Have you always been the funny one in your friend group? Do you love being the center of attention? Would you do just about anything to make people laugh?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you’ve probably thought about becoming a comedian. Being able to make people laugh as a career is unique and rewarding, but knowing where to start can be a challenge. There is no one set path for comedians, after all.
That’s why we’ve outlined some of our top tips for getting your comedy career started in this post. We’ll cover some of the basics about stand-up comedians, including the different types, essential qualities, and salary expectations before diving into our advice for how to become a comedian. Let’s get started!
What Is a Comedian?
Stand-up comedians are stage performers who aim to make an audience laugh with their hilarious original jokes organized into a routine or set. There are many different types of comedians, which we’ll get to in a moment, but most comedians try to tell jokes that their audience can relate to or poke fun at things they are familiar with, like famous people, world events, pop culture, etc.
Everyone has their own sense of humor, which is why there is such a wide variety of comedians—there’s something for everyone! Below are a few of the most popular types of comedians today.
Types of Comedians
- Character: These kinds of comedians perform not as themselves but as a character they’ve created for the stage. For example, John Mulaney and Nick Kroll play George St. Geegland and Gil Faizon in their comedy act The Oh, Hello Show—two elderly men from Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
- Impersonation: Impersonators aim to transform themselves into different well-known people by mimicking their facial expressions, mannerisms, and way of speaking. Bill Hader is well-known for his impersonations of James Carville and Al Pacino.
- Stream-of-consciousness: These comedians describe their train of thought as it comes to them, following it through to a humorous end. Dylan Moran is a good example of a stream-of-consciousness comedian, claiming that he doesn’t have a plan when he goes on stage.
- Observational: One of the most popular observational comedians is Jerry Seinfeld, whose stand-up routines consist of comments about the absurdity of daily life. Observational comics are also known as anecdotal comedians because of how they take mundane moments from life that most people can relate to and turn them into jokes.
- Dark: Comedians who make jokes out of taboo or controversial subjects are referred to as dark comics, such as Ricky Gervais.
Essential Qualities of a Comedian
While there are many different types of comedians, there are several skills that all the best ones share regardless of their type of humor. If you want to learn to be a comedian, you’ll want to embody these qualities:
- Creativity: Of course, you need to be creative to come up with your own jokes and material to add to your setlist. However, your creative skills will extend beyond that. At some point, you’ll probably encounter a heckler and you’ll need to think quickly to deal with them in a way that doesn’t upset the rest of the audience, for example.
- Improvisation: Similar to creativity, being able to improvise sets great comedians apart from the rest. Maybe you forget part of your set while you’re on stage or your jokes aren’t landing and you need to think of something on the fly. Being able to improvise will save you in situations like these and allow you to deal with the unexpected, so consider taking some improv classes in your spare time.
- Stage presence: It’s important to feel comfortable on stage if you want to be a professional comedian. Developing your public speaking skills is a good way to get accustomed to being the center of attention on stage. Watching your favorite comics and taking note of how they move about the stage is another good way to develop your stage presence.
- Observational skills: Even if you don’t want to be an observational comedian, having a keen eye for your surroundings and taking note of what you might be able to turn into a joke is crucial. This can be anything from taking stock of a celebrity’s mannerisms if you want to impersonate them in your set, or noticing how absurd a certain politician was when they were giving their campaign speech so you can reference that moment in a joke.
- Interpersonal skills: Ever heard the phrase “read the room”? That’s something comedians have to do all the time when they’re on stage. You need to be aware of how people are reacting to your jokes so you can make adjustments to your act in the moment. If the crowd didn’t respond well to one joke about airplane food, maybe skip the other joke about airplane food you had planned for later on in the set.
Average Comedian Income
The amount of money you can expect to make as a comedian varies quite a bit depending on several factors, including your level of experience, popularity, and even where you live.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average yearly income for a comedian is $51,210. However, when you’re just starting out, you should expect to make less than this—the BLS data shows that entry-level comics make about $19,760 a year, while the highest-paid amateur comedians make around $84,930.
How to Get Started as a Comedian
Now that you have a good idea of what to expect from a career as a comedian, take a look at some of the steps you can take to begin this exciting new endeavor.
1. Write Your Jokes
Perhaps the most important part of being a comedian is coming up with jokes and creating a great set. Your material can consist of almost anything, but part of writing a good joke is knowing how to structure it. When you sit down to write your jokes, make sure you’re considering the following elements:
- What is the plot or story arc? In other words, it needs a beginning, middle, and end.
- Who are the characters or subjects?
- What is the conflict?
- What is the resolution or punchline?
Keeping these narrative points in mind will help you craft a joke that people can easily follow and understand, meaning it’s more likely they’ll find it as funny as you do.
In addition to thinking of your joke in terms of character and plot, try and keep your joke as concise as possible without cutting out any important details. The last thing you want is to lose your audience’s attention because they feel like the punchline is never going to arrive.
2. Develop Your Stage Presence
One of the great things about learning how to become a comedian is that you don’t need any sort of formal training or certification to do it. The skills you need to have a stellar stage presence aren’t something you need a degree to possess, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be proactive about learning to be a better comedian.
