If you are getting into stand-up comedy to become wealthy, quit now
There is no money in comedy. You will perform for free for a very long time. When you actually start to understand who you are and how to actually be funny on stage, you will make very little money. At this point you may be just a guest spot or the host at a comedy club. It took you three to four years to get to this spot. Now what? It may take another three to four years to have enough material to become a feature at a comedy club. Still unable to quit your day job because a feature spot does not cover your bills plus road expenses. Three to four years later to have finally reached headliner status and you can finally quit your day job and focus solely on comedy. You still have not broken the bank. In that nine to twelve years you spent pursuing that comedy dream, you could have become a manager, senior manager, or something greater at your job. You could have invested your extra money into stocks and bonds. Been able to afford that new house and car.
If you are getting into stand-up comedy to become famous, quit now
Many people, maybe hundreds of thousands of people, get into stand-up comedy. Out of all of those people only a very small percentage of them are even truly funny. A smaller percentage of those people can make a living off of stand-up comedy. And an even smaller percentage of those people become famous. Talent alone is not enough. You have to get lucky and catch a break. Be at the right place at the right time. Even that is not enough. Your stand-up comedy is a business and you have to treat it as such. It takes time, a lot of time. Combine all of those elements and you still will probably not become famous.
If you are getting into stand-up comedy because you need a hobby, quit now
Find a hobby that is more fulfilling. Something like golf or bowling. You may suck, but at least you are having fun. It is a given that you will suck at stand-up. There will be times that you are at an open mic and nobody will laugh. Other times people will boo and even tell you not to quit your day job. One out of five times that you go on stage you may do well. In any other field you would be fired if you were good 20% of the time. Go play golf and get that hole in one and then go bowling and bowl that perfect 300 game. You may never actually do that, but you will feel better about yourself in the long run.
Stop wasting your time
When you first start out, the only time you will be performing is at open mics. You will have to drive thirty minutes to an hour just to get to the open mic. If you get to three open mics a week, consider yourself lucky. The open mics you go to will only give you three to four minutes of stage time. You can not make people laugh in that little amount of time. So now you have driven an hour to an open mic, been on stage 3 minutes and someone boo’d you. The same thing happens the next two weeks. You have just wasted time, money, and gas. It was not worth it.
Stop wasting people’s time
After going to all of these open mics all over the place and having bad set after bad set, you decide you are not even going to try anymore. You just get on stage and get angry, say whatever is on your mind, and put out a terrible product. All because you do not care anymore. At this point, you have wasted the audiences time. They came to laugh and now they are in a bad mood. Other comedians have been waiting and you took away from their time. The host has wasted his time trying to get the crowd back. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and quit comedy!
Why are you doing stand-up comedy?
If you are doing stand-up comedy to make people laugh, then continue to do it. If you are doing it for a challenge and for the rush, keep doing it. If you are doing it to get better each time you go on stage, please do not stop. When you go on stage, have a purpose. Make some short-term and long-term goals. When you reach those goals, make some more. Never stop trying to get better. It will show. Everyone will see it. Do not waste other people’s time. Do not waste your time. Stand-up comedy is not a hobby. Maybe one day you will be one of the lucky ones that worked hard and gave it everything you had and became rich and famous. Probably not, but maybe. Good luck!
I can’t help wondering which one were you?
Its like you had all these dreams about comedy but then realization began sinking in and only one thing was left to save your sanity LOL!
Nice article filled with truth and broken dreams 😉
Wow, what an unbelievably bitter and unenlightened post. Clearly, Steven didn’t write this post to be helpful or write any helpful advice, he wrote it because he’s bitter and furious at his own lack of ability and success, and he wanted to attempt to preach from upon high.
You are a truly pathetic person and a pathetic excuse for a comedian.
YOU should give up, you fucking nothing.
It was intelligible, to the point, and needed to be said.
