We are in a golden age of comedy. Not since the late 1980s has comedy been so popular. Things are of course different this time around. The average comedian isn’t relying on a five minute late night set to make him or her an overnight sensation. The internet and social media have made it possible to be discovered from many parts of the world through web shorts, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine and the myriad of other new apps that have been launched since the publication of this article. The market is wide open which means endless opportunities for you to carve out a niche and be your own success story.
Is there a best age to start a career in comedy? There are two major schools of thought:
The Younger the Better
It’s better to get all those awkward years honing your act out of the way when you’re in your early twenties and have no idea what shame feels like. It also adds to your story later on in life once you’ve become successful: “He started when he was 3 ½ years old and was headlining clubs across the country by the age of 7.”
Live a Little!
The other side says you’re not going to be any good until you’re older and have life experience so why not spend your twenties traveling the world, drinking your way through hostels, getting married and divorced, and abandoning a career in whatever regular people do with their lives so you can have some insights to this chaotic, unforgiving mystery we call life.
Is there a correct answer? Yes: do whatever feels right. And do it 110%.
It’s that rare, elusive gem that resides within those of use lucky enough to have been born with it.
Talent is the fourth or fifth most important thing to possess when pursuing a career in comedy, right behind being friends with the right people, smoking pot with the right people, being represented by the right people and being related to the right people. There is no questioning how rare it is to be born with undeniable raw talent and how it can propel you to levels of stardom beyond most people’s wildest dreams, but the question still remains: do producers, directors and bookers want to hang out with you? Are you chill, bro? ARE YOU?!
Remember those “how to do stand-up comedy” classes that Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, George Carlin and Lenny Bruce taught to aspiring comedians over the years leading to countless success stories we all have come to know and love? Yeah, neither does anybody else. Stand-up comedy classes are taught exclusively by comedians who failed at stand-up comedy. Some will point out there are many things to gain from taking these courses, like: how to stand on a stage, how to hold a microphone, how to re-purpose tired, formulaic joke structures taught by a dude who is only doing this to supplement the drinking problem he nurses when he gets home from his thankless job as an inner city high school substitute teacher. And to those people I say: film yourself flushing $400 down a toilet. Put it on YouTube. Go viral. Get more bang for your buck.
Aside from stage presence, writing is key. Some of us have a natural propensity for joke writing, some of use have to work a little harder to develop it, and some just permanently borrow jokes and don’t give credit until caught and exposed for the frauds we are all over the internet and then lose our Comedy Central show and the respect of our peers and fans. Here are some quick, simple tips and tricks for joke writing used by the best in the business:
1. Open a fresh Word document
2. Stare at the cursor
3. Quit comedy
4. Announce your comeback to your roommate
5. Take his indifference personally
6. Retreat to your room and watch unhealthy amounts of internet porn
7. Take a nap
7a. Wake up, take recovery nap
8. Convince yourself all that was inspiration for a hilarious bit on pornography
9. Google premise on YouTube to make sure it hasn’t been done before
10. Upon realization it has been done in fact to death, quit comedy
11. Announce comeback to your bedside lamp
12. Take its indifference personally
13. Realize your apartment is dirty then clean the entire thing with a toothbrush because you’re serving a life term in a prison called creativity
14. Go back to the computer with fresh determination and a half cleaned apartment
15. Realize you’re gonna be late to your show
16. Convince yourself all this was so you could learn how to do crowd work instead of material
17. Get home.
18. Google grad school
19. Close Word document
20. Go buy a new toothbrush
Festivals are a great way for young up and coming talent to showcase their skills in front of rooms full of agents, managers and producers and hopefully get represented by an extremely powerful agency, land a leading role in a TV show and become famous. Fortunately, getting into a comedy festival is one of the easiest things to achieve in all of comedy. You can do it using any one of these three super easy methods:
