Stand up comedy is a very interesting art form in that to the casual observer it appears anybody can do it.
You’re a human with a microphone, talk for 30 minutes and you move on after selfies and adulation.
However, as we’ve all learned in life… if it’s too good to be true then it probably is.
And stand up is no exception.
There is nothing funny about the funny business and comic after comic will tell you it’s a grueling journey that only the strong survive. Like a soldier going to war, the ties that bind are the ones that help you make it or break it.
How do I survive doing stand up comedy?
How do you survive your first five years in stand up comedy? The simple fact is that you need to make friends in this business to have the patience to stick it out.
I’m not talking about kissing ass or only hanging out with people who can give you social media clout or book you on shows. I’m talking about:
- buddies you waste 4 hours with doing a show for 2 people who don’t pay attention
- fellow comics who will tell you if a joke has scope or legs to stand on
- people who want to grow and put in the work on video editing, social media, film making
- people who don’t just want to bitch and drink and moan about who slept with or who got what spot, (although those gossip conversations do help you alleviate some stress when things don’t click which normally they don’t)
Comedy is Networking Whether you Like it or Not
Most comedians are either introverts who think if they just write jokes the rest will fall into place OR extroverts who think if they just hang out and make friends, the gigs will fall into place.
Very few comedians are both, and that’s where the sweet spot is.
A guitarist can be an introvert and then just toss up a YouTube video and show the world how awesome he is…but YOU need to the same thing with your jokes AND get out in front of the public or producer and get your stuff recorded.
That takes social skills, my friend.
Just like you can’t climb the corporate ladder without attending a few office functions or simply being a friendly face amongst your peers, you can’t grow as a comedian if you don’t learn how to scale.
I myself am so used to booking rooms, running marketing, helping others, managing my career and doing other things but you need to learn to let people do things for you. They will mess up, you will know you could have done it better yourself but you need to build a web of people because I got something to tell you:
Most comedians who book rooms or shows aren’t actively wondering about who will kill the most. They just think about the last 10 comics they interacted with who have a solid 20 minutes (should be most of you after 5 years) and then dig deeper if required.
Also, friends, networking and an innate sense of human nature around relationships (both professional and social) are what keeps most of us in it for the long haul. We grow together, we cry together, and ironically, we laugh together.
The irony of our profession is that while you’re one man or woman on stage, you probably need a team off of it.
How do I make Friends in Comedy?
Comedians tend to grow up in classes similar to your batch mates in college or high school that you make your way through life’s milestones with.
The group of comics who you started performing with from dingy little coffee shops to those better shows at bars and ultimately paid shows are the ones you’ll become close with.
Your pain and constant effort to improve becomes the shared experiences your working group of comics will never forget.
- You slowly start to depend on each other as writing buddies,
- you hang out and bond over those long hours before a set,
- and when it’s all said and done you dissect the game plan on what worked and what didn’t over a few cold ones.
- Post-show bonding is one of my favorite aspects of comedy because your mind is already firing on all cylinders anyway.
Most importantly if you spend enough time with someone you start to trust them.
You trust if they hear about a good show they will refer you and vice versa.
You trust if they perform before you or you before them, you will do a good job warming up the crowd and be grateful for the opportunity they’re extending your way hopefully to return the favor in the future.
Quid pro quo which exists amongst our friends in their more traditional professional service jobs is also an unwritten rule in comedy.
Just like your old college flatmate may help you get that dream job at Google or Facebook, the comic generally never forget their pals while moving up the ranks.
Nobody Is Out to Get You
I hate to break it to you but you’re not that important.
Not even to hold a grudge against.
Comedians love to call out the world but never call out themselves.
One of the misconceptions that occasionally occurs in the stand-up comedy world and also contributes to people giving it a try and then quitting is that they aren’t part of the “cool” crowd.
They come from nowhere to an open mic, wait a few hours, tell a few jokes that don’t go so well, and then disappear never to be seen on stage again.
These people then think nobody laughed at them because they weren’t pals with the host or some other childish but understandable reason, get discouraged and move on.
Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately?) this is far from reality.
As a host of several events myself, this is the last thing on the host or organizer’s mind.
He or she is simply providing a platform for his or herself and others and is trying to move a quality show onwards while giving everybody a fair shake. We’re all vulnerable and far from apathetic, and the kid who that person may have seen us being chummy with could have been the same person that got booed off the stage a year earlier.
It’s just that these people continue to show up, put in an effort, and like a coworker that grows on you over the months and years, this new performer starts to become a part of the struggling family.
They’re so many comics I’ve seen grow up who used to annoy me all the time, but I can’t help but want to help them when they keep showing up to put in the work.
The best advice I’ve heard given to any performer is simply “show Up.”
You never know who will cancel, or be late with traffic, or need help with something and how that inconvenience could be a blessing in disguise for you.
We’ve all been beginners and remembering that on a daily basis from the fresh faces that show up, the last thing we intentionally do (at least most of us) is hinder an aspiring beginner from even getting started.
It’s just too much work to be a dick to someone on purpose. So stop being insecure and just keep your head down and do your shit.
You Will Still Meet Jerks
While the majority of comedians operate in the manner above, you do also meet people in this industry who may be polar opposites.
They see other performers and those in the business of comedy as mere stepping stones.
These people pay lip service to get a show or two in the beginning but in the end, it may simply about them and what they do, and they would be damned about making lasting friendships in their chosen creative profession.
Some want to be famous actors, some want to do YouTube, others just want to get laid.
Whatever it is, it doesn’t affect you and your journey, so again, suck it up.
This is probably true of life in general.
While I’d love to say karma has a way of course-correcting these selfish folk it’s not a guarantee and I’ve learned shouldn’t really be something on your bucket list.
Finally, as you get older in your comedy journey the phrase it’s not who you know but what you know becomes a little less relevant.
Luckily for the comic, no matter who you know, ultimately the judge of your worth will come from the audience who in the beginning cares entirely about the opposite. They judge you on what you say while on the stage and how they feel about it. But the chance to make it on the stage first is where relationships in comedy gain such significance why it was worth talking about here.
So many comics wonder about what other comedians think of them while forgetting what the audience might think of them.
Comedy isn’t easy but like going to war or being in medical school, knowing your not alone is what makes it a lot easier. You still need to nail your final exam and score highly all by yourself, but the rest of the time you need to find a way to study with others.
After years of doing this profession, building up a scene and having my own ups and downs I would suggest the best way for you to survive in this business, and this is for completely selfish reasons…is to just work hard and be nice to everyone you meet.
I know it’s a bit ironic, but you’re begging strangers to hear you talk, so any ego you had should have been dropped the second you thought about doing this.
Questions or comments? Agree or Disagree? Hit me up on my Instagram or comment below.