How to be a stand up comedian: A (sorta) serious beginner’s guide

Maybe you have watched a stand up comedian and said to yourself, “I could do that.” Well, depending on which comic you were watching, you might be right. That doesn’t mean you know how to be a stand up comedian.

Regardless of how funny you are around your friends, it’s not the same. You really just need to get out there and get some experience.

Sure, it looks like a bunch of newbies are getting Netflix specials these days. But trust us, almost all of them put in their time. They were like you at one point, wondering how to become a stand up comedian. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t have this guide. Yep, you’re pretty lucky that way.

Hey! Why not help us make the internet a little funnier?

We’ve talked to those who have succeeded in the circuit for some expert advice. Then we made up the rest. Keep reading and see if you can spot the difference. (We can’t.)

So you want to know how to be a stand up comedian

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Are you okay with the emotional equivalent of this night after night? Then you might be ready to learn how to be a stand up comedian. [Free Stock Photos]

There are a few things you need to be comfortable with if you really want to get on stage. If you’re the damaged creative type of individual who thrives on stand up, the following shouldn’t be a problem.

  1. You can’t get enough rejection. Nothing gives you more material for quality jokes than a track record of being rejected. And trust us, when you start in the open mic circuit, the rejections will start piling up quick.
  2. You have a voice. It helps to have an actual voice. But what we’re talking about is more a fresh perspective. Even if you’re talking about mundane topics, do it in an interesting and new way.
  3. You love small towns and dive bars. You might start out in your hometown. And it might be a big city. But if you start touring, you’ll be taking gigs everywhere. Sometimes that’s more of an adventure than others.

How to be a stand up comedian: Getting started

You probably already think you’ve got something funny to say if you’ve read this far. But that is not enough on its own. You might be a great comedic writer, but that won’t always translate to the comedy club. So start with the basics and make sure you understand the concept and structure.

The setup + punchline combination has plenty of variations. From one liners to storytellers, there are endless ways to tell a joke. But if you don’t have something resembling that formula, you’ll need some work.

But don’t despair! At least not any more than usual, that is. Nobody expects you to be perfect when you’re just learning how to be a stand up comedian. You’ve got to write something. Chances are, it will soon be phased out for more solid jokes. Just getting the process started, though, is probably the most important (and hardest) step. And when you’ve got five minutes or so of material, it’s time for step two.

Hit the open mics … hard


This is where you’ll find out if you’re up to the task of being a comic. If you can withstand repeated humiliation and terrible diet, you’re on the right track.

Fundamentally, learning how to be a stand up comedian means learning to handle rejection. And open mics at comedy clubs are often stacked with stingy fellow comics. They’re probably not going to politely laugh at just any line. But that makes it all the more special when you get some appreciation.

If you’re in a big city, chances are you can find plenty of opportunities. (BadSlava is a pretty valuable resource.) Otherwise, you might have to travel or find alternatives. Sometimes bookstores and other outlets have stand up open mics.

Record yourself, analyze what works and what doesn’t, then refine your set. After you retool your material to get consistent laughs, you might be off to step three.

Get yourself booked to a real show

Enough with this free or pay to play open mic stuff. You want to know how to become a stand up comedian, not a hobbyist. In a way that is out of your hands. But there are things you can do to stack the deck in your favor.

Folks with some sway in the business are frequently surveying shows — including open mics. And you might just find yourself getting an offer after a particularly good set.

First of all, make yourself as visible as possible. If you’re getting good feedback from peers, chances are you’ll get an opportunity. It just takes persistence. Some comedians get their break early. And some breaks are much bigger than others.

But learning how to be a stand up comedian involves realistic expectations. Send clips out to promoters at all levels. Success in this field rarely means selling out stadiums. Even if it’s just a small spot in a local festival, take the gig. Unless it’s interfering with bigger priorities, chase your dream with as much passion as possible.

It is persistence more than anything — including raw talent — that will take you the farthest.
RELATED: The funniest George Carlin quotes for almost any occasion

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