: Andrew George
If you want to be a famous comedian, all you have to do is sign up. Literally, that is all it takes to get started. Find out when and where the closest open mics are, get your material together, and get yourself on that stage. Everything after that relies of time, hard work, passion and an understandable amount of talent.
If you have ever listened to just about any comedy podcast, then you already know that famous comedians are constantly being asked how they “made it” in the industry. Each one of them will tell their own variation of the same story, which typically involves someone asking how they can get on the same level of said comedian. Because most fans start following the careers of their favorite comedians after they have achieved an incredible amount of success, they sometimes assume that they have just started out and neglect the fact that they have been perfecting their craft for years before getting to where they are. As Rory Scovel said, “It’s not like Comedy Central executives are sitting in a room panicking because they don’t have anyone to give specials to.”
The first step in obtaining any level of success in the comedy world is to get yourself on stage at a local open mic night. But before you show up for your debut, you have to actually prepare what you’re going to say. It doesn’t matter how funny you are in daily life, there is a huge difference between saying funny things in conversations with your friends and presenting prepared material. It is almost impossible to have a successful first show if your game plan is to just walk on stage and see what happens. If you do have enough charisma to pull that off, then starting a cult may be the path for you, there is way more money to be made in cult worship than there is in comedy.
Depending on how that particular venue books their shows, all it takes is either a short email or having to show up early enough to sign up before the show starts and you’re on the list. Most open mic spots last somewhere in the range between 3 and 10 minutes. If you don’t know where your local open mic is or how to sign up, just google it, you’re already on the internet.
After your first open mic, the next step is to become obsessive with your writing and to get on stage as much as humanly possible. You can’t really practice comedy alone in front of a mirror, the only way to get experience is to get in front of an audience. After getting enough experience and honing your skills at these open mic nights, more and more shows will start presenting themselves to you. Whether it is from being asked to perform at a show by your comedian friends or from producing your own show, this is the next logical step in the typical comedy career path.
Finding a space that is conducive for live comedy and producing a weekly or monthly show is how many of today’s top comedians got to where they are now. Even if the show itself isn’t what got them the exposure that they needed, the guarantee of a reoccurring space to perform aided in giving them the experience necessary to move on to the next level.
The next step is where many people have to take somewhat of a leap of faith by abandoning their backup plans in life and pursue comedy full time, which usually involves moving to either New York or Los Angeles. Even though most cities have multiple places to perform and it is possible to break while living in those cities, it is far more likely for an individual to get the amount of exposure needed to make it in one of those two entertainment Meccas. As Pete Holmes said in an episode of You Made it Weird, Jerry Seinfeld’s movie Comedian was not only beneficial in showing his family and friends what it was that he actually did, but that it also felt like a two hour commercial explaining why a comedian needs to move to New York City, because it is one of the only places that allows a comic to perform multiple times each night of the week.
On an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Bert Kreischer said that when he first moved to New York to be a comedian, after being named The Hardest Partier in America by Rolling Stone Magazine, he was told multiple times that he needed to go back to Tampa to develop his skills before coming back to NYC and trying to keep up with the city’s top comedians. At the time, he was working at Barnes & Noble during the day and working the door and handing out fliers for comedy clubs at night in order to get stage time. After sticking it out, not listening to the warning of veteran comics, and staying in New York so that he could perform on a nightly basis, he finally got the recognition that has allowed him to get as far as he has now. Bert is now one of the biggest names in comedy and has had multiple television shows and was even the inspiration for the movie Van Wilder, which is a pussified and family friendly version of his time at FSU.
On her podcast, Making It, Riki Lindhome said that every time she hears about someone from her past asking why she is the one on television and in movies, she says that it is because she is the one who took the initiative and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams instead of staying in her small town in Pennsylvania and wondering why she hadn’t been discovered yet.
This may make it sound like moving to LA or New York is the only option for someone who wants to achieve a certain level of fame, but there is an unlimited list of alternative options of how to succeed. Touring the country, finding an alternative way to get your name out into the world via the internet, or by finding media outlets in your own city (holla at me, Tyler Perry and/or Turner) are all ways that people have found success in the past. Plus, rumor has it that Paramount will be building a studio near Atlanta within the next few years that will bring in multiple television shows and film productions, so there’s that.
If that none of that works, you could always just steal jokes and accuse everyone of being racist whenever you get caught. Actually, don’t do that, it would never work.