How to Get Started in Standup Comedy

Standup comedy can be a tough world to break into, but it’s also a fun and potentially rewarding hobby or career. If you’d like to become a standup comic—whether amateur or professional—you’ll need to begin by crafting a short set list: at least 5 minutes of jokes. Work on your delivery, comic timing, and onstage persona. You can start out by performing at weekly open-mics, which generally provide a friendly audience. If you’d like to move up in the comedy world from there, you’ll need to start talking to comedy club managers or bookers and find ways to get on a performance schedule.


EditWriting and Compiling Jokes

  1. Jot down joke ideas in a notebook. Take notes as funny thoughts come to you, or write down strange occurrences that strike your funny bone. At this point, you don’t need to be writing full-fledged jokes; just write down situations, lines, or personal anecdotes from your past that seem funny and could be used as material for jokes in the future.[1]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 1.jpg
    • If you don’t want to carry a notepad around, many modern phones have a notepad app built in.
  2. Organize one or two funny ideas into a joke. Based on what you find funny, start to write longer jokes and anecdotes derived from ideas you’ve noted. Look for ways in which you can present material in surprising, unexpected, or bizarre ways. It’s a common move in joke writing to lead the audience in one direction, and then surprise them by reversing the premise in the punch line.[2]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 2.jpg
    • Repeat this process over and over: develop a funny idea of observation, pair it with similar funny ideas, and write out a full-length joke or anecdote.[3]
    • For example, if you jotted down that you hate being stuck in traffic and, the next night you went on a bad date, you could work these into a joke about how bad traffic and bad dates seem to go together in your city.
  3. Watch and listen to other comics. Comedians—especially standup comics—can learn a great deal from more established performers in their field. Go to your local comedy club as often as possible, and watch all of the online standup specials that you can find.
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 3.jpg
    • Pay attention to the comedians: note how they time their jokes, how they move from one topic into the next, and where they seem to draw their source material from.

EditWorking on a Standup Routine

  1. Organize your set list. Once you’ve written 20–30 jokes or a handful of funny anecdotes you’d like to tell, start thinking about your set list. This will help you organize your ideas into a coherent structure.[4] So, structure your set list to open and close with big jokes. You want to lead and close with your best material. Your audience will be disappointed if you open with a great joke and then end without any equally funny material.[5]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 4.jpg
    • For example, if you open with a joke about your childhood, you could structure your set list along somewhat autobiographical lines, and follow with a joke about your adolescence or high school.
    • When you start performing standup comedy, a set list can be short, even as little as 5 minutes long. If you’re just starting out, it’s okay if there are some mediocre jokes in the middle of your set list.
    • See how the jokes play to an audience, and then make alterations to your set list accordingly.
  2. Select a performance style. Although a good set list is necessary to succeed as a standup comic, it will fall flat if you stand motionless and deliver every joke with the same inflection (unless you’re a committed deadpan comic). To convey your material well and make the audience laugh, choose a style of standup performance that suits your jokes and your own personality.[6]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 5.jpg
    • Some comics choose to be almost manic on the stage, and jump around with excessive energy. Others take the deadpan route and deliver joke after joke without altering their facial expression or delivery tone.
    • You could also choose to engage mostly in self-deprecating humor, in which you and your life experiences are the butt of most jokes.
  3. Coordinate your movements and facial expressions. Successful comedians tend to perform specific hand gesture, facial expressions, and body movements to elicit laughs from the crowd. Decide what to do with your face and your body language. You could dynamically move around the stage, or limit your motions to more restrained gestures.[7]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 6.jpg
    • For example, you could gesture with your hands to accentuate a point you’re making. Some comics will even incorporate the microphone or mic stand into their act—you can gently tap the mike on your palm or the floor for the sound effect.
    • As far as facial movements, you can make a funny face at certain points during your routine to accentuate an unexpected or ridiculous point in your joke. Or keep a straight face during the entire performance, and let your lack of reaction offset the humor of your jokes.
  4. Memorize and rehearse your set list. Although memorization can be challenging, it will help you when you’re performing onstage. Your audience won’t find your material funny if you forget jokes mid-act or if you have to read anecdotes from a sheet of paper. Rehearse your entire set list until you can tell it backwards and forwards: practice at home in front of a mirror, when you’re driving to work or school, and when you’re in the shower.[8]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 7.jpg
    • Don’t be afraid to revise your jokes or your set list. If you’re rehearsing your material and realize that one or two jokes don’t seem as funny as the others, remove them and swap in other, funnier material.
  5. Ask for feedback from friends and family. Once you think your set list is in good shape and you can deliver it without looking at notes, it’s time to get some feedback. Practice your set in front of any family members or friends who will watch. Listen to their feedback, and respond accordingly.
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 8.jpg
    • This can help you be better prepared to deliver jokes before your audience in a crowded room.

