stacked gig, but it’s good to get it out of the way so don’t worry too much about it.
  • A bad gig will never be as horrible as your worst gig.
  • Do as many gigs as you can at as many different venues as you can. More stage time gives you more experience and a variety of venues lets you experience a variety of crowds.
  • Any gig is better than no gig in your first year. Struggling in front of a crowd of three is better than sitting at home.
  • If a joke isn’t getting laughs stop telling it. That said, if a joke is not getting laughs don’t scrap it completely, just put it aside and further down the track you might figure out a way to fix it.
  • Find one or two or three rooms where you enjoy telling new material. And never be afraid to try new material.
  • If you tell a bad joke and the next act then makes fun of you for bombing don’t take it to heart, all the comedians for the night are trying to put on a show for the audience, so if they can win the audience back and leave them wanting to come back to comedy again, your job is done.
  • Book as many gigs as you can, if a comedian does 1 gig a week for an entire year and another comedian does 2 gigs a week for an entire year, the second comedian will have done 2 years worth of gigs in the same period.
  • Don’t talk shit about other comedians, just be a good person.
  • Don’t judge other comedians if they aren’t too good, everyone succeeds at a different pace. Steve Martin failed for 25 years before he found success.
  • During the Fringe Festival/Melbourne International Comedy Festival you should see if you can volunteer at some of the venue hubs (i.e The Imperial), you will learn a lot about the process of putting on a show, how flyering and promotion works, lighting/music/projector issues, etc… Seriously you will learn A LOT!
  • Most comedians start out by telling sex jokes, now that you are aware of this try to separate yourself from the rest of the new comedians. Find a topic or story that you are passionate about, if you have a humourous personal story it’s going to be easier to remember on stage and no-one will be able to steal your material.
  • Don’t steal other comedians jokes, I haven’t seen much of it going on in the scene but I can guarantee you don’t want to get caught out.
  • The Comics Lounge (North Melbourne) have workshops on Tuesday nights, this is a great place to get industry advice, network with other new comics and test out some of your material to get feedback.
  • If people give you feedback at the workshop take it with a grain of salt, unless of course you are getting advice from an industry professional.
  • If you’re having trouble getting gigs you should be going out to the venues, introducing yourself to the room runner, offering to fill in if someone has pulled out, etc… It’s all about networking.
  • NEVER pull out of a gig if you can, room runners are more likely to give gigs to people who are reliable and don’t dick them around.
  • Don’t get drunk before you go on stage, this seems to be a rite of passage for quite a few newbie comics, they’ll drink before going on stage gig after gig until the point that they have an absolutely shithouse gig.
  • If the crowd isn’t laughing at your jokes don’t abuse them…and if you do please be gentle so the comic coming on stage after you has a chance at winning the room back.
  • Start with your 2nd best joke, end with your best joke.
  • Use your dirtier jokes near the end of your set, the audience has to get to know and trust you before they care about your dick/vagina.
  • Some gigs are tough, learn to love them, keep doing them, if you can win over an audience of three people a packed crowd should be a piece of cake.

Well that’s it for now, thanks for taking the time to read and if you haven’t booked your first gig, GO DO IT NOW!

By Aaron MacFadyen with helpful suggestions from Peter Jones

Aaron MacFadyen has been performing comedy for 2 years and runs a Netflix style guitar string service at Feel free to add him on facebook to keep up to date with his antics

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