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The Business of Comedy

How do I get an agent? How do I book myself into a show? Professionalism in a job that resists professionalism.

5 Ways You Won’t Become Famous In Comedy

We all have dreams of making it big. Every comic has entertained the idea of what it would be like to be famous. You may run into the “comedy snob” who says that they don’t care about becoming famous and only do stand-up for the art. They’re lying. I know, I was one for the first year.

Typically new comics don’t have much of a handle on what it takes to become famous… err… successful, in the world of comedy. You can’t plan for fame (that’ll be a different post). It’s easy to let yourself think that you’ll do a few sets at a local club, an agent will see you & sign you, and then you’ll be famous. Not so.

  1. You won’t get famous from one set.
  2. You won’t get famous from the coffee shop open mic.
  3. You won’t get famous from performing once a month.
  4. You won’t get famous from stealing someone else’s jokes.
  5. You won’t get famous from doing just one set in New York City or LA.


The danger for most is that they think one single event will change everything. They think, “If I can just get one show in front of a high-powered agent, I’ll get signed to a big contract.” And who can blame them. That’s what happens in the movies & TV. American Idol (and the like) has destroyed reality for hundreds of thousands of performers.

If you want to work, you have produce a reliable product. Nobody’s going to take a chance on someone who hasn’t proven themselves.

So go prove yourself.

Marketing Yourself In Comedy

If you’re going to try to market yourself online pick the easiest name to remember… usually your name… so you can tell people onstage and off. Say your name is Ed Barnett. Register and sign up for @edbarnett on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Don’t go around using some random twitter handle like @FunnyEd456 or a website like  It’s all about branding & being easy to remember.

You want to  be able to say to the audience just as you’re leaving the stage:

“Check me out at or on Twitter at @edbarnett.”

It’s also much easier to communicate this to industry types (if you’re at this point in your career).

If you can’t get try ( or Hyphenated names ( are less preferable because you’ll always have to remind them to use that hyphen.

Whatever you pick, stick with it.

Topics to Avoid When Starting Out In Comedy

Tampons, douche, and any other feminine hygiene related topics

Go to any open mic anywhere in the world and you’ll likely hear a first-time comic talking about tampons.  Watch an hour of your 3 favorite big-time comics.  They won’t go near the subject. Why? The laughs that come from this are typically nervous laughs.  Men don’t understand them; women are taught to hide them. Talking about something that makes people uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily make it funny.

Rape and Child Molestation

Everybody wants to be the next Louis CK and many think that by copying his “shocking” style they’ll jump on some sort of “hot trend” and be able to find work easier. The thing is that audiences know what to expect from Louis CK so they give him a lot of leeway. They’ve never heard of you and if you try to cut your teeth on tough subjects like this, you’ll most likely fail. Learn the craft first & then tackle hard subjects.

Racial Issues

First time comics should tread lightly here.  Even minority comics.  White comics can come across as bigoted without intending to be.  Minority comics can come across as hacks. Unless you have some great new personal twist on the race thing, it’s probably already been done.  I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to see a new black comic do 5 minutes without ever mentioning that he’s black.

Funny at Parties ≠ Funny on Stage

People tell you that “you’re so funny, you should go on stage”.  You hear it all the time. You’re able to tell jokes, make references to funny movie sayings, or just react quickly and humorously to a given situation.  You’re likely a very fun and funny person.

This doesn’t mean you’ll do well on stage.

Time and again, I’ve seen the “funniest guy in the frat house” go up on stage becasue he was dared to by his buddies. He not only bombed, but outright embarrassed himself.  It’s not his fault.  He did well at parties. After a few drinks, he’d do his “Will Ferrell from Anchorman” impression and people would go nuts.  He could pull in references to what the Indian teaching assistant said in class this week and wasn’t afraid to sing in a girlie voice to the Justin Bieber song that just came on the radio. He’s frickin’ crazy bro!

Think about how any of those would play on stage. If I want to see  Anchorman, I can rent it. I wasn’t in class when the T.A. said that thing, because I’ve been out of school for 10 years. And singing in a funny voice to Bieber? Really?

The thing with performing on stage is that you can’t just act silly and goofy. You have to have jokes. Jokes can take many different forms but they need to do two things: set the audience up and then give them something to laugh at. Your style can be like Bill Cosby, Ellen DeGeneres, Louis C.K., Demetri Martin, Carrot Top or Steven Wright… or like none of them, but you still have to have jokes. Even though it probably doesn’t seem like it, there’s a framework to stand up comedy. The audience in a club, whether they realize it or not, is expecting that framework.  Always think of things from the audience’s point of view.

If you’re naturally funny like the frat boy, then you can likely write jokes and build such a framework.  Like anything else, you just need to work at it.  You can learn what a “tag” and a “call back” are.  Applying them in the right way is what learning the “craft” is all about.


Where Do We Go From Here?

So I’d like to start blogging about stand-up comedy. I’m not famous and never made it big in NYC or LA, but I did perform somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 shows around the US over a 5-6 year year period and made enough to pay the bills just from comedy! Frickin awesome right?

Anyway, I’m under no illusions that some advice that I may give would turn someone into the next Jerry Seinfeld, but I’d like to help new stand ups get over the open mic wall. Help them hone their first 5 minutes and turn it into 15 minutes. Help them get to a point where they might have something worthwhile to submit to an agent. I still keep in touch with a few agents I knew back in the day and hope to get them to weigh in here as well.

I plan to write about joke-writing pitfalls, structuring your act, stage presence, “the business of comedy”, and even getting an agent. Most of this was sparked by me stumbling upon a great community over at Reddit known as /r/StandUp. In fact, that’s my first piece of advice: check them out over there. It’s worth your time.