James Woroniecki Founder of the 99 Club, London’s biggest employer of stand-up comedians and winner of Best London Comedy Club at the Chortle Awards in 2011 and 2012 offers his tips for all you aspiring comedians out there.
1. Control what you can control
Building up the perfect set will take a lot of blood, sweat and tears. However there are a lot of things 100% under your control from the moment you start – always turn up on time for your gigs and don’t overrun your slot if the venue is tight on time. Omid Djalili frequently tells the story of how he didn’t get booked at one major club for 10 years after overrunning by five minutes as the open mike act!
2. Put the work in
No matter how naturally funny you are will need to put a hell of a lot of work in to become a pro. Gig as often as you can, write as much as you can, tape the gigs and listen back to what worked and what didn’t work.
3. Gig big
Particularly in London it’s easy to fall into the trap of gigging very often, but only at nights with other open mike acts on. If possible try and be the open spot on a bill at a big venue (this is easier if you’re prepared to travel outside London) so that you get to watch how established acts play the same room as you and have the experience of playing to large crowds.
4. Make friends
The comedy circuit can be a lonely place at times, particularly when you’re first starting out. Try and make contacts who you can commiserate with you after a bad gig, and tip you off about the best places to get spots.
5. Do a course, cautiously
There are some terrific comedy courses out there that will get you off to a great start – Logan Murray’s Absolute and Almost Beginners Course is fantastic as is the City Lit. course. However there are also some shockers run by dodgy failed comedians – do a course, but shop around and make sure it’s one that will help you.
6. Get inspired
As a new comic one of the worst things you can do is rip off the material of the big names. But one of the best things is to keep watching those big names – watching them live as often as you can, or if money is tight watch them on DVD (you can pick up great stand-up DVDs discounted on amazon right after Christmas) . It’s a great way to remind yourself why you love comedy and to set yourself a standard to aim towards.
7. There’s a reason it’s called dying
Every great comedian has had gigs that have gone terribly badly and it’s the worst feeling in the world. Don’t let that feeling convince you to give up. Also learn when you can simply dismiss it out of hand – if you “died” at an open mike night where the comics outnumber the audience and none of the other acts got any laughs that tells you nothing useful (beyond the fact you probably shouldn’t play that room again).
8. Take note
If a funny idea occurs to you out of the blue note it down before you forget it. If you don’t have a pen an paper with you I’m betting you have a mobile with a note taking function, or even if you’re still rocking an ancient Nokia just send yourself a text
9. The web is a fickle friend
You’ve just started as a comedian and there are comedy forums you can post on and new friends from the comedy circuit you can Facebook – but be careful. As a new comedian time is one of your most precious resources – time to write, time to rewrite, time onstage and time spent journeying all over the country to get that elusive open spot at the big gig with established acts. The web will suck that time right out of you; many new comics will spend far far more time posting on comedy forums than actually working on their set.
10. Be yourself
Don’t try and change who you are or what you want to say because you think the audience will like you for it – you’ll just come across as phoney or worse boring or hack. Follow your instinct and find your own path and get so good at it and so funny that the audience comes with you, whatever you’re doing.
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