Sometimes newer comedians ask me, “I just took a stand-up comedy class and performed in a class show, and I enjoyed my first time ever on stage. What do I do next?”
While my answer is specific to NYC, I think (most of) it will (mostly) apply to other cities as well.
Keep in mind, these options are not exclusive, meaning you can do more than one of these at the same time:
- Start doing open mics
- Take another stand-up comedy class
- Produce your own show at your local bar/restaurant on a slow night
- Perform in a “new talent” or “bringer” show where you have to bring x amount of people to perform
- Perform on someone else’s bar show
- Start hanging around comedy club bar areas and meet comedians
- Watch lots of live comedy shows, and maybe become a regular at your favorite one
- Take an improv or sketch writing class
Here’s a more detailed explanation of each:
Start doing open mics
NYC is full of open mics. I think BadSlava.com and FreeMics.com have the most comprehensive listings
Pros: You can talk into a microphone in front of people multiple times every night. You may make comedy friends. You’ll get comfortable with silence.
Cons: At most NYC open mics, the other comedians rarely laugh at your jokes. They’re mostly waiting their turn to go on / thinking about their set and there is usually nobody but other comedians in the audience.
If you do open mics, you’ll find that a lot of the mic response is based on the host’s energy and enthusiasm. If you go to a mic and like it, keep coming back to the same one each week. Eventually, you’ll become a regular there, make friends, and if you occasionally have to get in and out quickly, the host will be more likely to accommodate you once they know you.
Take another stand-up comedy class
Pros: You already took one, so you’ll probably feel like a comedy veteran in the class. Classes are structured and force you to look at/modify/practice your material at least once a week. You also meet other aspiring comedians. Students in a comedy class are more likely to laugh at your jokes than random open mic comedians.
Cons: It’s a safe space. Which is great if you view comedy as a fun hobby. But a safe space alone won’t prepare you for becoming a working comedian, where many shows are terrible and lots of things go wrong.
Produce your own show at your local bar/restaurant on a slow night
If you have a favorite bar or restaurant, and they have a separate backroom, see if they’ll let you do a show there on a slow night.
Pros: It’s your show, so you can do as much time as you want and book whatever comedians you want. You can also “trade spots” where other comedians with shows put you on their show in exchange for them doing your show. You can make a few bucks by charging a ticket fee or passing a bucket.
Cons: It’s a lot of work. And you’re responsible for figuring out a way to generate an audience. And if you want top-level comedians, you’ll probably have to pay them out of your own pocket.
If you have any organizational abilities, I recommend running at least one show. You’ll learn lots.
I’ve written more about producing shows here: The Venue, The Audience, The Comedians and Running the Show
Perform in a “new talent” or “bringer” show where you have to bring x amount of people to perform
Pros: You’re in front of a live audience of real people (aka non-comedians) who will probably laugh. This will feel more rewarding than most open mics.
Cons: Unless you bring X number of guests, you won’t be allowed to perform. Your guests usually have to pay a cover charge and a two-drink minimum. You don’t control the lineup or what other comedians will be on the show. And if you keep doing these shows, you may eventually run out of friends and family that want to see you perform.
Perform on someone else’s bar show
Lots of comedians have their own shows. Maybe you can do one.
Pros: You show up and do comedy.
Cons: Many bar shows are poorly attended. Some are “ambush” situations where the audience is just enjoying their drinks and conversations and doesn’t realize a comedy show is about to start. And there are way more comedians that want to perform in NYC than there is stage time. If you’re brand new, it’s tough to get on these shows when you don’t know many comedians.
Start hanging around comedy club bar areas and meet comedians
Pros: You’re hanging around comedy. You start making friends. Comedians usually get a discount on booze.
Cons: You’re not performing. So you’re not getting better at the actual thing.
Watch lots of live comedy shows, and maybe become a regular at your favorite one
Pros: If you took a comedy class, you probably like laughing. And seeing lots of shows will make you laugh. You can learn a lot by watching more seasoned comedians, especially if you watch them more than once in a short amount of time. If you’re always at the same venue and eventually befriend the show’s producer, eventually they might let you do a few minutes on stage.
Cons: You’re not performing. If you’re watching the actual show, you’re not meeting as many comedians as you would just by sitting at the bar. Depending on the venue, seeing shows and drinks can add up financially.
Take an improv or sketch writing class
NYC also has improv and sketch writing and sketch performing classes. I’ve done a lot at The PIT and always had a good experience. UCB also does classes.
Pros: You’re using slightly different comedy muscles. Improv indirectly helps you improve at crowd work when doing stand-up. Improv and Sketch are more collaborative than stand-up.
Cons: You have to rely on other people. The scenes you perform are not usually about you, but are instead character and/or plot driven. So if you like talking about yourself it’s the wrong format.
I’ve also written these articles that might help:
Types of Shows for Beginners
Types of Spots