My first year, but definitely not my last. Luckily, I took notes on how it went!
1. You HAVE To Set Goals
Do you wanna be a full-time comedian? Do you wanna just try it out? Do you want to hustle OR get plenty of rest? The types of research, education, comedy clubs to target, visibility at each club, networking time before or after, … everything you choose to do or not do would depend on your goals. I had light goals to start, but after 2-3 shows, I made some long term goals that inform how involved or uninvolved I wish to be in my own process. There is no RIGHT way to do comedy, to progress in your career, or enjoy the ride – it’s all about how you wanna create a lifestyle and possibly a career. Nothing will just ‘happen’ for you, you have SO much more control over this than you may realize.
2. You HAVE To Be Social
I do not relish a good chat with a stranger, but once I set more serious long-term goals, I decided it was time to get to know EVERYONE. Comedians, club owners, servers, bar tenders, audience members… there is an unlimited amount of people to meet, connect to, and share a ‘moment.’ And if you wanna join a new community, you gotta be the new kid and learn about everyone and every thing before you form opinions. Being social is research. And being social is the beginning of building community and a feeling of belonging. And you cannot learn more online than you can learn from people – and this business is ALL about who you know!
3. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others
Look, I write and take pride in writing. Some comics don’t really write, they shoot from the hip. And some comics are hilarious doing either version. And some comics are not funny no matter what they do. And the majority of comics at my level that I encountered are just not funny. Humor is subjective. And you cannot measure someone based on a single set. You have to let go of judgement and recognize that comics are not being measured by the other comics that are on that stage. People who like you will like you, don’t tear down other comics. Ever.
4. Do Not Burn Bridges
There is a big difference between “binger” shows, independently produced shows, medium clubs, and bigger stages/venues. But they all overlap with the same people – it is a small business. No one cares if you are DONE with bringer shows, no one is too big for them at the end of the day (you may just have graduated from officially ‘bringing’ people). Clubs that require comics to bring people are like the ‘open mic’ place to work out a set for more established comics. If/when you’re a more established comic and you can just do ‘drop in’ sets to work on material, you’ll be happy that you didn’t burn any bridges with those smaller consistent clubs. Yes, some of those smaller bringer clubs are not run by the most fabulous people, but overall they are keeping the scene alive and it is a gift to all. I hope to be able to drop in or book any size club in Los Angeles. That will take time. So don’t burn any bridges while you’re out there figuring it out. Keep your frustrations to yourself and vent with friends, don’t ever vent at a club owner.
5. Every Show Is A Lesson On Audience, Venue, AND You
I sat outside for hours for the chance to audition for a bigger club, it didn’t work out but it wasn’t supposed to. My type of performance and identity as a performer is not meant for every stage. My performance type is not right for every room every time. Shows go well based on 1. Audience, 2. Venue, and 3. YOU. It doesn’t always mesh well, but there is a lesson to take from every performance. And, to be clear, it is not always the fault of an 1. Audience, 2. Venue, or 3. YOU – it is usually a combination of factors that all contribute to a great show or a messy show. Take responsibility for your reaction to an audience or a venue and give yourself a break when you cannot help a rough audience or venue. You have to bring it no matter how unfortunate the event, how small the space, or how sparse the attendance. You need to puff yourself up to pretend this is your FAVORITE kind of show and you’re gonna kill it in this space. There is a lot of self-coaching, for sure. That’s the only way I could overcome the obstacles that were at almost every show.
Well, what did I accomplish in my first year?
I have made really positive connections to several club owners around town, I have written a solid 45 minute show, and I have started headlining shows outside of the Los Angeles. And, yes, I know what you really want to know, I have been paid to do comedy. Only a few times thus far, but it is possible.
I do NOT think you should set your sights on headlining or getting paid well in your first year if you are JUST starting out. I have been close friends with professional stand-up comedians for over a decade and I have LISTENED to all of their wisdom, taken notes, made AMBITIOUS plans, and never let embarrassment or pride steer my path. I have been a professional actor for 15 years, including the stage, and I have a lot of experience delivering jokes to a crowd. I have come from a very privileged place with a TON of support.
I want to note that I am a woman, I am a Mom, and I happened to break my ankle in the middle of this experimental first year. There were a lot of obstacles in my path. I felt a ton of awkward pressure in certain spaces because of my sex. My target audience had let me know that they didn’t feel comfortable and welcome in many male dominated comedy spaces with misogynistic comics overwhelming the line-up. And I have kids, so I have to arrange childcare every time I perform. I have to leave early after a set to maintain an elementary school schedule lifestyle (I volunteer at school drop-off in the mornings). I would perform a LOT more and try out every place in the county if I weren’t hyper-aware of raising children with a present Mom. And I went to a club shortly after I broke my ankle and quickly realized that none of these stages were accessible… I needed to ask other comics to help me get onto the stage and my confidence did not recover for the rest of my set – and no one was there to help me down. I would have loved to have my spouse there to help me, but he was taking care of our kids, so it was a rough situation. I had to take a few months break to heal my ankle. I didn’t feel like this year was a piece of cake, at all.
I’m doing this all because I love to write. I love writing, working it out with my spouse, getting feedback from a comic friend, and then going and trying it out in front of an audience! If that’s how your brain works, then you’ll love this. It is a self-motivated and self-regulated adventure. You can go as slow as you’d like or write and perform as often as you’d like. It’s all in your hands. I like to write a new 5 every month, some people like to write a solid 5 over a year of trying it out. It is all up to you.
If you are considering starting doing stand-up comedy, just do it. No one is going to beg you to try, you’ll never be younger and more eager than today, and you can google a list of open mics RIGHT NOW in your area. If you were looking for a sign to start: just start now.
One day I followed a bunch of clubs on instagram and once one of them announced an open mic, I just got dressed and went. It’s that easy. Go do it.
Wanna see me on stage? Grab tickets here: Linktr.ee/JennicaSchwartzman