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Taking the Plunge: First Stand-Up Comedy Sets Part 1

June 27, 2011

Hey everyone.  A little while ago I put the call out for ideas, asking readers to chime in with topics they’d like to see covered in Premise PUNCH Tag.  Brandon Hackett had this suggestion:

[A]s someone who has trouble finding the nerve to even get up and do his first set, I would really appreciate some insight into your early experiences with stand-up. Do you perhaps have any anecdotes about one of your first shows, and when/why you decided to do stand-up comedy? How did you approach joke-writing with your first set? What were some of the challenges you faced?

Great topic, Brandon, let’s jump into it.Nothing is scarier than the unknown.  I asked comics who read Pemise PUNCH Tag to share their thoughts, and they had this to say:

HOODO BAGGINS (Toronto)

My first time was amazing even though I was shitting my pants before going on stage! I was performing at the Yuk Yuks in Ottawa. Anyway, my first couple of jokes KILLED (I know they killed b/c it was just this raucous laughter that filled the room and there was an applause break). The rest was blah! But still, I got enough laughs to keep going at it!

CHRIS MACLEAN (Toronto)

My first set was my Second City student show at Absolute Comedy. About 150 audience, including 20 or so friends from work. My first joke was a shocker and absolutely killed. They laughed so hard and long at the first joke that I actually started to worry onstage I wouldn’t be able to tell a second joke! Anybody who says that women aren’t funny hasn’t seen me, and yes, that is a challenge boys.

 BRANDON DYER (New York)

I naively agreed to do 20 minutes before a roommate’s
acoustic set. I told embarrassing stories about myself and got about three laughs.

MARK (I DON’T KNOW WHERE HE’S FROM)

Did about a dozen shows this year and began to feel it was unnatural for me, that you guys had some Special Knack for it, a gift akin to predicting lottery reslts. Your blog is giving me a kick in the ass to keep working on it.

So there are a few perspectives.  For even more anecdotes from various comics on open mike experiences, check out this thread on A Special Thing’s forum.

Reasons For Becoming a Comic

Moving onto the next part of Brandon’s question, I think everyone has their own reason for getting into stand-up comedy.  Some common ones include:

1) People Tell You You’re Funny

Most stand-up comics have been told at least once in their life, “OMG, you’re so funny!  You should totally be a comedian!”  It seems to be a standard way of complimenting someone who is conversationally funny in North America.  A lot of people start to take it seriously when they hear it enough.

2) You Have Explored Other Forms of Performance Art and Are Looking To Grow

I see this a lot too.   An improvisor or sketch artist becomes bored with their chosen avenue and want a new challenge.  I think this is a very wise move, because seemingly unrelated skill sets can often complement each other. I have written a whole article about how diversity in experience can only help you as an artist.

3) You Have a Need to be Heard

Sometimes a comic just needs to spit truth.  You can spot these comics from a mile away because they just seem to have an amazing energy, that energy that comes from doing stand-up when you’re truly compelled.

4) You Are Angry

This is basically what Toronto’s current mayor looks like.

Some people are furious with the world and must speak on it.  Stand-up is like therapy for them, more of a compulsion than a casual thing.  They often make for deadly funny comics and occasionally die in violent ways.

5) You Don’t Play Well With Others

Stand-up attracts loner types, because of its nature.  There’s no teamwork, no relying on anyone, no sharing the glory.  For some people this is terrifying, but for the lone wolves, stand-up is a perfect art form.

6) You Are Looking to Get Rich

If I was Scrooge McDuck I’d be like “Duey!  Stop building a Christmas tree out of money and COME SKI ALREADY!  JEEZ!”

Less of these jerks are running around today, but during the comedy boom, it was very common.  These are people that see stand-up as just a tool or stepping stone on their journey to fame and fortune.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy getting paid like everyone else, and if a show calls for clean or themed material, I will comply for sure.  I just feel frustrated when I meet someone who sees art as nothing more than another way to make coin.  And besides, it’s an extremely inefficient way to get rich, so maybe just try being a divorce lawyer or something.

_________________________________________

My reasons for getting into stand-up were a combination of  1, 3, and 5.  Generally, everyone has a different story, and it flavours their style accordingly.  People who are angry tend to create darker, more raw jokes.  People looking to get rich tend to pander and create what I would describe as “hack” comedy.  Which isn’t to say they don’t succeed.  Some of the most successful modern comics are full-on panderers, it can be lucrative if you can stand it.

So first and foremost, when deciding whether to get on that stage for the first time, you should definitely have a strong idea of why you’re there.  If you just want to check it off your bucket list, go ahead and do that.  But don’t be surprised if you quit immediately after the novelty has worn off.

If you do choose to stick around and you’ll be part of a brave, wickedly smart, insightful, and funny community.  Like a free mason, but with more beer and less masonry.

That’s enough for today, next week we’ll discuss some of the practical challenges once faces when deciding to take the plunge into stand-up comedy.  See you then.

And if you still feel like reading, here’s a nice thread on the A Special Thing Forum with tons of questions from noobs answered by veteran comics.

By the way, this is the worst thing I’ve seen in weeks, but it’s about noobs, so decide how bored you are.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2011 11:40 am

    Those reasons definitely about cover it. When people ask me about doing their first sets, I tell them the most important thing is just getting up and doing them. Especially those that don’t have prior performance experience. Worry about fine tuning the material after you get your feet wet a couple times.

    Also, if you can avoid it, don’t do your first sets in a regular comedy club if you think you might want to get ahead in your town. Some club bookers will brand you “open mic’er” and you could have trouble getting booked there. Better to work out the initial kinks at an indie room in a bar or coffee shop somewhere.

  2. July 5, 2011 1:03 am

    Honestly, I feel like I’m attracted to comedy for more existential reasons than most, and I feel like that tends to be the case with the best comics. Still, I get what you’re saying about the money.

    • July 7, 2011 1:14 pm

      Yes, I am neither for or against making money with art. It is co-opting art and leveraging it for the sole purpose of generating income that bothers me. It undermines the point of why art exists to use it that way.

  3. September 15, 2011 5:10 am

    That video truly was the worsetest shitest pooest thing I’ve seen in along time. That was like watching a car crash, I’m not going to forget it for a while.

    Cheers for the stuff and things was a good read.

Trackbacks

  1. Taking the Plunge: Your First Stand-Up Set Part 2 « Premise PUNCH Tag – Joel Buxton's Stand-Up Comedy Blog
  2. Been awhile… « Premise PUNCH Tag – Joel Buxton's Stand-Up Comedy Blog

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