A Guide to being a Stand-Up Comedian

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Overview

  1. A Stand Up Comedian is someone who performs jokes and comedy routines to an audience to make them laugh.
  2. Comedians tend to have intrinsic comedy skills, as it is a skill that you hone rather than something that can be taught.
  3. All comedians must be comfortable talking to an audience, have quick wits and excellent communication skills, and also be happy to live a nomadic lifestyle travelling between gigs across the country and beyond.
  4. Fees depend on the size of the audience you can attract and range from £50 a gig to several thousand pounds and more once you are established.
  5. Most comedians start on open mic nights and progress to paid gigs, and hiring an agent, once they have established themselves.

What is a Stand Up Comedian?

A Stand Up Comedian is someone who performs jokes, comedy routines, and comedy characters on stage, television, or the internet with a view to making the audience laugh.

It is an art form which can trace its routes back to ancient Greece, but which has been revolutionised in the UK over the past thirty years with the advent of new mediums for delivering comedy thanks to technological developments, and the new wave of alternative comedy which swept through the UK in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and which took the art of comedy from the Oxbridge elites and made it a performance option for people of all backgrounds.

Today there are many different types of comedians playing at small comedy clubs, village halls, and pubs right across the UK. The most successful can find themselves playing to five figure audience in cavernous arenas and will also get the opportunity to appear on television panel shows and even to write and perform in their own TV sitcom.

Being successful and being good however do not always equate to the same thing as a comedian, with the debate over whether popular appeal is necessarily a result of being the best at what you do being a hotly debated issue across the industry.

What Skills and Responsibilities are there?

The principal skill of being a stand-up comedian is the ability to make a room full of people laugh. However, just because you are the office joker, or were the class clown at school, does not automatically mean you will be a good Stand Up Comedian.

Stand Up Comedy is a highly stylised art form. Very few comedians who get up on stage and just tell a few jokes have any success or popularity. Rather, you need to be able to develop humorous material into a format that people can relate to and understand. This tends to involve comedians fitting into a number of categories.

For example, an observational comedian will talk about everyday situations and be able to find something wry and amusing in almost anything. People laugh because they can relate to the jokes being told. A satirist is a comedian who can poke fun at news ad current events and tell jokes about the latest current affairs, whatever they may be. Some comedians are more like storytellers, who can talk for several minutes at a time before the punchline gets the laugh. Others like to rattle off as many one-line jokes as possible and get laughs every few seconds.

Character comedians will create a character which people find amusing and then tell jokes or give a performance in the style of the character, while others like to develop a particular persona, such as the angry comedian, and rant about things in life that annoy them.

The ability to develop a style of comedy which you are both good at and which suits your humour is vital if you are going to make a career out of comedy.

You will also need to be quick thinking and able to improvise and adapt your material to different audiences and situations. A small room and a big room will react to jokes differently and no two audiences are the same. Some will love you, whilst others will not and you may be heckled. Being able to deal with these situations whilst remaining in style is vital, and whilst some can do it instinctively, it is a skill that does tend to be developed through experience.

Needless to say being comfortable speaking in public and having excellent communication skills is also vital. You must also be happy working alone, as most comedians are solo performers. You will also need to be a good writer and a creative thinker to be able to develop new materials as well as writing for TV and radio shows and other media outlets.

It is also important to be willing to travel. Many comedians spend most of their time on tour, performing at different venues up and down the country, living in hotel rooms, and spending long periods away from their families. It is a lifestyle choice, but it certainly isn’t one for everyone.

Pay and Benefits:

Stand Up Comedian is as much a vocation as a job, and whilst it is true that those who establish themselves on TV can make serious money, most touring comedians can just expect to make an average living.

A comedian is usually paid a flat rate for a performance. The amount you are paid is dependent on your reputation and your ability to attract an audience. An amateur unknown comedian will most likely earn no more than £50 a gig, once they have progressed from the open mic nights when they are expected to perform for free. These comedians will tour round established comedy clubs such as Jongleurs, which has branches up and down the country, as well as playing independent comedy nights in pubs, nightclubs, student unions, and various other venues.

If you have made a name for yourself, perhaps through appearing on television and radio, or else because you have worked as a comedian for a number of years, you can expect to make quite a bit more than that, as you will be able to sell more tickets to your gigs.

Other ways to make money can include corporate gigs and award nights, opening or acting as a warm up artist for a big name comedian or a TV show, and if you are lucky enough, TV and Radio appearances.

Qualifications:

Whilst there are no formal academic requirements to becoming a comedian, it is certainly not a job for anyone who is slow witted, and being able to think on your feet and react to situations fast is as essential skill. A few comedians may come from a performing arts background and have qualified from drama school, or a related course, but this is very much the exception rather than the rule.

Comedy is more of a vocation than a job and those who make a success at it tend to be those intrinsically suited to the job who hone their skills through long hours and hard work.

Most comedians will be fans of comedy and will have watched lots of comedy on TV, at the cinema, and in live venues. Most will adapt their own style from comedians they find funny. The internet, and particularly video streaming services such as YouTube has opened comedians up to new audiences, provided a ready source of materials for aspiring comedians, and also offered an outlet for budding comedians to publish material online, guide reactions, and build a fan base and audience.

Finding Jobs:

Comedians are self-employed and as such it is entirely down to them to get out onto the comedy circuit and find gigs. Most will start with open mic nights, which are evenings at established comedy clubs where anyone can get up and do five or ten minutes of materials. This is a great place to practice and hone your material, discover if you are suited to a life behind the mic, and get valuable experience.

If you make a good enough impression, you may then be offered paid gigs at the same clubs, and you can go from there. Any reputation you have from online performances can only help at this stage.

Once you are established on the circuit, you might want to consider hiring an agent to find regular performance opportunities for you. They will usually take a percentage of whatever you earn, and will be the people who help you make the leap to the big comedy festivals, and onto TV and Radio.

Further Reading:

For our guides to other fun professions, visit the UK Jobs Guide Fun Jobs Section.

 

 


 
 
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