“Is that it?? I think I am funnier than these fellas!”
“No, thank you. I am not a funny person.”
These are the things I hear from people who haven’t tried stand-up comedy. If you think you are funny, you should do stand-up comedy. If you think you are NOT funny, all the more, you should give it a shot!
I am Juliana Heng, an autistic, non-binary Malaysian stand-up comedian, comedy show producer of I Laugh KL, and social media manager for JokePit, a comedy event promoter in the UK!
Growing up in an Asian family, I have been conditioned to repress all my thoughts and feelings. At least outwardly. But on the inside, I am boiling with the regrets of not saying what’s truly on my mind.
At 25 years old, I found stand-up comedy. What a relief! Long story short, I have been doing stand-up comedy for five years. Here are five steps to kick-start your stand-up comedy journey.
A comedy open mic is a platform for :
Your first step is to contact the comedy club or show producer to get a spot. As a newbie, you will be given three minutes to make the audience laugh!
If you are intimidated, I totally understand. Because you don’t feel ready until you come up with award-winning comedy materials.
Truth is, none of us are ever ready.
Instead of waiting and overthinking, start anyway! Then, improve your materials and delivery along the way.
Now that you have booked yourself an open mic spot, it is time to prepare your comedy materials.
A cautionary warning: Never do internet jokes or use other comedians’ jokes.
We are not like musicians who can do cover songs. Elvina sings Adele, but Juliana can’t do Chappelle. It’s all for a very logical reason.
Everyone is unique. So your materials have to come from your point of view. Hence, doing a cover of another comedian’s material may not work no matter how well-crafted it is! Also, every country has a list of prohibited topics. For Malaysia, the topics are race, religion & royalty.
If you need ideas on what to write, think of what intrigues you, annoys you, or just simply makes you laugh!
Jot your ideas down. The good news is: They need not be funny. The subject can be dry or super serious. Your job is to find the funny by putting your own spin on it!
If you need someone to run by your materials before performing, reach out to any helpful comedians. They will be able to share their thoughts on your materials. However, just take their feedback with a pinch of salt as comedy is a subjective art form.
All materials do not work until it is said on stage and gets a laugh!
Writing is an awesome way of self-discovery. So have fun preparing your comedy materials! I can’t wait to hear how your comedy materials turn out on stage!
Rehearsal is essential for you to be familiar with your own materials so you are able to articulate what you have written with your audience in a clear and confident manner.
Personally, I never rehearse in front of my family, friends, and colleagues.
Why? Because these people already have a perception of who you are growing up, hanging out or working with the most boring side of you. Most will not laugh, some will stare at you with disbelief, and your boss will just tell you to keep your day job.
I rehearse my materials by myself while washing plates. No plates are harmed in my rehearsal process!
You can rehearse while taking a shower, walking your dog, or driving. Find your own process.
Never rehearse word-by-word. This is because when you forget one word, you may not be able to proceed with the rest of your set.
Prepare cue cards for your comedy topics. Bring it up with you on stage on that night itself.
WOOHOO! It’s the moment you have been waiting for!!
Be at the comedy club or event space early. This will allow you to settle down before the show instead of huffing and puffing your way to the stage. You already have a base level of nervousness as a new comedian. No more stressors are needed.
Also, you will meet other comedians at the show. Get to know them as they will be part of your community!
If you are an extrovert, chatting up with other comedians will relieve your anxiety. However, do make sure the comedian is alright with it as some prefer to be quiet to get in the zone.
If you are an introvert, ask the organiser whether there is a green room or dedicated space for you to relax or go through your materials. Don’t be afraid to say no if someone wants to chat with you. You can chat with them after the show, of course.
Every comedian has a different process. Let’s communicate up front. Help us respect each other.
Attend the briefing session. The organiser will inform you where you are in the line-up, the dos and don’ts of the show, and how they will signal your timing.
As for timing, never go over time. Because if all the comedians went over time, the whole show would end late. The audience and staff have a real life to go back to!
In short, comedy is the only field that doesn’t encourage overtime. Very fair working conditions!
When the show starts, support your fellow comedians by listening, laughing, and learning from them.
When it’s close to your turn, stand by near the stage so you can get up there the moment your name is called by the host.
As a virgin comedian, the host of the open mic will give a heads-up to the audience to be kind and welcoming to you. So don’t be afraid to make your grand entrance to the comedy stage!
Focus on enjoying yourself. Don’t seek perfection. Even if you forget a particular joke, relax… As a newbie in open mic, you can be honest that you forgot what is next. Have a look at your cue cards and proceed with confidence.
When you have fun, even if you fumbled, the audience will give you a free pass! Truth is, the audience just wanna have fun!
Warning : Stand-up comedy is addictive. Once you get your first laughter, there is no turning back! Nyahahaha…
If you love what you just experienced, then come back to the stage regularly, hone your skills, and grow with us! The stand-up comedy scene needs fresh blood!
If you don’t, at least you understand the process a stand-up comedian goes through and have empathy for what it takes to tell jokes on stage.
If you are not sure whether stand-up comedy is for you, stick around the comedy circuit. Talk to fellow comedians about their experiences, watch more stand-up comedy performances (both LIVE and TV), and do a couple more open mics.
Some comedians take a heartbeat to decide that stand-up comedy is for them, while some will take a couple of years dabbling on a part-time basis before deciding that they want to make stand-up comedy a profession.
Either way is fine. There is no one way to be a stand-up comedian.
I wish you all the best in your stand-up comedy journey! Feel free to tell me about your first comedy open mic experience!
All images supplied by Juliana Heng.