Growing up I always knew that I wanted to do stand-up comedy. From the first Seinfeld episodes I saw, to watching Adam Sandler on Saturday Night Live, I wanted to make people laugh. When I was in high school I fulfilled a dream by performing at Wits End Comedy Club. I did two minutes, and it went pretty well for a 17 year old. I thought I had arrived. It took another 4 years before I would start doing open mics on a nightly basis. It turns out that Hollywood doesn't come knocking on your door. In fact, there is a lot more work that meets the eye.
Before I did my first set at Wits End Comedy Club, I asked myself the very question you might have asked yourself at some point. How do you start doing stand-up? I looked up my local comedy clubs and called them. Wits End was the first to pick up and told me I cold do their OPEN MIC. I said yes with out knowing what an open mic was. You can look it up like I did, but the definition does not do an open mic justice. An open mic is where comedians go to practice and develop material. Most open mics are put on and hosted by local comics at dive bars. The audience mainly consists of the other 20-30 comics half way paying attention and 8 or 9 other people that did not know they were going to a comedy show. In big market cities such as L.A. or New York, comedians will go to 5 or 6 open mics a night. An open mic is essential to any comedian because it is stage time. The only way to get better and more comfortable is to be on stage. Wits End Comedy Club, as well as most local comedy clubs will provide an open mic night for the local comics. However, an open mic at a comedy club is completely different than an open mic at a bar. The open mics at comedy clubs should be treated like a showcase.
At a showcase you will get more time on stage than you would at an open mic. This is important because like I mentioned earlier, the more stage time you have the better you will get. This is also important because showcases are booked shows. Similar to an open mic, a showcase is usually being promoted, and hosted by local comics. One thing I learned quickly when I wanted to know how to start doing stand-up comedy, was that there is a comedy community. Getting on showcases means that you have the respect of your peers and they want you on their shows. At a showcase you are expected to do "proven material". This means that you do not test new material like at an open mic. The venues and audiences are usually better than at open mics as well.
So you have mastered the open mic scene and you are cruising though showcases at this point. It is time to take your act on the road. This happens one of two ways. Either an established comic will invite you to feature for them, or you submit video of you at a comedy club to booking agents. Most booking agents will have you start out as a feature act. A feature act is required to fill 30 minutes, while a headliner does at least an hour. Road shows are a lot of fun, but can be very tiresome as well. A road comic will have at least 3 or 4 shows in 3 or 4 nights in 3 or 4 cities. Many of the shows I have done are in towns that I had never heard of before I got booked there. A comic could be on the road for years before they see success. It took Steve Martin 18 years on the road before he got his break. The industry does not consider a comedian a professional until they have 7 years experience.
I love doing stand-up comedy, and I encourage anyone to give it try. I get asked all the time how do you start doing stand-up comedy? It really is a simple answer. You have to go to shows and get on stage. Open mics will lead to showcases which will lead to other opportunities. It is a simple answer for a not so simple business.