@Richard – it is pretty obvious you did not get what Steven’s article is all about. And I would imagine that no matter how many clue x 4’s you are hit with, you still will not get it. Good luck with whatever you are trying accomplish in life. I have a feeling you’re going to need A LOT.
i cant agree with this. people get into comedy because of many reasons, mostly for a hobby because nobody in their right mind would go up on stage for the first time and know everything there is to know about being a comedian, therefore probably 90% of comedians say “i’m doin it for a hobby” because they need to try and find themselves first on stage before they’ll be able to entertain anyone. For some it may take 3 years, 5 years or maybe even 6 months….it varies with every individual.
the money sucks…that’s no secret. However if you treat it like a business from day 1 you’ll be able to make the same as a $15/hr job. in under 4 years. I know because my business is moving in that direction. AND it helps if you are funny. Because we all know that you DO NOT need to be funny to succeed in this biz.
I know a lot of comedians that have been doing this for a long time and they look at me (just completed my 3 yrs) and think “what the hell is he doin to get work? how is he doin it?” I’m hustlin.
I’ll tell you one thing….I have not or will not ever let an article like this get in my way.
I understand you and your opinion, but I would have to ask you to please get out of the way of all the successful comedians that are treating it like a business and doing more than just waiting around for someone to notice them.
This was a harsh but truthful read. I’ve been a working Stand up comic in the NYC scene for many years. I’ve been a paid comic at every comedy club (except of the Comedy cellar) in NYC, -Weekend spots… not just on Monday nights.
I started stand up at 27 and worked very hard on creating a unique style and I found my voice by the time I turned 35, that took 8 years. I also did Comedy Centrals Premium blend and “was in the loop”.I was considered a comics comic and made a lot of great comedy friends. At 39, I signed with Jeff Sussman, one on the biggest comedy managers around but by 40, realized this business was a bunch of bullshit and I’m the kind of person that needs payback. 13 years is PLENTY of time for a business to start paying off and it was not. At 41 I left Jeff Sussman and I quit Comedy. It was an emotional quit, I loved doing it and couldn’t really stop getting on stage, but It wasn’t fun anymore and now at 44 I hardly get on stage anymore.
I refocused and I’m using my talent in other ways. I don’t want to turn 50 and end up with nothing only to start my life over then. That’s my story, I can totally relate to this read, thanks!
Danny, I’m there. 50 with nothing, only to start my life over. I actually left comedy for a few years with a good day job. Unfortunately, I lost that job and ironically, it was just a couple months after I got back on stage for a school reunion. I did a great show and was invited to perform again at the club. I had over 16 years of tv appearances, small tours, and some road gigs but not enough to sustain me. When I returned to the stage there were a lot of veterans who were glad to see me again, and new-jacks who were enamored with my past work and some said they “grew up watching me on tv”, which was flattering but made me feel older than ever. When I lost my job, I thought the comedy would really kick in because I had some good material that I was excited about. I was having fun again, but the steady gigs never came! I never made enough to just put myself on the road, nor did I just get booked on the road. I am a funny comic but not funny enough to be in demand. So, just 1 month before I turned the dreaded 50, I was hired on another day job. THe pay is not the same as before so I still need comedy gigs to make ends meet. I’m with the author of this article, but not so bitter. I had my ups and downs but never became the comedian that comedy clubs, bookers, promoters, etc. wanted to keep booking and having on their roster. I haven’t completely quit comedy, but I believe that comedy has quit me.
If this article encouraged you to leave the business, then it was meant for you. If it gave you further resolve and motivation, then it was for you. I don’t see the controversy.
I’ve been doing comedy for 30 years. It’s a part of who I am. I have no complaints about this article. Seems concise and quite accurate. I earn my living by teaching piano lessons (and we laugh a lot!) I recommend a creative day job to keep one happy.
Don’t listen to this person. Everyone will get famous, if you believe hard enough.
