Put jokes in storage, not the trash.

Taking a new bit to an open mic and watching it die in front of your eyes is brutal and the urge to never say it again is tempting, but you should resist it. You can’t make a decision about the quality of a joke based on one set alone- you have to run the experiment of that new joke a few times so you can track the results. Most of the time it is during that 2nd or 3rd run through that I come up with a new tag or find myself riffing in a direction I hadn’t thought of the first time around and suddenly the joke becomes funnier. Don’t be afraid of a joke being weak at first because open mics are like going to the gym and if you keep working it out, that joke is going to tone up and start looking ripped as hell onstage- that's what they're talking about when they say call people "a strong writer".

If something still isn’t making progress after rewrites... just put it away for a while. Keep a document or notebook of stuff that you haven’t quite figured out yet and revisit it from time to time. Think of these jokes as spare parts, like that bag of screws you’ve moved to 3 different apartments: You could throw them out, but you never know when they might come in handy.

I guarantee you that at some point you will be writing a new bit and suddenly find a way to connect that joke that never worked to something that does and all of the sudden you have 5 new minutes. 

Good writing takes time and the sooner you accept that you’re not going to write anything groundbreaking on the first try, the sooner you will write things that are. 

Open Mic Burnout is REAL

It is physically, mentally and emotionally draining to rush through traffic, find parking and wait around to signup for the chance to wait around some more and listen to other people talk for hours before you get a turn, which sometimes not one single person is paying attention to because it is after midnight.
So much of comedy is about just being around and I understand that the pressure to be out is HUGE but you can't let it dictate how you do comedy.
My own experience with it has taught me the following:

-You will get better if you stay home at least one night a week to listen to your old sets and write down what worked and rewrite what didn't. 
-You will have more jokes to tell if you just go out and observe the world. Go do a non-comedy activity so you have something interesting to say! 
-You will have more energy the next night if you stay home quietly watching your favorite tv show and fall asleep on the couch by 10PM once in a while.

-You will not get better if you're running the same undeveloped 5 minutes 6 nights a week. 
-You will not have anything interesting to say if all of your experiences are at the same open mics with the same 30 people. 
-You will not have the energy to be a positive and supportive part of a show if you are exhausted and bored. The most bitter person in the room is rarely the funniest.

If you ever feel like you need a break from mics but can't let go of the idea that you need to go put in face time somewhere- go watch a show. And I mean REALLY watch it, you will learn from the people who are booked and chances are, hanging out there will get you booked one day too.

Time spent doesn’t always equal experience earned

You will meet an endless amount of people whose biggest credit is that they’ve “been doing comedy for (some number) of years.” This is information to be taken with a grain of salt.
The amount of time someone has done comedy does not solely speak for their ability and someone’s ability does not always reflect how long they’ve been doing comedy.  Appreciate the people who have put in the work for a long time but do not bow to anyone just because they’ve been around forever.

When I started doing stand-up someone told me that I wouldn’t get booked on anything that mattered for at least a year and I believed them. That seemed like a reasonable amount of time to have to work on being good enough for something, especially when someone who had done comedy longer than I had said so. But what ended up happening was that I worked really hard and I asked for opportunities instead of waiting for them. (More on that here.)
When I was around 7 months into stand-up I booked a gig doing 5 minutes of material to open for a national headliner at a club. I came home proud of myself for my accomplishment but within days I felt like I had done something wrong. People asked me, “How did you get that?” with a heavy inflection on the “you”. One person accused me of having a romantic relationship with the male comic that was hosting the show and said that must have been why I got the spot. The same thing happened the first time I got booked to do 20 minutes. I think I was about 2 years in at the time and once again this accusation of, “How did YOU get that?” made me wonder if maybe I didn’t deserve the things I had been given.

I spent a lot of that first year letting comics that had been around longer than me give me bad advice because I assumed they knew better. Once I posted a clip from an open mic set that I was proud of (In hindsight it wasn’t really that good but I was proud and who cares?) and another comedian told me it was stupid to post that on my blog because if anyone saw it they would think I was being too cocky for a new comic and wouldn’t like me. I had people tell me not to make a website or market myself because I wasn’t good enough to have a website or be marketed. All of these people were people whose opinion mattered to me greatly because I wanted “in” but none of those people are people who ended up actually affecting my career. You know what did affect my career? Having a website to refer people to. Having a clip available to send out when I wanted to book shows or submit to festivals. Having the ability to look at the results I was getting as a performer and to deciding for myself what my value was without waiting for someone to tell me.