EditPerforming Your Comedy

  1. Start performing at open mics as soon as possible. The only way you’ll improve at your comedy performance is if you perform the jokes in front of a crowd. Open mics are a great way to start: they are generally free, don’t put a lot of pressure on performers, and encourage beginners to try new material. If there’s a local comedy club in your area, look at their online calendar and see if there’s an upcoming open mic.[9]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 9.jpg
    • Bars, coffee shops, and even some music venues also host open mics.
  2. Develop your persona as a comic. Once you start delivering jokes in public, you’ll need to have a comic voice or presence that you use to deliver your jokes. For example, maybe you want to deliver your material deadpan, or maybe you’ll rely on physical comedy to draw laughs. Find what persona and voice works best for your particular type of comedy.[10]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 10.jpg
    • Many beginning comedians think it’s wise to imitate an already established comic. In fact, it’s better to just be yourself—performing comedy in the style of an already established comic (e.g. Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Sarah Silverman) can seem cliché or lazy.
  3. Get to know other standup comics in your city. Just like in any other hobby or line or work, networking—and making friendships—is a valuable way to get yourself noticed. You can also start forming connections with other comics and even venue owners and event organizers.[11]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 11.jpg
    • If you see a more established standup comic, introduce yourself and say something like, “I’ve seen you at quite a few of these comedy events around town. Do you know of any good venues for up-and-coming comics?”
    • Or say, “Do you know any booking or event managers around town who could help me get a show?”
  4. Submit to a comedy festival or comedy venue. Once you’ve performed at several open mics and gotten to know a few other comics in your area, it’s time to perform at a more legitimate venue. If you can find email or Facebook contact information for comedy-festival or comedy-club bookers, politely ask if they can feature you at an upcoming show.[12]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 12.jpg
    • Starting out, you’ll likely be placed in the middle of a comedy night, sandwiched between two reliable acts.
  5. Don’t be afraid to fail. No comedian starts out perfectly funny: you’ll have nights where the audience doesn’t laugh at your jokes or where hecklers challenge you. Every successful comic has experienced this as well. Keep going, and book another show (or return to your favorite open-mic) even when things don’t go your way.[13]
    Get Started in Standup Comedy Step 13.jpg
    • Audiences can also vary widely from one night to the next. What the crowd on Saturday found hilarious may bomb with a crowd on Monday.


  • Use your phone or a video camera to record yourself delivering a short 3-minute portion of your standup set. This will be useful to send to comedy-club booking managers, who need to see some of your performance before they book you on their stage.
  • Sometimes commenting on a joke you’ve just completed can get you more laughs than the joke itself. But use this trick sparingly!
  • Sometimes a joke that you think is mildly funny can work great on stage in a comedy club in the middle of your set list. Remember, people are ready to laugh at jokes before you have even said anything.
  • Joke writing takes practice. The more jokes you write, the better you will become at timing, delivery, and at developing your own personal style.
  • Since standup comics rarely sit on the stool onstage, you should plan on standing for the duration of your set list.


  • Do not copy other comedian’s acts. Don’t even steal someone else’s joke, or borrow a punchline from another comic. Doing so is not only unethical and strongly looked down upon, but it could end your comedy career before it even begins.[14]

EditRelated wikiHows

EditSources and Citations

Cite error: tags exist, but no tag was found

Posted in How

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *