If you’re known as the jokester in your group of friends, and you simply love to make people laugh, then you’ve probably considered becoming a comedian. It’s a great career path to consider, as you’ll spend your days writing jokes and your evenings at open-mic nights in a room filled with laughter. Sounds great, right?
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to become a comedian, including what they do, the skills and qualities you’ll need, and the steps to take to become one. So, let’s get stuck in!
What comedians do
Stand-up comedians are there to make people laugh; it’s as simple as that. How they do that is completely up to them, but they’ll usually talk about hilarious situations they’ve gotten themselves into that the audience can relate to, like Michael McIntyre’s skit about leaving the house when you have children.
Comedians are responsible for writing their own jokes, doing their research, and performing. If they’re just starting out, they’ll organize their shows themselves, too — but as they grow in popularity, they may hire someone to organize these things for them.
Anybody familiar with the comedy genre will know that comedians need to be able to think on the spot and deal with hecklers, which is basically people shouting things at them while they’re trying to perform.
Types of comedians
Luckily for us, there are different kinds of comedy a comedian can use. Some cover current topics, while others do impersonations. Here are a few of the different types:
- Anecdotal: This kind of comedy is where the person pulls inspiration from everyday occurrences and situations that the audience can relate to.
- Character: This is where the comedian takes on a persona of someone else. An example of this is comedian Leigh Francis, whose stage persona is Keith Lemon.
- Stream-of-consciousness: This type of comedy is where the comedian shares a continuous stream of thought that ultimately links together for comedic effect.
- Black: Black comedy is where the comedian uses taboo subjects and subjects that are dark in nature to make people laugh.
- Impersonation: Impersonators copy the facial expressions, voice and actions of a person, usually a celebrity. An example of this is the Dead Ringers series starring Jon Culshaw.
Duties and responsibilities
Here are a few of comedians’ main duties:
- Research current comedy trends
- Write their own jokes and perform on stage
- Organize and perform tours
- Interact with the crowd
- Collaborate with other comedians
- Manage criticism from the crowd and press
What the job is like
As with every job, there are other factors to consider, like the working environment, the hours you’ll have to work, the hazards of the job and how satisfied you’ll feel. In this section, we’ll go over what the job is like, so you really understand what it’s like being a comedian.
A comedian will spend a large amount of time on stage in front of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people, but they’re never in one place for long. In fact, you could be moving to different venues every single day, which means you’ll have to travel from one venue to the next. So, while you’ll spend a lot of time on a stage, you’ll also spend a lot of time behind the wheel when driving to shows.
The working hours for comedians can vary, but they mostly work in the evening or late at night, as this is when most of the comedy shows and open-mic nights are scheduled. The good thing about this is that you can gain work experience and stage time in the evenings at comedy shows and work another job during the day to earn some money while you gain a fanbase.
You’ll also need to spend some time researching for your jokes and some time writing, so this would have to factor into your free time, too.
There are a couple of hazards to be aware of if you decide you want to become a comedian. When you’re on stage, you could be standing up for long periods of time, and there is the possibility you could fall off the stage, although this is unlikely unless you’re particularly clumsy. Another thing to consider is if you offend anybody with a joke, they could be disgruntled and confrontational, so you’ll need to be able to diffuse the situation if this situation arises.
Comedians have the joy of working flexible hours, which is great for their work–life balance. However, if a comedian is on tour, this can be extremely taxing and can eventually lead to burnout if they’re not taking enough time to rest.
You’d think, considering they’re making people laugh, that comedians would be highly satisfied and happy in their jobs. However, there are studies which show that comedians often struggle with their own mental health, and that performing at a show is their way of “acting out” to deal with their anxieties and trauma.
As CNN reports, comedians Sarah Silverman, Stephen Fry, Woody Allen and Ellen DeGeneres are among those who have openly spoken about their struggles with depression, so it's something to bear in mind when you’re considering this role.
However, if you have no issues with your mental health and love to make people laugh, we’re sure that becoming a comedian would bring you great joy and job satisfaction.
Comedians will face competition while working. Unfortunately, it’s just part and parcel of the job. You’ll be competing for prime-time slots on the stage and will have to bring your A-game if you want to fill up your diary.
Luckily, the industry is booming. During COVID-19, comedians — and many others — were out of work due to forced lockdowns and health warnings. However, now that we’re seemingly through the other side, the industry has bounced back wonderfully, with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating that comedians — and others in the entertainment business — will see exceptional job growth. They estimate that the rate of job growth will be 19%, which is much faster than average, and that there will be approximately 6,400 new jobs available in the industry.
Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that people need cheering up — and what better way than to go and see a comedian? There’s been no better time to enter the business, so if you’re considering following this career path, you’ve chosen the right time to do it.
Understandably, the salary for a comedian can vary. It all depends on their experience, the bookings they can land, and how funny they are. However, on average, the mean yearly wage for a comedian is $51,210, based on the BLS’s Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics data.
For the aspiring comedians just starting out, the compensation could just be a few free drinks from the bar. If this isn’t your jam, though, entry-level comedians generally earn around $19,760 per year, while top-earners make about $84,930.
The top-paying state for comedians is Pennsylvania, where the average yearly wage is $78,980. This is followed by the states of Washington at $70,950, Texas at $66,230, Colorado at $60,380 and, finally, Nebraska at $59,450.
Here’s a quick rundown of average salaries for comedians in the US:
Essential skills and qualities
There are a few hard and soft skills and qualities that make a comedian great. While they do need determination and grit to persevere until they make it big, there are a few more that take priority:
- Public speaking: If you want to become a comedian, you’ll need to be confident with public speaking and have a strong stage persona and presence. You’ll be under the spotlight — literally — so make sure you’re confident with this.
- Creativity and charisma: You’ll need to be able to think on your feet, so having great creative thinking skills and charisma is key. You’ll need to charm the audience and find creative ways to deal with hecklers.
- Observational skills: Comedians draw inspiration from their surroundings, so you need exceptional observational skills which will allow you to observe something and turn it into a joke that will make the audience laugh.
- Networking skills: Comedians spend a lot of time utilizing their networking skills. They’ll reach out to contacts in the industry who might know someone else that can book them gigs.
- Improvisation: Sometimes comedians will need to improvise and change the course of their act on short notice. This skill can be improved by attending improv classes.
- Interpersonal skills: A comedian needs to be able to read the room and tailor their act to the audience in front of them, which means enhancing their interpersonal skills. To do this, they’ll observe things like body language and the level of laughter radiating from the audience.
Steps to become a comedian
So far, we’ve covered what a comedian does, what the job is like (and the salary), and the skills and qualities you’ll need. But what do you actually need to do to become a comedian? Here are the steps to take to get you up on the stage.
Step 1: Determine if it’s the right career for you
Firstly, you need to be funny. If you’re not, then this probably isn’t the career for you. Try speaking with your friends, family and contacts to ask for some feedback on your jokes. Use this feedback to assess if you have the skills and qualities that make you naturally funny.
The next thing to consider is if this is the right career for you in the long term. While it might be a great career choice for right now, is it going to be suitable for you 10 years down the line? Will there be opportunities for career development in the future? If you’re not sure, it’s worth taking our career test over at CareerHunter, as this will ask you questions about your interests, skills and personality to determine your career matches.
Step 2: Develop your skills
To become a comedian, you won’t need any formal qualifications, but you will be spending a lot of time writing, so make sure to focus on improving your English — you could even learn a new language to enhance your skills. And while being a comedian is your dream, it’s always worth having a backup, so consider what else interests you and focus on those things, too.
Step 3: Take a comedy class
They say you can’t teach someone to be funny, but that’s not entirely true. You can take comedy and improv classes at many colleges around the US, so look into your local classes to see what’s available near you. Once you’ve got this qualification under your belt, you can make a more robust career plan so you know what your next steps will be.
Step 4: Attend comedy shows
The best thing to do is to observe and learn from the best of the best. Make sure you’re attending your local open-mic nights and comedy clubs to really learn what it takes to make a good comedian. Who knows? You might even get some inspiration for your own act while you’re there!
Step 5: Do an open-mic night
Once you’ve built up the courage, take the plunge and head up on stage at a local open-mic night. That way, you can gauge what makes the audience laugh, and any jokes that fall flat can be improved on the next time around. It’s all about finding out what works for you (and the audience) and improving your act as you go.
Step 6: Hire a manager
Once you’ve built up a bit of a reputation, it’s worth investing in and hiring a manager. A manager will book you shows, meaning you can spend your time working on your acts and coming up with new ways to make people laugh. That’s what it’s all about, right?
And there you have it. If you want to become the next Rodney Dangerfield, you’re going to have to practice, practice, and practice some more. Don’t be afraid of talking to yourself in the mirror or gathering up some friends to practice your routine.
You need to put yourself out there and move on from any rejections, as comedians need a tough skin to deal with the criticism they may face. Who knows? If you follow this guide, you could be in one of the next stand-up specials on Netflix!
Do you think you have what it takes to become a comedian? Let us know in the comments section below!