Starting out you're like a tadpole in the ocean!
1) Get as much stage time as possible
The only way to improve as a comic is to get on stage and perform as much as possible. When you start out doing comedy you are a tadpole in an ocean and getting gigs can be a challenge. You are reliant on open mic nights and most of these are in the cities..so you need to be prepared to travel...
Useful Links: Here are some helpful links to start booking your open mic spots!
Comedy Open Mike Gig List on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=15114049266
Mirth Control - major promoter. Email and ask to be added to the mailing list firstname.lastname@example.org
Comedy Bin - open mike gigs in London. Email and ask to be added to the mailing list email@example.com
2) Find your inner comic
You are unique & so is your take on life!
You may have a favourite comic and that’s great, but the comedy world already has one of them. You will never be funnier than when you are sharing your version of life as seen through your eyes, analysed in your head and compared to other things created by your imagination. Not only is it a cardinal sin of comedy to steal other people’s material (with the exception of heckler put downs) it is also a wasted opportunity to share your humour and personality with the world.
Avoid the Outrageous Material Trap
A lot of new comics choose to write material about sex, drugs & outrageous stuff (think pedophiles). It's almost a rite of passage that they have to go through to get to the good stuff. The good stuff being their experiences, their take on the universalities of life...the stuff that is original and unique to them...sound familiar! Knowing this you have the chance to avoid the cliched shock material, it’s hard to stand out doing that stuff and it will hold you back.
3) Write, Write & Re-write
Set aside some time everyday to write jokes, or refresh your old material. Many of your old gags can be tweaked to fit with current events, fashions etc. and therefore used again...think of it as re-cycling!
Remember when you are writing new stuff to keep the creator and the critic separate...edit your material at a different time. The more you practice writing jokes using the methods learnt on a comedy course, from books or that you have developed on your own...the easier it will become and the quicker you will write.
4) Rehearse, Polish & Rehearse again
Writing good material is important but performance, timing and delivery is more so. There are many comedy writers out there but it’s the comics that breathe life into the words!
Memories & Pictures
Rehearse your material as if you are experiencing it, so that it moves into the memory part of your mind. This will make it come across more naturally to the audience & will be easier to remember.
On stage you need to be like a cartoon, making pictures (through gestures, facial expressions and tone) to help the audience visualise the stories you are telling them. That said only move when there is a reason to do so, otherwise the audience will find it distracting.
Video, record & polish
When you are rehearsing try to record or video yourself so that you can play it back and see what’s working / not working. Similarly, when you are gigging make sure you record yourself as things may happen by accident on stage that make a joke funnier and it would be a shame to miss it.
5) If at first you don’t succeed, get back up on the horse!
Like in life, you only learn through doing and making mistakes. See gigs that don’t go so well as opportunities to learn and improve. Everyone has bad gigs...and people’s attitude to comedy is like their attitude to food...everyone likes different flavours, so what might not work with one audience will work with another...trust me!
If you really want to give comedy a go...believe in yourself, do the work, put in the time and persevere! It’s a hard road but lot’s of fun!
It's not the Apprentice, but still be Professional!
6) Be Professional
As I mentioned, as a new act you will have a lot of competition for stage time. However, you can make yourself stand out to promoters by being that little bit more professional than the others ... how? ... yes I'm coming to that!
Professional Photo & Comedy CV
Marketing yourself is important. Two key ingredients will be a good headshot and a comedy CV. Get a headshot done that reflects how you want to be perceived as a comedian (your comedy persona) and get some proofs so that you can canvas opinion on what works best.
For your Comedy CV you should include the following:
Be polite but persistent with promoters
When you approach promoters be professional, polite but also persistent. Send them an initial email with your CV or phone them to introduce yourself and then follow up with an email. Ask them if they would give you an open spot at their show and be prepared to follow up with another email a fortnight later if you don’t get an initial response. Keep in contact with them even if the initial answer is no and make sure you keep your CV updated so they are aware of everything you have done.
Look at their little faces!
7) Be Nice to the Audience
Your audience is your partner in comedy and by and large (with the exception of a few idiot hecklers) you should show them friendship and respect. If you go out of your way to score points at your audiences’ expense they may well turn on you and it may be difficult to win them back. By all means engage with the audience, let them feel their reaction matters to you, but always stay in control and don’t be mean to get cheap laughs.
8) Watch live comedy
In addition to getting stage time yourself, there is no better way to learn than to watch the pros at work. By going to live comedy gigs not only will you be able to pick up tips on performance, delivery and audience engagement from professional comedians but you will also be supporting live comedy, without which future employment opportunities would be thin on the ground!
9) Network with the Community
With the advent of Twitter and Facebook it has never been easier to network with other comics, find out about new gigs and generally have fun with colleagues. Hook up with people you meet at gigs and keep in contact.
Also with Twitter if you can make people laugh with tweets, they may be interested in seeing you ‘live’ or recommending you to other people. You never know what might happen so give it a try!
10) Be present for new material
Ok so final tip...carry round a notebook, or app for your phone! You never know when something might strike you as funny and you should always be looking for that comedic pairing or the wacky ‘What If?’ that could potentially generate yards of material.