Originally posted July 7, 2008
Ah, time travel: the holy grail of quantum science. I’ve always wanted to travel back in time and impart my current knowledge to a younger me. Unfortunately, there’s a little thing called Physics getting in my way. Specifically something called the Grandfather Paradox. Basically the Grandfather Paradox says that if you were going to go back and kill your grandfather when he was a young man (You have to envision a real bastard of a Grandpa for this). So you go back in time, kill your grandpa. But then, that means that your mom wouldn’t have been born, so you wouldn’t exist, which means you could never have gone back in time to kill your Grandpa…
Anyway, assuming that time travel is possible, here are some tips on stand-up that I would have given to a slightly younger me or other comedians just starting out. I’ll try to be as specific as possible because I hate that theoretical advice (i.e. “Just be you!”).
1) When you go up on stage, take the microphone out of the mic-stand. Pick up the mic-stand and move it to back somewhere. If you leave the mic-stand right in front of you, it can take the focus away from your performance. People might start focusing on whether or not you’ll trip over the mic-stand while your pacing back and forth.
2) Don’t start off too dirty. This is a mistake that I made when I started. It’s easy to gravitate that way because being really vulgar gets some easy uncomfortable laughs. I wasn’t horribly vulgar when I started (and I’ve seen people do a lot worse than me) but enough so that it probably turned some people off. Since no one has ever seen you before, you have to be likeable on stage. You can’t be likeable if your being really dirty at first. If you need to be dirty, ease the audience into it slowly. Start with a few cleaner jokes and work your way down.
3) Write out & practice your 5 minutes a lot before you go on. At least with me, I needed to memorize my bits perfectly before I went up. I have rarely seen anyone go on stage with the mindset “I’m just going to go up there talk about some stuff” and not bomb completely. You will be nervous. Really nervous! So having your jokes memorized to the point of perfect recall will eliminate some of the apprehension you feel when you’re on stage.
4) Enunciate your words. I’ve been told this is one of my strong points (I guess that’s pretty lame), but I’ve had lots of people come up to me after shows and say “We liked you best because you were the only one we could understand.” If you have a microphone at home, practice with it. Just try to get your voice volume levels correct. If the punch line to a joke is the word “onomonopia” and you slur it or mumble or speak too fast, everything will be lost.
5) Get as much stage time as possible…sometimes. I used to perform at every bar gig that anyone would throw at me. You absolutely need to do this and be appreciative of the people who book you. It might be tough, but no one has ever taken the path of least resistance and been wildly successful because of it. However, I remember a point in time where I had done four really lousy shows in a row: long drives, no stage, and inattentive crowds. I remember driving back from the last one in the series trying to rationalize why I was doing this to myself. Get as much stage time as possible, but if you start to hate/fear going to shows, take a break, write some new jokes and wait. If you really love stand-up, it won’t even be two days before you need to get on stage again.
6) Pick out where you want to stand on stage. If you’re laid back, move more towards the back of the stage, away from the audience. If you’re intense and moving around, stick towards the middle. My tone is sort of like having a spirited conversation with the audience, so I’m usually at the very edge of the stage to make it seem more intimate. This might not seem like a big thing, but your positioning helps clue the audience in to what type of comedian you are and they’ll buy into what your saying quicker.
7) You will probably suck your first time. Deal with it. I’ve watched a few videos of myself from a year and a half ago and I cringe. You will bomb, maybe not your first time, but it will absolutely occur during every stage of your career. Don’t get down on yourself when you do, because it literally happens to every comedian ever.