How to Do Stand Up Comedy for the First Time

comedian how to do stand up comedy for the first time how to practice stand-up comedy

Everyone has their favorite stand up comedian. Those whose shows appear on TV have paid their dues, toured the clubs, and made it to the top. My personal favorites are Jeff Dunham, George Carlin, and Kevin Hart. Have you ever wondered how they come up with their jokes and how much they rehearse? Have you ever wondered how to do stand up comedy for the first time?

What Is Stand Up Comedy, And What Should You Expect Before Your First Show?

The performing arts include stand up comedy, in which a comedian stands on a stage before an audience to tell jokes. The jokes may range from stories about the comedian’s life to satirical statements to observations.

What stand up comedy isn’t is working out psychological hang-ups. It isn’t an arena in which a comedian can lash out at what angers him. It isn’t a venue in which he can get sympathy for whatever ails him (small sexual organs are the most common, women who don’t give him the time of day, dogs using him as a chew toy, and so on.)

What Stand Up Is From The Audience’s Point Of View

Audiences pay to see comedians because they know the material the comedian does. I just adored George Carlin. His observations were pithy, poked holes in the subject with the precision of a laser beam, and his facial expressions were the punctuation the jokes needed. Similarly, Kevin Hart’s facial expressions bring in almost more laughs than the jokes he tells.

What To Expect From Your First Show

So now you’re performing your own first time stand up comedy. Expect a knee-knocking case of stage fright, especially if you’ve never spoken before in public. You’ll have perhaps five minutes to perform your material. If you don’t have five minutes’ worth of material, then just do your thing and thank the audience for being good sports.

You might get on stage and completely forget your material. Don’t sweat it – it happens to first time stand up comedy performers. Just improvise. Remember that your next time won’t be so bad, because you made it through your first appearance.

How To Write And Develop Your Own Material For Stand Up Comedy

How to start doing stand-up comedy is about adopting a style from watching comedians performing one of the three types of comedy: the storyteller, the observer, and the one-liner:

How To Write And Develop Your Own Material For Stand Up Comedy how to do stand up comedy for the first time

The Storyteller

Your friends and family laugh at your stories because they understand why you react the way you do to an event you’re relating to. Your audience doesn’t. How to do stand up comedy for the first time means putting some personal things in your story or slightly misdirecting your audience. Your audience will understand you better, so when you come to a punchline, they’ll laugh.

The Observer

Stand up comedy for beginners often embraces observation. Many members of your audience will understand observations about working for an exacting boss, raising children, training pets, grocery shopping, and I could go on with this list for a week. A few in your audience nod their heads because they experience the same things. It took a comedian to make it funny.

The One-Liner

My Dad got a coffee mug for Christmas one year. As he was admiring it, I quipped, “if he cleaned out all the coffee cups from his car, he’d get better gas mileage.” My family laughed because they knew about those tons of coffee cups.

Now, you have five minutes to impress your audience with your quips. The best comedians keep it to one subject, set up the joke like a storyteller or an observer, and then hit them with that one-liner. Make it fresh so you don’t sound like every other comedian in the country. Make the jokes light, fresh, and keep ‘em coming.

How To Practice Your Act So You’re Ready For The Stage

Now we come to how to practice stand-up comedy. Once it’s memorized, though, how do you practice your craft?

How To Practice Your Act So You’re Ready For The Stage how to do stand up comedy for the first time

At home

Most comedians practice at home in front of a mirror. Download a recording app onto your phone so you’ll know what you sound like. This will give you some idea of how your audience will perceive you.

Family and friends

Any time you have an ear to hear, give them your routine. Friends and family are usually the first to hear a comedian’s set. If you still have your day job and just do comedy on the weekends, then try your set on your co-workers.

Open-mic nights

Now you’re ready to captivate your public. Every city or town has comedy clubs in which anyone with a joke can take the mike. You usually have three to five minutes to tell your jokes. This is where comedians begin their comedy careers.

The Dos And Don’ts Of Performing Stand Up Comedy

How to do stand up comedy for the first time must recognize the dos and don’ts of stand up. Otherwise, you’ll mess up and not be allowed back into the clubs in which you’re performing. So what are the dos and don’ts?

The Dos And Don’ts Of Performing Stand Up Comedy how to do stand up comedy for the first time

Do

Focus

You need an idea of what you’re all about, or your audience will be confused. Settle on a style. Figure out what you want to say, and then deliver.

Keep it clean

Stand up comedy for beginners is hard enough. Using questionable language can put off an audience. Keep it clean. If you want to use questionable words, do it after you’ve established yourself.

