HOW TO BECOME A COMEDIAN
1. Stage Time
Get all the stage time you can, any way you can get it. You may crack up your cronies when you drink beer. And you may have had a good set at the Tri-Delt charity amateur night. But the apprenticeship period for comics lasts a little longer than you may think. You have to develop material and a stage presence that work for every imaginable audience, venue, situation and season. And the minute you think you have it all worked out, there's a crowd waiting around the corner that's going to hate your guts. (Just shake yourself off and get back on the horse.)
You can't practice standup unless you're on stage, live and vulnerable. Comedy is interactive. What you think is funny in your living room and what actually turns out to be funny in a nightclub full of strangers are often two very different things. There's only one way to find out which is which, and it isn't always pretty.
2. Respect the Audience
There are some confused individuals out there who insist that comedy is art, and that's it up to the crowd to recognize genius when they see it. Audiences, on the other hand, believe that an entertainer should actually try to entertain them. That's what they thought they were paying for.
There will be drunk audiences. There will stupid audiences. There will be bigoted audiences, audiences that got in free and audiences that are eating dinner. When the weather gets ugly there will even be audiences that aren't audiences at all, but a thing more accurately described as being "three people thirty feet from the stage." You should try to please them all.
You'll see comics get mad at the crowd when things aren't working. That's unprofessional and unproductive. Whatever they are, they're the only audience you've got tonight. At least they took the trouble to be there.
Your job is to make them laugh. If you can sneak a message in there at the same time, why, that's beautiful. But if they're not laughing, it's not because you're an artist. It's because you're bombing.
3. Don't Plan to Quit Your Day Job Just Yet
Comedy looks easy when it's done well. But it takes a long time to learn how to do it well. I get e-mail from people who seem to imagine that they'll be national acts three days after their first appearance at an open mike. They only need to be "discovered."
Perhaps they're right. All I know is that everybody else in comedy puts in a lot of hard work before he or she gets "discovered." Years, usually. To the mass audience, new talents seem to appear out of nowhere, but it's only because you don't get a lot of attention while you're out there learning the ropes.
Don't plan to quit your day job until you're getting so much paying comedy work that you couldn't keep a day job if you wanted to. That may take a little longer than you hoped it would, and in the meantime, you'll have a roof over your head.
4. Be Nice
Your relationship with the audience is actually more important than your jokes. If they like you, they'll laugh heartily at the slightest little thing. If they don't like you, the sharpest material in the world won't see you through.
New comics are often tempted to poke fun at old people, or fat people, or ugly people -- anyone but themselves. But poking fun at yourself is probably what audiences like the most, as long as you're careful to do it with plenty of dignity. They don't want to listen to a wise guy who has all the answers. They want to share the experience of being alive with a human being who is just as confused as they are.
If you make other people the butt of your jokes, or you come across as being unkind, it makes your whole act weaker. I'm not saying that it can't be done successfully. But I'd definitely say that it will make your job harder.
5. Just Say "After the Show" to Drugs and Alcohol
New comics will often calm their nerves with a stiff belt of one thing or another before they go on stage. That just gives you bad habits you'll have to break later. You'll grow faster as a comic if you habitually work straight. Its more fun, too, because you catch all the nuances in the room that you might otherwise miss.
If you want to go out and get torn up after the show, do it with my blessing. But do it at a different location. Some bookers and clubowners like to carouse with the acts, of course. But most would prefer to see you as a serious professional,. That's a hard image to project when you've got a lampshade on your head. Comedy is a business, and you want repeat customers.