Jerry Seinfeld: “I have no idea what the curve is, of when it’s gonna… feel like it used to feel.”
Colin Quinn: “When you’re killing… you’re up there killing, and you’re miserable. That’s how you’ll know.”
– Comedian

Comments so common to comics from civilians they’re cliches include, “I could never do that,” and, “Standup must be so hard!” The reality is counterintuitive and perhaps a bit controversial, but no less true. I’m here to tell you: standup, is very, very easy.

Granted, there is an actual phobia of talking to large groups of people, especially from a stage. According to multiple sources on the Interwebs (which must, therefore, be 100% accurate), many people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of death. Okay, if you actually have that phobia, it will be a considerable obstacle for you. Otherwise, standup is very, very easy.

Whenever someone tells me they could never do standup themselves, I ask them the same question- “Have you ever said something you thought was funny to a friend and your friend doesn’t laugh?” That’s all there is to standup. You don’t write jokes you think other people will laugh at. You write jokes that make you laugh and hope as many people in the crowd will agree with you.

Hell, you don’t even have to write jokes. You can just write a three-minute set of stuff you want to talk about. Do you have something in your life you’re very passionate about? I hope you do! Well, talk about that for three minutes and let everyone see how passionate you are about it and they’ll appreciate it.

Here’s another thing to consider: the vast majority of your opinions are shared by the vast majority of the human race. Some examples:
– Airline food is terrible
– Public bathrooms suck
– Sex is fun
– Being unemployed sucks
– Having a job sucks
– Bosses suck
– Rush Hour sucks
– It’s hard being a parent
– It’s hard not being a parent
– Being single is tough
– Being married is tough
– Being divorced is tough and/or awesome

Pick four of the above and express your opinions for two minutes each and BOOM! You’ve got an eight-minute set where you express your opinions to drunk strangers who, for the most part, agree with everything you say. In fact, most of them will have expressed the same thoughts to others, but never from a stage to drunk strangers because they’re not as brave as you, you talented comic you.

So now you’ve done your first set and you probably didn’t get a lot of laughs. Still, you’ve done something most people will never dare do themselves. Now you can analyze the set- what did the crowd like? What didn’t they like? That story that took 45 seconds to tell, can you get it down to 30 seconds?

Maybe you’ll improve! Maybe you’ll find the funny in all the things you said and you can cut out the fat. Maybe you’ll build on those ideas or throw them away and talk about other shit instead. Or, maybe, you won’t improve, but you’ll keep performing anyway. You’ll stay at the same level, talking about whatever you like to scattered chuckles from the audience. And that’s okay too, because the majority of your peers will stay on the same level as well.

Standup is easy. Killing is hard. Even killing has degrees, though. I’ve seen comics kill in a basement full of a hundred people who’d come for the show that could barely get smiles when there’s two people in the room. And yes, I’ve seen comics kill when there’s two people in the room. There are comics who can crush in a proper club for a proper crowd who would choke if they’d been hired to perform at a birthday party in some yokel’s house. There are comics who can succeed no matter where they are, no matter what order they’re in the lineup.

I was once in a chat thread for an upcoming show where all the comics competed to not be first in the lineup, so I volunteered for it. Yeah, it’s not much fun to be up first. You can hope the host will do a good job of warming up the crowd for you, but obviously (and hopefully) the crowd gets increasingly receptive as the show goes on. (For the record and in my personal opinion, the best spot is up last before the break.) But what would it say about me as a comic if I need the crowd warmed up for me to succeed?

There’s really no destination when it comes to performing. You’ll improve as much as you’re capable of improving and, hopefully, you’ll never stop improving. You may reach a point where you’re satisfied to remain forever, with forty minutes of material you know works and never write a new joke again. And that’s okay too, because you’ll have plenty of company on that level as well.