Yeah, yeah, you're pretty funny. But it's one thing to make some of your slightly buzzed friends laugh at a party. It's a whole other ballgame to get on a stage in front of an audience and do stand-up comedy. To do any kind of live performance, you need to have a strong ego and nerves of steel. To do stand-up comedy, you need to be virtually insane. Almost everybody bombs their first time ("bombing" means that you didn't make 'em laugh . . . in the world of stand-up, that's not good).

There's a common misconception that stand-up comics do nothing all day and tell little stories to drunken audiences at night. It's A LOT tougher than that. Stand-up comics spend hours every day working on and perfecting their routines, and they have to be able to read their audience to know exactly what kind of humor they'll respond to. Before you go stand in front of the infamous brick wall, you will need some guidance.

Before even thinking of a joke, you need to build up your comic vocabulary. Here are a couple of easy ones for starters:

To kill To do really well. The audience loves you. To bomb To do really badly. This is where there is a danger of tomato peltage. Dying The process of bombing. Set Your collection of jokes. A noun. (E.g., "I just memorized my set.") Setup The explanation part of a joke. It's the part of the joke that you're not supposed to laugh at. The exposition of a situation or story. Punch line The funny part of a joke. What you're supposed to laugh at. Heckler Someone in the audience who talks and interrupts a comedian in an insulting way, in attempt to make the comedian bomb. Blue When a comic is "blue," it means that he/she is using dirty language and/or talking about sexual (or adult jokes) in an explicit way.

For more comedy terms, check out Greg Dean's College of Comedy Knowledge's Glossary of Comedy Terms.

Now that you can talk the talk, follow our advice and you'll be on your way to killing audiences with your stand-up routine in no time. Either that or you'll be pelted with rotten tomatoes. Let's hope it's the former.


How bad can this homework be? All you have to do is watch a bunch of comics performing their acts. But don't stop at just watching your favorites. Whether on stage, TV, or videotape, watch as many comics as you can. Study their techniques and get a feel for how they construct their jokes.

Wait, wait, but isn't that . . . copying? Our response: whoever said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery was obviously not in the stand-up business. True, the biggest sin in comedy is to steal another comic's jokes. However, for learning purposes only, it's OK to take the jokes of a comic you really like and try to rewrite them in a different way. Of course, you would never perform any of the variations you came up with, because that would still be considered stealing. And stealing is naughty.

While studying the pros, try to determine what type of comic each one is. Just a few types to be on the lookout for:

  • observational comics
examples: Jerry Seinfeld, Janeane Garofalo
  • topical comics
examples: Dennis Miller, Jay Leno
  • character comics
examples: Andrew Dice Clay, Tim Allen
  • prop comics
examples: Carrot Top, Gallagher
  • gimmick comics
examples: Margaret Cho, Lea Delaria
  • physical comics
example: Jim Carrey (before he hit it big)
  • impressionists
examples: Dana Carvey, Mike Myers
  • improvisationalists
examples: Robin Williams, Paula Poundstone

Then determine their emotional attitude. Richard Lewis is a man in perpetual pain. Denis Leary is as hostile as you can get. What is your emotional attitude? Are you zany, cynical, deadpan, naïve, or a bizarre combination of all these traits? Don't pick the emotional attitude that you think is funniest; pick the one that matches you. You're funniest when you're honest.

After becoming acquainted with veteran personalities, you'll get a better sense of how to carve a niche for yourself in the biz. In time, you'll naturally gravitate toward the comic persona that works best for your humor.