This week marks my 12th comedy birthday. On a Tuesday night in February of 2000 I took the stage, did five minutes, and won $30 in a clap-off in the basement of a pizza shop on High Street in Columbus, Ohio. I thought I was a natural comedian and extremely funny. Looking back, I’m ashamed that any of the material I used that night came from my mouth. In fact, other than one or two jokes, I’m embarrassed about anything I said on stage in the first four or so years of my career. The reason is, newer comedians don’t know what’s funny yet.
This may sound very pretentious on my part, but you can also ask any other veteran comedian how their material was in the first few years and they’ll tell you the same. No one writes great material early on. It’s kind of like looking back at the poems you wrote in middle school. At the time the teacher may have loved them and I’m sure you were really proud of your work, but is it something that would come out of your pen now? Of course not, it was lame. Jokes are the same way. 99.9% of comics (100% of those who read this) have had to (or will have to) learn what’s funny on stage. The only way to do that is to be in and at as many shows as possible over the course of several years. You are not an exception to the rule and you cannot speed time up.
Though open mics are a great way to test jokes and learn what’s actually funny, they’re never going to be as effective as working in professional comedy shows (more on that here). The best way to be a part of a professional show was mentioned last week. It’s very hard to build a great act out of four to six minute sets in front of open mic crowds. It’s not that the bar is necessarily set lower at open mic, it’s actually set kinda sideways making it hard to figure out what you should keep or get rid of. Also, crowds of limited numbers and demographics will throw you off.
Comics who fancy themselves “ready” are making mistakes on and off stage and hurting their chances of ever being taken seriously. My book, Don’t Wear Shorts on Stage, lists these mistakes and explains the steps comics should take to save time and dignity in those first few years. It explains the process of going from open mic, to guest set, to MC work including how and when to talk to club managers.
***Special bonus*** This week only–Order from my site and your book may be also signed by Tommy Johnagin. Tommy is quoted on the back cover, mentioned during a funny story in one of the chapters, and has been on Letterman multiple times (with many more times to come). He signed a handful of books for me this weekend while he was doing shows in St. Louis. ORDER IT HERE and you could be one of the lucky winners.
Thank you so much to those who shared last week’s advice. I’m glad you found it helpful. Please feel free to share this week’s entry on Facebook and Twitter as well.