Five qualities of a successful stand-up comedian

5 qualities of a successful stand-up comedian

The Hard Knock Knocks comedy school is now in its ninth year. Since it’s founding in 2016, over 700 bucket list tickers, key note speakers and comedians of the future have completed our five night comedy course. With so many alumni, we’re often asked, “What are the most successful qualities of a stand-up comedian?” Well, there’s many. But here’s the five most important.

1. Tenacity

The career of a stand-up comedian is turbulent. Starting out, getting gigs is half the battle. The other half is dealing with defeat. Rejections, tough crowds, and nights where laughter seems elusive ensures those with tenacity survive another day. Those that don’t, disappear. Successful comedians possess the resilience to persist. These stand-up comedians understand that failure is a part of the journey, and that everyone’s journey is different.

But tenancy isn’t just turning up night after night, after night, after night. It also involves admin, like emailing and messaging room runners, updating marketing posters, and managing social media. Take a leaf out of National Raw Comedy finalist and rising star, Nathan Chin’s book. Comedy for Nathan is a business, and he’s the product. With this mindset he treats opportunities with a longterm view, and understands it takes time to build a brand.

WARNING! Got too much tenacity, without the other qualities? You’re competitive to the point of being a real prick!

2. Goodwill

Building goodwill within the comedy community is vital to long term survival. Goodwill involves fostering positive relationships with room runners, fellow comedians, and audience members off stage. Getting repeat gigs often depends on the reputation a comedian builds among these circles. Those who consistently deliver great performances and maintain a professional attitude offstage are more likely to be welcomed back time and time again.

Comedian Lewis Spears is one comedian who understands the importance of building and maintaining goodwill, especially with his audience. Lewis’ comedy might be biting, but off stage he’s a teddy bear, dedicating time to meet and greet his audience who often want a signature, or even just a hug. He might have screaming Tibetan protesters outside, but inside he has adoring fans.

WARNING! What happens when a comedian has goodwill, but lacks the other qualities? They’re the nicest non-working comedian.

3. Connection, Connection, Connection

British comedian Jeff Green is a regular comedy coach at the Hard Knock Knocks comedy school. He’s also quick to highlight the importance of connecting to the audience. From the moment Jeff hits the stage he’s engaging the audience and building rapport. Some people are naturally loveable and bubbly. Others have to work harder to bridge the gap. Some lack it entirely, but make up for this weakness by having strength in the other four qualities.

Comedian David Tulk is a comedian who has a high level of connection with the audience. While his material is much darker than Jeff’s, and often crass, David quickly builds rapport with the audience, even when he’s delivering a backhanded compliment. David’s loveable persona, and infectious giggle between punchlines, makes him endearing and as a consequence, he gets repeat gigs.

WARNING! A comedian who focusES too much on connecting to the audience may rely too heavily on audience interaction, and neglect the development of new comedic material.

4. Open and Self-awareness

Constructive feedback is invaluable to any comedian looking to hone their craft. Comedians who are open and self-aware understand that feedback is not a personal attack but rather an opportunity for growth and improvement.

Over the past nine years we’ve seen plenty of comedians on the open mic scene who don’t improve. These comedians’ wheels are spinning because they are close minded or oblivious to their faults. A sensitive and supportive posse of fellow comedians can help. One-on-one coaching can also get these comedians out of this rut. Then again, maybe stand-up comedy isn’t for them.

WARNING! Don’t accept feedback from everyone. Particularly those with less experience than yourself. New comedians that are overly concerned about others’ opinions can result in being continually in flux, constantly modifying comedy material and never finding their ‘voice’.

5. Ability

Ability is last on this list for a reason. With a sample size of over 700 graduates, we’ve seen for ourselves that the funniest ‘natural’ comedians aren’t the ones that ultimately succeed. Ability is important, but it’s not the most important factor to start with. It’s not even in the top three.

That’s because few comedians are successful stand-up comedians off the bat. Without tenancy, ability doesn’t have time to develop. Without goodwill with room runners and other comedians, you simply won’t get the gigs that will help you develop your ability. Without rapport and connection, you’re going to have a tough time winning over an audience on and off stage. And without openness and self-awareness, your ability simply won’t go from good to great.

WARNING! A comedian who is drowning in ability without the other skills is known behind their back as a ‘talented prick’. Or worse.

The journey to becoming a successful stand-up comedian is no easy feat. It requires a unique blend of emotional intelligence, charisma, hard work and a dose of luck. But then again, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Right?

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