One of the first things you should do when you start is to write five minutes of material. Most open mic’s run for about this long and it’s really the first amount of time that you will be asked to perform. Five minutes may not sound like much but believe me it is. I’m not talking about any five minutes. I’m talking about a good five minutes, a polished five minutes. One you can feel confident about and consistently get laughs. Anybody can talk into a microphone for an amount of time, that’s not what this five minutes is about.
However if it’s your first time on stage just talking into a microphone for five minutes is an excellent way to begin. Will it go well? Almost definitely not! But that’s alright. The more I do comedy and talk to other comedians that are better than me the more I realize that having a bad set is fine. Stand-up comedy is all about getting better, learning from your mistakes and getting back up again. Nobody is good right away. You learn way more from your bad sets than your good sets. I’m sure you want to do well at some point but it will take time, be patient.
Once you have a good five minutes and you know it backwards and forwards, you can tuck that away. You keep working on new stuff but you always know that anytime you are called upon to deliver you have that set in your back pocket. Normally when I have some new jokes I’m working on I’m excited to try them out. They sound good in my head and I think they are going to work. This is usually not the case. Work shopping your five minutes may take a long time before its actually good and ready for a show. That’s part of the process though and you have got to love the whole process if you’re going to get anywhere.
If I have ten new jokes and nine of them don’t work I’m happy. I just added a new joke. Stand-up comedy is a marathon not a sprint. This shit takes time. Right now it’s January and I’ve been doing all new material. It is not going well. I have probably written fifty or so premises/bits and I think at most three of them are going to make it into my act. It might only be two.
If you’re wondering how to even get started on your first joke that’s a good place to be. Start writing down things you think are funny, stuff you find annoying in the world and things that are reflective of yourself. You decide what is and is not funny. I like to write jokes that are based in truth and tell part of my story. I do a lot of observational humor that I get from walking around a lot. Everyone has a process. Your first joke is probably gonna suck, embrace it! You write a bunch of stuff, you throw most of it away and you repeat the process.
Maybe you have a story you want to start off with. Go for it, see how it goes. Trim the fat. If it’s a long story make sure there are plenty of laughs along the way. This may sound discouraging to you but you gotta fail. You gotta learn from your mistakes. You gotta suck. You gotta improve. You gotta try things. You gotta take risks. You gotta keep going. If this shit was easy, everybody would be doing it.
I find it’s often helpful to break things down into small steps. Your five minutes will take time. Just try to come up with one joke that works. One truth about yourself that is unique. One thing about your life that is interesting and go from there. Write every day, get on stage as much as possible, fail a lot and pretty soon you will have some material that consistently works.