When I started performing comedy seven years ago, I had no idea how to turn it into a career. Everyone starts out at the open mic shows, and finding how to advance to the next level is pretty difficult without the right connections. New comedians are subjected to learning the hard way through a series of trial and error. A whole lot of errors!
Too many people quit too soon because they were not prepared for the roller-coaster ride in the entertainment industry. Hopefully, this will help you avoid the most common errors I have encountered. The biggest misconception about comedy is that you have to do it alone. I found this to be completely untrue. For the sake of brevity, I narrowed my thoughts down to two suggestions:
Learn to become a writer:
After three years of performing, I took a few months off to learn the discipline of being a writer. The investment was more than worth it. Learn to write something — anything on a daily basis. After doing this for a while, you’ll become excited and addicted to the writing process. Get it down on paper! You can make it funnier later. Here are a few suggestions that can help you develop your skills as a writer:
- How to be a Writer Who Writes – Greg Miller
- Writing Alone, Writing Together – Judy Blume
- The Art of War for Writers – James Scott Bell
- Page after Page – Heather Sellers
- How To Write Funny – John B. Kachumba
Find or build a comedy community
Finding a writing partner or a group of people you can bounce ideas with is critical to learning the craft of comedy. When Mandy Dalton and I started the DC Comedy Writers Group in 2011, we created a safe space for people to test their material. Members have come and gone for various reasons, but we made it clear that we would meet every Monday night. We changed venues over the years, but the meeting time has never changed. Five years later, we’re still here!
If I were forced to recommend a single resource for learning about comedy, I would suggest joining Dobie “Mr. Lucky” Maxwell for all the advice, suggestions, and tips he has provided members over the years!
“If I stop, I’ll die!” – Richard Pryor
After working in this industry for a few years, I finally understand what he meant by that quote. Allow me to explain:
I have anger issues. There are times when I ‘m just a nasty piece of work to be around. Using comedy as my foundation, I discovered how to take things that piss me off and make them funny. Those issues might become a joke, a funny story, or a hilarious tweet. Once it’s out of my system, I can continue to move on with my life. Convert something negative into something positive. If I didn’t have this as an outlet, I would probably self-destruct. Seriously!
While reviewing my various journals and notebooks, I recognized how much time I invested learning about comedy. Working in the entertainment field quickly became a love/hate relationship. So why haven’t I quit yet? There are too many stories I haven’t told yet, too many interviews I haven’t published yet, and despite the bad times I encountered while attempting to make a living from it — I realize how comedy saved my life. By learning how to laugh at my internal pain, I taught myself how to stay alive for the next battle. There are times when life sucks. It’s your choice whether to decide if you’re going to laugh, cry, or die.
Here’s my point:
Understand why you’re interested in comedy. We have over 1,800 members in the DC Comedy Writers Group. Some of those folks have no desire to get on stage. But they want to be around people who can help them become funnier. Some of them want to remember how to laugh at tough situations. We explain to members that we are not the authority on comedy. If it’s funny to you, it’s funny! Your job as a writer/comedian is to find the audience that agrees with you.
I still have a passion for humor and comedy. Jordan Brady (I Am Comic) explained to me that stand-up comedy is a tool that helps comedians as a starting point for other career choices. So I intend to document some of those experiences as I continue to explore the other comedy opportunities. Because quitting comedy is not an option!