Standup comedy is a very saturated market right now, and there are way too many fighting for way too few spots. That’s just how it is, and it’s not good or bad. If you are firm in your decision and commitment to become a comedian, it doesn’t matter what the situation is. If it’s in you, it’s in you. Go for it - but know you’ll have to work even harder than in past generations. That’s life.
2. DON’T DEPEND ON COMEDY CLUBS ONLY
This isn’t the ‘80s, where comedy clubs were everywhere and anyone with even half an idea of wanting to try comedy could get ample stage time. It’s not like that anymore, and stage time is an incredibly precious commodity. Much more ingenuity must be used to get in front of audiences.
3. RUN YOUR OWN SHOWS
More and more new comics have taken to this than ever before, but I would highly recommend consulting with someone who has done it before to avoid unnecessary pitfalls. Observe a quality show being run first rather than run out and mangle it by yourself. Be careful, but give it a shot.
4. HAVE OTHER PROJECTS IN THE MIX
Gone are the days when just telling jokes can make a decent living for someone starting out in standup comedy. Flex your funny muscles in other ways by writing jokes for other comedians or greeting cards or maybe start a movie script. Whatever it is, always be looking for extra income.
|Veteran Comedian Dobie Maxwell|
This is an unfortunate necessity in the real world for most people in any entertainment genre. It doesn’t
have to be miserable, but pick something with flexibility so if you move anywhere you’ll be able to hopefully have a source of income if needed. Pick a chain with locations everywhere.
6. FIND A MENTOR WITH EXPERIENCE
You simply don’t have time to make all the mistakes I made by yourself. You need to come up with a plan, and work that plan. Hanging around only other newbies won’t make you better but it will make you bitter a lot sooner than you need to be. Learn from the generation ahead of you.
7. BE EXTREMELY WARY OF LOW RENT BOGUS ‘COMEDY CLASSES’
I say this with sincerity, and I have taught comedy classes since 1995. Since then, I have seen a bumper crop of snakes, fakes and scam artists ooze out from between the cracks trying to ‘teach’ standup comedy when in fact they have never done it. It infuriates me, as they’re stealing money from people who don’t know they’re being stolen from. I don’t have a problem with anyone who teaches who has done it, but be very careful before you spend your money. Few are competent.
8. KEEP YOUR ACT OFF THE INTERNET FOR AT LEAST FIVE YEARS
This is probably the most useful piece of advice you can hear, even if it sounds completely off base at first. Comedy is difficult, and nobody starts on top. The smart way to do it is to stay away from anyone who can see you begin. Pay your dues - THEN wow everyone. But until then, it’s a big mistake to throw up all your open mic sets on You Tube for all to see. Would you show off a picture of your old dirty diapers? Of course not, but that’s what you’re doing when you do that. I’ve seen far too many comedians on all levels throw everything they’ve ever done out there on the internet for free, and I never figured out why. Yes, I’ve got quite a few clips out there myself but it’s not my whole act. Why should anyone want to pay you to perform when they can see you for free online at any time? Does the grocery store give away free food? They give you a little bit of a sample once in a while, but that’s it. If you want the whole frozen pizza, you have to buy it. I know it’s a giant hit to the ego, but smart business says to keep something in reserve that isn’t available anywhere else but seeing you live. Jay Leno has always been a huge proponent of this, and he’s done more than ok with it. Have you ever seen a Jay Leno CD or cable special? Nope. If you want to see Jay’s act, you have to HIRE Jay to perform it. And he will - for a substantial fee.
9. LEARN TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA CORRECTLY
Just because you should leave your act off the internet for a few years doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on it at all. It’s a necessary evil of the 21st Century, but there are ways to do it correctly and ways to be viewed as nothing more than a cyber pest. If you’re not good at social media, find someone who is and hire them to help you succeed. Have your internet presence grow along with your act. There are so many changes happening so quickly, it’s impossible to give nuts and bolts ways of exactly how to do it, but some forethought should be used just like with everything else. When is a website needed? That’s hard to say and the answer changes all the time, but a total newbie does not need to have an elaborate website in my opinion. Get an ACT first, and that will take a while.
9. DON’T BE A MERCHANDISE WHORE
This is another offshoot of the 21st Century that’s completely different than ever before. I get it that comedians need to pay the bills, but becoming a human flea market isn’t what the comedy world should be about. Audiences have bills too, and they don’t need to be bothered on the way out of a venue by mediocre at best opening acts trying to unload cheaply made t-shirts and DVDs burned on their home computers for outrageous prices. This makes comedy look extremely bad. If you think you’re ready to come out with a product of any kind, please make sure it’s one that you’d be proud to buy yourself. Put some time, effort and money into it and respect yourself and the business enough to make it the very best quality you can offer. That alone will shoot you way ahead of the 99% of everyone else who throw anything together in desperation trying to rustle up gas money to get home. Have some class, and pay your dues before ‘releasing’ your 12th bad CD.
Contributing Writer - Dobie Maxwell
Dobie is a 25 year comedy veteran headliner whose toured major comedy clubs all across the nation and has made countless appearances on local and regional TV shows all over America.