How to become a successful comedian

NB, these steps refer primarily to a UK context but could probably be applied internationally.

  1. Live within reasonable travelling distance of a big city, ideally London or New York.
  2. Book a spot at an open mic gig, about 4-8 weeks away.
  3. Write, rewrite, hone, practice, re-practice 5 minutes of original, funny material – the best you can possibly do.
  4. Book as many more open-mic spots as you can get hold of.
  5. Perform first ever gig. If it goes well, redraft your material and practise delivering lines differently. If it goes badly, redraft your material and practise delivering lines differently.
  6. Do lots of open-mic spots and any other gigs you can get your hands on, honing your 5 minute set after each performance.
  7. When your set is consistently getting laughs, pitch about hungrily for unpaid 5 minute spots at professional nights.
  8. Befriend all other comedians, promoters, bar staff etc.
  9. Aim for 3-7 gigs per week. You will have to start travelling more and more.
  10. Continue feverishly drafting 10 minute set.
  11. Repeat steps 3-7 for 10 minutes then 20 minutes.
  12. Enter new act competitions. Be ready not to win, but if you do that’ll likely speed things up.
  13. At some point, start getting regular paid gigs.
  14. Pitch around for an agent.
  15. When you have an agent, attend castings for ‘funny’ adverts (assuming you’re in London and can swing it with your day job.)
  16. If your agent is good, attend castings for bit parts in sitcoms etc.
  17. When you’re regularly doing paid 20 minute + sets, write your Edinburgh hour show.
  18. If you’ve timed it just right, written an original(ish) show, have a good poster etc, your Edinburgh hour will make a big splash and you’ll start getting TV work, paid headline spots at least twice a week and eventually your own small tour. However, this is unlikely to happen at first Edinburgh.
  19. If 18 didn’t happen straight off, repeat with new Edinburgh hour following year and so on whilst gigging continuously.
  20. Take every opportunity that arises, within reason, e.g. not Britain’s Got Talent.

 

Points to note:

  • Demographics (gender, race, age, sexuality, nationality, class etc) will affect your progress, sometimes to your advantage, sometimes to your disadvantage.
  • Don’t be a double act – you’ll have to split all fees in half so it will never be financially viable as a living wage.
  • The above steps will work for anyone, even if you’re not massively funny when you start out. However, they work best for people who are funny to begin with. You can tell if you’re funny if people you’re meeting for the first time in a wide range of circumstances over many many years (probably since childhood) consistently laugh at your jokes and tell you you’re funny. Friends, family and long-term colleagues don’t count. This said, you don’t need to be funny to begin the process of becoming a successful comedian. In this respect, it is much easier than playing the violin or being a footballer. And you’re not under any real pressure to hit the big time before you’re 30 or even 40, unlike violinist / footballer / rock star.
  • Set aside more than a year to become a successful comedian. Ideally at least five, though it usually takes longer. In large part, this will depend upon how many gigs per week you’re doing.

Good luck!

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