While you try to find your footing as a comic,  you have to learn a lot. If you're any good you will never stop learning new things about how to be funny. Don't underestimate your own experience or let anyone make you feel inferior just because they’ve been at open mics a year longer than you or some other inconsequential qualifier. Every single comic is in a constant state of growth and anyone who tells you they’ve reached their final form is a liar. The probably aren’t very funny either.

Don’t date other comics. Or do. Who cares?

I didn’t start doing stand-up until I dated a comedian. I was a theater actor that had always loved comedy but had no idea how to go about starting to do stand-up. I knew absolutely no one in that world and frankly, the idea of finding an open mic and trying it out was really intimidating. Then I met this guy on OkCupid that was a local comic. Let’s call him Kyle. We started spending a lot of time together and he introduced me to the world of local stand-up. I had only ever gone to see big names at clubs and seeing a show full of young people giving it a go in the back of a bar really inspired me. A 6 weeks into dating Kyle I decided to write my first set. I went up at two different open mics my first night and I loved it. I was incredibly proud of myself and so inspired by the experience that I went to another one a few days later. I remember going to Kyle’s house afterward and telling him how happy it made me. I remember him not seeming very excited and asking me, “Do you think you’re going to like...be a comic now? I don’t want to date another comic.” I had flashbacks of theater kid hookups and how no one has any privacy in a small community and decided it was a valid concern. We decided to keep quiet about being an item and not hang out at open mics.

    I kept doing stand-up and he kept away from me at shows and we would only really hang out in the bedroom of his basement apartment. We honestly never even talked about comedy when we were together. A few months into us dating he went out-of-town for some shows, something he had done every few weeks since I met him. This particular time, he text to tell me he wouldn’t be coming home as planned and had to cancel our plans. When I pressed him about his reason for it, he admitted that when he had been out-of-town over the past few months, he had actually been visiting another woman.  I was upset enough to dye my hair purple, but life goes on and so did I.

I kept doing stand-up, did my best not to get too embarrassed or cry when I saw him at shows and tried to forget about him. Three weeks after Kyle and I broke up I went out to a showcase that I had been hanging around at every week. I was starting to feel like I knew some of the other comedians and was really excited when one of the producers of the show invited me to sit with them to have a beer afterward. While we were hanging out, another one of the producers, who happen to also be a good friend of Kyle’s, came to sit down. She was pretty drunk and ribbing everyone the way that comics do when she noticed me sitting there. She stared at me for a second with a scowl on her face before saying, “Aren’t you that girl that was fucking Kyle?”.

I felt my stomach drop to my feet and my face flush. Everyone at the table looked at me with raised eyebrows as I stammered, “Um...yeah, we were dating for a while but we broke up.” She rolled her eyes and said to the table, “Why does every new female comic have to fuck the first guy she makes friends with?” and that was the end of our conversation. I spent the next few weeks scared to go to open mics because I thought if Kyle had told her, maybe other people knew too.

I imagine if you’re reading this you’re thinking, “Wow, that is a dumb reason not to go do something that you like to do.” You’re right, it was dumb. But boy, oh boy, if it didn’t feel incredibly valid. Starting stand-up in general is very intimidating. You’re making yourself vulnerable to a room full of people (or you know, a room with SOME people in it) who probably don’t care about what you’re saying more than they care about writing down what they want to say when their spot comes up. Doing stand-up as a woman is that plus the hyper-awareness that you are a woman in a room full of men who probably will go up there and tell a joke about some girl they fucked or a crazy bitch they broke up with. Doing stand-up as a woman who was romantically linked to another performer is that plus the illusion that you must like having sex with other comedians so much that you are doing stand-up just to fulfill your comedian dick quota. I dealt with so many drunk propositions and accusations of, “What, you think Kyle is funny, but you don’t like me?” from men and disapproving side-eye glances from women in the weeks following our breakup. It made me feel very stupid and I kept having to leave shows to take a walk around the block and fend off panic attacks before my sets. Eventually we all moved on, but it was a really demeaning experience. 

