11 Ways to crush your first stand-up comedy performance

So you’re toying with the idea of stepping onto a stage and making an audience laugh?

Maybe your friends always say, “you’re funny.” Maybe you watch comedy obsessively and think, “I could do better.” Maybe you just wanna have some fun while improving your public speaking skills. Perhaps you’ve even jotted down a few jokes. Well, buckle up for eleven tips to to turn your comedy daydreams into a laugh roaring reality.

  1. Start ASAP – no excuses! Procrastination kills creativity. The longer you wait, the easier it will be to make excuses and never try to get on stage. Find an open mic night, new talent show or comedy class and sign up.

    If it’s an open mic night or new talent night, give yourself an aggressive but realistic deadline – sign up for anywhere from two to four weeks from now. You want enough time to prepare, but not so much time that you get second thoughts.

    If you’re signing up for a comedy class, you can pick one that starts tomorrow. Classes are usually multiple weeks and provide structure and prompts to help you generate ideas.

    Related reading: 8 critical facts you must know before taking any stand-up comedy class

  2. Write out what you’re going to say. Do not just wing it! Think about and write out some funny anecdotes and observations from your life. Mark where you think the laughs will be. Go through this multiple times and keep revising it. You want as few lines between the laughs as possible.

    Most open mics or new talent shows will give a brand new person between 2 and 6 minutes on stage. One typed-up page generally takes three to five minutes to perform.

  3. Talk to yourself. Don’t get on stage without first saying and hearing your ideas out loud. The way we write often sounds more academic and awkward than how we talk. You want to make sure the words sound like a human is speaking, not like Siri is reciting from memory something you wrote.

  4. Test the waters with a friendly face. If you have a positive, trustworthy friend, run your jokes by them and see where they laugh. But be careful here, you don’t want to lose your confidence before you start. If you have a lot of negative and/or humorless people in your life, skip this step.

  5. Keep a note card handy. Even the best minds go blank under the spotlight. Avoid awkward silence by keeping a trusty note card in your pocket that has the main bullet points of your jokes. Don’t pull it out unless you must. Most of the time, just knowing you have this safety net will help you not need to use it.

  6. Talk slower. Even slower! Nervous energy can turn you into The Flash of comedy. Audiences need a second to process what you just said. Slow and steady increases laughs. If you think you’re talking too slow, slow down some more. Embrace the art of the pause—it’s your secret weapon.

  7. Record your triumph. Capture the glory of your first stand-up performance. Your phone on a tripod will do. If the club offers a video of your set, pay them, it’s worth the higher quality. You want to have proof of your first time. It also helps to review where the laughs were. That way you can iterate your jokes for future performances.

  8. When you see a red light or cell phone light held up high by the emcee, that means you have one minute to wrap it up. Pay attention to the light signal. If you’re not sure, before you go on, ask the host, “Where’s the light?” Venues and other comedians hate when a brand-new comedian goes on significantly longer than allotted.

  9. Continue until you finish all your jokes or time runs out. You’ll probably get laughs and lose track of time. Even if the crowd is quiet, stay up there and keep talking. It’s all part of the wild, unpredictable world of stand-up.

  10. Nerves are normal, embrace the jitters. You’re stepping outside your comfort zone so a few butterflies, nerves and adrenaline are expected. Tina Fey said it best, “I tell myself I’m not nervous, I’m just excited. And sometimes, right before SNL goes on the air, I get so excited I want to pee my pants.”

    If you’re up there and still feel nervous for more than the first minute, acknowledge it with the audience and the truth of the situation will probably get a laugh. Even better if you write a joke about how nervous you are.

  11. Lower the stakes – it’s about fun not fame (yet). You’re not gonna get a Netflix special or a sitcom deal from your first time ever on stage – this isn’t the 1980’s! You’re on that stage to have fun. Enjoy the thrill, embrace the nerves, and savor every moment.

Want to try performing stand-up but not sure what to say or how to write a joke? Click here to learn more about our New York City stand-up comedy classes.