This blog just tells me to work 100X harder…
Updated: I’m approaching my 5th year in comedy….. So I may not get your respect on this… but I’ll try… This article for me is really a litmus test to see if you have the “Right Stuff” to be a comic… if your heart is true & you’re in this for a “Love of The Game” or to make people laugh & put your heart & Soul in it… It can be rewarding at any level…. But if your motives are not true/pure or have become bitterer by the experience… then this is NOT for you… Like most things in life… you have to love it, to enjoy it… As far as quitting the day job… wait till the $ is there… & if you do make it, this is really not a concern…
I don’t think too many headliners or top comics keep their day job… it’s not like winning the lottery & you need to work to feel normal… Comedy is all what YOU PUT IN IT…
Most of my local contemporaries have a real faux sense of entitlement. They think that gigs, stagetime, etc should just be handed to them. Of course most of them are of the New School of Comedy… & in their 20’s.. So back to the salt mine.. or in my case the comedy mine & just keep picking away… one joke at a time
I’m approaching my 3rd year in comedy….. So I may not get some of your guys respect on this… but I’ll try… This article for me is really a litmus test to see if you have the “Right Stuff” to be a comic… if your heart is true & you’re in this for a “Love of The Game” or to make people laugh & put your heart & Soul in it… It can be rewarding at any level…. But if your motives are not true/pure or have become bitterer by the experience… then this is NOT for you… Like most things in life… you have to love it, to enjoy it… As far as quitting the day job… wait till the $ is there… & if you do make it, this is really not a concern…
I don’t think too many headliners or top comics keep their day job… it’s not like winning the lottery & you need to work to feel normal… Comedy is all what YOU PUT IN IT…
I enjoyed this. It was good stuff from my perspective. Some people may not enjoy it. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes I like to type cliches.
I like this entry. I’ve had a few people read my book and decide it’s not for them. You say it in a much briefer way. I really like the “Stop wasting people’s time” paragraph.
I agree, but not coming off as harsh. Comedy is for the truly gifted and the innately funny people. If you notice, the people who really make it, don’t just make it because of their jokes. Its’ because of their persona behind the jokes. I mean some have the face, body and sound that made him funny with even the most mundane material. Everything just falls into place. It does take 10 years to find your Comedy Voice, but that is when the real challenge begins. How is your Comedy Voice received? Are you seen as seriously funny, hilarious, or passively funny? Also, how is your comedy writing? Does it take you a long time to develop great material? Are you continuosly inspired to write new jokes? DO comedy club owners embrace you when you walk in, or do they tell you they don’t have room for you and for you to keep calling in for spots? Do bookers, whom you’ve approached about gettng in one of their shows, give you a solid date? or do they just keep saying “I got you…holla at me in a few months…”. (This happens to women a lot!) Ohh….are you a female comic? (Yes the sexism is extreme in comedy.) If you are a woman, are you funny, sort of funny, or do you leave the stage with the crowd roaring and cheering at your set? THis is the thing about comedy. Having good rapport with the people that do the hiring, and other comics is important. If you are batting your head against a wall and, after more than 15 years, still not getting consistent bookings (especially at the local clubs), then go ahead and get a day job and leave the comedy game to those who are demanding regular paying gigs! Keep performing locally for the gas money and meals, but don’t rely on comedy to make a living. If God has stardom in your path, then stardom will come to you without you pushing it. Pray on it before you decide. As for me, after 20 years, I have my job and am trying to keep it, and still performing when the gigs come up.
There is a lot of truth to this article and I don’t believe it was meant to be bitter
Steven says if you are doing this to make people laugh stay in. The point I see in Los Angeles is a lot of actors and nut cases clogging up the venues. Comedy is not for everyone just as being an opera singer is not for everyone or a fireman for that matter. If you are having fun and enjoy making people laugh it is a great high and a healthy one. You have every right to continue Stay in and have a good time! I find golf boring!
While I appreciate the honesty of this article, it makes me want to further address the cliche. When people say, “Don’t quit your day job” they operate under the assumption that an 8 hour work day is somehow more secure than building a stand-up comedy business. For me, comedy is my day job (the victory), what I do at night is the result of it (the spoils). If there are people who are better qualified than you on ANY job then you will suffer the same consequence as 13 million other Americans who are unemployed with qualifications that extend beyond cumulative hours on stage. I think the problem with most new comics is their inability to conform to what’s relative. There seems to be such a concentration on being complex that sometimes we forget that stand-up is about relating to people – not ostracizing them. We adhere more to the voice that says “This would be cool to say on stage”, than the one that continues, “…but it’s not funny”. We would rather impress our friends in the back of the room with idiosyncratic tidbits than try to relate to paying customer sitting right in front of us. Most troubling for me is that contrary to the cliche, we settle for the “day job” in which someone else tells us what to do for years hoping that in 20 years our 401k will be as secure as what Bernie Madoff will allow.