Two years later, I am in a relationship with a comedian once again. This time he doesn’t want to keep me a secret, we write together all the time and we go to shows together almost every day. Not one single person has made me feel bad for choosing him AND choosing to be a comedian. The moral of this story is that choosing to hook up with or date another comedian is no different from choosing to hook up or date any other person. Some people will be good for you and some will be bad. Some people are going to judge your decision and others won’t care. More than having to decide whether or not you should date another performer, you have to decide whether or not you should date that person. In hindsight, Kyle never was that great to me in person and clearly wasn’t very good to me when I wasn’t around. People who build you up don’t have friends that put you down, plain and simple. There is nothing wrong with dating another performer if you just remember what I said about comedy being like a job. Before you start anything, think about if you’ll still be comfortable working with that particular coworker after things are said and done.

At the end of the day, you have to use your judgment to decide what is healthiest for you.  Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for who you like and do your best to like people who don’t make you feel bad.

“Ask not what the booker can do for you, ask what you can do for the booker”

    “How did you get that?” is probably one of the most commonly asked questions in the comedy community. In the last year I’ve gotten booked more than ever and it's no coincidence that it also the year when I started asking about the shows I wanted to be on instead of waiting for them to notice me. I know asking isn’t always a popular thing to do, which part of me understands. When you’re new and untested, it takes a certain level of hubris to demand to be booked before you’ve shown that you have the skills to back it up. But I also was confused by it because in my experience, asking for what I want professionally has always yielded more better results than not.

Before I did comedy I worked in the music industry interviewing bands and reviewing albums. Before I worked in the music industry I was a person that wanted to work in the music industry but wasn’t sure how to break in. I started by writing an email to a local radio station that played the kind of music I wanted to write about and asked if they would consider me for an internship. I was 15. There wasn’t an actual internship that I was applying for, but I knew that I wanted to be part of what they were doing at 98.3FM so I politely explained what I wanted to do, why I thought I would be great at it and when I was available to begin doing it. I got lucky and the right person read my email and over the next several years I worked my way from intern to full-time host. Once I had honed my industry skills a little, I knew I wanted to interview bigger bands and review major release albums. When I was 19 I started a blog that next to nobody read but I just kept writing. Eventually that blog became the portfolio of writing I submitted to major publications and by 21 I was freelancing for publications that were big enough to grant me access to the major names I wanted to sit down with. I’ve approached comedy pretty similarly: I decided I wanted to do it, I found ways to practice and once I felt confident, I started asking the people with opportunities if they thought I would be a good fit for what they do. As silly and fun as comedy is, if your goal is to do it at any level beyond open mics, you have to treat it like a job and it is pretty rare to get a job that you don’t apply for.

If you have been doing the work and consistently developing your act at open mics, but haven’t gotten booked on a show, more than half of the time it is probably less that you’re not funny enough and more that the person running it just hasn’t seen you yet. Even in the smallest comedy scene, there are a lot of faces that cycle in and out and it is ridiculous to expect everyone to pay attention to the trajectory of your growth. 
In my experience the people that books rooms are much more likely to consider your booking request if they’ve seen you watch their show before, because how can you know you want to do a show if you’ve never seen it? Sometimes comedy is a give and take in this way but it is important to remember that attending a show is in no way a bargaining chip. You don’t get to say, “Well I came to your show so now you have to put me on.” but you do get to say, “I think your show is great and I would love to be part of it. What can I do to be considered?”.  Try striking up a non-booking related conversation with them in person and then send a polite follow up message expressing your interest. There is a huge difference between putting a show runner on the spot and asking, “When are you going to book me?” and submitting your work for their consideration.

Final recap: Be present and pleasant. If you're actively trying, are funny and cool to work with, you're going to get booked- eventually. It's always nice to be invited to do a show but if you sit around waiting for people to discover you, you’ll be doing a lot more sitting than stand-up.