One of my extracurricular hobbies is performing standup comedy. I have performed thrice in New York City (150-200 people), and twice at Open Mics (20-30 people) in Providence. Some friends have told me they want to try performing a set, but don’t know how to get started. Here are five things that I’ve learned from the personal experiences.
1. Finding material is not hard. Life has moments, objects, and people that are absurd and ridiculous. Think about anything that’s frustrating; that could lead to a joke. If more people can relate to that experience, then it has the potential to be an even better joke. Everyone has his/her own style when writing punchlines. Some use play on words, metaphors, associations, etc. What these things have in common is that they all relate to a truth we haven’t discovered yet. Laughter comes from the unconscious and jokes are able to bring what’s repressed in the unconscious up to the conscious level. Didn’t mean to go Freud on your ass (who am I kidding, of course I did), but that’s what laughter is. Another famous adage regarding punchlines is “It’s funny because it’s true.” The hard part is finding truths that we subconsciously knew, but weren’t aware of.
2. Make them laugh AND think. You’ve heard many comedians being asked, “Why are you a comedian?” to which the majority reply “To make people happy.” While making people happy is sincere and genuine, I believe you can do more as a comedian. Legends like George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK don’t just make people happy, they make people THINK. They make people look at their lives and environments differently, they change the way you act and speak. Even when they’re raunchy they make you question language – George Carlin once said, “The word cocksucker has been distorted of all its original meaning. ‘COCKSUCKER!!’ means bad man. It’s a good woman. What happened?” That’s not raunch for the sake of shock value, that’s brilliance. Of course, you can still be funny with puns and silly one-line deliveries, I just think you’ll feel better about your material if you make the audience realize that you have something important to say. Don’t be like a prostitute midget and sell yourself short.
3. You will get nervous. It doesn’t matter if friends liked your jokes, if you practiced your material 15 times, or if every stranger you’ve told the joke laughed at it. Before you walk on stage, you will have major butterflies. I always try to convince myself that cognitively I’m not nervous, but it doesn’t stop me from being unable to eat on the day of a show. In their documentaries, Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld mentioned how they always get nervous, no matter how proven their material is. You still never know who will find your joke hilarious, but that’s part of the thrill.
4. Make sure you know your audience. Comedy clubs on the Upper West Side of Manhattan always fluctuate in audience. During the summer, you have groups of college buddies and tourists; winter has more adults and couples on dates. The club manager usually knows what type of crowd to expect, especially in less diverse towns. However, sometimes you walk on stage, look at the crowd, and go “Oh crap, these people are not going to relate.” For example, during my worst set I received crickets for a bit about how the bitch of the family is the one who receives the hotel pull-out couch. While my peers had enjoyed the joke, I noticed that there were no kids my age in the audience and therefore my target audience was absent. Definitely know your audience, or if you don’t know ahead of time, mix up your routine with jokes reaching out to multiple demographics.
5. That moment when you realize that a hot girl is hitting on you because you were funny for 8 minutes actually happens. No, it’s true. We’ve seen episodes of Louie where Louis CK sits at the club’s bar after a good set, wanting to meet someone. Many single comedians (which is the majority in New York) wait for women after the show, hoping for an evening of the ol’ joke ‘n’ poke. I certainly was not attempting to do this after a show, but it just happened. And if it happened it me, it can happen to any of you fools. I’m not saying that you should get on stage to get laid, but that bizarre things like this happen at comedy clubs.