Hi Dave – First off, I am not a professional comedian. That being said, it is my dream to be one. I know that I am a funny person and I realize what it takes to pursue a career in comedy. I guess my big problem is that I’m afraid of taking the first step. I am afraid of going onstage and everyone just absolutely hating me. I am aware that bombing is a learning experience. But, I always want people to like me. So, as you can guess, I haven’t really done much stage time because I’m scared to do so. I guess my question is, and this may sound stupid: Is it OK to be scared about taking the first step? Thanks for your time – SM
Hey SM – Let me give this some thought… (I’m pausing for dramatic effect)… YES – it’s okay to be scared about doing comedy the first time! It’s public speaking and to quote the much over-quoted Jerry Seinfeld bit:
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
There’s a great example of truth in comedy – and why Seinfeld is a master at it.
Another fear factor for a lot of people thinking about going into this crazy biz is, as you so eloquently put it:
You’re right in saying that bombing is an explosive learning experience. Every time you go on stage should be a learning experience. Once you accept that, it shouldn’t be a goal-stopping event.
Another thing to remember is that anyone who wants to be a performer (and not just comedians) needs to develop a thick skin. It’s not always going to go as perfectly as you might imagine.
When (notice I didn’t say “if”) you bomb, you need to use it as a learning experience. It’s like going to school. Record your set, listen to it and figure out how it could have been better. Make changes, continue to write and try it again.
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All the comedians I know have gone through this process starting with open-mics and free shows. If someone tells you they haven’t then they’re not a great example of truth in comedy. In other words, they’re lying.
It takes nerve and determination to walk on stage the first time.
It’s not easy. If it was, then just about everyone would try it because… well, it sure looks like fun, doesn’t it? Standing on stage in front of an audience and making them laugh seems like a pretty good job. If all it took was to fill out a job application and lie about your work experience during an interview, a lot of people would be asking where they could sign up.
But it’s not that easy.
Along with nerve to go on stage and determination to continue, it takes a lot more to be successful. It takes talent and experience, and an understanding of how the business works. But that’s not what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about taking that first step on stage.
The advice I’ve heard from a many of the comedians I’ve interviewed for my books is that the best way to get started – and to get over being nervous or scared – is to be prepared.
Know what you’re going to say before you go on stage and don’t just try to wing-it; hoping you’ll just open your mouth and something funny will accidentally fall out.
If you only have three to five minutes on stage, which is the amount of time beginning comedians are usually given at an open-mic, have what you are going to say – three to five minutes of material – prepared in advance. Write it and be familiar with it. Practice it and get used to saying the words out loud.
Memorize if you have to. BUT as you continue to develop through on stage experience, the key is NOT to ever sound memorized. But again, we’re just talking about taking your first steps here, so the goal right now is just to get on stage.
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To help calm your nerves, it’s also acceptable to take notes with you on stage so you don’t forget what you want to say. There’s nothing wrong with that because doing comedy is a step-by-step learning process that doesn’t happen overnight. When you’re just starting out, the first step is to get on stage and learn how to converse with an audience. That’s enough pressure, so you don’t need to add more pressure by worrying about memorizing your material word-for-word.
Like your stage presence and delivery, your material will also change as you get more experience. Doing an open-mic is not auditioning for Last Comic Standing, so don’t be afraid to rely on your notes while you’re still learning what to do.
I’ve seen many big-name comedians take notes on stage when they’re working on new material. Want names? George Carlin and Jay Leno to mention only two – and you can’t argue with their success.
So don’t let anyone say you can’t do that. You can.
Another way to make that first step is to have help in being prepared.
I don’t know where you’re located. But a lot of comedy clubs offer workshops. Pick the best club in your area, call and ask if they have workshops and who runs them. Look at their experience, credits and whenever possible, what other comedians in the area are saying about them. If they have positive reviews you should find them posted on a professional looking website. If not, then keep looking.
In a good workshop you should get experience on stage and helpful feedback about your material and delivery. Also to ease the fear factor, make sure you’re given an opportunity to work with a microphone and in front of the spotlights before facing a “real” audience. It’s all about preparation.
The first step will always be a BIG one. If you’ve prepared it will still be BIG, but hopefully more fun(ny) than scary.
Comment? That’s what the form below is for. In the meantime, thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!
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Dave Schwensen is the author of How To Be A Working Comic: An Insider’s Business Guide To A Career In Stand-Up Comedy, Comedy FAQs And Answers: How The Stand-Up Biz Really Works, and Comedy Workshop: Creating & Writing Comedy Material for Comedians & Humorous Speakers.
Copyright 2015 – North Shore Publishing.