1. Be represented by an extremely powerful agency
2. Have a sitcom coming out in the next six months.
3. Already be famous
It used to be enough to just work at stand-up comedy and hope to be discovered, do a late night TV spot then sail your way onto a sitcom and then movies and then live out your days sleeping with young starlets on a piles of cash and diamonds until you die from happiness. What happened to those days? The internet, that’s what! That cock blocker has made us have to work so much harder. Write an act? Yeah, you better, but you also better write and star in your own web series, write a feature film script, film and post Vines, write well crafted tweets, post cool and funny photos to Instagram and Snapchat, build and maintain a website, start and maintain a blog, and record and post high quality videos of your stand=up to put on your YouTube page. Then and only then can you take meetings with agents and managers so they can casually click through all the work you did yourself in between waiting tables day and night and say: “What else you got?” That’s right, new media: anything is possible now—as long anything is more free work that will go largely unnoticed.
There are so many ways to become popular and successful in entertainment these days and so many of them have literally nothing to do with talent. Since as we discussed earlier, talent is only the fourth or fifth most important element in making it in entertainment, so not having any at all shouldn’t be a deterrent. Try one of these three proven paths to success.
Become a Sycophant
Your brain has all kinds of spare time not coming up with anything to write or say so wrap those useless lips around a talented comics’ ego and blow until it spews a hot load of pity work all over you. You might say and do a lot of things you don’t mean, but you don’t have a value system anyway. Your only goal is money and attention. Get out there and start sucking up.
Way back in the day people achieved success by creating their own content. What a bunch of idiots. Nowadays, it’s all about aggregating material because, hey, it’s all out there on the internet, and some of us are too busy sitting in hot tubs full of guacamole to create any of our own content, so just back off while we use your hard work and have advertisers pay us top dollar for it.
Some might ask: Isn’t aggregator just a euphemism for thief?
Depends on who you ask. The Fat Jewish and Fuck Jerry would call themselves curators. The average person’s grandparents would say, “Do not use offensive language in this household young man.” If you ask the average comedian they will tell you The Fat Jewish and Fuck Jerry are thieving, talentless, bottom-feeding pieces of human garbage.
Make it Big on Vine
Remember all those lowest common denominator jokes you tell growing up and in your early days of open mics when you’re still trying to figure out what funny really is? Well, good news: that base level garbage has a home on the social media phenomenon known as Vine! That’s right, if you can film a trite one liner on why men and women are different, or how black and white people are (wait for it…) different, and include a fall or some sort of contrived physical gag all in six mind numbingly boring seconds, then companies like Coca Cola will dump truck loads of sponsorship dollars all over your unoriginal head.
No matter what type of comedy you choose to pursue, success won’t just land on your doormat or knock on your door or email you or whatever the technologically appropriate saying is these days. You have to work. Hard. That means getting out of bed at the crack of 1PM, writing jokes, sending emails to comedy club bookers, going to parties, and, most importantly, getting onstage every night of the week whether it be at booked shows, bringer shows, open mics held in laundromats, ditches on the side of the road, sewer drains, coffeehouses, homeless shelters, an Applebee’s, a 24 hour donut shop, someone’s backyard or the meat locker in a local butcher shop. Write. Get on stage. Perform. You will only learn by doing. And if you don’t do, someone else will. Go get what’s yours. Oh yeah, and start a podcast.
Nick Youssef is a Los Angeles-based comedian, writer and actor who’s been seen in numerous national TV commercials, guest roles on sitcoms such as NBC’s Animal Practice, the popular videogame LA Noire and a standup appearance on Last Call with Carson Daly. In August of 2014, Nick’s first stand-up album, Stop Not Owning This, debuted in the top 5 of the iTunes comedy charts and was featured in the January 2015 edition of Esquire Magazine. When not on tour, Nick hosts the Occasionally Awesome podcast on the All Things Comedy network and can be seen regularly performing stand up at The Comedy Store, Laugh Factory and Improv comedy clubs in Hollywood. Shower him with praise on Twitter @nickyoussef.