Go with the flow

Every time you hit a new town and its open mic, establish relationships, even if it’s only to hear how you need to improve. Make yourself known to as many people as possible. The next time you appear there, they’ll give you good feedback on your set.

Don’t

The best advice for stand up comedians can be found in a short list of things not to do in your set:

Steal. Don’t. Do. It. Period

Don’t paraphrase another comedian’s work. Don’t borrow it. You’ll be labeled a hack, and your comedy career will be over.

Fear bombing

Don’t be afraid to crash and burn. It will teach you which parts of your act aren’t working so you can fix it for the next show. It also teaches you how to improvise, how to think on your feet, and how to recover quickly.

Blow your time slot

If you go over your allotted time, the comedian following you won’t have as much time to do his act. That’s unprofessional. So is not filling your time slot. The comedian following you will have to fill your time somehow, and he might not be prepared for that. You don’t want a reputation as unprofessional.

What To Do If Things Go Wrong During Your Set

How to do stand up comedy for the first time is like riding a horse for the first time. Both are strangers to the other, but the horse is expected to carry you along a riding path. Likewise, an audience is expected to laugh at your jokes. What should you do if they don’t?

What To Do If Things Go Wrong During Your Set how to practice stand-up comedy

Just like being thrown from the back of that strange horse, a comedian should get back onstage. Here’s how:

Practice more

Don’t let a day go by without rehearsing your set. Pay attention to the inflection of your voice, and your punctuation stops. By all means, record your practice sets so you can hear yourself as an audience will.

Write, write, write

You should write every day, and the biggest part of how to do stand up comedy for the first time is rewriting. Trim your words, cut the ones that don’t work, write new ones, add personal bits, and keep on writing and tightening your set every single day.

Listen to all the sets

Especially listen to the bad ones. You didn’t set up the jokes right or added a personal bit where you shouldn’t have, or your pacing and timing were wrong. Record every time you practice or step on a stage. Only then will you hear what you need to correct.

Get feedback

It’s the exact moment that you’re thinking you killed the audience that someone looks at you funny, and you’re confused. Ask for all the feedback you can get and listen closely to it. No one wants to hear they’re a dud, but if you want to succeed in comedy, you need to know why you bombed. Then tweak your set.

Get out there

Now find yourself a comedy club, open mic night, or someone’s party to bedazzle with your set. Comedy isn’t a cakewalk. You have to keep at it and refine it in order to make it work. If you can’t do that, then comedy isn’t for you.

How To Deal With Hecklers

Two kinds of hecklers can disrupt your set: the passive and the aggressive types. The passive heckler will talk in a normal voice on his cell phone or to his party during your set. Although they’re not talking to you, it’s rude. The aggressive type of heckler does talk to you, and it’s rude as well.

Some comedians snap back with one-liners, some flatten hecklers with a well-chosen punchline, while others simply ignore them. Some comedians politely hear them out and then tell them they’d talk after the set. No one solution to dealing with hecklers is the right or wrong one. Here’s why:

Hear ‘em out

All hecklers want is to be heard. That they’ve chosen the wrong venue for that isn’t the point. They’d do it in a corporate meeting or in church. They just want some acknowledgment of their presence in someone’s space.

Keep calm. Above all, don’t lose it

Remember why you’re there. You can keep talking over the guy, or just wait until he’s done. Either way, respond with class because that’s what the audience needs to see.

Respond

Sometimes a heckler will keep on until you address him. Do so. However, don’t give him power by looking directly at him. Address your comments to the audience. When you finally shut him down, be looking at someone on the opposite side of the venue, never at the heckler.

It’s not personal. Be polite, gracious, and understanding

The guy’s having a bad day, so he’s taking it out on you. Whatever you do, don’t let it get personal.

Removal

If the heckler simply won’t stop, even if the audience is booing him, ask the venue’s security to have the guy removed.

How To End Your Set On A High Note

Now that you’ve learned how to do stand up comedy for the first time, it’s time to learn about the end. When you’re on a roll (or not,) there’s no good way to end a set. Lots of comedians work the audience up to the biggest laugh of the set, then they simply thank the audience and walk offstage.

Thanking the audience at the end of the best joke and the belly laugh that follows ends the set on a high note. The audience will remember you, and they’ll stand in line to see you the next time you appear.

How To End Your Set On A High Note how to practice stand-up comedy

Conclusion

There’s not much to learning how to do stand up comedy for the first time. Write your jokes, keep writing no matter what, develop your own style, practice your set, practice some more, and appear in open mic nights and comedy clubs until you’ve honed your craft and can call yourself a professional.

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