Advice to the new comedian

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

I’ve been working on my comedy career for almost ten years. I’m not where I want to be by any stretch of my imagination but I’m also absolutely not where I was. I’m excited for the future and seeing my work pay off even more.

During the pandemic I’ve seen the comedy community a bit differently. I personally don’t know if things have changed because I never really was on the inside. I have always been a parameter watcher in comedy and my real life as well. The pandemic has forced me to have more interaction with other comedians than I’d ever have in real life. Zoom and virtual mics and shows caused me to actually talk more to people. In real life I just don’t like people all like that.

I’ll support and make sure I let the person know I was there. I’ll show up to an open mic and try not to make eye contact and again stay longer to support other comics, but I won’t talk to anyone. I just observe, do what I do, and then leave. It works for me but it also may have cost me some gigs along the way.

As spaces are opening up and folks are coming out for shows and open mics, I find that I may have a few things to share with the up and coming and the let me try this new thing I discovered, the have you heard of a guy named Richard Pryor, folks. Many of these folks have never done stand up in front of a live in person audience. Here are a few pieces of advice.

  1. Take your time. Every comedian (of course there are a few “others”) think they will be ready for SNL, the road, or Netflix by next year this time. Okay sure. It isn’t likely but sure. We all feel it and experience it and then five years later realize we had lofty expectations.

Like any career you learn the process, you study, you try and fail and try and win and try and fail again. Take your time learning the craft and building with it. It will teach you if you want to learn. Don’t forget everything your favorite famous did while famous weren’t all wins.

2. Be honest and true. I mean that’s just a life lesson right? Be honest and true in your comedy. I don’t mean with your jokes. I mean with who you are and who you present and how you make people feel. Even with a persona or character.

The audience knows when you are lying. They know when you are faking it. They do not like it. Your colleagues the fellow performers and bookers and producers, can spot you pretty quickly as well. No one is watching you but everyone knows when you trip or fall. Don’t lie to your colleagues. Don’t tell them you’re more advanced than you really are. If I put you on for a 15 minute set and you only have 5 minutes I may never put you on again because you lied and may have made the show harder work than it already is.

3. Work it out. Find your process and work your jokes through that process. Record your sets and listen back especially at the beginning. Watch yourself on tape. Invite that annoying friend who won’t tell you you were great if you were mediocre (that’s me). Bring them along so you know you did a good job when they say you did a pretty good job that night.

Accept the criticism and be wise. The first year or so a few people I knew wanted me to do jokes their way, even write the jokes they wanted, and dress a certain way. However, what they were recommending was not where I wanted to go at that time. Be wise in hearing those critiques. But when you ask someone how was my set be ready to hear the truth.

Comedy is a process, a career, an art form. Treat it as such or just dabble and leave the rest of us alone. Just kidding…kinda!

A Black woman of many talents. Comedian, writer, producer, and human person.

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