Pro Talk: 7 Tips for Ambitious Comedians

This is a guest post by Clayton Fletcher. Clayton is a professional stand up comedian who plays all over the country, has been on HBO, is a regular at Caroline’s on Broadway and has his own weekly show at New York Comedy Club. You can learn more about Clayton on his website here.

Clayton Fletcher

1. Get onstage as much as humanly possible
In my view, becoming a really good comic requires hours and hours of stagetime. When I started, I did every open mic in town and at least one bringer show every week. I would also ask to perform at family parties, office functions, basically anywhere and everywhere I could. There is just no substitute for stagetime. 

2. You will always be a bringer
What I mean is suppose that someday you become famous and you are asked to be the headliner at the Laughy Ha-Ha Club in Plano, Texas. They will invest fortunes in advertising your arrival, marketing your performances, and staffing their club so that you can have a great show. If nobody comes to see you, do you think you will be asked back? Always promote every show you are in. Especially in New York where there are ten million comics, one great way to get a leg up on the competition is to help the club out by letting your fans know you are coming! Since comedy clubs are businesses, they will appreciate the fact that you help increase their patronage!

To put it another way, if you were in a great band that had absolutely no following, how many gigs do you think you would be able to get twice? Why should comedians be any different?

3. In the beginning, stick to one club.
The other side of the coin is that if you are popular enough to have friends who want to come see your show, you should focus your efforts on one club. Many comedy club owners (Al Martin among them) pride themselves on developing young talent into tomorrow’s superstars. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a club owner say “I gave him his start and now he’s headlining for me!” or “Why should I book her? When she started out she did bringer shows and open mics every week at ______ Comedy Club! Now she wants to work for me?” You simply can not build a solid relationship with a club by spreading shows out in all the clubs around town.

Become associated with one venue and the rest will follow. If you are talented and you put the work in and show loyalty to a club and a producer, we remember this and look for ways to help you down the line. And then when you try to get work at Club B and C you can say “Well I do regular feature spots at NYCC and now I am trying to branch out.” It lends credibility much more than “I am doing bringers all over town” ever can.

4. There is more than one way to get there.
Many comics ask me what they should do if they do not have friends. Frankly, I am skeptical of anyone who claims not to know a single person who wants to see them perform, but if you are in this group, you still have hope! Get your stagetime in “non-traditional” venues. When I started out I did shows in sushi restaurants, pizza parlors, every bar in New York that had a back room, and quite a few that didn’t. Most of these shows were disastrous but believe me if you can kill at McMickerson’s Pub while the foreigners watch a soccer game, you will tear the roof off the Broadway. Again it all comes down to stagetime and finding ways to get it.

5. Write write write.
Comedians are writers. When you finally get up onstage, you should not be at a loss for words. Rework the old stuff, try to come up with new stuff. Never stop writing!

6. Produce your own show!
One of the best ways to get onstage early in your career is to put your own show together. You can learn to MC, you can begin to network with your peers, you might even create the next “hot new comedy room” in New York. Best of all, you will have the flexibility to do what you want for as long as you want onstage. But even then, if nobody comes to see you I doubt your neighborhood bar will keep Jeffy’s Comedy Night going for long. As I said, we are all bringers and always will be.

7. Be polite.
There are so many comics who seem to have never been taught manners. How many times haveI been dealing with a paying customer only to have a comic interrupt me: “What’s the lineup?” And howfew times have I actually been thanked for helping a new comic get an opportunity? Politeness is in shortsupply these days, so even a simple gesture of mutual humanity can go a long way.

In closing, I want you all to know that I am here for you and I am rooting for you. So build your act, find your persona, build your fan base, and we can all conquer New York City together someday soon!

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11 Replies to “Pro Talk: 7 Tips for Ambitious Comedians”

  1. I have done one open mic and loved it. I am now going to comedy school for a month. I am not young (just turned forty), but I am going to use it to my advantage (hopefully). Another thing is I already have a famous name Glen Campbell. Should I keep it for material or change it to a catchy name people will remember. Also, I am very loyal and have many friends, so I, like your advice thank you. glen c

  2. Hi Glen,

    It’s up to you whether you want to change your name or not. I think a lot of people have the last name Campbell, do you mean you’re related to the soup company founders? If so, you might want to leave your name so it lends credibility to any material you may end up doing about it. Otherwise, the name thing is a personal decision, I’d say concentrate on getting funny first with your regular name, then worry about the marketing later on…


  3. Hi Ben,

    I’ve been doing comedy for 6 months now and I have recently been offered to do a show at the South African State Theartre. They want me to do a 15 min set and the most I have done in my short career is 7 min. How do I prepare myself to do a big show like this one?

  4. Hi Eureka,

    Here’s my thoughts:

    – Try to practice doing two different 7 minute sets, so you at least know you have 15 minutes of material and can just combine them at the show
    – Identify your best 3 jokes. Start with one, put one right in the middle of the 15 minutes, and close with your best joke. If things aren’t going great, you’ll feel more comfortable knowing you still have your best joke as an “ace in the hole”
    – Ask the booker if you can do 10 minutes instead
    – Do some crowd work (it might be tough depending on the theatre size) but this always provides for some laughs without having more material
    – Add more punchlines to existing jokes, this way you don’t need to write new jokes, just small additions to what you already have


  5. Ben and Clayton – Y’all are just plain great !!! I have to get back there soon (speaking of working with one club and all NYCC has been the nicest to me !!! and no, I’m not getting paid or props for this).

  6. Clayton runs a great show at the New York Comedy Club (with the support of folks like Ben) and I’d strongly recommend the Friday and Saturday night shows to comics looking for a good mic and more stage time.

  7. Wow, fantastic website layout! How long have you been blogging for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is wonderful, as well as the content! wines

  8. Thanks for your comment about how the best practice for being a comedian is being onstage and performing. I like how you said that you should promote all of your shows and clubs you’re performing at. My brother is really witty and is trying to get into stand-up comedy. We are considering watching a stand-up comedy documentary this weekend to learn more.

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