Want to try stand-up comedy?
Are you funny? Do your friends keep telling you you’re funny? Or do you just have that itch to see if you can do it? The only way to know is to try…
Yes… getting up on stage is absolutely terrifying. And yes… when you make people laugh, it feels fantastic!
Getting your First Spot
- The best IN YOUR FACE show to try comedy on is the Comedy Brew at ROBIN’s
- DM Harry on Instagram ( or via @inyourfacecomedy ) and he’ll get you setup
Normally comedians request a “spot” by posting in the discussion on IN YOUR FACE events on Facebook. There’s also a WhatsApp group with lots of other comedians, where you can join to get notified early of upcoming events (ask Harry for an invite).
Where else can I get spots?
Comedy Tips to get you started
Below you will find lots of words. If you don’t like reading words, skip all this and just try comedy. Ultimately you learn comedy by doing comedy.
But now ssssssh…. don’t tell anyone but … a big part of comedy has nothing to do with being “naturally funny”. Comedy exploits “bugs” in the human brain. Certain patterns of language, logical fallacies etc. will cause us to laugh. And much has been written and recorded about how to make comedy… it can be learnt just like any other subject. So here is some advice and pointers to get you started on your comedy journey…
Introverts vs. Extroverts
Broadly there are two types of first time comedians: introverts and extroverts. Introverts are terrified of the idea of getting up on stage so tend to work hard on having good jokes and material, because they know they’ll be a bundle of nerves on stage. Extroverts are largely comfortable with the idea of performing in front of a room full of people perhaps because, for example, they have a job that involves dealing with the public … but their attitude to joke writing is “I’ll just wing it! It’ll be fine!”.
Many starting comedians (especially the extroverts) begin with the idea “I’ve got a funny / crazy / whacky story that all my friends love so I’ll just tell it on stage and everyone will laugh!”. WRONG! Your friends know you and are invested in your story. A room full of random strangers, by default, doesn’t give a shit about you or your backstory… unless you’re making them laugh. And jokes is how you make people laugh.
Jokes have a structure and form. Perhaps the most basic joke structure is “setup / punch”. In the setup you create some kind of tension, and with the punch you release that tension with surprise, the surprise usually coming from some kind of logical fallacy. “One liner” comedians like Stephan Cookson specialise in this style.
There are differing opinions on how many different joke structures there are. Some say there are 5.5 … some say there are 13… The number doesn’t matter but knowing some of these structures and fitting your jokes to them gives you a better chance of getting laughs.
You’ll also find some handy joke writing tips in this guide which is based on the New Comedy Bible. And if you get through all that have look at Gary Gulman’s Writing Tips for Comedians … come back to this link after you’ve done some shows…
Coping with Stage Fright
Getting up on stage to do comedy is terrifying. But embrace the fear… it will make you alive!
Doing some kind of physical warm-up and “getting out of your head” before you get on stage can help a lot. This TED talk on body language may give you some ideas.
Develop a stage persona. This is usally some part of your personality that you accentuate for the stage. This podcast episode may help you.
Preparing for the First Time
- 5 Minute Set For your first show, aim for a 5 minute long set … that’s 5 minutes of you on stage. This is typically how long the host of the show will give you for you first time. It’s partly to keep the show moving and it’s partly for your own benefit… 5 minutes of public humiliation is already a lot for the first time ;)
- Practice, Practice, Practice Practice at home like a crazy person. Talk to yourself. Pace around your living room and talk into a carrot or a cucumber as you practice… it will help you remember. Use an app like the Voice Memo app to record your practice. The more you practice, if your brain “freezes” while up on stage, your tongue will remember the words anyway until your brain “unfreezes” again.
- Time It! And throw stuff out While you practice at home, time it. Remember you’re aiming for 5 minutes. You may have lots of ideas for jokes and you want to cram it all in. But a big part of comedy is less is more. And nothing annoys the hosts of a show more than people that “don’t respect their time”
- Start strong, finish strong Put your best jokes at the start and the end of your set. You want to get your first laugh as quickly as possible and you want to end on a high note.
- Play the Underdog No one likes an overconfident prick. It’s usually good to start with a joke telling the audience how miserable your life is, to get the audience on your side. This is not always true, but most of the time it is.
