Comedy, comedy, comedy! Everybody loves comedy. Comedy satisfies a universal need for laughter in the face of sadness. We all have troubles and worries in our lives, but comedy provides an amazing escape, if only for a minute or an hour. Whether it’s the classic routines of Abbot and Costello or your favorite Will Ferrell movie, comedy has something that everyone can enjoy. With that in mind, many aspiring actors who find themselves making others laugh start exploring the path of how to become a comedian.
How to Become a Comedian
If you want a place in the comedy world, whether it’s standup, scripted, or improvisational, here are some quick tips to get started.
Take Every Opportunity to Be On Stage
If you want to become a comedian, you have to give up only one thing, and that’s your self-consciousness.
One personal trait a comedian needs more than anything else is confidence. Some of the funniest acts in theatre history are also the most humiliating. If you grew with a lot of American television, then you probably remember the memorable skits in Saturday Night Live with the Chippendales Audition, where legendary funnyman Chris Farley performed a strip show next to a jacked Patrick Swayze. Let’s just say that that guy was very comfortable with his body.
That kind of uninhibited clowning takes a lot of confidence, and you should take every chance to develop yours in front of an audience. This could mean playing bit characters at a local theatre or dancing crazily with a sidewalk sign; whatever works for you. Remember that it is in your best interest to learn how to completely surrender your self-consciousness. Apologies for the terrible cliché, but comedians need to be able to dance as if no one is watching.
Confidence is something you can learn. Will Ferrell has figured this out early on and worked hard to overcome his self-consciousness starting back in college days:
“In college, I would push an overhead projector across campus with my pants just low enough to show my butt. Then my friend would incite the crowd to be like, ‘Look at that idiot!’ That’s how I got over being shy.” – Will Ferrell
Study the Greats
Want to know how to become a comedian? Learn from those who have been down the path before.
No aspiring comedian can become great without having some understanding of the amazing legends of comedy. Not only will learning about the comic greats give you a ton of awesome tips for your own acts, but it will make you more appreciative of the tradition you are becoming a part of. You are all lucky, because unlike many generations of comedians before you, you have a ton of access to recorded shows. On Netflix alone there are dozens of comedy routines available for instant download. There are also a huge slew of classics at your local library. And, when those fail, just surf YouTube for comedy skits. Here are some great comedians to start with:
The Marx Brothers: Making movies in the early-mid Twentieth Century, the Marx Brothers were some of the first comedians in film. Coming from a steady Vaudeville background, the three (sometimes four) real brothers put their best acts onto the screen. Champions of silly, slapstick comedy and perfect one-liners, the Marx Brothers movies are masterfully funny. I would recommend starting with Duck Soup. This 1933 film is a madcap political satire that has been named by the American Film Institute’s the 5th Greatest Comedy in the last hundred years. Other great comedy films are Night at the Opera, Horse Feathers, and Animal Crackers. You will be laughing for hours.
Amy Schumer: Arguably one of the most prominent female standup comics of the day, Amy Schumer uses a dry, intelligent delivery to make audiences laugh everywhere. Far more risqué than the Marx Brothers, Schumer’s topics usually include her trysts and relationships, as well as heavier issues such as body image and feminism. She stars in her own show on Comedy Central and has made several tours with her stand up.
“Nothing good ever happens in a blackout,” Schumer said in one of her routines. “I’ve never woken up and been like, ‘What is this Pilates mat doing out?’” – Amy Schumer
Jon Stewart: Host of the Daily Show for over fourteen years, Jon Stewart is one of the most influential comic and political figures in America. Not only is he ridiculously funny, but his sarcastic segments criticizing partisan government actually generates a rather large amount of political public opinion. Since he has been hosting the Daily Show, he has earned fifty Emmy Award nominations and won nineteen of them! With a massive collection of die-hard fans, his liberal bias is fantastically twisted with huge amounts of petty sarcasm and hilarious-if-not-utterly-insane comic bits. Americans also have his Daily Show to thank for making several other terrific comedians famous, such as Steve Carrell, Kristen Schaal, and of course Stephen Colbert. Even if you disagree with his politics, it is hard to deny that Jon Stewart is one of the most powerful and truly hilarious American comedians of the 21st Century.
Find Your Flavor
Learn from others but don’t copy them. Be yourself and bring your own “funny” to the table.
With such high competition for stand up gigs, it is important to be original and memorable. Each comedian has their own specific brand of humor. It’s usually best to find this originality within your own personality and the way you tell jokes in your normal life. Be sure not to imitate someone else’s flavor.
Awesome stand-up Kevin Hart had this problem in his early career. He had done Step 2 and was (rightfully) obsessed with the riotous bug-eyed comedian Chris Tucker. However, he made the mistake of trying to duplicate Chris’ in-your-face style, with poor results. Over time, Hart began to find success with a much more laid-back, mellower sense of delivery. Other comedians, like Jack Black or Carol Burnett, excel in very physical, almost dance-like choreography, while people like Aniz Ansari just quietly stroll around the stage. It’ll take practice and some development, but if you want to be successful, you have to find a flavor of comedy that’s all your own.
“Work hard and figure out how to be useful and don’t try to imitate anybody else’s success. Figure out how to do it for yourself with yourself.” – Harrison Ford
If you are serious about being a successful comedian, you should be always searching out ways to perform.
Along with working at night-clubs, with improvisational troupes, and that dancing-with-a-sign thing I mentioned earlier, it’s a great idea for new comedians to enter into as many comic festivals and contests as they can. Upscale contests like Comedy Central’s Up Next promise you appearances on enormous venues, but even small cash-prize competitions are extremely lucrative. Anything that gets your name out there and introduces you to new audiences is a huge plus, and festivals and contests are a terrific way to do that.
It may be a hard life, but the ability to make people laugh is a big gift, and one no one should pass up. As the legendary Charlie Chaplin once said: “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” And as long as you keep working on your comedy, I promise that not one of your days will be for nothing.
And now, here’s some advice on how to become a comedian from comics Louis CK and Judd Apatow.
“Know that it’s not going to be easy. Know that it’s going to take a long time to be good or great. Don’t focus on the career climbing. Focus on the getting funnier. The second you are bitching about what another comic is getting you are going in the completely wrong direction. No one is getting your gig or your money.
Keep in mind that you are in for a looooong haul of ups and downs and nothing and something. It takes at least 15 years, usually more, to make a great comic. most flame out before they get there.
And yes, be polite and courteous to every single person you deal with. Not because that will make you a better comedian, but because you’re supposed to do that.” – Louis CK