Yesterday I performed stand-up comedy for the first time ever. It went okay. I got some laughs. I didn’t die. I’d like to think that “don’t die” is the comedian equivalent of “break a leg”, and if it isn’t already I’m totally laying copyright to it.
I’ve wanted to perform stand-up since I was about 15, so good for me for only taking eight years to realise that desire.
This is a way longer article than what I had anticipated it being, so click ‘continue reading’ if you want to continue reading.
In the past year I have taken some improv classes and written and performed some sketch comedy so performing on stage wasn’t completely alien to me. For anyone considering doing stand-up I would wholeheartedly recommend doing an improv class as it will help to give you stage confidence that can sometimes help to carry relatively poor material. The improv company that I took a class with also run sketch writing and stand-up courses, but I feel that both of those are just ways of making people sit down and write because they don’t have the initiative, necessarily, or really need guidance when it comes to writing. I’ve never had a problem with writing. This blog proves that I am a bit rusty but I’m willing myself to write and write and make it better, and I think that this is what most people who want to write should do ahead of taking a class. If you’ve got the money, though, I’m not going to stop you.
One thing you really can’t do by yourself in your underwear on a garden chair in your living room on a laptop or paper is learn how to perform in front of an audience. I expect that improv would be wholly uncomfortable for a lot of people, but I’m a pretty strange person so it fed into that part of my personality nicely. In addition to this, it allows you to get better at making up things on the spot; ‘improv’ is short for ‘improvisation’ after all. Some of the jokes that went down best when I performed last night were improvised, which I suppose says more about my writing than anything else. It is a nice feeling having these improvisational skills as it makes it easier to sidestep out of a poor part of your set or interact with the audience better.
Having now performed stand-up even just the once I feel that I have learned a lot. The strangest thing for me was hearing my voice coming through a speaker. As per another article I wrote, it’s never fun hearing your own voice, and when you have a painfully RP voice like I do, I feel that it makes it harder for an audience to warm to you: this is why comedians with an accent (Irish and Geordie in particular) tend to do better in spite of the quality of their material. Getting an audience to like you is half the battle, and having a friendly persona or voice can really help. Saying that, as the audience knew that it was my first gig I’m sure that they were warmer than they would have been had it been my fifth. On the flip side, I hopefully won’t be making the same mistakes in the future
Stand-Up Advice #1: Learn Your Material
This sounds like an obvious one, but it’s still worth saying. I wrote my material back in April or May and have only revisited it once in August before reading through it the day before my gig. I went over it in my head a few times, and I tried to talk myself out of doing the gig a few times as well which is why I was so reluctant to look at it, and on the day that made my set suffer as I forgot where I was going or ballsed up some set ups and punchlines.
Stand-Up Advice #2: Pick A Tone And Stick With It
Going on stage I was really nervous. This is quite natural. As I’d never done it before it meant that I fumbled a bit at the start, partly due to nerves and partly due to being so confused at the sound of my amplified voice. A nervous character can work pretty well for some comedians, as long as they stick with that throughout. My set was a mix of nervous-awkward-bitch-confident-confused. Generally the more confident I was in persona, the better the jokes went down. I think I got a few pity laughs for being nervous, so that doesn’t really count.
Self-deprecation is a weird one. To be successfully self-depricating, you have to do it genuinely. If you’re good looking, it seems disingenuous to go on about how ugly you are. If you’re well educated, to be dumb. And if you’re confident and personable, to be shy and awkward. I am quite a quiet, weird person. Some people have said that can be awkward or could do a good awkward persona but I would say that I am more of a strange person. When I was awkward on stage, and I had written it to be so in my material in several places, it didn’t come across as being true and so it wasn’t particularly well received.
Having watched a fair amount of comedy I would also say that high energy tends to be better received than low energy, and when two low energy comedians are on one after the other it means that the second tends to not get many laughs as low energy comedians tends to translate to low energy audience: you just don’t get the belly laughs. The biggest laugh I got I think came when I was doing a more physical ‘bit’, although I can also be quite deadpan and that also got some good laughs.
Stand-Up Advice #3: Don’t Swear Too Much, Unless That’s Your Thing
I definitely swore too much during my set. I put some of it down to nerves and some of it down to laziness. As I am a well-spoken, half-Chinese person who looks young and innocent I can sometimes get laughs from swearing just because it’s unexpected. However, if you do this too much you are just being lazy and crass and it’s annoying and why were you so damn undeprepared Sophia? I prefer to steer clear from blue humour unless it’s cleverly done. It’s always best to not risk offending your audience unless you are specifically setting out to be an offensive comedian.
I’m just annoyed with myself that I was being lazy and nervous on this one.
Stand-Up Advice #4: Learn From Your Mistakes
After my set I was surprisingly okay with myself and not full of as much self-loathing as I had anticipated. I was largely just relieved that it was over and proud with myself that I hadn’t chickened out I suppose. Everyone makes mistakes, and nobody does the perfect set. If you don’t endeavour to improve you will become complacent and won’t be fulfilling your potential or challenging yourself. I know quite a few comedians and all of them have had, and still have, bad gigs. Nobody is for everyone, and sometimes you’re playing to an audience that is just three people or is completely not the right demographic for your stuff: I’m sure, or would like to think, that an audience that really appreciates Bernard Manning, for instance, would not warm to me particularly well.
My friend told me that Eddie Izzard said that everyone should discount their first fifty or one hundred gigs, and the first gig especially. If you’ve never done it before there are a lot of things that you won’t know, and it will take some time to find your voice and be comfortable on stage. As long as you have the drive to do comedy and enjoy it (and maybe don’t die every single damn time) it’s worth carrying on, learning from things that didn’t do well and constantly improving. A sketch group that I know (but am not in) who are gaining some success have a debrief after every single gig and implement frequent changes I do believe. Even when they have absolutely stormed a gig they critique it and break it down, and this is why they are becoming so successful and popular – also they are very talented. Be self-critical, but not hypercritical.
Stand-Up Advice #5: Support Other Comedians
One of the other comedians that was on was doing her tenth or eleventh gig and she was incredibly supportive towards me, as were several of the other comedians. That was really nice and helped my nerves a lot. I know of other comedians that judge others negatively, purposefully don’t laugh, actively want others to die, or will never compliment anyone else. I find this strange behaviour as surely they should know what it’s like to do comedy and want to support others, but no, so whatever. In life, I’m not a very ‘nice’ person, but knowing what it takes to get up on stage I would always support other comedians. Unless they’re a dick.
I am very thankful that the night that I performed at had a supportive crowd and other nice comedians. It’s tough picking your first gig, but it’s definitely worth reccying venues first so that you aren’t forever put off because you picked a bad place.
Anyway, I’m proud of and surprised with myself for finally getting the balls to do what I’ve had a hankering of for the best part of a decade,