How to Get Started in Stand Up Comedy

Looking to be a stand up comedian? Follow these initial guidelines to get started.

We are in the middle of a cultural renaissance: a period where anyone anywhere can make, create, influence, and share their own projects with the world. One type of performer that is accomplishing this with great success is that of the stand up comedian.

We see their specials on Netflix, HBO, or Comedy Central, we see them on Saturday Night Live or Funny or Die, and sometimes even on their own scripted television shows on Hulu, NBC, or Amazon Prime. It's a new Golden Age of comedians - but how do you do stand up comedy?

Is there a path to getting started in stand up comedy? Are there stand up comedy classes? Are there specific schools that teach stand up comedy? How do you write stand up comedy? How do you find and perform your stand up routine? To get started, here are a few initial guidelines to keep in mind as you start to find your comedic voice, write and perform your own material, and get into the rhythm of a stand up routine:

  1. Finding your own voice Everyone has a unique point of view on life, pop culture, politics, etc. Don't be afraid to share yours. Use your opinions and personal moments to make you the subject of your comedy - you are who the audience came to see. When writing your stand up sets, make sure you write down your thoughts on the different kinds of conversations, people, events, even everyday experiences. These simple observations will fuel your sets and make your comedy relatable to an audience.

  2. Learn the format Every comedian has a different style and approach to their stand-up routines, but there is a kind of universal format that stand up comedians use to pull an audience in on a joke and effortlessly nail a punchline. There's a structure that an audience is used to hearing that includes: > Introducing a concept: "I grew up with a really beautiful sister..." > Emphasize & build on the concept: "And I’m not just talking conventional beauty; I’m talking like if I were to bring her into this room right now, you would all just miraculously become single…" > Punchline: "...including the ladies." Of course, the best part of stand up comedy is being able to manipulate and switch up the execution of the joke. But you have to know the rules to break them - knowing how a format works in expressing your comedy will help you get more laughs.

  3. Study the pros To that end, a great idea is to do something you're probably already doing: watch stand up comedians. It's a good idea to study comedians you like, even comedians you don't like: what about the format and content of their sets do you respond to? What pulls you away or disconnects you from the comedian? Knowing why you find certain certain stand up comedians funny or not funny will influence your own comedy. There's a reason why some comedians have such fan followings: understanding what it is about their comedy that people respond to is a chance to learn how to get that same response. * Just make sure you don't study them too much, where you start to "borrow" their material. You are the most interesting version of you - there's no need to bring other people's jokes into your sets. The audience will know it's not authentic and react accordingly...

  4. Communicate with your audience Do the comedians you watch talk at the audience or to the audience? Audiences tend to connect more to a comedian when they feel like they are in on the joke, when they can relate to the comedian experiences, and they feel like they know the comedian. They want to feel a part of the stand-up set. It could be as simple as including the audience by saying, "You know what I mean?" or "Has this happened to any of you?". Or you could bring the audience in on one of your sets: ask an audience member about themselves, refer to a specific audience member during a joke, or talk to them in between jokes. When you share yourself and your vulnerabilities, the audience feels connected to you - feels like they can trust you. Connecting is key to a responsive and relaxed audience.

  5. Getting it on its feet So you've written your material, you've found your voice, and you've studied your icons. Now what? Now it's time to get your material on its feet and perform. Unlike a play, your "rehearsal" or "practice" can really only be done one way: in front of an audience. Once you've taken time by yourself to get the follow of your stand-up set, how the jokes land and the flow of conversation, then you need to take it to an audience to see where you knock it out of the park and where your comedy could use some retooling. Asking friends and family is a great way to rehearse in front of a familiar audience, taking a class and performing for your fellow students is another way to get an idea of how different people respond to your material, and finally finding comedy clubs near you that allow novice perform to get up on stage. Getting familiar with your own comedy and how it is received by an audience is a matter of trial and error: you will probably rock one club and crash and burn in another. That's the biz. Every good and bad experience as a stand up comedian is an opportunity to improve your work and even build on your existing content.

If the idea of a career or hobby in stand up comedy sounds like something you'd like to try, you couldn't be in a better city. Comedy clubs in Chicago are everywhere and many allow new comedians to try their stuff. It's up to you to take advantage of these opportunities.

If you're looking for a little more guidance on where to begin, stand up comedy classes are a great place to start. You can find some comedy classes right here at Actors Training Center. Learning is a part of life, and let's face it: life is funny. Use it!

-The ATC Team

Contact the ATC office for more information or to register for a class: 847.251.8710 •

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