When you hear someone say, “I’m thinking about getting into standup, what should I do?” seasoned comics usually respond by saying something like, “Just get on stage!” That’s if they answer you at all (pro tip: don’t ask a comic that question!)
The annoyance from established comics seems standoffish, but it really is that simple. You just have to get on stage.
But sometimes the fear might not come from actually going up at a mic. It’s easy to shame a dude into going up at a mic by telling him that he is a dorky lil’ biatch if he doesn’t.
The barrier to doing comedy might just be that you have no material. If that is the case, this short little post is for you!
What I wish I told my younger self that wanted to get into comedy but was too afraid is this: it only takes 3 minutes of material to be a comic. That’s it. 3-measly-minutes.
So in reality, there are two steps to becoming a comic:
- Prepare 3 minutes of material
- Find a stage with an active audience that will listen to you for 3 minutes.
The first item is going to change from person to person. A guy who wants to do standup who lives 2 hours from Reno, NV in the desert is going to have a harder time finding an audience than the guy living in the West Village in New York City. This is something you just can’t control, but if you live in a moderate to a large city, this shouldn’t be a problem.
If this is you, then go online, find an open mic and sign up if you can. What will then most likely happen is that you will have moderate to severe anxiety leading up to that open mic you signed up for. You’ll possibly have heart palpitations at a certain point, and be driven to call your grandmother asking her if you’re doing it right.
Preparing Your 3-minutes
It is quite nerve-racking, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. Because all you really need is 3 minutes of material. It could even be terrible material, but just so long as you have it, you will be fine and survive to even do another mic!
But the question is, how do we get 3 minutes of material? That depends upon the person, but 3 minutes usually consists of 2-4 jokes. Most of the time it is either 3 short bits or 2 short anecdotes. Each of those constitutes a bit.
What do I write about?
For joke writing, pick up this book. It will teach you the basics, and help you understand the structure of a joke. Joke writing and standup can seem impossible at first, but when you dive into it, you can identify joke formulas, behavioral patterns, and ways to deliver material that works and get laughs. For your first 3 minutes of material, select a few joke structures. GOLD comedy sums this up well, but the three I used to start are:
- Rule of Threes
Make sure that your jokes have an element of surprise. The surprise factor is what brings entertainment to the audience, whether they think it is funny or not.
For material, the way to go is to take comedy from your own life. Everyone’s life has a comedy. I don’t care if you live in Alaska in a town with a population of 3 people, or in the middle of Manhattan. Human beings are tragic creatures, and in tragedy lies many laughs if you know how to look for it. So write about yourself, and use the joke structures and storytelling techniques that have withstood the test of time.
How much do I write?
In order to get to 3 minutes of material, you’ll probably have to write about 3 short jokes, or 2 longer anectode-like jokes. Whatever your jokes may be, they should consist of a set up, a punch line, and hopefully at least 2 tags.
Anecdotes are short stories that you tell, but in my experience, take longer to tell. Anecdotes should be punched up with tags throughout, either making fun of the characters in the story or making a target out of something that happened.
Whichever you choose, you’ll see that both jokes and anecdotes should have a basic structure; set up and punchline, then tag, tag, tag. You can add however many tags as necessary, but just make sure the joke has a punch.
Make sure you get to 3 minutes. The average person speaks at a pace of 130 words per minute. If you are doing it right, you’ll probably take some pauses here and there, so make sure you write about 350 words total for your set.
Widdle it down to that amount of words, and you’ll be ready for the next step at the start of your comedy quest, which would be to….
Get Your @$$ On Stage!
Now you have 3 minutes. Now prepare for your set by telling jokes to your mirror or wall, and make sure you do it 3-5 times.
And Voila! You are prepared for comedy! Time to get up there and tell your jokes! It’s your duty to let the world know what you are thinking, and what you have been writing.