A misconception is that you have to be born funny to be a stand-up comedian. Certainly you have a sense of humour, just like you need a sense of smell to be a chef, or sense of tone to be a musician, but you don’t have to be the centre of attention or the class clown to be a stand-up comedian.
But here’s what you will need:
We’re not talking about spontaneity. Most comedians come up with comebacks hours, days or even weeks after an altercation. Timing requires speed and pauses, that you can replicate every time the joke is repeated. In this way, comedy is a lot like music with beats, notes and rhythm. Whether via iTunes or at a concert, the music is the same each time – give or take.
In stand-up comedy you need to be able to project your voice, command attention, and engage the audience. This involves the eyes as much as the mouth. Remember you have a spotlight on you, so the audience can see even micro-expressions.
Comedian Luke McGregor is one of the few comedians that utilises awkwardness in his stand-up comedy routines. However, every word that he delivers is clear and precise, reinforcing that he might be awkward but he’s still confident. This requirement can be the reason those ‘born funny’ never get up on stage. Telling a joke over a BBQ is a lot easier than on a stage. Here’s five ways to become more confident.
Those jokes that kill over the BBQ or with the gang around the table won’t work on stage unless you structure them into stand-up comedy format by removing redundancies, reducing unknown content and ultimately making the material more accessible to strangers who don’t know your alcoholic friend ‘Sharon’ or the funny side of ‘quantitative easing’. Normal-Normal-Twist is one way your funny comment can be moulded into stand-up comedy.
Stand-up comedians repeat, repeat and repeat their jokes over and over and over again. All the while, their material and delivery sounds spontaneous. Competitors in Raw Comedy have been known to make the mistake that they need to create a new five-minute set between the heats and finals. No. Accurate repetition is important, particularly when the joke has been polished to perfection.
Other than Jack Levi, aka Elliot Goblet, very few comedians have struck it big immediately. Like any art form you are governed by the 10,000 hours rule of practice. Open mic spots might be a challenge to get these days, with the closing of rooms, but this persistence is what separates the ‘open mic-ers’ from those with regular paid gigs. And then there’s rejection. Ignoring criticism, unresponsive audiences, the offstage politics, while surrounding yourself with positive influences, is critical to a successful career in comedy.
So, while being born naturally funny is a great start, it’s not enough to be a stand-up comedian – successful or otherwise.