I understand both sides of this equation and I’m certainly no Seinfeld, but success in this business amounts to hard work, preparation, the ability to get along with people and a few breaks along the way.
Just like a day job.
I’m a marginally talented comic. I’m a very hard worker. I do comedy because I can’t imagine not doing comedy. In the last 20 years I’ve made a lot of money doing stand up comedy. Enough money to live very comfortably and quite a bit more than I would have made in 20 years in the corporate world. I do consider myself fortunate, but my career has included just as much bad luck as good.
I’m not famous, but I’m pretty rich from stand-up comedy. It is possible. You have to work very hard at it all the time.
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(I replied to this blog 2 years ago and get alerts when someone else replies)
I am a 22 year veteran in comedy, and I have a day job AND I still perform comedy gigs. No real road work, but I still get a few good gigs.
So I do both! I have to keep a regular job to avoid homelessness, but I have to keep doing comedy gigs to supplement my income.
The real conundrum I’m facing is my exhaustion level and health. A good comedian needs to keep up his/her chops to have a tight 30-60 minute show…one needs to workout at least once a week. One should also visit clubs to stay in sight. (OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND!) But, after working a full day job, I am exhausted! I literally fall asleep at the very time I should be getting ready to go to the club. So when I do get those gigs, I’m struggling to be tight and remember my act…especially any NEW jokes. It’s a real struggle I’m working on right now, but I am developing tools to help me (like taking naps). Bottom line, you can do BOTH! Keep your day job, do comedy at night and on weekends and you will continue to grow. I’ve seen numerous of my friends become so successful in comedy, they have to quit their day jobs. That is my goal, but I’m not quitting my job until I have more work coming in from Comedy.
Also, I’m not quitting comedy either!
why is dave chappelle so funny? why do we love his work?
true- yes, bitter… Yes.
The article identifies truths and clarifies typical realities for many. What I consider important is that this experience isn’t for thin-skinned premadonnas. There is an obligation to Grow or Get Out of the Way. If you try the same material always in the same place, and forget how to be creative, get out. You’ve just taken time from the people who already had a crappy day at work, and they don’t want to support another mediocre attempt at cussing down hecklers. The energy in the room needs respect, and the obligation of the comic is to work the room in the time you’ve got…and in lines at the DMV, grocery store, and other public places that don’t need to know you are labeling yourself a comedian before you can prove to be funny. The venues and hosts and bouncers are a framework to create and manage product, (hopefully you create a draw) and sales, (food, drinks, merchandise) and they love to be loved as a repeat destination. Just playing the same stage as the Greats doesn’t make you great. Just appearing on a late, late, late, predawn show simply means you made a connection that doesn’t mind showing off what’s new to keep their ratings fresh, but you still have to work past that to create for bigger shows and venues. Nobody arrives after all that work and gets to coast forever more. Good news, if you train yourself to be successful in business, a worthy draw, and love it, nobody can stop you!
It’s also a cheap way to see if you’ve got the chops for couch surfing, the likability that makes others want to help your journey, and the sustainability that makes it rewarding to cultivate a crew of amazingly offbeat friends to help when depression looms over shit realities, the kinds of things like my father’s long term struggle with Parkinson’s, or other daily grind events and national tragedies that make you a star, because you’ve learned to resuscitate a funny bone, and are keeper of the decoder ring when it’s seriously time to find the funny. Only you will know how much you can take of idiots. Just try not to be one.
Right. So what you’re saying is no one should ever do comedy because they’ll never become a commercial success or wow the audiences…. That’s helpful.
Plenty of comedians are not commercial successes and are fucking hilarious and I’m glad they stuck at it because most “successful” comedians are dull as shit.
Thank Fuck for those “nobodies” trying to do something outside the box.
What a dick move trying to deter people from trying to do what they want to do.
Maybe pick on med students wanting to be surgeons next…
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