Taking an improv class can help you take your natural wit and humor to the next level. While it won’t necessarily teach you how to be funny, an improv class can help you with timing, stage presence, crowd work, and confidence. Improv forces you to think on your feet and adjust to your surroundings, which is important for a comedian to know how to do.
In addition to improv classes, look for stand-up comedy courses in your area. Your local comedy club might have classes and workshops you can sign up for, such as the Laughs Comedy Club in Seattle, Washington, which offers students a chance to receive real-time feedback from seasoned comedians.
3. Observe Other Comics
People often say you should learn by doing something, but you can still learn a lot by watching a master of their craft at work. That’s why watching other comedians that you admire and observing how they perform can be a valuable tool for getting your own comedy career started.
The next time you’re sitting down to watch your favorite comedian’s Netflix stand-up special, take note of how they move around the stage. Are they standing in one spot for most of the set or walking back and forth from one side to the other? What about their relationship with the audience—are they interacting with them by asking questions, making comments about them, or replying to hecklers?
Studying other successful comics, whether from the comfort of your home or at a live comedy show, can give you pointers on how to work a crowd and deliver your jokes in a humorous way. While everyone has their own distinct style and you don’t want to be exactly like another comedian, try to mimic the things you do like about someone’s stage presence and incorporate them into your routine if it feels right.
4. Sign Up for an Open Mic Night
The great thing about open mic nights is that the barrier to entry is very low—anyone can participate if they sign up in time! When you’re still learning how to become a comedian, this is exactly where you need to be to start making a name for yourself and honing your craft.
One of the easiest ways to find open mic nights in your area is to Google them. You may already know of some local bars or cafes that regularly host open mics, but it never hurts to find multiple options so you can test your material out in front of new faces.
When you find an open mic night that you’re interested in signing up for, scope it out first by attending without any intention to perform. This will give you the chance to get a feel for the vibe at that particular location and to see what the audience reacts positively to. You may find that a certain kind of humor goes over well at one bar but not at the other across the street, so set yourself up for success and attend as a spectator first.
Next Steps for Your Career in Comedy
1. Grow Your Online Presence
Having social media accounts dedicated to your comedy career is crucial for gaining traction in the industry. In fact, many comedians have gained fame and recognition on social media platforms, like Stef Dag and Jourdain Fisher. Posting videos of your routines at open mic nights or other gigs to Instagram or TikTok makes them easy for people to find and share, which can help grow your audience.
Your online presence shouldn’t stop at social media, though—every good professional comedian needs their own website. A website serves as a one-stop shop for everything related to you and your career, such as your contact information, social media handles, biography, show dates, video clips, and more.
Free website builder Wix makes creating your site easy with artificial intelligence (AI) or ready-to-use templates, as well as search engine optimization (SEO) tools that can help your site rank higher in online search results. If you have the budget to pay for a website builder, Hostinger is an affordable option with AI tools that make creating your site a breeze—no web design experience required.
2. Start Networking to Book Paid Gigs
Once you’ve mastered open mic nights and have started to amass a following, it’s time to start looking for gigs that will pay you with more than just free drinks from the bar. So, how do you go about landing a paid gig?
The answer is networking. It’s not about what you know, but who you know. Having connections in your local comedy scene will keep you in the loop about upcoming opportunities before other people find out about them, giving you a leg up on the competition.
Befriend other comedians in your area who you may have met at open mic nights or follow on social media. The next time you’re at a comedy club, take some time to chat with the workers at the venue and ask about how you can perform there. Any connections you can foster with people in or around your local comedy scene can help increase your chances of being considered for a gig.
You may also be lucky enough to get the attention of a club manager if you’re getting major laughs at an open mic night. If that happens, they may ask you to open for a more established comedian, which will help you get your foot in the door for future paid opportunities with that club.
Club managers and promoters will want to see your material before booking you, so make sure to point them toward your website and social media profiles so they can watch clips of your previous sets if they haven’t already seen you perform live.
3. Get Insured
When you’ve started to land gigs as a comedian, insurance might be the furthest thing from your mind. But did you know that many clubs will actually require you to carry general liability insurance before they book you for a show?
While being a stand-up comedian can be a ton of fun, it’s not without risk. You could be held liable in the following situations:
- You’re telling a joke on stage and the mic slips out of your hands, hits someone in the front row, and injures them.
- After a disappointing gig, you make some disparaging comments about the venue on social media. The venue then sues you for slander.
- A prop chair that you use as part of your routine scraped up the floor of the venue you were performing at and now the floor needs expensive repairs.
Claims stemming from situations like these can be stressful and scary, but that’s where liability insurance can help. Being insured shields you from having to pay for legal fees, medical bills, or repairs completely out of pocket, allowing you to focus on getting laughs.
For comedians who are performing regularly throughout the year, Insurance Canopy offers an annual performers liability insurance policy starting at $199. If you aren’t performing frequently or only need coverage for a weekend, our show policy starts at $59 for up to three days of coverage. The best part? You can get either policy today with our completely online application process—no need to speak with an agent.
Make 'Em Laugh!
Getting started is often the hardest part of doing anything new, but by following these tips for starting your comedy career you’ll set yourself up for success! Practice makes perfect, so make sure to take every opportunity to perform in front of people and study your favorite comedians to learn from the best. We’ll be rooting for you every step of the way!