- Arrive on Time The host of the show will tell you the line-up - the order of comedians on the show and when you’ll be performing. In Switzerland this is usually done via Facebook Messenger - a group will be created for the show.
The First Time
- Check in with the Host Get to the show on time and check in the host of the show and tell them what they should say about you when they bring you up. The host will usually tell the audience it’s your very first time so the crowd should be a little kinder to you…
- Hold the Mic Near your Mouth! so many first time comedians screw up their first performance by holding the mic too far away, or waving it around. That means the audience will struggle to hear what you’re saying. So, ideally, hold the mic so that it’s just touching the tip of your chin - that way the audience can see you mouth and pick up your facial expressions, while still being able to hear your voice.
- Move the Mic Stand Often the host will put the mic in the mic stand before you get on stage. When you take the mic out of the stand, move the stand to the side, so it’s not between you and the crowd… it’s very distracting to the audience if the stand is in the way.
- Avoid Weird Shuffling You’ll probably want to shuffle around weirdly on stage because you’re nervous. It’s actually better to stand still so the audience doesn’t get distracted by your movement.
- Look out for the Light The host of the show will probably give you a light from the back of the room (or some other signal) as you’re reaching the end of your time on stage. Look out for it, and then wrap up whatever joke you’re doing from there.
- Record your Set The memory is a tricky thing and how you remember your first performance may be different to what actually happened. Get a friend in the audience to make a video of your first time with their phone, or simply record the audio of your first time with the Voice Memo app on your phone - usually there will be a stool on stage… you can put your phone on it.
- Don’t read notes You might take a list of jokes up with you on stage to remind you just in case you forget. But reading notes outloud will bore the audience. If you practiced enough before the show, you won’t need to look at your notes.
The Importance of Keeping to Your Time
For an Open Mic show, where you get started, you get 5 minutes on stage. Why 5 minutes? Because the audience attention and energy levels are limited… eventually they get tired.
So we divide the limited time of the show up into little chunks of 5 minutes that are given to each of the comedians - and yes there’s a bias towards experienced and proven comedians that consistently get laughs to have more time, because they will make good use of it to make the audience laugh. There’s a meritocracy at work…
So when you over-run your time, you’re actually stealing from the other comedians on the show, especially if you’re not getting laughs. You’re draining the audience of attention and patience, which makes it harder for the comedians that come after you.
So long story short, practice and time your material BEFORE you get on stage. And also look for the host of the show giving you a light (from their phone) that time is up - you should finish within 30 seconds of seeing the light.
But you’re a comedy genius and could show the world if only you had more time? That may be true one day but learning how to make an audience go wild in just 5 minutes will make you a better comedian, so when you start doing longer sets, the crowd will be in hysterics.
English Stand-Up Comedy Audiences in Switzerland
The crowds we get at English comedy shows are typically a mix of Swiss people that speak English and foreigners who have either moved here, are studying here or are visiting the country. In Zürich it’s common for crowds to be 20% Swiss, 80% foreigners. Most importantly, for the typical crowd here 80% DO NOT HAVE ENGLISH as their mother tongue!. Age ranges vary too… most of the crowds will be in their 20’s and 30’s but all ages come to shows. And mostly crowds are smart and educated… it’s rare to have a really drunk and rowdy crowd in Switzerland.
Specifically that means…
- You need to speak clearly and probably a bit slower, if you normally talk fast
- Avoid using too much slang and colloquialisms - at best the audience may understand the type of slang you get in popular American Netflix shows but that’s it
- Avoid puns and word play. Often the double-meaning of words will be lost on the audience, unless it’s something really simple and obvious.
- Avoid cultural references. Just because you know who Christopher Nolan is, you may find the audience has no idea. Swiss people are generally tapped into German culture and the foreigners more into American, so dropping celebrity names in and assuming everyone will know who they are may backfire horribly. Also, in the age of social media, TikTok addicts may know who Bella Poarch is but the rest of the crowd is probably clueless.
More stuff to read and watch
- There’s a bunch of good advice on YouTube for how to be a stand-up comedian.
- The New Comedy Bible is highly recommended!
- Let’s Talk about Sets! is a really great podcast about comedy - listen on Spotify here
- More tips and resources in this great list by Pavel. Also Pavel has a WhatsApp group for comedy advice… ask him to add you.