A rising local Concordian gives you all the ha-ha’s and how-to’s of breaking into the local scene
It’s on every bucket list. It terrifies even professionals in the industry. It’s also something that you should do right now. There are tons of great reasons to get involved in the world of stand-up. It’s cheap entertainment (so much better than spending $20 to see Taken 5 in IMAX 3D. Live comedy shows are often cheap, even free, and are always presented in 3D (no glasses required). It’s a great way to broaden your social circle, hone your public speaking skills and make your resume pop in an eye-catching way. It’s also the perfect way to vent daily frustrations, shine light on hypocrisy or bring attention to an issue close to your heart. But how can you transition to the live stage from watching endless YouTube clips, Netflix specials, and instigating gales of laughter among friends? Here are 10 essential tips.
- Love comedy. Stand-up is not for the faint-hearted. It’s one of the only activities in which you have to stumble through your first awkward experiences with everyone watching. Love will keep you coming back.
- Be kind. Montreal has a tight-knit comedy scene. Once you get involved, people get to know you fast. Don’t trash talk, don’t be late, don’t be a no-show, and do not be a diva. I’ve been guilty of all of these offences, because you know, well … life. My point is just try not to be a butthole.
- Be considerate. Be a good audience member. Don’t whisper (I can hear you) and don’t sit with your face buried in your phone (I can see you).
- Stick around. Perhaps the biggest faux-pas of all is to do your set and leave immediately after. Not only is it rude to the other performers, but watching others is an excellent learning experience. Make mental notes of their mistakes so you’re less likely to make the same ones. Analyze their material, their character, their delivery and their habits for what works. Most importantly, schmoozing afterwards can result in valuable connections, or even just helpful feedback.
- Don’t steal. I misspoke earlier when I said leaving after your set was the biggest faux-pas (but backspace is for chumps). Stealing material is the biggest faux-pas, period. Much like plagiarism can get you kicked out of academia, stealing material can get you kicked out of comedy. Dane Cook, Bill Cosby and Denis Leary are famous names accused of thievery. Yes, their careers are currently fine (except Cosby—but that ship’s sinking for other reasons). However, the accusations of joke theft still plague these performers even decades after the alleged incidents.
- Be sincere. Everyone has heard that tragedy + time = comedy. True, but it has to be your tragedy and your time. Every joke has a victim. The question you have to ask yourself as a performer and writer is: does the victim of this joke deserve to be laughed at? Perhaps this is the origin of the ever popular self-deprecating joke. If you’re the butt of the joke, you know that you did something stupid and that you deserve to be laughed at for it. Conversely, this is likely why so many “edgy” jokes fall flat—the victim of the joke does not deserve laughter. This isn’t to say that you can’t use comedy to talk about serious topics, à la Maria Bamford, but it’s best done from a place of sincerity and understanding. For example, I don’t typically find an 18-year-old dude talking about abortions hilarious. However, I do find DeAnne Smith talking about them hilarious.
- Believe in yourself. If you truly believe something is funny, keep trying it in different ways. Never, ever, trust the reaction of a few people to a new joke. There is almost no way to know if it works until you get up on stage and tell it. Many times I’ve told my comedy-loving partner a new joke and received nothing but a blank stare in return, only to have the same joke greeted by laughter when delivered from onstage.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Finding your voice in comedy is a long process. I’m two years in and I’m only just beginning to find my style. My suggestion is to try on a bunch and see what works. Local comedian Bruno Ly’s subdued, smooth style captivates audiences as effectively as Montrealer Mike Patterson’s manic personality—but neither would be as effective if they tried to emulate the other’s style.
- You’re going to bomb. A lot. Deal. There’s no way around this one. It’s going to happen. A lot. After bombing hard one night, I went to recent Just for Laughs alumnus Morgan O’Shea for some advice. “Morgan, was it a crappy crowd tonight, or was it me?” Without hesitating, Morgan smirked and said, “Nah, it’s you. It’s never them. It’s always you.” The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon has a great series of segments called “The Worst I Ever Bombed” available on YouTube. These segments will bring you comfort.
- Be very suspicious of anyone giving you tips. This is perhaps the most useful piece of advice I’ve ever received. Montreal comedy’s mustachio-d big brother Peter Radomski gave me this invaluable insight after watching one of my first sets.
Have I convinced you to give stand-up comedy a try? Super. Here are some places I recommend for your first time. Which one is the best? Check out a few before signing up and see which you fancy.
- Flop or fly: hit up these stand-up venues to get some laughs or premier your own comedic style.
- Danger Dulgar, every second Sunday at 8 p.m. @ Bar Bifteck, 3702 St-Laurent Blvd. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Macsimum Comedy, Sundays at 10 p.m. @ McLean’s Pub, 1210 Peel St. Contact: sign up for a spot at the bar beginning at 8 p.m.
- Grinders Comedy Lab, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. @ Theatre Ste. Catherine, 264 Ste-Catherine St. E. Contact: Show up early to enter for a lotto spot.
- Newbie Tuesdays, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. @ The Comedy Nest, Third Floor of the AMC Forum. Contact: email@example.com.
- Shut Up and Laugh! Wednesdays at 8:45 p.m. @ Burritoville, 2055 Bishop St. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.