I’ve been talking a lot with Wayne Manigo lately in preparation for my appearance at DC Digital Week (June 16th, 2010) and somehow tips for new comics came up, and Wayne had some great advice I wanted to pass along:
What are some tips that you would provide to new comics?
Tip # 1. There are 4 levels of standup comedy. Open Mic, Emcee, Feature, and Headliner. Each of these take a huge amount time and experience to advance, and the number one mistake made is attempting to advance to the next level too soon. I was unemployed when I started working professionally, so I worked at comedy 24×7 for a year. That allowed me to advance at an accelerated pace. Some comics don’t have that amount of free time to develop themselves and their material, and yet they believe they can still advance based on stage time…not experience.
Tip # 2. Open Mics – You have to put the time in! There is no ifs, and, or buts! I was fortunate enough to start 2 open mics and attend a number of other open mics in the DC area. That is the ‘Instant Learning School’ for comedians. If you bomb and you come back…great! You’re learning how to become a comic. Not every set you perform will be a great one. I’m the emcee at my open mics, so I’m able to try more new material at a faster pace than the average comic. The other *bonus* for open mics is that you’ll never know who’s in the audience. I’ve booked comics for showcases based on what I’ve seen them do at an open mic.
Tip # 3. STOP saying “Give It Up!” For example “Give it up for the DJ, the emcee, yourselves, my mother who came on a moped with an eyepatch”…you get the idea. You only have 5 minutes or less onstage when you start out. That’s the job of the emcee. Use your 5 minutes wisely! You may not get another 5 minutes if you screw them up!
What is the best advice you would give to new comics looking for a break?
You must network at every show! . Arrive at the comedy shows early and leave late. Speak with everyone in the room: bartenders, wait staff, security. Some opportunities do exist if you network properly, others will appear if you create them. Remember: You are not selling! It’s networking…learn the difference.
Once I was asked by a fellow comic who’s been doing it for a number of years how I caught up to his ‘status’ in a year. NETWORKING! When you’re starting out, and you do a set – take some time after the show to meet the audience. This is especially important if you bombed during your performance! It won’t be easy to digest, but if you are willing to accept honest criticism, then you will grow as a comic.
Another thing I would strongly suggest is to find mentors! I’ve opened for a number of headliners, and built honest relationships with them. Ask them “What is the best way to keep in touch?” and commit to it. That has helped me build a school of knowledge that is always available at a low, low cost (because comics are broke!).